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.

Friday, 18 November 2011

1955 musicals: Tony & Janet, Ella, Peggy Lee, Jayne + Eileen and Lola Diamond !

Two rarities from 1955: IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER may be my favourite musical from that year (as per post on it recently), I had not seen PETE KELLY'S BLUES before but its a fascinating oddity now, not a musical as such as its a gangster drama about a jazz band with musical interludes, nice that it captures Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerland at their '50s peak - Peggy actually is very effective as the gangster's moll who sinks into alcohol and mental illness. Janet Leigh is somewhat wasted as the rich flapper who inexplicably falls for band leader Pete - Jack Webb at his most mono-syllabic. I never saw his DRAGNET series but he plays it so impassive and deadpan here, his directing is interesting too - dialogue scenes are long takes with no cutting or editing to closeups, so the actors have long scenes to get right.

The 20s atmosphere is nicely evoked and the drama is provided by racketeer Edmond O'Brien wanting a take of the band's money and imposing his singing girlfriend on them - but boy can she sing! Pete (Webb) has a nice insult to the gangster - that he had rubber pockets so he could steal soup! Lee Marvin is also in the band and plays a nice guy for once, one is glad when he returns and Martin Milner is the young hothead whom one knows will end up in a hail of bullets in the rain! There is a terrific shootout at the end in a deserted dance hall where the glitterball plays a major role!
Interestingly, the next year 1956 saw O'Brien sending up his gangster persona as another hood with a blonde girlfriend he wants to turn into a singer, she is Jeri Jordan (Jayne Mansfield) in Tashlin's riot THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT - Jayne also has a small part here as the (brunette) cigarette girl ... but hardly registers here. Great Warner Bros production values too.

SO THIS IS PARIS: Janet next went on to another favourite musical of that year: MY SISTER EILEEN (musicals label) so she and husband Tony Curtis were both singing and dancing that year! One hardly thinks of Curtis as a song and dance man but his brash enthusiasm is admirable in SO THIS IS PARIS - a studio bound musical from Universal and it comes across now as ON THE TOWN for simpletons as its a grotesquely simple-minded show about 3 sailors on the loose, also with touches of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (cue cute kids...) Tony, in his bio, says it was made in 21 days!

Tony, Gene Nelson and Paul Gilbert (the Jules Munchin role here) are the three gobs who dock at Le Havre (a quaint little village here) and after wrecking a taxi end up in a studio Paris, where Tony falls for chanteuse Gloria De Haven and Gene for playgirl Corrine Calvet, while Mara Corday takes care of whatshisname. Nelson also choreographs and hoofs in the style of that other Gene ... its all simple-minded fun as Tony ascended the ladder to TRAPEZE, SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS etc. Janet of course is totally enchanting in MY SISTER EILEEN where Bob Fosse and Tommy Rall fight over her - directed too by Richard Quine, also also directs this PARIS farrago before going on to the likes of BELL BOOK AND CANDLE with his muse Kim Novak.

A question: what do the 3 sailors dancing in their underwear/shorts by the pool wear underneath to hide any suggestion of genitalia - its like everything must have been strapped down (ditto Randolph Scott in MY FAVOURITE WIFE), as a jockstrap would suggest a bulge.... and of course there is no chest hair, just like Holden had to shave his for PICNIC! (and of course navels were not allowed either - all those gals like Joan Collins, Anita Ekberg etc had to have a jewel glued on down there. That's the '50s - a decade later it would all be hanging out!

and Lola:

thanks to my pal Jerry for reminding me that Paul Gilbert (the third sailor) re-appeared as that terrifying butch drag queen Lola Diamond in the 1965 opus SYLVIA - one of Joe Levine's trash classics ....(review at Carroll Baker/Trash labels).

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