Hey, how come no one told me that Patrick Galloway had a Blog going? He wrote a couple books on Asian cinema that I have read – Asia Shock and Stray Dogs and Lone Wolves – and quite enjoyed. He seems to update it regularly as well and not just use it as a marketing tool. I’ll add it to my Blog Links. Am also going to add, The Chinese Mirror, which I guess has been around for quite a while but I just never noticed it. There is a ton on early Chinese cinema and I think it is really exciting seeing Blogs like this one and Durian Dave’s that focus on the old films and old actors. A few years ago there was nothing around about this stuff. I hope there is much more in the future. If there is anything else out there I should add let me know – I just don’t focus sometimes.
Talking about music that I probably should not put up, as soon as I saw this still from a 1956 film titled Sunrise I thought of In the Mood for Love for some reason and thought about the music that plays as Maggie walks towards the room where they are playing mahjong and smoke is swirling in the air.
But buying these DVDs today got me thinking about all the lists I have come across of late – greatest movies and so forth. I know I could never list my top 100 films but if I tried the one Indian film that immediately popped into my head was Guide from 1965. Simply an amazingly thought provoking film with some stunning musical sequences. It too stars Waheeda. Her snake dance is lovely. I wish this clip was better quality.
Here by the way is a picture of snake charmers that used to come into our back yard in either India or Pakistan way back when to entertain the kids.
On the other hand my guess is that the film, Khawb-e-Hasti from 1934 would probably not make my Top 100 but I wanted to put the picture up anyway.
Last week I made another plunge into the Brooklyn Library’s video films and came out with these. Some comments.
“Why does your husband call you Lambchop?" "Because sometimes I wear paper panties." I am not sure I even get that but it is one of a barrage of leering, smirking jokes in one of the most peculiar films I have come across in a good while. On its surface one might expect that this 1964 Billy Wilder film would be your conventional romantic comedy with perhaps a little more buzz than you would get from say a spunky Doris Day “I really just want a husband” film that people were used to back then. Most of these early 60’s romantic comedies were as dangerous and taboo as a day game at Wrigley Field – in the end all the conventions were met head on and marriage was in the wings waiting. But Kiss Me, Stupid starring Kim Novak, Dean Martin and Ray Walston is a salacious pizza in the face of everything tasteful and expected. Wilder was taking a crazy swing at Hollywood’s morality code with this insidious and subversive look at marriage and sexuality. Back in 1964 large studios just didn’t take chances like this, but either Wilder’s reputation got it through or someone forgot to read the script. I can see almost see Takashi Miike doing a remake of this but with a lot more bodily secretion. But Wilder misjudged his market badly – first the Catholic Decency League did one of their massive protests against the film basically saying anyone who saw it would end up in Hell and then the critics savaged it like a bloated piñata and finally no one showed up to see it. But seeing it today, it is a gas – a really weird totally amoral one because you can’t help watching it through the time prism of 1964 and thinking what the hell were they thinking.
Dean Martin plays a Vegas crooner and actor who likes the dames a lot but a conveyor belt of cocktails even more – and the character’s name is Dean and he is part of the Rat Pack – so basically Martin is playing a rancid parody of himself and doesn’t seem at all embarrassed by it. He has to drive to Hollywood for an appearance on a TV show. He makes the mistake of stopping off in a small town called Climax (get it) where two frustrated song writers (Ray Walston and Cliff Osmond) sabotage his car so that they can get a chance to sing their songs to Dean. But they know Dean likes women and Walston worries that he will go for his very pretty wife (Felicia Farr – who was married to Jack Lemmon, who Wilder really wanted to play Walston’s part but he was busy). Walston picks a fight with his wife – on their wedding anniversary – so that she will go stay at her mothers and in her place he brings in a waitress/part time hooker from a nearby dive – this being Kim Novak who will do anything you want for the whole night for $25. $25. Talk about inflation. So he tries to pawn off his made-up-wife on Martin to have sex with in a really really creepy way – meanwhile his wife comes back and thinks he is fooling around and so sets out to have her own fun. And she does. With Dean. And Walston ends up in bed with Novak. And everyone is better off for it. No nodding to the Hollywood code back then that you have to be punished in some way for infidelity. And smutty innuendoes throughout. I think my mouth was agape much of the film. Interestingly, after Lemmon turned down the role Wilder brought in Peter Sellers to play it and he did until he had a heart attack. Some say it was just an excuse to get off the set because he was going crazy with the script.
Elizabeth Taylor sure was a knockout back in 1952 when Love is Better than Ever was released. I know her basically from her 60’s films – Cleopatra, Taming of the Shrew, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – when she was on her forth or fifth husband, had become more Rubenesque in her form and had become something of a celebrity caricature – but back in 1952 she was exquisite. Just perfect. This film was directed by Stanley Donen in between Royal Wedding and Singin' in the Rain, but this one doesn’t approach either of those classics on any level. It is kind of a frivolous romance about a tough New York agent who is only committed to good times finding himself falling in love with an innocent Connecticut dance teacher of little urchins. It plays out pretty much as one expects – older man gets young hottie. Off the set some not so nice things were happening to the leading man, Larry Parks. He had been called up in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee and forced to admit that he had once been part of a communist cell. And he gave names. He was ratted out in turn by none other than Lloyd Bridges. Bridges of course went on to Sea Hunt fame and to spawn Jeff and Beau – Parks basically never worked again except for a little bit in television.
I had to do it one of these days. Not because I really wanted to but because these films are a part of film history and in their time they were enormously popular. I am speaking of course about the teaming up of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in seven musicals during the 1930’s and early 1940’s. This style of musical – her rich operatic soprano and Eddy’s rich formal baritone – has been parodied hundreds of time – in particular the film (Rose-Marie) in which Eddy plays a Canadian Mountie and they sing to each other in the wilderness. Before this, MacDonald had appeared in two Lubitsch musicals – Love Parade and The Merry Widow – that were huge hits as well. So I co-incidentally picked their first film – Naughty Marietta (1935) – in which Jeanette plays a French princess before the guillotine started doing away with aristocratic heads and she is so loved by the peasants that they cheer her and join her in song. But her evil uncle wants to marry her off to some old obese Spanish lord and so she skips off in disguise as a commoner to New Orleans – which the French hadn’t sold yet. There she meets a rugged mercenary and sparks fly, songs are sung and of course eventually love comes. In the meantime though, Louis the XIV has sent his army after her because he too wants a little bit of fun with her. Actually this wasn’t so bad after all – no true Gitmo material here – rather corny fun. Don’t sue me if you play this and it damages your eardrums! Sweet Mystery of Life.
And just a quick mention of three other musicals I watched. Flirtation Walk has the two big co-stars of many of those Busby Berkely films – 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Gold Diggers of 1933 - Dick Powell and the big sweet eyed Ruby Keeler – and I was expecting a lot of fun musical bits. But this film is a bust with some fairly lame musical numbers and a lamer dramatic narrative. By the way, if there are any noir hounds reading this – watch Dick Powell in Murder, My Sweet (1944) – one of the best ever and his Marlowe is one of the best as well. But if Flirtation Walk was a disappointment that was nothing compared to Yolanda and the Thief (1945) starring Fred Astaire and directed by Vincent Minnelli. When you talk about the history of Hollywood musicals, these two names are at the top of the list – so how could this film be such a celluloid abomination. Well first you create an absurd story about a rich young woman just out of the convent believing that a conman (Fred) was her guardian angel – then you basically don’t let Astaire dance much – and when you do they are in these gaudy god awful pretentious big numbers that put me to sleep. And of course once again the old guy gets the young hottie. Ain't life wonderful. Ay, just awful. I still love Astaire though and always will. The trailer for a film that is “the most spectacular ever conceived”!
Thankfully I left what turned out to be the best of these three musicals for last – I Love Melvin – just a simple New York City tale with lots of location shooting (especially Central Park) that starred two of the three legs from Singin’ in the Rain – Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. There is nothing fancy here – just a plain old love story that is mild and sweet – but Reynolds is adorably cute and O’Connor sure can dance. He never really made it to leading man status because of his average looks but few people could dance (or skate) better in Hollywood in the 50’s. This came out right after Singin’ in 1953. One early number in which Debbie – who plays a dancer on Broadway – is a football being tossed, carried and kicked around is pretty amazing. It appears that the film is available from the Warner Archives. Here is a much too long trailer.
Finally, just a picture my father took somewhere in India back in the late 1950’s. Note the film poster way in the back.