Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Paper Panties and Other Tales of Depravity

I will get to the paper panties later. First a quick announcement. I think I will have to take down some of the songs I have put up. I always figured that as long as they were not downloadable, no one would really care and maybe no one will. Or more likely no one will notice. But I read on another Blog (with a different Blog hoster) that several sites that did similar things were shut down without even giving the Blogger a chance to remedy the situation. Everything gone. I don’t think I have to worry about the older music but I think this weekend I will delete the music from Milkyway and the music from the Blue Hearts and Linda Linda Linda. So if you want to listen to that stuff one last time, do it soon.

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.

Today I went to Lexington and 28th street where there is a block of Indian stores and restaurants. Had Indian buffet and afterwards could barely walk across the street to the DVD store where I actually picked up some new Bollywood movies. I haven’t watched much new from India for the past year or two – focusing more on older films from the 60’s and 70’s. And I haven’t blogged at all about those recently – mainly because the ones I have chosen primarily by the cover have been dull affairs and not worth the effort. Like Baazi from 1968. Dharmendra plays a cop righting wrongs, the damsel in distress is Waheeda Rehman and Helen twinkles her toes – it sounded great but is an enormous bore and just plain stupid. The only interesting factor – and a doubtful one really – was that it was my first brush with the legendary comic Johny Walker who appeared in about 100,000 films during his very long career. He was discovered while driving a bus and chatting humorously with the customers. A producer thought he was funny, introduced him to the director Guru Dutt who had Walker test as a drunk – he did it so well that Dutt nicknamed him Johny Walker. I mean this guy is famous like Chaplin is famous over here, but if this was an example of his comedy I don’t get it. Clearly, comedy travels less well than any other film genre but this made me wonder if I was still on planet earth.

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 piƱata 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.

A few posts back I mentioned the magazine article listing what they thought were the Top 100 Spy films and I was able to cross one off the list that I had never seen – The Mask of Dimitrios starring Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. Both of these actors almost always played character roles – Lorre the small sweating “don’t turn your back on him” dangerous man while Greenstreet was the larger than life snake charmer. Both were together most famously in the 1941 Maltese Falcon trying their best to stab Bogart in the back. Here though they are in the lead roles. A body washes up on the shores of the Bosphorus and is identified by the police as Dimitrios – a swindler, a blackmailer, a killer, a smuggler and everything bad. Lorre is a Dutch writer of detective novels and he gets it into his head to track down the details of Dimitrios‘s life which takes him all over eastern Europe and finally to Paris. He meets the mysterious Greenstreet along the way who also wants to find out how Dimitrios died. Shadows and odd camera angles abound in this nifty noir that seems part Maltese Falcon and part The Third Man. Initially, I had assumed that it was very influenced by the style and story of The Third Man until I noted the date it was made – 1944 – and realized that it came out five years prior to that film.

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.


ewaffle said...

You are so right concerning "Kiss Me Stupid". It was as outre and transgressive as any Hollywood film could be in the mid-1960s, treating sexuality, infidelity and marriage in an almost casual, everyday fashion unlike, as you mentioned, under the strictures of the Code where sex was furtive and guilt ridden and those involved in adultery were not only rebuked for their sins but severely punished as well (death, disease, abandonment, etc.)

And for Kim Novak fans, which I have been for many years, it is even better.

Brian said...

$25 for a night with Kim Novak. Where is my time machine when I need it! Just kidding. I think. She is such a beauty - Vertigo, Bell Book and Candle, Moll Flanders - yummy. I just looked at her filmography to what I had seen of her work - a relatively small list of films for such a well known and well regarded actress. Wonder why? This was a tough role - somehow balancing her sexuality and profession with a sort of dim sensitivity that made her appealing and sympathetic and she did a great job. Would have loved to have seen how Sellers would have approached Walston's role. very differently I expect.

Glenn, kenixfan said...

You stumped me with I Love Melvin! I have to look that up. The Warners Archive has put out some interesting stuff but I've yet to purchase anything from them.

I toyed with the idea of watching some Eddy/Macdonald films after my Deanna Durbin kick but I couldn't do it.

Brian said...

Oh come on be brave. Jeanette and Nelson are caaaallllling youououou to watch them. I like Deanna too. Very cute. The Warner Atchive stuff isn't that cheap unfortunately - $20 for most dvds. Maybe I will indulge if I get a tax refund.

Glenn, kenixfan said...

The question I have for you -- something I should probably do a blog post on -- is where are the Jean Harlow films?

I mean, Loy and Powell deservedly got a few box sets for their work; Lombard got a box set; and so on.

And the Warners Archive has a few Shearer titles in it.

There are just too many major Harlow titles never put onto DVD so far.

I was a huge Durbin fan for a spell. Just ridiculously cute and charming and a wonderful singer. Some of those films -- It Started with Eve, 100 Men and a Girl, Three Smart Girls -- are just delightful still.

Brian said...

You have me there. I see Harlow on TCM a lot it seems so I have never looked to buy her dvds. But ya, very odd that she doesn't have a box set. Everyone has a box set these days. Mine should be out soon.

What was weird about Deanna was when I got a few of her dvds from Amazon they were clearly from some other country and titled in Spanish or maybe Portuguese. Making me assume that a number of her films were available outside of the US but not in it.

Glenn, kenixfan said...

My Deanna kick was on VHS when a lot of her titles got released in the mid-1990s.

I know there's one DVD set of double-sided discs out but I just don't have the energy to get back into her at the moment.

And Rita Hayworth seems to be another major star w/o the proper DVD treatment so far.

Speaking of Billy Wilder: in 1994 when I worked at the National Archives, I helped a researcher find footage of Marlene Dietrich (re: the war effort from newsreels) and she gave me Wilder's agent's address.

I never wrote because I just couldn't think of anything intelligent to say to the guy -- just "thank you" didn't seem to be enough.

I need to see Kiss Me Stupid; you're the second person that has made it sound good to me.

Anonymous said...

Wow... snake charmers in your backyard! You certainly had a colorful childhood, Brian.

BTW, I also thought Guide was amazing. And not just because it didn't have Johny Walker in it! ;p

I dipped my toe in the sea of Bollywood two years ago and could definitely make myself at home with their films from the 50s and 60s. But I'm afraid it's too hard serving two mistresses. Nevertheless, I've got a yearning to finish that Dev Anand kick that I barely got started.

Brian said...

I am not sure I would say KM,S was good - just so different from what I was expecting - its just a really oddball film that kept surprising me.

Be careful of Dev Anand once you get past the 60's - some of the films are good like Hare Rama Hare Krishna - but he is no longer cool. He takes on these slightly creepy acting ticks that make him seem like a dirty old man and the fact that the actresses he was romancing on screen were by then much younger didn't help. I have a few of his b&w 50's films that I keep working up the courage to watch.

Snake charmers were great but the rickshaw races my brother and I had going to school were even better - speeding (well it seemed so at the time but since the drivers were on foot probably not all that fast) thru the ragged streets of Calcutta is something I still recall well after all these years.

eliza bennet said...

Picnic is another Kim Novak film where she looks great. Oddly I never warmed up to her as an actress despite finding her very beautiful.

Brian said...

Ya, I'd put Kim more as a man's woman than a woman's woman - she gives off something invisible that have men barking!

Anonymous said...

Haha... I've been warned about post-60s Dev Anand and will be keeping a safe distance!

Some of his older films that I've seen and liked are Kalabazar, Taxi Driver, and Jaali Note, all crime films.

Woohoo... rickshaw races! Now I'm really envious. ;D

Brian said...

Oh good - I have Taxi Driver - thats the one where Dev stares in the mirror and says "You looking at me?", right? And I have CID which is suppose to be pretty good. If you haven't seen Hare Rama, you should just for Zeenat - Dev is as square as a Perry Como record - also if you are ever in the mood for something which may make you wonder if Dev was experimenting with LSD try Bullet from 1976 - bad movie but so weird. I think I will soon need a BW fix.

Patrick Galloway said...

Thanks for the linkage. Back atcha.