Friday, August 27, 2010

Weekly Musical #2

You didn't think that I would fall down on the job, did you? I said that I would re-commit to the musical genre by watching 1 musical a week, and I plan on doing just that. Kelli commented after the Week 1 post on Summer Stock that Singing in the Rain should be my next musical... and I thought that that sounded like a great idea.

This movie always blows me away. Its just SO good. Not only the brilliant musical numbers, but the entire movie is top notch (casting, directing, conception). In my first film introduction class, we watched parts of SITR in order to gain a better picture of what it was like when movie studios went from silent era films to talkies. Several folks in my class complained, saying that they never thought that they would have to suffer through a musical in a serious film class. None of them spoke a word after the movie actually started... And I secretly believe that most were closet Gene Kelly fans and were actually thrilled to get to watch him in class.

Kelly and Stanley Donen (director) were very meticulous in getting it right. The movie feels like it is set in the twenties. The clothes (those wonderful shoes!), the music, cars, it all feel authentic and a they aren't afraid to make fun of themselves. I LOVE the actress dressed in black at the party in the beginning of the movie. You know the one, she is seen doing a dance with a much shorter man and calls talking pictures "vulgar". She reminds me of a caricature of Alla Nazimova ( a brief silent film star). I like that they took the time to make this movie feel different than normal 50s musicals. I think that that's why it stands out and stands up to the test of time.
Don't misunderstand me... Gene Kelly is fantastic in this film, and Debbie Reynolds is cute, but me? I watch this movie for Donald O'Connor! He never fails to entertain me. I love his song Make 'em Laugh... I am notorious for watching the scene a couple of times before continuing on with the rest of the movie. O'Connor's silly faces are so adorable! He was also a great dance partner for Kelly. You can tell that he was a dancer in his own right because he keeps perfect pace with Kelly's dance sequences; for example, in Moses Supposes (My FAVORITE song in SITR) you can see that Kelly was able to step up the dance routines because O'Connor was so good. You would never see Sinatra do some of those moves and stay standing!

Cyd Charisse is also gorgeous in this... I LOVE her clothes. She dances a few times in Gene Kelly's Broadway number, but the woman packs a wallop! Her dance with Kelly in the speakeasy is so sexy, and that green dress is magnificent! The woman was all legs! Their physical chemistry was spot on and watching that routine always leaves me a little speechless.... When she cleans off Kelly's glasses on her thigh.... talk about steamy!

I only have one complaint (*Gasp*) There was one song cut out of the movie that I would have love to have seen. There is a recording of Reynolds singing Lucky Star to Kelly that was cut from the film. There is a reprise of the song at the end of the movie when Kelly is singing to Reynolds and again in the last frame of the picture when the two are kissing in front of a billboard. I love Reynolds recording, it is so pretty and I think that the reprise would have meant so much more to the movie if they had kept it in.

Stanley Donen did an interview with Robert Osbourne on TCM and he recounts his experience working on SITR. He talked about how they achieved Kelly's title song number, and I thought it was neat. They had to cover that outside set with a giant black tarp so that they could fit in rain machines, and they did it in the midst of extreme summer heat. He said that it felt like taking an extremely hot shower for a week straight, and that it was miserable. The effect, however, is remarkable. Kelly singing and dancing in an early morning rain is completely euphoric. He is singing about being at the height of love and happiness... It is such a wonderful song..
I love this film. I could watch it anywhere, anytime. It is such a perfect movie.
Singing in the Rain is a must, not just for musical fans, but die hard classic film buffs everywhere.
So... Any suggestions for Week 3?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Man in MY Possession

There is something about old movies that just makes life a little bit sweeter. By being a fan, its almost like you belong to a wonderful secret society and boy is it great! We converge around genres, studios, directors and actors of years gone by, share new discoveries and relive old ones. This last month, an awesome new friend brought me into contact with a movie that I have been searching everywhere for... Man in Possession. I am eternally grateful to Carrie over at Classic Montgomery for helping me out on this. It just goes to show you how hobbies and interests can unite and connect people from all different walks of life.

I didn't quite know how I wanted to approach writing about Possession. I didn't want to do a comparison between Personal Property (the remake) simply because I don't think it is fair to compare two movies made during two very different movie making eras. The films were only made 6 years apart, but the Hay's code was implemented during that time changing nearly everything about the film industry. With that said, Possession exudes Pre-Code themes. Not only is the film a bit naughty, but the characters face depression era problems that I am sure audiences of that time could relate to.

Robert Montgomery plays a London socialite who is just released from prison. His father and brother shun him while his mother dotes and frets about his future. There is a brief moment where Montgomery talks about prison and how he never wants to go back there. His eyes almost look haunted by the mere mention of going back to prison. His experience isn't glossed over like it might have been done after the code.

Montgomery gets an honest job working as a bailiff. He is placed in a wealthy debtor's home (Irene Purcell) until she can pay her debts. Coincidentally, Purcell is engaged to Montgomery's dolt of a brother. She too is faced with real problems, she has debts to pay and like many women during the depression... she uses her only real assets in order to secure a financially secure future. (Neither her nor Montgomery's brother know that the other one is broke) Montgomery and Purcell fall for each other ( more out of lust in the beginning) but eventually they realize the attachment is something very close to love.

I was going to try to not make this post all about how much I adore Robert Montgomery, but I find that very hard after watching Possession. Montgomery pre-codes are among my favorites because he was so very good at being naughty. One of my favorite parts of the film is the morning after Montgomery and Purcell have had their pre-code fun. The maid has just collected Purcell's undergarments from the floor of the bedroom (they were tossed everywhere). She takes them down stairs and is surprised to see that the underthings need mending... Montgomery gives her a side glance and smiles. Like I said, I love when this guy misbehaves. His eyes always sparkle when he is acting the fox.

Montgomery's little boss checks on how well Montgomery did while working for Purcell. She confirms that she had no complaints. The little boss man says that he always likes his men to give satisfaction... Cue Rob Montgomery with wide eyes in perfect double entendre style.... After such heightened anticipation... I too was very satisfied with Man in Possession!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

One Musical a Week

So... PBS inspired me! Last night, Live from Lincoln Center showed a performance of South Pacific. This was the stage revival version that opened a couple of years ago. I could never really get into the film version of South Pacific... don't ask me why, but I never could make it all the way through. This stage version though was simply wonderful. It ignited a spark.

Musicals have never been my favorite genre. (This doesn't mean that I don't like them, just that there are other genres i prefer over them.) They were however the first old movies I ever watched. I like them, but I tend to be a bit picky. I decided that I needed to revisit the musical, and remember why they were so special to me as a child. So, I am going to start watching one musical a week intermixed with my normal old movies of course. I began tonight with Summer Stock.

I first saw this film when I was 12 or 13 and I remember watching it over and over for weeks. I also remember that I loved everything about it.... Its nice to know that some things never change. Watching it tonight, I felt the same old feelings, and new ones too. Judy Garland and Gene Kelly musicals were always my favorites growing up. They had all the right chemistry, they were playful with each other, intensely romantic and their fight scenes are fantastic. The kind of fight scenes where you know they are only arguing because they really love each other.

As a Theatre Grad, Gene Kelly's obvious love affair with theater always endeared his character to me. I like when he has Judy smell grease paint, and explains that you never really wipe it off your face, but that it sinks in deep... to the heart. It brings back memories of my first shows, that knowledge that your part of something special. His passion is one I can understand, and I adore him for it.

The supporting cast in the film is also pretty fantastic. Phil Silver is HI-larious as Gene's right hand man. He is ridiculous and wonderful. You can tell him and Gene really had fun working together. Their song Dig for your Dinner always makes me smile, and their rendition of Heavenly Music as hill billies is so funny! Gene Kelly with missing teeth and suspenders is pretty darn awesome... Silvers may not have been a terrific singer, but he sure knew how to sell comedy in a number! Marjorie Main is also very funny as Judy's Maid? Old Nanny? She is crusty, cynical but such a sweetheart. I like when she is ringing the cowbell to wake everyone up and her hair starts flopping around... Perfect!

There are so many wonderful numbers in the film, but Friendly Star would have to be my favorite. I have always been a bit of a hopeful romantic, and everything about that tune evokes that longing to find the right one. I am a little bit more cynical than my early teen self, but I can't help but feel with Judy through that song. I especially like when it pans to Gene Kelly sitting in a chair listening to Judy sing. Its a duet without Gene adding his voice. Most folks think of Judy's song Get Happy when they think of Summer Stock. It is an iconic number. It is a bit odd in the movie though. It comes out of left field... and Judy looks obviously slimmer (it was shot after Stock wrapped and after Judy had "dieted") I actually prefer the rounder Judy that is in the rest of the film. Get Happy is incredibly sexy however... how many actresses and singers have mimicked that suit jacket and pantie hose outfit?!

Summer Stock was a great place to start for my musical re-awakening. It reminded me that musicals can be pure unadulterated joy. Who knows, maybe I will attempt South Pacific after reconditioning myself to the genre. I know folks who don't like musicals. They say that bursting out in song isn't realistic (unless they have lived with me... then they know that it is completely normal!). My reply is always that Arnold Swartzenegger peeling back skin to reveal a metal skeleton isn't exactly realism either, but that doesn't make the Terminator a bad movie! I think Gene said it best, when Judy asks why a boy doesn't just say he loves a girl, why does he have to sing it? He replies "Oh, I don't know. But it's kinda nice,".... I agree, I think it's super nice

(BTW... our PBS station is re-airing the Lincoln center broadcast of South Pacific! Check your local listings and set that DVR to recording.... you won't regret it!)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Crazy for Powell and Loy

I was trying to write a post for Kate's Summer Blog A-Thon, but the words just weren't flowing. I am super excited to read some of the entries tho. You should totally go over to Silents and Talkies to check it out!

Instead, I watched Love Crazy this weekend and decided that Confessions was in desperate need of a Billykins post. I adore William Powell in just about any capacity. Whenever I am sick, I tend to gravitate to good him in particular. I have a friend who can judge how I am feeling by what old movie is on my TV. Bill is my remedy for mind ailments. If I have a headache, his voice has a very soothing quality. He is very easy on the ears.

Back to Love Crazy... this is one of the few Powell/Loy films I didn't own... so thanks to my handy dandy DVR and TCM, I was able to add it to my collection :) Powell/Loy made three types of movies together (Comedy, Drama and Thin Man). Love Crazy falls into the four films or so that made up the P/L screwball comedies. These are actually my favorites! I like their dramas... and although my love for the Thin Man movies are amazing... my affection for them dwindles with each one they put out. For example, The Thin Man (first one) is fantastic... I could watch it over and over, but Song of the Thin Man gives me heartburn. I only watch it once a year.... during a Thin Man Marathon.... on a rainy day.... when there is nothing left to do.... You get my point. Look at me... chasing rabbits again...

So Love Crazy is pretty much one misunderstanding after another. It is Powell doing whatever he can (including acting mentally insane and dressing in drag) to keep Loy from divorcing him. Powell is incredibly funny in this one. I particularly like when he is acting crazy at a party. He not only sets 50 or so top hats "free" in a pond, but he also falls out of a tree in the buff... laughter is immediate. Loy is a little cold. A temperature she excels at. Only Loy can make cold understandable and likeable. Her and Powell had such an easy way together that you can totally see why MGM constantly paired the two. They seem in tune to eachothers every move, word.

My favorite P/L comedy is probably I Love You Again. Powell spends the first half of the movie chasing Loy only for the roles to reverse about half way through. It's very romantic and sweet. Powell plays a con man who suffer amnesia, becomes a stiff, upper crust society guy who marries Loy, then he suffers amnesia again and turns back into his con man self (this is actually where the movie begins) Got it? It is kind of hard to explain the plot without multiple paragraphs... suffice it to say that this movie is wonderful for anybody who loves P/L.
Libeled Lady comes awful close to I Love You Again in my book... but I love that one for Jean Harlow... Another post for another day! These are just randome P/L pics btw. No method to my madness.... well, at least not tonight :)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Norma Shearer Day

"I've heard of platonic love, but I didn't know there was such a thing as platonic jewelery."

I think today should be declared a National Film Holiday.... TCM is playing Norma films 24 hours straight... and I have to be at work :( No worries! The DVR is getting a work out... I am especially excited that they are showing some of her rare silent films!

I don't have a long history with Shearer. I read a book called Complicated Women (the doc. by the same name airs today as well) and I was intrigued by the way the author described her. I went down to my now dearly departed Video Rental heaven and stocked up on her films. I was an instant fan... and am am still an avid one to this day. Any woman whoever contemplates a career in acting should consider Norma a founding mother! She is brilliant.

My favorite movie of hers is The Divorcee. She really defined this new kind of woman that was emerging in the 30s. Sexually
liberated and free to live her life as a man does. Poor Chester Morris didn't know what he was doing when he got smashed and cheated on his doting wife (Norma). She goes out after discovering the affair and has one of her own (with Bob Montgomery no less... who wouldn't want to have an affair with that man?!) The movie is a pre-code MUST. They were never even able to re-release it (in the 50s) because of the raciness of the content. Thank goodness because some of those releases gutted amazing pre-codes (I will save that rant for another day)

So... If you are new to the dazzling world of Norma Shearer.... I envy you. You have an amazing film journey ahead of you!