Monday, April 14, 2014

indelible moment: "Mean Girls" (2004)

Gretchen Weiners: "That is so fetch!"

Regina George: "Gretchen, stop trying to make 'fetch' happen! It's so not going to happen!"

Rachel McAdams as the alpha mean girl of The Plastics setting Lacey Chabert straight on her phraseology in Mark Waters' delightful teen comedy.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

dubbing drubbing

The Curious Mystery of the Dubbed Voice...

Once upon a time, a little unknown named Kathy Sheldon, struggling to make ends meet in Hollywood during the silent era, was brought in by Monumental Pictures, to dub in the voice of tempermental movie queen Lina Lamont in its first singing talkie, "The Dueling Cavalier."

That's the plot of Stanley Donen-Gene Kelly's "Singin' in the Rain" (1952), of course, with Debbie Reynolds as Kathy and Jean Hagen as Lina. The odd thing is that life imitated art, in that Reynolds, a song-and-dance pro, was herself dubbed in the movie - at least, in its climatic scene. That's when Lina, who has a cartoonish, high-pitched voice, is brought on stage following the premiere of "The Dueling Cavalier" and is cheered on by the audience to sing live. She can't.  That's because Kathy dubbed both her speaking and singing voice in the film. And so, with Kathy behind the curtain, Lina mimes the lyric of "Would You?," while Kathy actually sings it.

You know all this if you've seen the film - and who hasn't? But the funny thing is that Reynolds herself was dubbed in the scene - by Betty Royce.

So you have a situation of Royce singing for Reynolds who is pretending to sing for Hagen. Got that?

"Singin' in the Rain" was made more than 60 years ago and film types still complain about dubbing - which, frankly, is nearly as old as film itself and, for me, one of its more magical qualities. Most of these complaints, not surprisingly, are leveled at non-singers who need to be dubbed.

But wait! There are a lot of musically talented people in film who were routinely dubbed. Cyd Charisse was an MGM contract player who made musicals almost exclusively. She could dance but she couldn't sing. India Adams was brought in by Metro to fulfill that aspect of her performance.

And Rita Hayworth's house dubber at Columbia was Jo Ann Greer, whose voice was so remarkably close to Hayworth's that most people have assumed that the star did all her own singing. She didn't. Never.

Rita Moreno, another trained singer, likes to point out in interviews that Natalie Wood had to be dubbed by the ubiquitous Marni Nixon for "West Side Story," but fails to mention that she - Moreno - was dubbed in that film by Betty Wand (who also did the singing for film-musical regular Leslie Caron in "Gigi"). Co-star Russ Tamblyn, another Metro musical player, was dubbed by his fellow Jet in the film, Tucker Smith. It's odd to hear Tucker's voice come out of Tamblyn's mouth in "The Jet Song" and then hear the same voice come out of his own mouth in "Cool."

And here's the clincher: Juanita Hall sang the role of Bloody Mary on Broadway for Joshua Logan in "South Pacific," but when he made his 1958 film version, Murial Smith (who played the role in London) was brought to supply Bloody Mary's singing voice, at the request of Richard Rodgers. Huh?  Why was Hall hired in the first place?  Why not go directly with Smith?

So get over it, folks, because even the most adept musical talents have been dubbed, as bizarre as that might be to imagine.

Much more troublesome - for me, at least - are those players whose entire vocal performances have been dubbed.

Case in point: The charming singer Joanie Sommers who made her inauspicious film debut in the 1961 Don Taylor film, "Everything's Ducky," starring Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett.

Taylor, the affable actor who played the groom opposite Elizabeth Taylor in Vincente Minnelli's "Father of the Bride" (1950), directed a few episodes of several TV series before making his big-screen directorial debut with "Everything's Ducky," a comedy for Columbia.

It's about two sailors (Rooney and Hackett) and a talking ... duck.

Sommers had a distinctive speaking and singing voice - soft, velvety, with a slight tomboyish pull to it. She is perhaps best-known for her hit version of the song "One Boy" from the play and film, "Bye Bye Birdie." But her voice is unrecognizable - alien - in "Everything's Ducky." For some bizarre reason, Taylor (or someone) decided to completely re-record her dialogue using another actress's voice. They even dubbed over Sommers' giggles in the film. It's an insane conceit - akin to replacing the singular voice of, say, a Debra Winger or a Zooey Deschanel.

It was never revealed exactly who dubbed Joanie Sommers in "Everything's Ducky," although Columbia did manage to credit the actor - Walker Edmiston - who provided the voice of the duck. Go figure.

Yes, shades of "Singin' in the Rain."

This wasn't the first time that a studio did something drastic with an actress' voice. When Ingrid Thulin's voice in Minnelli's 1962 version of "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" was considered too thick and indecipherable for the average American moviegoer, Metro recruited no less than Angela Lansbury to read all her lines.

At least, Thulin was already an establish actress - well, certainly in Europe. But Sommers was brand-new to acting. And so was Jacqueline Bisset, who had one of her more memorable early screen roles in Stanley Donen's "Two for the Road" (1967) - and her husky, trained voice, also very familiar, was dubbed. Word is that Donen actually needed Bisset to reloop someof her dialogue but, as she was already off, working on another film, and unavailable, another actress, also never identified, was brought in to dub her entire vocal performance.

I personally find all this distracting and disturbing. I mean, a person's voice is a big part of his or her performance - nay, it's 100% of the performance. I don't know how it can be easily replaced. Is any artistic excuse legitimate?

Most disturbing of all is what director Hugh Hudson (strangely silent lately, but not missed by me) and what he did to Andie MacDowell in her first screen role in his "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes" (1984). He took MacDowell's charming, enticing twang and replaced it with the dull patrician tones of Glenn Close, his decision never explained.

And neither MacDowell nor Close has ever discussed it, although I spent most of my career as a working critic dying to ask Close exactly why one actress would do that to another.

Hudson's dubious decision could have derailed MacDowell's acting career and ruined her reputation. Luckily, it didn't. She flourished in some very good films - among them, "Groundhog Day," "Unstrung Heroes," "The Muse," "The End of Violence," "Green Card" and, yes, "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "sex, lies and videotape.".

Hudson, meanwhile, hasn't made a film in more than a decade.

And according to Hollywood legend, James Keach dubbed the voice of then-newcomer Klinton Spilsbury in the "Legend of the Lone Ranger" movie - a move that I think may have aborted Spilsbury's career - and Lindsay Crouse came in and dubbed Lysette Anthony in "Krull."

Getting back to Sommers, she made out much better in her second film, 1964's "The Lively Set," with James Darren and Pamela Tiffin. Director Jack Arnold, always a pro, was smart enough to retain her seductive purr.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

what a great day!

 •*¨*•♫♪ ░H░A░P░P░Y░ (¯''•.¸*♥♥♥* ¸.•''¯) ░B░I░R░T░H░D░A░Y░
♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸♥ ¸¸.•*¨*¸.•*¨`*░T░O░░Y░O░U░♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸♥
And to...
  • Beverly ("I'm a pig!") Boyer / "The Thrill of It All"
  • Cathy Timberlake / "That Touch of Mink"
  • Margaret Garrison / "Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?"
  • Kit Preston / "Midnight Lace"
  • Georgia Garrett / "Romance on the High Seas"
  • Kitty Wonder / "Billy Rose's Jumbo"
  • Josie Minik / "The Ballad of Josie"
  • Erica Stone / "Teacher's Pet"
  • "Dynamite" Jackson / "April in Paris" 
  • Martha Gibson / "My Dream Is Yours"
  • Isolde Poole / "The Tunnel of Love" 
  • Carol Templeton / "Lover Come Back" 
  •  Jane Osgood / "It Happened to Jane"
  •  Nanette Carter / "Tea for Two"
  • Judy Kimball / "Send Me No Flowers" 
  • Laurie Tuttle / "Young at Heart" 
  • Melinda Howard / "Lullaby of Broadway"
  • Josephine Conway McKenna / "The Man Who Knew Too Much"
  • Jo Jordan / "Young Man with a Horn"
  • Judy Adams / "It's a Great Feeling"
  • Abby McClure / "With Six,You Get Eggroll" 
  • Jennifer Nelson / "The Glass-Bottom Boat"
  • Janet Harper / "Do Not Disturb"
  • Ellen Wagstaff Arden / "Move Over, Darling" 
  • Patricia Foster / "Caprice"
  • "Babe" Williams / "The Pajama Game"
  • Julie Benton / "Julie"
  • Marjorie Winfield / "On Moonlight Bay" & "By the Light of the Silvery Moon"
  • Lucy Rice  / "Storm Warning"
  • Calamity Jane / "Calamity Jane" 
  • Jan Wilson / "The West Point Story"
  • Grace LeBoy Kahn / "I'll See You in My Dreams"
  • Kate Robinson McKay / "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" 
  • Aimee Alexander / "The Winning Team"
  • Ruth Etting / "Love Me or Leave Me" 
  • Jan Morrow / "Pillow Talk"
  • Doris Day / "Starlift"
  • and (drum roll please!) Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff

Monday, March 31, 2014

bateman's "bad words"

Throwing caution to the wind, the affable actor Jason Bateman makes an auspicious directorial debut with a gleefully heartless little comedy titled "Bad Words," in which he admirably aims to offend just about everyone while neatly avoiding any toxicity that might come with so dubious a goal.

Good for him.

Given my distaste for political correctness, I enjoyed this film immensely.  And I hasten to remind those self-designated hall monitors among us that being offensive (to any group) or insensitive or just plain rude is not against any known law, so far as I know. So chill.

Set in the child-dominated world of adult-controlled spelling bees, "Bad Words" is about one Guy Trilby (terrific name), a smug man of about 40 who, for seemingly mean-spirited reasons, crashes a regional spelling bee, assaulting anyone who confronts him (regardless of age, gender or color) with utter mendacity. Like most bullies, Trilby is an impervious opponent.

Bateman is a double-threat here, having cast himself as Trilby, and the casting is spot-on:  As a comic actor, Bateman has proven to be something of fluent, offhand wordsmith and this role - Trilby is incorrigibly, ingeniously dishonest and has jaw-dropping foul mouth - lets him loose on a binge of glibness and transgressions that know no boundaries.

Another director might have cast Jim Carrey in the role and there's no doubt that Carrey could have pulled it off with ease.  Bateman doesn't share Carrey's affinity for manic outbursts.  His persona is much more calm. And that difference makes his Guy Trilby even more unsettling.

This character's contempt for children have prompted some to liken "Bad Words" with Terry Zwigoff's comparably profane "Bad Santa" (2003), but the inspiration for both Zwigoff's film and this one goes back even further - to the movies that W.C. Fields  made with director Edward Cline.

Bateman keeps up the comic fury and vitriol until, alas, the very end when either he or the studio felt compelled to explain Trilby's bad behavior with a back story that reduces the character in way I could have never imagined, given what preceded it.  Yes, Guy Trilby can make small children squirm and cry but that's because he's been there, see?  Oy.
  Credit: Focus Features

Thursday, March 27, 2014

anderson's "the grand budapest hotel"

More a visualist than a filmmaker, Wes Anderson brings his limited cinematic perspective to new ambitious heights with "The Grand Budapest Hotel," a work that personifies the notion of style over substance.

We're in a world where mise-en-scène reigns.

An opening credit informs us that Anderson's film was "inspired by the works of Stefan Zweig," but the true inspiration here is the eye-popping, jaw-dropping production design of Adam Stockhausen, chiefly Stockahusen's execution of the titular retreat, a glorified doll house with an intricate floor plan and bright primary coloring, set in some vaguely European hillside hamlet in the 1930s. And all of it is supplemented by some masterly miniature work.  It's gorgeous but it hurts the eyes.

Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel vies with Ralph Fiennes over exactly who or what is the star of Anderson's film. (It's the hotel, hands-down.)

Fiennes is the central actor of Anderson's virtually all-male cast here, which is also rather jaw-dropping - and it's up to each individual viewer to determine whether that’s “jaw-dropping” in a good way.

Most of Anderson's eight films (one of which is an animation) have been male dominated, particularly "Bottle Rocket," "Rushmore" and "The Darjeeling Limited."  Yes, Gwyenth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett had roles in "The Royal Tennebaums" and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," respectively, but not much to do.  Both films were about the guys. Frances McDormand was fairly unpleasant in "Moonrise Kingdom," as was Anjelica Huston in the three she made with Anderson. (Look them up.)

But Anderson's history did not prepare me for the male fantasia of "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which includes no fewer than 15 name-or-recognizable actors but no female characters of any consequence.  The invaluable Tilda Swinton does a fabulous cameo bit in the film's first 10 minutes or so, and hot-young-thing Léa Seydoux has a thankless walk-on as a hotel maid. Saoirse Ronan's role as a calmly young baker with a curious, wholly unnecessary birth mark across the right side of her face is this film's idea of a female lead, I guess, but it isn't much of a role.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around Fiennes' sleazy Monsieur Gustave, the hotel's resident concierge and would-be dandy who is possibly gay but definitely fey. He claims, with much misplaced pride, to have slept with all the decrepit old dowagers who are regular patrons of the Grand Budapest, although he comes across as the sort who would find sex much too messy.

Anyway, the Swinton character, who is dispatched early on, leaves M. Gustave a much-coveted painting titled "Boy with Apple," much to the chagrin of one of her protofascist relatives (Adrien Brody) who hires a thug with bad teeth (Willem Dafoe) to retrieve the painting and do away with M. Gustave, but not necessarily in that order. It's a fairly dreary storyline and, frankly, the film loses what little appeal it has with a long, lumbering interlude involving M. Gustav's stint in prison and its aftermath.

I really missed that hotel!

Oh, and along for the ride is Zero Moustafa, the hotel's Lobby Boy (Tony Revolori, who wears a penciled-in mustache and a pillbox hat with “Lobby Boy” embroidered on it) and M. Gustav's protégé, willing to be corrupted.

Like Anderson's previous film, "Moonrise Kingdom," this one is annoyingly fussy but without the charm of its predecessor.  I would like to think that he has reached his limit with "The Grand Budapest Hotel," but so long as lovelorn movie critics continue to fawn over every precious physical and visual detail, we can expect the next one to be... More. Of. The. Same.

Note in Passing: The cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman abets Anderson's vision and ambition here by filming the story in three different aspects, matched up to the three time periods that the movie covers.

Monday, March 24, 2014

indelible moment: Quine's "It Happened to Jane"

"It Happened to Jane," released by Columbia Pictures during the summer of 1959, is Richard Quine's plucky, affectionate and unabashed tribute to the filmmaker who put Columbia on the map - Frank Capra.

In fact, the film's working title was "Old 97 Goes to Market," a play on two Capra vehicles - "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (1936) and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939), movies of staunch Americana that "Jane" successfully emulates.  While Capra was restricted largely to backlot filmmaking, Quine brought his story of a small-town lobster farmer and her first selectman-boyfriend into the open air of New England (Chester, Connecticut standing in for the fictional Cape Ann, Maine) and with a few vivid vérité touches.

Among the indelible moments in this charming film are a town meeting (with all the extras played by Chester residents) and a wildly inventive sequence in which Jane Osgood (Doris Day), feeling she needs an answer right now, climbs on the back of the engine of the locomotive Old 97 to coerce her lifelong boyfriend George Denham (Jack Lemmon) into proposing while he is hectically trying to shovel enough coal into Old 97's furnace to keep it moving.  As his Uncle Otis (Russ Brown) testily demands "More steam!," George struggles to divide his attention between the needs of both the speeding train and the impatient Jane.

Because of the din of the rushing, rumbling train, all of the dialogue is shouted and emphatic and George can't quite make out what Jane is trying to say to him. This is vérité at its most vigorous and exhilarating:

Jane: “George!  George!”
George: “What?!” 
Jane: “I think I’m getting married today!” 
George: “What?!” 
Jane: “I said I’m getting married today!”

George:  “Don’t be silly!
Jane: “I am not being silly!”
George:  “What are you talking about?!”
Uncle Otis (to George): “More stem!” 

George (trying to listen to both Uncle Otis and Jane): “What?! What?!!”
Jane: "Lawrence Clayborn Hall is waiting for me in Marshalltown and I am going to marry him!"
George:  “Just like that?!”
Jane:  “No, not  just  like that, George .  He asked me!”
Uncle Otis (to George):  “George, More steam! Steam!”  
George: “After knowing you for four days, he asked you to marry him?  I think he’s probably asked every girl he ever knew to marry him!  He’s neurotic or something.  If you remember correctly, I asked you to marry me 21 years ago!”
Jane:  “Yes, and you haven’t asked me since!”
George:  “What?!” 
Jane: “I’m a woman and I’m supposed to be married!   I’m a mother and I need a man to take care of me and my children!”
George: “You don’t have to go to Marshalltown to find one!”  

Jane: “Don’t I, George?”
George: “No!”
Jane: “Where can I find one?”
George: “You don’t have to go anywhere!  You can stay right in Cape Ann!”
Jane: “Can I, George?”
George: “You know you can!”
Jane: “Do I?” (a pause)  “Well, say it! Can’t you just say it?”
George: “Say what?!”
Jane: “Say anything!  Why can’t you be neurotic like Larry and say you’ll marry me?!”
George: “Well, you know I will!”
Jane:  “Oh, George!  You proposed!”

Uncle Otis (to George):  “More steam!”
George (murmurs to Uncle Otis): “Yeah, wait.”
Jane:George!  George!  You did!  You proposed!  George!”
George stops to climb up to where Jane is to kiss her.
Uncle Otis (to George):  “We need more coal!”
Jane (giddy with delight): “George, I love you!”
George climbs back down.
George (to Jane): “I love you!”
George (to Uncle Otis):  “What coal?”
Jane (again, giddy with delight): “George, I love you!”
George (to Jane): “I Love you!
George (to Uncle Otis):  “No coal!
Uncle Otis (quoting Teddy Roosevelt): “Bully!”
*   *   *
 A few notes on "It Happened to Jane"...
It's been rumored, falsely, that Harry Foster Malone, the monied villain played by Ernie Kovacs in “It Happened to Jane,," was modeled after Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941).

It's an easy assumption to make.  While the character's middle name, Foster, was probably borrowed from Welles, the name Harry itself actually comes from ... Harry Cohn, the legendary head of Columbia Pictures, which produced and released "It Happened to Jane."

True, the name Foster seems to be a dead giveaway but it's also a distraction. While we were working on a book together, Jack Lemmon told me that Kovacs' Harry Foster Malone was based directly on Cohn, who died while Lemmon, Kovacs and Quine were making "Bell, Book and Candle" the year before. Kovacs affected Cohn's look for his wicked impersonation by donning a bald plate for the film and gaining 40 pounds.

He also appropriated Cohn's infamously foul-tempered, autocractic and abrasive personality for the role.  There's really nothing of Charles Foster Kane in Kovacs' movie-stealing performance. Another film writer has speculated what Cohn thought of Kovacs' performance.

"Did he get the joke?," he asked.

No problem.  Cohn, as noted, died on February 27, 1958, during the filming of "Bell, Book and Candle"; "It Happened to Jane" went into production June 2, 1958 and ended shooting July 31 of that year.

Nevertheless, the Kovacs-Welles rumor has persisted, supported surprisingly by Turner Movie Classics which is usually never less than fastidious in its research.  I watch "Jane" whenever Turner airs it - I love the film - and in the introductions to the movie, the source of Kovacs' performance is invariably misidentified,   attributing it directly to "Kane."

Again, not true.
As noted earlier, "It Happened to Jane" started life as "Old 97 Goes to Market," originally positioned as another Lemmon-Quine collaboration with Jack in the role of a young widower with two children who raises lobsters for a living and has political aspirations in the small town where he lives.

I've no idea when it morphed into a Doris Day vehicle but both Quine and Lemmon were eager to work with her.

The film would go through more title changes - "Miss Casey Adams" and "As Jane Goes (As Maine Goes)"- before the studio settled on "It Happened to Jane."  No one involved in the film particularly liked that moniker but it lent itself to a terrific, catchy title song by Joe Lubin (who worked often with Doris Day) and Irvin J. Roth (aka, Adam Ross), sung by Day over the main credits.

The movie was in post-production when the studio came up with yet another title, "That Jane from Maine," and had the composers rewrite "It Happened to Jane," changing the lyric but retaining the music.  (That version of the song remained unreleased until it popped up on a Day album and subsequent CD; it can currently be heard on the CD, "Golden Girl.") But there was a problem: While "That Jane from Maine" was a better title, "It Happened to Jane" was the better song.  So back to the original.

At least,I think that's the song/title chronology.  It's madding.

In the meantime, Columbia had commissioned Marvin H. Albert to write a novelization of Norman Katkov and Max Wilk's script.  The book was printed and ready to go under the title "That Jane from Maine" - it was too late to change - while the film went into theaters as "It Happened to Jane."

There were some theaters which sold copies of the softback novelization at their concession stands, certainly confusing their patrons.

"It Happened to Jane" was a good film that came at the wrong time for everyone concerned - its two stars, the public and the critics, who hastily dismissed it.  Both Lemmon and Day were at the crossroads in their respective careers and "Jane," released in June of 1959, just didn't seem to fit in.  Lemmon had a personal triumph three months earlier in March in Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot" (which was actually shot after "Jane") and Day was poised to reveal a major makeover with the October release of Michael Gordon's "Pillow Talk." Both were frank, sexed-up films.

By comparison, "It Happened to Jane" seemed a tad old-fashioned.

And a little square.

"Some Like It Hot" and "Pillow Talk" brought both Lemmon and Day well-deserved Oscar nominations as best actor and best actress.  Impressed by this and in an effort to salvage "It Happened to Jane," Columbia re-released the film in 1960, shortly after the Oscarcast and before the Summer release of Lemmon's next big Oscar-bait hit, "The Apartment." And, yes, there was yet another title - and another title song (credited to "By" Dunham) - "Twinkle and Shine." But it was too late.

It would take"It Happened to Jane" several decades before it was recognized as the smart, alert farce that it is or before its undervalued maker, Richard Quine, would be appreciated as an auteur.

I may be a majority of one but it's my opinion that the train sequence showcased at the start of this essay is as good as anything that Billy Wilder gave Lemmon to do in "Some Like It Hot" or "The Apartment," or that Day got to do in "Pillow Talk" and her subsequent modern comedies.

Monday, March 17, 2014

cinema obscura: two with Debbie Reynolds

Debbie Reynolds, who one wag aptly called Hollywood's eternal teenager, has had a remarkable screen career but much like a peer from the same era, Doris Day, she has rarely received the credit she deserves.

She has a whopping 83 acting credits, starting with an uncredited bit in 1948's "June Bride," but is perhaps largely known for roles in two Metro musicals - Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly's iconic "Singin' in the Rain" (1952), her sixth film, and Charles Walters' "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" (1964), a mid-career hit which brought Reynolds her only Oscar nomination, very well-deserved. She's terrific; the film isn't.

For reasons that I cannot quite pinpoint, I'm fascinated by a five-year period in her career - 1959 through 1964 - when Reynolds churned out 12 films, including "Molly Brown" and the all-star Cinerama Western, "How the West Was Won" (1962), directed by John Ford, Henry Hathaway and George Marshall.  But, for me, it's the other ten, more modest titles that truly fascinate, because so many have been so difficult to see for so long.

In 1959, Reynolds appeared in no fewer than four films - the Frank Tashlin-directed "Say One for Me" and three (count 'em) three directed by the aforementioned Marshall,  "The Mating Game," co-starring Tony Randall, and "The Gazebo" and "It Started with a Kiss," both with Glenn Ford, with whom she was romantically linked at the time.

Tony Curtis was her co-star in two vastly different films from this period - Robert Mulligan's tough-edged "The Rat Race" (1960), based on the Garson Kanin play, and Vincente Minnelli's antic "Goodbye, Charlie!" (1964), from the popular stage comedy by George Axelrod.

Mervyn LeRoy's "Mary, Mary," based on the Jean Kerr stage hit and just recently made available on DVD by Warner Archives, was one of two Reynolds movies released in 1963.  The other, still almost impossible to see, is Gower Champion's incredibly charming "My Six Loves," in which Reynolds plays an exhausted Broadway star whose attempt at a little R&R in the country is unsettled by a family of squatters, six orphaned children.

What may sound like sitcom hell on paper is much more in performance, thanks to Champion's nimble direction and eye for casting.  Reynolds' polar-opposite leading men here are David Janssen as a smooth New York dandy (named Marty Bliss, no less) and Cliff Robertson as a local pastor, and the supporting cast includes the likes of Eileen Heckart, Hans Conreid, Alice Ghostley, John McGiver, Alice Pearce, Pippa Scott and the particularly hilarious Max Showalter and Mary McCarty as the kids' slovenly foster parents (who develop dollar signs in their eyes when they see that they're dealing with a big Broadway star in a big Connecticut house).

"My Six Loves" was Champion's debut film as a director.  He was on the rebound.  Champion was supposed to make his directorial debut the same year with Columbia's "Bye, Bye Birdie," which he of course directed to some acclaim on Broadway.  In fact, he had planned to make it with Reynolds (who had appeared with him years before in Donen's "Give a Girl a Break") and Jack Lemmon (his co-star from "Three for the Show").  But creative differences over the script for "Birdie" caused him to bolt and he landed at Paramount with Reynolds in tow to do "My Six Loves." (George Sidney ended up directing "Birdie" - aka, "Ann-Margaret in Concert").

There's another, earlier Paramount film that Reynolds' made during this period which also seems to be lost.  In 1961, she made Vincent Sherman's "The Second Time Around," for Fox (and now available on DVD by Fox Cinema Archives), and Paramount's "The Pleasure of His Company," George Seaton's film version of the play by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Samuel Taylor about a long-lost father who disrupts the Napa-based wedding of his debutante daughter, much to her delight and chagrin.

Fred Astaire and Reynolds played the father-daughter roles that were essayed on stage by Cyril Richard and Dolores Hart.  Tab Hunter had the role of the groom, performed on stage by George Peppard. And Lili Palmer is the estranged wife, a part that Skinner herself limned on Broadway.

"The Pleasure of His Company" is very much a filmed New York play, urbane and talky - a good thing - and it benefits from the casual chemistry shared by Reynolds and Astaire who, at the time, was diving into straight acting roles and with some success ("On the Beach" and "The Notorious Landlady").  Both it and "My Six Loves" should be out there for us enjoy.

Friday, March 14, 2014

cinema obscura: Ron Howard's "EdTV" (1999)

Credit: Universal Pictures

Now is the time to praise Ron Howard's prescient comedy of 1999, "EdTV."

For two reasons.

First, it's a giddy reminder that before their bravura acting duet in "True Detective," the scorching anthology series recently from HBO, Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson shared a screen history.  They first teamed as brothers (and a fabulous match-up it was ) 15 years ago in Howard's underrated and now forgotten film, and they would subsequently join forces again about ten years later in an even lesser-known, more obscure title, S.R. Bindler's B-movie treat, "Surfer, Dude" (2008).

Secondly, "EdTV" is actually a film that deserves the lofty description of "prescient."  Howard made it on the cusp of television's seduction by reality.  McConaughey plays the title character, Eddie Perkurny, a video-store clerk who is "discovered" by an ambitious TV producer (played by Ellen DeGeneres) who decides he's worth trailing with a camera 24/7.

Peter Weir and Jim Carrey tackled the same basic idea the year before in more surreal terms in "The Truman Show," which was a bigger commercial and critical hit, but the Howard film is absolutely uncanny and unparalleled in its penchant for nailing the inanity of the Reality TV phenom.

One of Howard's strengths as a director is his eye for casting, especially the women in his films.  Aside from the perfect pairing of McConaughey and Harrelson as siblings, his cast includes Sally Kirkland as the boys' mother, Dennis Hopper as their estranged father, Martin Landau as their stepfather, Jenna Elfman as Eddie's girlfriend, plus Rob Reiner, Elizabeth Hurley, Adam Goldberg, Viveka Davis and, of course, DeGeneres.

All of them are clearly having fun with the fresh material.

Note in Passing:  "EdTV" was loosely based by Howard regulars Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel on the 1994 Québec  film, "Louis 19, le roi des ondes" ("King of the Airwaves"). Ganz and Mandel shared screenplay credits with the authors of the original, Sylvie Bouchard and  Émile Gaudreault.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

inside adele dazeem

Perhaps not unsurprisingly, Idina Menzel has become the beneficiary of John Travolta's grotesque gaffe during the recent Oscarcast - you know, the moment when Travolta somehow contorted the actress-singer's name into the unrecognizable "Adele Dazeem," that spelling being variable.

 It's been reported today that ticket sales for "If/Then," the new musical for which the talented Menzel was in rehearsal when she took a break to memorably belt out the Oscar-winning "Let It Go," have been "robust" and there's been understandable speculation whether Menzel's Travoltified name is a contributing factor: The show pulled in a whopping $909,159 during its first seven previews, considered hugely impressive for a new/original musical. "If/Then," which officially opens March 30, has played to more than 95% audience capacity so far.

Even Menzel's "If/Then" producers got in on the joke by publishing a special Playbill insert reading, "At this performance the role of Elizabeth will be played by Adele Dazeem."

In some weirdly circuitous way, John Travolta has given Idina Menzel name recognition - or at least more than she already had.

But cynic that I am, I can't help wondering if Travolta was being playful that night, knowing exactly what he was doing.  I think this because the gaffe never made much sense.  It would be reasonable if Travolta introduced her as "Irene Mantel" or even "Irma la Douce."

But "Adele Dazeem"?  It's not even remotely close.

John Travolta is a smart guy, a pro.  He's not Vinnie Barbario or Danny Zuko.  He's no fool. He didn't get up there unprepared.  Presumably, there was a rehearsal beforehand - and a teleprompter on the night of the event.  Those critical of his performance that night have invoked the three D words - drunk, drugs and dementia. I've another - disarming.  No, John Travolta is no fool but perhaps he was willing to look a little foolish to help someone he admires get a little more attention. Just a theory.

(Also, he looked nonplussed afterwards when he was returned to his seat in the audience, as if nothing had happened.  And Travolta didn't comment on the situation until several days later when he "apologized" - well, sort of - by saying, "I've been beating myself up all day.")

This reminds me that, back in the day - 1974 to be specific - there was another Oscar moment that was supposed to be spontaneous.  That's when the late photographer Robert Opel - aka, The Streaker - suddenly appeared on stage behind presenter David Niven.  He was completely nude, although somehow the TV camera was positioned in such a way that Opel's crucial parts could not be seen by the viewers at home.

How convenient. And how convenient that no one backstage noticed a naked man.  Even more convenient was Niven's well-put (and allegedly also spontaneous) response to the nudity:

"Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen... But isn't it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?"

According to Wikipedia:

"Later, some evidence arose suggesting that Opel's appearance was facilitated by the show's producer Jack Haley, Jr. as a stunt. Robert Metzler, the show's business manager, believed that the incident had been planned in some way. During the dress rehearsal, Niven had asked Metzler's wife to borrow a pen so he could write down the famous ad-lib."

As my friend Daryl has said," "I'm always amazed when people seem to take these obviously staged 'gaffes' as actual."  Me, too.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

memo to cate: "great!"

When Dylan Farrow, adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, wrote her courageous and now-infamous letter to The New York Times on February 1, in which she alleged that she was sexually molested as a child by Allen, she challenged those who have blindly supported and celebrated Allen as an artist, while blithely disregarding any flaws or weaknesses.

Two days later, on February 3, Barbara Walters, in her usual seat on "The View," defended Allen - "I don't know about Dylan. I can only tell you what I have seen now. That it's a good marriage, and he's a loving, caring father. I think that has to be said" - completely oblivious to the fact that she was validating exactly what Dylan Farrow wrote in her letter.

There are those who think - and not without good reason - that Farrow's letter was timed to coincide with the Oscars' voting process.

Woody Allen had been nominated in one of the writing categories for his screenplay for "Blue Jasmine."  It was felt that there was too much formidable competition for Allen to win and, on the night of the awards, when Allen's nomination was announced, it was to scant applause compared to the other nominees.  (They were "American Hustle," "Nebraska," "The Dallas Buyers Club" and "her," which ultimately won.)  A surprise?  Not really.  Farrow is correct.  Hollywood usually stands behind one of its own, but Woody Allen doesn't really fit that profile.  He's been a Hollywood outsider - by design - something which hasn't gone unnoticed.

So there was no way that Dylan Farrow's letter would have negatively affected Allen in terms of the Oscar.  If there was a potential victim at all, it was Cate Blanchett, the acclaimed star of "Blue Jasmine" and the likely winner of the Best Actress Oscar.  Yes, Blanchett won the Oscar and several other acting awards for her performance and each time she won, she managed to reference Allen with little or no effusiveness.

Cate Blanchett is not only a great actress, a fashion icon, a handsome woman and and an urbane, witty person, but also a shrewd diplomat.

We can all learn from her.

At each awards ceremony, Blanchett found a different way to deflect attention away from Allen and even herself.  At the Independent Spirit Awards, she made a note of pointing out that the best actor category had six nominations while the best actress category had only five. She wondered why Greta Gerwig's performance in "Frances Ha" was left out.

(BTW, one of the six male Indie Spirit nominations went to Robert Redford who, given his association with Sundance and independent film, couldn't be denied; hence, the sixth nomination.  Am I being too cynical?)

And on Oscar night, she graciously cited Allen's screenplay with cool dispatch and with that quickly out of the way, went on to complement the other contenders in her acting category and to praise one in particular  - Judi Dench (her co-star from "Notes on a Scandal").

She defused Woody Allen by downplaying him.

This past awards season, Cate Blanchett illustrated her knack for brilliantly, effortlessly, neutralizing a potentially damaging situation.

And one which had absolutely nothing to do with her.