Friday, August 24, 2007

Huston's "Annie" (1982) + the Original "Easy Street" Number

OK, first off, there is absolutely nothing wrong with John Huston's 1982 film version of "Annie." It definitely improves on the truly grating stage show and is inarguably preferrable to the watered-down version prepared for TV by musical masters Neal Meron and Craig Zadan. Huston's is head-and-shoulders above any production of the material that I've seen. Period.

The veteran director, new to musicals, had fun with the genre, instructing Carol Burnett, as Miss Hannigan, to "play it soused" throughout(which she does quite wittily) and Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks to affect Huston's own vocal delivery (which he also does quite wittily). And a deep bow to Huston for also showcasing two stage stalwarts - Ann Reinking, excellent as Grace, Warbuck's executive secretary, and Bernadette Peters, as the vamp Lily St. Regis.

Reinking excels in the wonderful "We Got Annie" number, one of many fine musical moments here that overshadow the "Tomorrow" anthem, which Huston wisely downplayed for his movie.

Best of all, in Aileen Quinn, he found a spunky kid to play Annie who could have stepped out of a 1930s Warner Bros. street film.

Too bad that Huston couldn't quite convince his almost-son-in-law at the time, Jack Nicholson, to play Rooster Hannigan. He would have been a hoot, although Tim Curry, who ultimately played the role, is perfectly fine - wildly theatrical and juicily evil.

Curry, of course, performed in the showstopper, "Easy Street," with Burnett and Peters, which is staged in an unusually intimate way in the film. It wasn't meant that way. Joe Layton, who oversaw all the film's musical numbers, and Arlene Phillips, who choreographed the film, originally put together a bigger production number, set outdoors and with scores of dancers. It was done along the lines of "Who Will Buy?" from Sir Carol Reed's "Oliver!" (choreographed by Onna White).

But producer Ray Stark reportedly wasn't entirely happy with the finished product and asked that the song be refilmed - this time, in an indoor setting.

My question: What happened to the footage of the original version of the number? Why didn't Sony include it on the recent reissue of the "Annie" DVD as a bonus feature? I mean, they found room on the DVD for an unnecessary music video of an updated "rap" version of "It's a Hard-Knock Life" by some generic teen group.

Yeesh. Why can't they ever do things right?

Note in Passing: Speaking of "Annie," in an otherwise fine piece on the state of the modern film musical, freelance writer James C. Taylor wrote a piece of The Los Angeles Times, titled "Movie Musicals Are Whistling a Happy Tune" (August 10th, 2007), in which he states, rather arbitrarily and ridiculously, "while the film version of 'Annie' helped signify the decline of the movie musical, this TV 'Annie' would be the main reason for its return." Say what? Since when? Prove it.

(Artwork: Aileen Quinn, with Sandy, is Huston's "Annie")

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jbryant said...

My guess is that Taylor means the success of the TV "Annie" paved the way for producers Meron and Zadan to get "Chicago" done as a feature. Don't know if it's true, but it probably didn't hurt.

jbryant said...

My guess is that Taylor means the success of the TV "Annie" paved the way for producers Meron and Zadan to get "Chicago" done as a feature. Don't know if it's true, but it probably didn't hurt.

John said...

I actually liked both versions of "Annie". The Huston version will be arriving sometime tomorrow from Amazon. In widescreen. Came across it by accident after reading The Passionate Moviegoer. I never knew about an alternate version of Easy Street, I always
thought the stills I saw were from a deleted scene only.

joe baltake said...


About a week before "Annie" opened, ABC devoted a full hour to its release, "Prime Time"-style, and interviewed everyone in the cast, Huston and Joe Layton and showed a lot of behind-the-scenes footage. Layton and Arlene
Phillips discussed the re-filming of "Easy Street" and there was footage of it as it was originally staged. I even think they had to re-record the song for the new filming.

AMcK said...

My all time favourite movie musical is John Houston's Annie. Carol Burnett was so creepy funny as Miss Hannigan, and I think that the score and choreography were intense and edgy, a good counterpoint to the cutesy aspect of the story line in general... it was the Depression after all!!!

Love your blog!