Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Lucy Schmeeler: "She's a grand girl"!

Let's end the year by picking up some sailors, going on the town and celebrating a great comic talent. Happy New Year !

Lucy Schmeeler (Alice Pearce) is the super-plain room-mate of Brunhilde Esterhazy (Betty Garrett) in the 1949 MGM musical ON THE TOWN, a perennial favourite I can enjoy anytime. I do not know Leonard Bernstein's original but it seems some of the songs were junked for the movie (but doesn't that always happen, as in FUNNY GIRL or CABARET?).

We enjoy following our 3 sailors on shore leave in late 40s New York, and the real locations help. Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munchin zoom around the city and the underground train system, Gabe (Gene) sees and falls for "Miss Turnstiles" (a monthly pin-up) whom he imagines is a celebrity, while she (Vera-Ellen at her loveliest) turns out to be from the same small town as his! Jules gets entangled with ritzy Ann Miller who has a thing about "Prehistoric men" and Jules' face fits just right, as they cause havoc at the museum and the dinosaur (or Dinah Shore!) collapses! Frank teams up with taxi driver Brunhilde - Betty Garrett who woos him back to "my place" - where Lucy Schmeeler ["she's a grand girl" says Betty with vitriolic sweetness...] is staying in with a cold. Betty finally gets to her leave so she can get close to Frank. They are supposed to be looking for the elusive Miss Turnstiles, but Gabe finds her at the rehearsal halls and they do that lovely dance to "Main Street" ....

Later they all team up at the top of the Empire State Building and head off "On The Town", this sequence is bliss as they visit one crowded nightclub after another where the revue girls always sing "thats all there is folks, and goodnight to you, we hope your enjoyed our .... revue" as the last girl always shoves her rear end in their faces... Miss Turnstiles has to flee though to her late night job as a coochie dancer at Coney Island, after Gabe gets stuck with Lucy Schmeeler who joins them for a riot of a number and some other sailors from the ship mistake her for Gabe's girl, so they will have a lot to tell the other guys back on the boat ... Gabe takes Lucy home and has to let her down gently as he is in love with Vera --- poor Lucy is back to her laundry lists and won't wash for a week after Gabe kisses her! Her plain character is being patronised of course but its part of the fun here.

Things work out ok at Coney Island and the 3 girls see off the 3 gobs back on their boat, as another flock of sailors disembark to explore "New York New York its a wonderful town"!. That's it in a nutshell, but it is so infectious and a sheer delight from start to finish [screenplay by Comden & Green] - a key musical then with Kelly and Stanley Donen co-directing, paving the way for all those 50s musicals ... including SINGING IN THE RAIN and IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER (see post at musicals label) where their partnership broke up!

Alice Pearce's Lucy is a scream - Alice was a terrific comedienne, she was also Olga the "Jungle Red" manicurist spreading all the gossip in THE OPPOSITE SEX in 1956, [Dolores Gray label], that delicious musical remake of THE WOMEN, which I like so much. She was highly regarded also on tv, appearing in the BEWITCHED series, but she died aged only 48 in 1966. She also played Lucy Schmeeler in the original Broadway production of ON THE TOWN.
That iconic shot of Donen (below) with Kelly & Sinatra ...

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Christmas treats ...

Starting with a box of macaroons from Paris - the box is a work of art in itself, I feel tempted to hang it on the wall, it has a lovely black cat on it - also a spice & marmalade cake, also from Pierre Herme, Paris. Then dipping in and out of all those old movies on television, catching up with some not seen since I was a kid, and a few old favourites.

NIGHT PASSAGE is a pleasant memory of a '50s Sunday afternoon matinee, this 1957 James Stewart western should have been another of his tough westerns with Anthony Mann, but Mann walked due to script problems, so it was directed by James Neilson. A look at frontier life along the railroad, with train robberies; I remember liking this scene with Stewart and young Brandon DeWilde on the train, also on board was Elaine Stewart (another of this year's departees, aged 80) married to big boss Jay C Flippen! Audie Murphy and Dan Duryea were among the baddies, and Ellen Corby another tough frontier woman.

TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE from 1959 - not seen this since then but its as effective and violent (effectively directed by John Gullermin) as I remembered - Gordon Scott the perfect Tarzan for '50s kids, Anthony Quayle a terrific villain with young Sean Connery and Niall McGuinness in his gang, along with bad girl Scilla Gabel - Sophia Loren's stand-in on BOY ON A DOLPHIN, and here starting out her own career as a sizzling eurobabe. Scilla was always good value in Steve Reeves epics and movies as diverse as SODOM AND GOMORRAH and my fave MODESTY BLAISE.

THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER - one of those lavish (it says here...) 1977 remakes, helmed by the usually reliable Richard Fleischer (THE VIKINGS, BARBABBAS) this is an idiotic remake of the Erroll Flynn original. Lurid colours and guest stars aplenty: Charlton Heston, the older Rex Harrison, Raquel Welch is mainly silent - the interest for me is the re-teaming of Oliver Reed (rather portly here) and David Hemmings as his evil brother - their hell-raising was taking its toll on them here, since they were young in 1964's THE SYSTEM, a key movie for me then [review at David Hemmings label], showing the 60s just starting to swing. Mark Lester as both the prince and the pauper shows that most perfect child actors (OLIVER) grow up to be very uninteresting indeed, he is lanky here with frizzy hair and there is no difference at all between his two roles ... an amusing time-waster then, not in the same league as the producers' delightful star-stuffed MUSKETEERS films by Richard Lester. Right: THE SYSTEM gang in '64 including Olly and David Hemmings - 2 years later he was the star of Antonioni's BLOW-UP and the icon of the age!

THE SEARCHERS. A classic one never tires of of course, like THE QUIET MAN and VERTIGO, also afternoon or late night delights. More on Ford's classic western at Jeffrey Hunter label - he has that bath scene here with Vera Miles (Mrs TARZAN in real life as she was then married to Gordon Scott!; her pregnancy cost her that leading role in VERTIGO). I shall get around to appreciating Vera in due course. What is jarring about THE SEARCHERS now is the treatment of the squaw Hunter accidentally marries; but to counterbalance that we have those essentially 50s yet timeless scenes with those characters Martin Pawley, Laurie Jurgenson and Natalie Wood's Debbie.

MANSFIELD PARK, the 1999 film of a Jane Austen novel seems to have divided opinions, as a lot of Austen purists hate it. I read the book some time ago, it is not my favourite Austen - that is PERSUASION by a mile, one I can re-read and like all 3 adaptations (costume drama label). The priggish Fanny Price is indeed Austen's least loveable heroine as she relishes her moral superiority over the other young people putting on the play, which she does not approve of. It is a good cast here though, with Harold Pinter (left) as Sir Thomas Bertram whose business interests in Antigua turn out to be slavery, James Purefoy and Johnny Lee Miller as his sons; the marvellous Sheila Gish (right) as Mrs Norris who tries to keep Fanny as the poor relation, and Lindsay Duncan as both Fanny's downtrodden mother and opium-addicted wife of Sir Thomas. Frances O'Connor is a spirited Fanny, but hardly fair to Austen's original.

Finally, a re-view of 1958's A TALE OF TWO CITIES as well, not seen since I was a kid. French actor Paul Guers who did actually look like Bogarde, plays Charles Darnay whom Dirk replaces on the guillotine - Guers has been in some other items I saw recently like Demy's BAY OF ANGELS and THE GIRL WITH GOLDEN EYES (both at French label). This is solid Rank Organisation fare by Ralph Thomas with all those familiar featured players: Rosalie Crutchley, Freda Jackson, Athene Seyler, Christopher Lee, Donald Pleasance etc, all looking splendidly in period.

THIS HAPPY BREED. Another perennial favourite, as I have written about before (Kay Walsh label). Kay excels as Queenie the dissatisfied daughter of Robert Newton and Celia Johnson; and there is that endless bickering between Amy Vaness's mother-in-law and Alison Legatt's spinster sister, all part of the Higgins family in Clapham between the wars. The period detail is just perfect and the emotions are fully engaged, particuarly that scene when the parents in the garden are told of the deaths of their son and his wife, as the camera stays in the sitting room where afternoon tea is about to be served ...

And one discovery: THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE from 2005: "When the Pevensie family are evacuated out to the country, they are unaware of the adventure they will encounter. During a game of hide and seek, the youngest daughter, Lucy discovers a wardrobe which transports her to the land of Narnia. Covered in snow, Narnia is full of weird and wonderful creatures, but is watched over by the evil White Witch. When all four Pevensie children end up through the wardrobe, they discover that it was meant to be, as two daughters of Eve and two sons of Adam must join with the mighty lion, Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) to defeat the evil White Witch". Tilda Swinton is perfect as the Ice Queen/White Witch and James McAvoy (whom I had not though much of) is an adorable faun and the children are just perfect. For a CGI movie I liked it a lot, and Andrew Adamson's direction is also perfect! I shall have to watch the others now ...

The new DOWNTON ABBEY special is indeed a treat, and ticks all the right boxes, and the new GREAT EXPECTATIONS is an odd re-telling, rather different from Lean's version, with Ray Winstone a perfect Magwitch, and Gillian Anderson as a wraith-like younger Miss Havisham. Unusual though to see a plain-jane Estella (who is meant to be a glacial beauty out of the rather ordindary Pip's league), but here Pip with his sculptured cheekbones and pouting lips, is much prettier than her! Pip is Douglas Booth who was one of Isherwood's boys in CHRISTOPHER AND HIS KIND (gay interest label). Now for that BEN HUR re-boot, with Winstone again (as Jack Hawkins). It cannot be a patch on Wyler's classic but may have some cheap laughs!
BEN HUR (2010) actually turned out to be quite interesting, shot in Morocco it looks more like THE LIFE OF BRIAN than a Hollywood blockbuster, and wisely does not try to be - the chariot race for instance is much smaller scale (no circus maximus here) and the ships at war are courtesy of CGI effects and there are interesting script variations from the Wyler film. Winstone is a mumbling Arrius, Hugh Bonneville good as a nasty Pilate, Alex Kingston right as Mrs Hur (the leprosy is also played down), but in all a radical re-working of the original material. Joseph Morgan is a totally underwhelming uncharismatic Ben, but Stephen Campbell Moore (from THE HISTORY BOYS) a rather good Messala.
We will though be still watching the Lean and Wyler originals when these lightweight remakes are soon forgotten - I tuned in to Lean's EXPECTATIONS again yesterday and was bowled over again by how perfect it all was, with that great double act of Martita Hunt and Jean Simmons as the perfect Havisham and Estella, and that marvellous black and white photography, so right for Dickens.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Seasons Greetings !

I never tire of David Lean's classic 1946 GREAT EXPECTATIONS and that great double act of the great Martita Hunt and Jean Simmons as Miss Havisham and Estella. I never saw that 1974 version which was meant to be a musical and then wasn't but Margaret Leighton [right] must also have been a terrific Havisham [and favourites Sarah Miles a spiteful Estella, Michael York an earnest Pip and James Mason suitably grim as Magwich - Ray Winstone in this new version]. The jilted Miss Havisham has also been played by Charlotte Rampling in 1999 (left below) and now by Gillian Anderson [left] in a new BBC production this christmas, as a much younger almost alluring recluse - Jean Simmons in her later years even played her for some long forgotten tv version! Happy holidays!

Coming up: more Italian and French rarities, more gay interest titles, more cult classics, more trash, more 'people we like' [Peter Finch, Alan Bates, David Warner, Vera Miles, George Sanders, Brandon De Wilde], more on Deneuve, Romy Schneider, Anouk Aimee, Gerard Philipe and some new movies too - starting with those popular choices BRIDESMAIDS and THE INBETWEENTERS MOVIE! How I spoil you.

Home for Christmas

How good to see George Michael released from hospital and well enough, if rather breathless, to face the cameras after his extended hospital stay in Vienna, after his pneumonia illness. Welcome back George, now please take time to get well properly before starting another gruelling tour, and less partying this time - and lets have another album as good as OLDER ! Season's greetings!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Its that time: Christmas in Connecticut or France ?

Some seasonal viewing: a '40s Hollywood christmas tale, or a recent French look at another dysfunctional family during the holiday season ?

CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT: Released the last year of WWII in 1945 (I was born that December), the film is full of subtle patriotic gestures and holiday nostalgia but never sinks to sentimentality. Stanwyck is sexy and sassy as always and is a lot of fun here. She is a cooking columnist who's built up this whole image of living on a small Connecticut farm with husband and baby cooking all these marvelous delicacies. Trouble is she's unmarried, childless, writes her column from her apartment in New York and doesn't know how to boil water. But her writing is a hit with the public. Trouble comes when she's hijacked into cooking a home Christmas dinner for a war hero sailor played by Dennis Morgan who gets to sing a couple of songs as well. Her publisher Sidney Greenstreet likes the idea so well that he invites himself to the dinner. So with borrowed farm, baby, and Reginald Gardiner who'd like to make it real with Stanwyck she tries to brazen it through. S.Z. Sakall adds a great deal of Hungarian malaprop & double-entendre humor in support as Babs' true source of culinary talent & Una O'Connor is hilarious as Gardiner's obnoxious Irish housekeeper. A nice treat then.

A CHRISTMAS TALE: Fancy another French family dysfunction drama? Rather like Assayas's SUMMER HOURS (reviewed at French label), only this one is two and half hours long in the company of some unsumpathetic people as the Vuillard family gathers: parents Junon and Abel, a daughter Elizabeth and her son Paul, Henri and a girlfriend, Ivan, his wife Sylvia and their young sons, and cousin Simon. Six years before, Elizabeth paid Henri's debts and demanded he never see her again or visit their parents' home. Paul, at 16, has mental problems and faces a clinical exam. Junon learns she needs a bone marrow transplant if she's to live beyond a few months: thus the d├ętente bringing all together. Two family members have compatible marrow, but the spats, fights, cruel words, drunken toasts, and somewhat civilized bad behavior threaten all; plus Junon may simply refuse treatment.

It turns out to be an overly long and incredibly talky dysfunctional family drama, by Arnaud Desplechin, led by a chilly Catherine Deneuve as the dying matriarch (such a contrast to her sunny role in the delicious POTICHE (yes, also reviewed recently at French label). She's dying of a rare kind of cancer, and the spectre of that eventuality plus the proximity of brothers and sisters who haven't seen each other for a while and have scores to settle puts everyone in a reflective mood. It rather strikes home if you too have brothers and sisters who do not see or have much contact with each other .... Melvil Poupaud (so effective in Ozon's TIME TO LEAVE - yes, its at the french label) scores as the youngest son.

We also of course have the perennial IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE with Jimmy Stewart running through Bedford Falls in the snow as he gets his life back, and THE MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (the Maureen O'Hara-Natalie Wood one) and '54's WHITE CHRISTMAS though how many times can one watch that? and of course theres always those recent christmas perennials like ELF and BAD SANTA and GREMLINS. I was pleased to catch up with favourites Lee Remick and Angela Lansbury in the glutinously sentimental tv film A CHRISTMAS STORY: THE GIFT OF LOVE from 1982, and dear Loretta in CHRISTMAS EVE one of her final roles in '85, as the rich old lady with not long to live re-uniting her family, assisted by ailing Trevor Howard. If that does not get you crying for christmas nothing will ! Perfect viewing anytime though, and particularly at this time of year, is the 1952 film of the play THE HOLLY AND THE IVY, a perfectly British treat with Ralph Richardson, Margaret Leighton and Celia Johnson all sublime (and yes see Richardson, Leighton or Johnson labels for review); and let's not forget the lovely if rarely seen HOLIDAY AFFAIR from 1949 with Janet Leigh having to choose between Robert Mitchum or Wendall Corey! It should be a holiday staple too.