Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on October 22, 2013
Poaching European talent has always been a popular Hollywood pastime, from Murnau to Lubitsch to Lang. Not every import had such an impact however, as proven by the reception of Caravan, a lavish 1934 gypsy musical directed by one Erik Charell. Charell and his leading lady Lilian Harvey had become a hot commodity after the international success of their German film operetta The Congress Dances (1932). Fox decided to make Caravan a “super-special” with a budget over a million dollars, importing French heartthrob Charles Boyer as the male lead. It was a financial and critical disaster, with the NY Times moaning that it was ”an exceptionally tedious enterprise”. Charell’s professional career was over – but what a way to go out (Harvey also flamed out in Hollywood after four films). Fully utilizing the emerging mobile camera technology, Caravan is a perpetually moving marvel, pirouetting through the gypsies like a fellow reveler. The average shot is thirty seven seconds long, so even expository conversations become epic journeys through the cavernous sets – providing an anarchic sense of freedom. Screening as part of MoMA’s “To Save and Project” series of film preservation, Caravan is a major re-discovery.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on August 13, 2013
Going Hollywood (1933) was a gambit by William Randolph Heart to rejuvenate his lover Marion Davies’ career, but instead it accelerated the rise of Bing Crosby. By the end of 1933 Crosby was a top-ten box office attraction, while Marion Davies would be out of movies altogether a few years later. Like their careers, the whole movie is pulled in different directions, as its patchwork backstage musical romantic comedy plot lunges from lavish Busby Berkeley style spectacles to a filmed radio show. Even the box office receipts are schizophrenic, with a cost of $914,000 and total revenues of $962,000 it was a money-maker that barely broke even. Though immensely talented, the actors perform at cross-purposes, with Crosby at his most louche and Davies in a perpetual panic. That Going Hollywood holds together at all can be credited to ace songwriting duo Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, as well as director Raoul Walsh, who had just managed the controlled chaos of his turn of the century NYC comedy The Bowery (1933). Going Hollywood is out now in a handsome DVD from the Warner Archive.
Posted by David Kalat on August 10, 2013
It takes many people to make a movie. There are hairdressers and set dressers, designers and gaffers, caterers and stand-ins. But never mind—in the public imagination it all comes down to the director and the star.
And there was a moment, in 1953, when one of the greatest directors who ever graced Hollywood came to work with inarguably the most iconic movie star of all time. What they made was a bright Technicolor musical comedy, produced on the tail end of Hollywood’s Golden Age, that was as raunchy as anything made in the pre-Porky’s era. And for all its glorious brilliance, it probably shouldn’t have worked at all—because you can’t just put any director with any star. Sometimes they don’t match.
There’s a phrase—oil and water. It’s meant to suggest that two people are of such disparate temperaments that they can’t mix, like oil and water. But that metaphor is a limited—oil and water may not mix, but they are such inert things. But try mixing potassium and water and see what happens—they don’t mix either, but stuff explodes. And that’s our metaphor for today—because putting Howard Hawks in the same room as Marilyn Monroe and expecting anything other than stuff exploding was madness.
Posted by David Kalat on July 6, 2013
I’ve slagged off the Marx Brothers’ The Big Store in this forum before, but I’ll admit it has one outstanding moment–a memorable instance of absolute transgression against the norms of classical Hollywood by a defiant comedy artist. The thing is, though, this moment isn’t by one of the Marxes.
Posted by Susan Doll on March 18, 2013
Now that I live in Florida, this line of dialogue from Moon Over Miami passes across my mind from time to time. I have not seen any millionaires hanging from palm trees, but I do glance up from time to time.
A colorful musical with a terrific cast, Moon Over Miami stars Betty Grable and Carole Landis as Kay and Barbara, two blonde sisters from Texas. Together, they head for Florida, along with their Aunt Susie, who has just come into a small inheritance. The three use the money to stay at the lavish Flamingo Hotel, where they hope to find millionaire husbands. To lure wealthy men into their circle, Kay masquerades as an heiress, Barbara pretends to be her secretary, while Aunt Susie gets stuck as the maid.
Posted by medusamorlock on February 16, 2013
Those of us who can’t resist a good MGM musical are no doubt now and again thinking about the great screen dancer Vera-Ellen, a sparkling screen presence in an number of films yet someone whose memory is overwhelmed by the passage of time and a peculiar lack of the proper respect paid to her accomplishments. On the occasion today of the 92nd anniversary of her birth on February 16, 1921, and although I wrote about her once already (way back in 2007, check out the post by clicking here), and though she’s been gone for over thirty years — she passed away from cancer on August 30, 1981 at only 60 years old – it’s a perfect time to remember again this most charming and talented actress.
Posted by medusamorlock on January 19, 2013
I haven’t been around here in a while, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to wish success to TCM’s Danny Kaye 100th Birthday celebration all day this coming Sunday — tomorrow. As I showed in several posts in the past, I’ve been a Danny Kaye connoisseur nearly all my life, since the days I used to skip junior high to watch his movies on TV during the day (this is pre-VCR and DVR, although I used to record the soundtracks on reel-to-reel tape!). I bought my first copies of those “Movies on TV” books because of Danny, too, because I wanted to go through and find all his movies. Little did I know then that he only made 17, but we are fortunate that TCM will be bringing us a good selection of those on Sunday, plus some rare TV goodies.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on August 28, 2012
Against a backdrop of retina-bursting blue, the 22-year-old Ann-Margaret waves goodbye to the classical Hollywood musical in Bye Bye Birdie (1963). Director George Sidney seems prescient in expanding Ann-Margaret’s role at the expense of intended stars Janet Leigh and Dick Van Dyke, considering the explosion of the youth market less than a year later, when The Beatles would appear on The Ed Sullivan Show (which also makes an appearance in Bye Bye Birdie), cementing rock band movies/concerts as the musicals of the near-future. Now available in a gorgeous limited edition Blu-Ray from Twilight Time (for purchase exclusively at Screen Archives), Bye Bye Birdie is an eye-popping transitional work, with the old and the new Hollywood brushing up against each other with both awkward and thrilling results.
Posted by David Kalat on November 26, 2011
I have something I need to say. It’s something I don’t say often enough, and for that I am sorry. You deserve to hear it. The words are few but powerful.
I love you. I love you, Muppet Movie.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on September 20, 2011
Vincente Minnelli had been interested in making a surrealist musical since his days as a Broadway set designer and director. After he saw successful stagings of “Four Saints in Three Acts” (with libretto by Gertrude Stein) and “Pins and Needles” (starring members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union), he was convinced he could make it work. In 1938, he tried to woo musical comedy star Bea Lillie to take the lead role in a “surrealist revue” he titled “The Light Fantastic”. In a letter to Lillie, quoted in Minnelli’s autobiography, he wrote, “It sets out to prove that the world today is completely screwy. A surrealist fantasy set in jig time.” The project was shelved, and he moved on to direct “Very Warm For May”, the first Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein collaboration in eight years.
Once in Hollywood, and flush with studio goodwill off the hits Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) and The Clock (1945) (he had also directed the majority of the revue-style Ziegfeld Follies, which the studio tinkered with until ’46), he finally put his “Light Fantastic” inspiration into action, resulting in Yolanda and the Thief (1945), one of the strangest and most enchanting films ever released by a Hollywood studio. Released earlier this year on DVD by the Warner Archive, Yolanda and the Thief is also screening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in October, as part of a complete retrospective of the director’s work (presented along with the Locarno Film Festival).
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