Thursday, December 31, 2009

sinatra's big, beautiful mess

Frank Sinatra holding court between scenes on the set of 20th Century-Fox's very curious "Can-Can"
No one would ever mistake Fox's loopy, misguided 1960 version of Cole Porter's "Can-Can" for a good movie, but it is not totally without its charms (most notably, Porter's score, or what's left with it) - or without a certain morbid curiosity. Namely, how did it end up so bad?

That's the first of several questions which have made this film unintentionally fascinating for five decades now. Of course, the most pressing questions connected with the film are (1) why was "I Love Paris," the pick of Porter's scored, scuttled at seemingly the 11th hour, and (2) who exactly made this dubious decision? The foolish excision of "I Love Paris" - and the apparent disappearance of the footage - pretty much defines "Can-Can's" sad, wavering road to the screen.

The play opened in 1953 with Lilo in the lead as La Môme Pistache; Fox's Darryl Zanuck purchased the film rights in August of 1954, with the intention of making it with French star Jeanmarie and Gwen Verdon (who appeared as Claudine in the Broadway production). Zanuck hired Nunnally Johnson to adapt Abe Burrows' wonderful stage book and direct.

Johnson's script, dated August 27, 1955 and available from Script City, is highly faithful to the Broadway production, retaining all of Porter's score.

When Johnson dropped out, the film languished at Fox, with both Claude Binyon and Henry Ephron taking turns dickering with the script, and with Dick Powell and Vincente Minnelli, among others, as potential directors who came and went. Then on April 22, 1958, Fox issued a press release, announcing that "Can-Can" was being put into production as a vehicle for Marilyn Monroe (her first film for the studio since 1956's "Bus Stop"), with Cary Grant and Maurice Chevalier named as possible co-stars.

This incarnation of "Can-Can" got only that far - as a press release sent to entertainment editors. The film was never made.

Enter Frank Sinatra, who acted in the film under a contractual obligation required by 20th Century Fox after walking off the set of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Carousel" in 1954. Sinatra was apparently hesitant, not being exactly a good fit for the property, but Fox prevailed and lured him into the picture by having Charles Lederer (who nimbly adapted "The Front Page" into "His Girl Friday" for director Howard Hawks) create a new character for Frank to play - a lawyer/scamp named François Durnais - and by (1) paying him $200,000, along with a percentage of the film's profits and (2) making the actor a partner in the production.

His Suffolk Productions would oversee the film in tandem with Jack Cummings Productions. Sinatra took the hands-on approach, bringing in Dorothy Kingsley, who had tailored "Pal Joey" for him, to completely revamp the stage script. Kingsley not only cut most of the songs but also altered who would sing them. Songs that were sung by females on stage, were given to male characters in the film, and vice versa.

Sinatra also exhibited bad judgment by recruiting a seriously miscast Shirley MacLaine, his co-star in Minnelli's "Some Came Running," to play the female lead - renamed Simone Pistache for the film. So far, so ... bad.

Shirley is a trained dancer but is not exactly - how shall I put this? - light on her feet. Reviewing the film, New York Times movie critic Bosley Crowther, who genuinely disliked her in the film, diplomatically called her shrill performance "undignified" and remarked about her being "heavy-footed, groping and galluping" throughout the film's Garden of Eden ballet.

Anyway, her addition to the production meant the untimely departure of the second female lead, Barrie Chase, who was hired to play Claudine. Chase, who had a bit in Sinatra's "Pal Joey" (she was one of two ballerinas who helped undress Kim Novak during her strip routine), was a protégé of the film's choreographer, Hermès Pan.

Chase was Fred Astaire's dancing partner on his wonderful '50s TV specials which were choreographed by Pan.

Chase bolted the production when Sinatra handed most of her dance numbers over to MacLaine (La Môme/Simone was not a dancing role on stage), a detail confirmed both in the film's DVD liner notes and by Shirley MacLaine herself in a piece carrying her byline in Newsweek's special Sinatra Memorial tribute issue (28 May, 1998).

Speaking directly to Sinatra in the piece, she wrote: "You strong-armed Twentieth Century-Fox to make 'Can-Can' because you thought I should do a musical. And you had them combine the two female leads into a single character so people could see more of what I could do."

Most of this statement is untrue: Sinatra didn't strongarm Fox; it was the other way around. Also, the character of Claudine was watered-down but still very much exists in the film. It was eventually recast with Juliet Prowse, who replaced Chase - who made a wise decision in retrospect.

Pan's choreography is the film's most envaulable feature, hands-down. This was an especially productive time for Pan. In the space of about 15 years, he choreographed such high-profile film musicals as "Kiss Me, Kate," "Silk Stockings," "Pal Joey," "Porgy and Bess," "Flower Drum Song," "My Fair Lady," "Finian's Rainbow," "Lost Horizon," "Darling Lili" and, uncredited, the "Midas Touch" number from "Bells Are Ringing."

But wait!

I should stop here and confess that, for me, Sinatra always exhibited exquisite good taste, particularly musically. I'm a fan. But in the case of "Can-Can," both his decisions and motivation were fuzzy at best. One questionable decision was bringing on board his house orchestrator Nelson Riddle to arrange the musical numbers; Somehow, Sinatra and Riddle managed to insert the anachronistic "ring-a-ding-ding-ding" into the lyric of Porter's "C'est Magnifique." Which brings us to "I Love Paris"...

Reviewed prior to its release by Variety on Friday, 1 January, 1960, "Can-Can" ran 134 minutes - a scant running time for a roadshow musical, not including either the film's Overture or its Entr'acte - but it did include the song, "I Love Paris," as a duet which offered the iconic pairing Sinatra and Chevalier (a holdover from the film's original conception).

By the time the film opened in New York on 9 March, 1960, its running time was reduced to 131 minutes. (An apt Howard Thompson wrote the New York Times capsule that the film seemed "more like Hoboken than Paris.")

Those missing three minutes contained the "I Love Paris" number.

The song is heard fleetingly over the main credits, but the sequence in which it was sung by Sinatra and Chevalier was dropped immediately prior to the film's release without any explanation. Why?

The length of the film shouldn't have been a problem. It's a relatively short movie. But that seems to be the reason, as irrational as that seems.














The only known still in existence of Frank Sinatra and Maurice Chevalier in the excised "I Love Paris" number from "Can-Can"
Greg M. Pasqua writes on Amazon.com: "It was sung in the club just before the engagement party scene on the boat in Act Two. It was sung as a performed song with Sinatra singing from the stage. Fox determined it slowed the film down, so they cut it before the film was released. You can spot the change in continuity where the song would have occurred."

Prior to the film's New York opening, the magazine section of The New York Times published an advancer on "Can-Can" in its 21 February, 1960 edition, which included the above still from the number.

Given the importance of both the song to the show and Sinatra to the production, is it unfair to conclude that Frank had something to do with the song's deletion? Exacerbating matters is the implication that the footage, which has been missing since 1960, no longer exists.

The duet, of course, can be heard on the Capitol soundtrack album (and there's a slightly longer track of it on the "Frank Sinatra in Hollywood" CD set). Ah, yes, that whacky soundtrack album...

For some bizarre reason, the songs are not listed in chronological order on the soundtrack but, for lack of a better expression, are scrambled, with the Entr'acte listed as the first track (!)

Back on Amazon.com, Mark Andrew Lawrence took the trouble to put the songs in their proper order, so that as Lawrence puts it, "the program flows beautifully from one track to the next." Below is his rearrangement to parallel the order in which each song is performed in the film (the paranthetical numbers indicate how they actually appear on the Capitol soundtrack); the Overture, the fade-out "I Love Paris" choral and exit music (as well as the music for the "Apache" dance and the "Garden of Eden" ballet), incidentally, were never included on the soundtrack.

The whole thing has the aroma of satogage. But why?

1. Main Title/"I Love Paris"/"Montmart" (#7)
2. "Maidens Typical of France" (#9)
3. "C'est Magnifique" (#8)
4. "Live and Let Live" (#4)
5. "You Do Something to Me" (#5)
6. "Let's Do It" (#6)
7. "It's All Right with Me" (#2)
8. Entr'acte (#1)
9. "I Love Paris" (#11)
10. "Come Along with Me" (#3)
11. "Just One of Those Things" (#10)
12. "Can-Can" (#12)

One observation/correction: I took the liberty of adjusting Lawrence's listing of songs because it has Sinatra's "It's All Right with Me" coming after the Entr'acte, when in actuality, it leads directly into the intermission. Also, if what Pasqua says about the placement of "I Love Paris" in the film is accurate, it opened the second act of the film, coming before both MacLaine's comic "Come Along with Me" routine and the arty "Garden of Eden" ballet that was staged at the Bal De Paradis' Four Arts Ball.

Speaking of Porter's songs, for the movie version, the makers seriously tampered with the score, adding "Let's Do It," "Just One of Those Things" and "You Do Something to Me," from other Cole Porter shows.

Eliminated were seven titles, including "Never Give Anything Away," "I Am in Love," "If You Loved Me Truly," "Never, Never Be an Artist," the lyric to "Can-Can" and the most regrettable, the haunting "Allez-Vous-En," although its melody is used behind the film's apache dance routine.

Oh, yes, and at the risk of repeating myself, "I Love Paris" was deleted.

Did you know that?

Note in Passing: At the outset here, I mention that the film is not without its charms, chief of which is the obvious fun that Sinatra and MacLaine are having. If only that fun were contagious. But more to the point, there's Tom Keogh's superb titles design - ome of the movie's most laudable feature. Done in dazzling primary colors and with a deep bow to Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lutrec, Keogh's titles promise a great film that never really follows. All of this only makes one wish that "Can-Can" was a better movie, truly worthy of the treatment that Fox lavished on it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"vertigo"/'marnie," fizzy twins

Although it's never been noted, "Vertigo" (1958) and "Marnie" (1964) - for my money, the two crown jewels in Alfred Hitchcock's matchless canon - are companion pieces. They are, in many ways, the same film.

These twins are deeply psychological studies - leisurely, seductive narratives with both James Stewart and Sean Connery as obsessive, controlling men, and Kim Novak and Tippi Hendren as the women whom they respectively ensnare, obstensibly for their protection. Or is it the women who ensnare the men? It doesn't matter. What's clear is that the person being rescued and saved must first be vanquished, conquered.

In "Marnie," Diane Baker fills the curiously ambivalent role that Barbara Bel Geddes has in "Vertigo," only with a dash of tangy malevolence. Irrevocably linking the films are the two gloriously symphonic, strikingly similar scores penned by Bernard Hermann (pictured left), both of which seem driven by the very madness that permeate Hitchcock's films.

"Vertigo" and "Marnie" also somewhat share the same history in that both were received indifferently by critics when each debuted. Both were belatedly rediscovered and redefined, finding appreciative support - "Vertigo" more so than "Marnie." I remain hopeful that, one day, "Marnie" will be seen as the masterwork that it is.

Turner Classic Movies will be airing the two titles during its all-day Hitchcock marathon on New Year's Eve - 31 December. "Marnie" screens at 9:15 p.m. (est) and "Veritgo" will be shown at 3:30 p.m. (est).

Uncork the champagne early and enjoy.

Monday, December 28, 2009

forgotten coppola

How one responds to the latter-day Francis Ford Coppola reveals, I suppose, what one likes about and expects from movies. Of late, Coppola hasn't engaged moviegoers, not even the art-house set, and has enthused critics in only a mild and often begrudging way.

His 2009 "Tetro" is his second consecutive movie to come on the scene with a whiff of anticipation, only to be greeted with a shrug and then promply forgottened. To the best of my knowledge, this aggressively arty, often painful pseudo-autobiographical film hasn't made one year-end 10 Best list. None. Nada. Almost the same, exact fate was experienced by Coppola's previous film, 2007's "Youth Without Youth," which was his first directorial effort in a decade (the last being 1997's "The Rainmaker").

But the chilling implications of "Tetro" cannot be denied - even its redemptive ending offers no surcease. A powerful, if somewhat limited, film, it should not be allowed to descend into oblivion.

Friday, December 25, 2009

"It's Complicated," or "Getting Took..."

Baldwin bulldozes Streep in "It's Complicated"
"He's a taker. Some people take, some people get took - and they know they're getting took - and there's nothing they can do about it."

-Shirley MacLaine in Billy Wilder's "The Apartment" (1960)


In preamble to commenting on her new film, "It's Complicated," I should note that I am a big fan of Nancy Meyers'. Huge. Meyers is often lumped in with Nora Ephron because of the shared subjects that they pursue, but Meyers is the better director. Hands-down.

OK, with that out of the way, I have to say that I think there's a disconnect between the movie that Meyers thinks she made and what actually transpires in "It's Complicated."

The film is only marginally about an older woman (Meryl Streep), attractive and single, who not only suddenly finds herself balancing two men (Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin) but also having an affair with the ex-husband (Baldwin) she lost to a younger mistress 10 years earlier.

She's gone full circle, see? Now, the wife is the mistress.

That may sound like a vaguely queasy premise, but what "It's Complicated" is really about is much more disturbing.

Step back and block out Streep and you'll see that the movie is really a strange - and strangely empathetic - tribute to a pig, namely the narcissistic ex and his self-obsessed bad behavior. Throughout most of the film, Baldwin's character gets what he wants when he wants it.

At one point, Baldwin pantomimes the words, "I'm so happy," to Streep. He looks perfectly content. She doesn't. He's a taker. She gets took.

This could be the theme of a tough dark comedy, but "It's Complicated" isn't that comedy. It isn't nearly complicated - or tough - enough.

Alec Baldwin may get third billing here but he's clearly the film's lead player, having more scenes than either Streep or Martin, and devouring each one in a morbidly obese way. To say that he chews on the scenery would be an understatement. And so, almost by default, good, gray Martin becomes a fast friend because he's so quiet, restrained and reserved.

Less is more, Alec. Hail, subtlety!

One other thing... On the basis of this film and two of her previous ventures, "Somethings Got to Give" (2003) and "The Holiday" (2006), Meyers has become a specialist of what one wag calls "architecture porn" - I prefer "home porn" - movies that not only showcase but wildly fetishize absurdly extravagant homes with their expensive, magazine-pretty accoutrements. The "House Beautiful" homes in her films gleam and sparkle as no homes in real life do.

Nit-Picking: Martin plays an architect in "It's Complicated." The film opens with Meryl Streep and family helping youngest child Zoe Kazan move out of the family house. Streep reflects that all her kids are gone now and her older daughter Caitlin Fitzgerald asks if she's afraid to sleep alone there. A couple of times later in the film, reference is made to her empty nest status. Given that, why on earth is Streep's character having an addition constructed on what seems to be an already huge house? I know this is only a movie, but it doesn't make sense. Shouldn't she be downsizing or moving? Wasn't there a better, more logical way to introduce Martin into her life other than using architecture?

Advice to Streep: Go with Steve. Definitely.

"nine"/nein

Nicole Kidman coddles petulant Daniel Day-Lewis in "Nine"

Rob Marshall's "Nine" is pretty much what I expected - which wasn't much. Full disclosure: For some reason, I consciously avoided both Broadway incarnations of the musical play from which it's been adapted.

Adapted by way of Fellini's “8½,” natch.

This isn't a movie musical, per se, but something akin to one of those glitzy, psychedelic TV variety-show specials in the 1970s, with star Daniel Day-Lewis acting as host, ushering each elephantine production number in and out, in assembly-line fashion. And "elephantine" is the operative word for these soulless numbers. Marshall has calculated every single song-and-dance routine here as a whopping, in-your-face showstopper.

There are no modest, quiet numbers in "Nine" - amazing, considering that the film's original source material is all about ... introspection.

Actually, in terms of Fellini, "Nine" is much closer to that old SNL skit, Tom Schiller's hilarious Fellini-send-up, "La Dolce Gilda." And "La Dolce Gilda" is better.

And more accurate.
Gilda Radner (with Dan Aykroyd as "Marcello") plays a paparazzi-beseiged actress in Tom Schiller's spoof "La Dolce Gilda"
Also, why would a choreographer of all people hyper-edit his dance sequences into jarring slivers? I could see a filmmaker with no deep appreciation of dance doing that, but a choreographer? Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire must be roiling. I miss the days when one could savor a dancer in full frame/full body, doing his/her thing - when you saw the length of a dancer's body in movement, in minimally-cut takes.

Cotillard, with Day-Lewis, excels in Marshall's frenzied, soulless fantasia.
As artistically blocked filmmaker Guido, Day-Lewis is strangely resistible as a man who also allegedly drives many women to obsessive distraction. (We have to suspend disbelief about both his filmmaking and sexual talents.) But I do like the actresses here, even though they are all required to bump and grind their numbers. Particularly memorable and affecting are Penélope Cruz and Marion Cotillard - Cotillard being the only one who actually acts her songs, bringing an emotional life to them. And what songs! (Not to be taken as a compliment. I mean, those rhymes - "in his head"/"instead.")

Cotillard, like the others, isn't spared Marshall's fetishizing. She's been assigned a gratuitous strip titled "Take If Off" that my colleague Carrie Rickey of The Philadelphia Inquirer aptly compares to Ritz Hayworth's "Put the Blame on Mame" number from Charles Vidor's "Gilda" (1946) . But Marshall also references Natalie Wood here: Cotillard's hairstyle and dress and her coy removal of a glove are direct quotes from Mervyn LeRoy's "Gypsy" (1962). Initially. Then all the slithering sets in.

Hudson in her glitzy Big Number

The other actresses just sing - and move like big animatronic toys - making no impression. All except poor Kate Hudson who, unfortunately, stands out for a dubious reason: She seems to be channelling Ann-Margret (in her deranged "Viva Las Vegas" period) as she jumps up and down maniacally and shouts out the lyrics to something called “Cinema Italiano.”

And one Ann-Margert is quite enough for me.

The largely downbeat reviews parceled out to "Nine" - at least by the major film critics (led by A.O. Scott in The New York Times) - contrast sharply with the secondary pre-Oscar nominations awards and citations (Golden Globes, the SAGs, Critics' Choice, etc.) that have come its way.

This is nothing new. There's a history of questionable films being honored before the bad reviews come in. And it always reflects poorly on those eager award-givers. They've generously given "Nine" the same benefit of doubt that Rob Marshall expects us to extend to Guido.

Note in Passing: As a devoted movie-musical fan, there was a time when I'd rush out to buy the attending soundtrack album of each new film musical. Well, I've managed to restrain myself lately, passing on the recordings (as well as DVDs) of the film versions of "Dreamgirls," "The Phantom of the Opera," "Rent" and "The Producers," all blurs now.

Alas, "Nine" has joined this august group.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

the movie year. 2009. unannotated.


  • "Inglorious Basterds" (Quentin Tarantino) / 1
  • "Up in the Air" (Jason Reitman) / 2
  • "Gake no eu no Ponyo" (Hayao Miyazaki) / 3
  • "The Hurt Locker" (Kathryn Bigelow) / 4
  • "A Serious Man" (Ethan and Joel Coen) / 5
  • "The Girlfriend Experience" (Steven Soderbergh) / 6
  • "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire" (Lee Daniels) / 7
  • "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans" (Werner Herzog) / 8
  • "Brothers" (Jim Sheridan) / 9
  • "Coco Avant Chanel" (Anne Fontaine) / 10
  • "Whatever Works" (Woody Allen)
  • "Les plages d'Agnès" (Agnès Varda)
  • "State of Play" (Kevin Macdonald)
  • "Me and Orson Welles" (Richard Linklater)
  • "The Hangover" (Todd Phillips)/"I Love You, Man" (John Hamburg)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

cinema obscura sighting: Edmund Goulding's "Mardi Gras" (1958)

Where, oh where, are Pat Boone's movies? Well, one of them - one of the best - has been plucked from studio-shelf obscurity by 20th Century-Fox:

Edmund Goulding's terrific "Mardi Gras" from 1958 gets a rare showing on the studio's Fox Movie Channel at 2 p.m. (est) on Wednesday, 13 January.
 

Alas, it will be a fullscreen showing of the CinemaScope feature, but pan-and-scan is better than nothing. This is one of many Boone films that Fox has not bothered to release on home entertainment in any form.

So where's the gratitude?

An early contract player at the studio, Boone was a major cash cow for Fox during the 1950s. What's odd is that most of the films of Elvis Presley, Boone's polar-opposite counterpart, have long been available on home entertainment and have been shown endlessly on Turner Classic Movies.

And let's face it, Elvis' titles, with the exception of two or three, are fairly ... awful. Boone's movies are actually better, particularly his first three titles for Fox which are more than deserving of a boxed set.

Those first three films would be Henry Levin's "Bernadine" and "April Love" (both 1957) and Goulding's ensemble musical, "Mardi Gras."

While "Bernadine" and "April Love" are modest, diverting entertainments, "Mardi Gras" works as a great, full-fledged movie musical, replete with a varied song score and fine choreography by Bill Foster. The plot (not that much unlike "Bernadine's" - which I'll get to later) is about school guys - in this case, military cadets (played by Boone, Dick Sargent, Tommy Sands and Gary Crosby) - who aim to attract a French movie starlet (Christine Carère, a delightful, if sadly fleeting, screen presence at the time) to their end-of-the-year ball. Everyone converges in New Orleans, where the movie queen is promoting a new movie and where the cadets are participating in the Mardi Gras festivites.

Lionel Newman (brother of legendary composer-scorer Alfred Newman and uncle of composers Randy, David and Thomas Newman) wrote the nimble score, which includes the title song, "I'll Remember Tonight," "Bourbon Street Blues," "That Man," "What Stonewall Jackson Said," "Just Like The Pioneers," "Bigger Than All Of Texas" and the showstopping "Loyalty," cleverly staged in a locker room shower. The traditional "Shenandoah," sung by Sands, was also utilized

Rounding out the cast are the invaluable Sheree North, Barrie Chase (who does a comic striptease), Jennifer West and ace character actors Fred Clark and Geraldine Wall. Jeffrey Hunter and Robert Wagner, who were making "In Love and War" with North at the time (also on the Fox lot) put in cameo appearances.

Carère, who made her American film debut in Jean Negulesco's "That Certain Smile" (1958), would appear in one more American film - Raoul Walsh's "A Private's Affair" (1959), also with Gary Crosby - before heading back to France.

"Mardi Gras," of all Pat Boone films, deserves a DVD showcase.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Boone made a credible film debut in "Bernadine," based on the Mary Chase play and augmented by some popular songs of the time (the title song and "Love Letters in the Sand," among them). It's about a group of high-school guys and a fictitious girl named Bernadine - the "perfect girl" - who they want to prove really exists. Such veteran film actors as Janet Gaynor, Dean Jagger and Walter Abel are on hand to fortify newbie Boone, and the young supporting cast includes Terry Moore, James Drury, Dick Sargent (billed as Richard) and Ronnie Burns (son of George Burns and Gracie Allen).

The affable "April Love" is a remake of Henry Hathaway's 1944 film, "Home in Indiana" (based on the novel by George Agnew Chamberlain and utilizing the same screenplay by Winston Miller), about a delinquent city boy forced to do time with relatives in a rural area, stirring things up. (Actually, Herbert Ross's "Footloose" of 1984 could have easily come from the same source.)

Boone plays the bad boy and he's effectively teamed opposite tomboy Shirley Jones. Again, there's an ace supporting cast here - Jeanette Nolan, Arthur O'Connell, Matt Crowley (not to be confused with playwright Mart Crowley) and the sublime, criminally neglected Dolores Michaels.

And, while we're at it, where the heck is Norman Taurog's "All Hands on Deck" (1961), with Barbara Eden and Buddy Hackett, one of the last films Boone made for Fox? How about it, Fox? Put them on DVD already.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

turner this month - bravo!

Ageless Bogie at 110, still with cigarette in hand
In one of its most ambitious programming feats, Turner Classic Movies has scheduled 65 - count 'em - 65 Humphrey Bogart vehicles airing every Wednesday throughout the month in celebration of what would have been his 110th birthday. But, as usual, there's much more - and, as usual, all times are est.

1 Dec. – British director Mike Newell is presented with a night of his own with screenings of “Enchanted April” (1991) at 8 p.m., “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (1994) at 10 p.m. and “Amazing Grace and Chuck” (1987) at midnight 2 Dec., followed by “Dance with a Stranger” (1985) at 2 a.m.

4 Dec. - Robert Stevenson’s seminal dog movie, “Old Yeller” (1958), airs at 6 a.m. and, this time, take note of canine star Spike's viscious fight scenes with a bear at the beginning and a wolf near the end of the film. They look like the real thing and, in those days, before there was any enlightenment about the treatment of animals in films, it probably was. Not surprisingly, Spike receives no screen credit, even though he is the title star. The good old days...

The divine Hepburn modeling all the potential costumes designed by Cecil Beaton for the Ascot Gavotte races sequence in Cukor's
"My Fair Lady"

5 Dec. – Delbert Mann’s “Fitzwilly” (1967), known as "The One with the Fuzz" while in production, stars Dick Van Dyke as the resourceful butler of Edith Evans. It screens at 12 p.m. and repeats on 10 Dec. at 10 p.m., and if you catch either showing, look out for a very young Sam Waterston as a cabbie named Oliver.

Later in the day, at 5 p.m., George Cukor’s “My Fair Lady” (1964) gets what seems to be its monthly run on Turner, but who's complaining? It's great. Almost perfect - except for the souless singing voice that comes out of Audrey Hepburn's mouth. It belongs to Marni Nixon, natch - the bane of '60s film musicals. "Lady" repeats 22 Dec. at 8 p.m., in tandem with "Pygmalion," the George Bernard Shaw play/film that inspired it.

6 Dec. – Charles Vidor’s “Hans Christian Anderson” (1952), scheduled for 10 a.m., offers the playful, pliable Danny Kaye in the title role, a fabulous Frank Loesser score (which matches "My Fair Lady" in terms of breakout hits) and the exquisite ballerina Zizi Jeanmaire, pictured below with Kaye.
11 Dec. – Turner has sscheduled atypical holiday-oriented titles that could be lumped under the title, Oddball Christmas. Primary among them is Frank Tashlin’s delightfully antic “Susan Slept Here” (1954), starring Dick Powell and Debbie Reynolds, that airs at 2 a.m. and repeats 13 Dec. at 2 p.m. and 25 Dec. at 6 p.m.

Less festive but no less enjoyable is this Edmund O’Brien trio: Ida Lupino’s “The Bigamist” (1953), airing at 3:45 p.m., followed by Rudolph Mate’s “D.O.A.” (1950) at 5:15 p.m. and Lupino's “The Hitch-Hiker” (1953) at 6:45 p.m.








On stage, James Goldman's "The Lion in Winter" was actually a comedy in period costumes; on screen, it was strictly a prestige pic and Oscar bait
12 Dec. – With Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole starring, Anthony Harvey’s “The Lion in Winter” (1968), based on James Goldman's play, was an Oscar-entitled entertainment. On stage, however, with Rosemary Harris and Robert Preston in the leads, is was something less pretentious - a marital comedy with heavy costumes. It airs at 5:30 p.m.

13 Dec. – Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun” (1971), an anti-war film at its most naked, shows at 10 p.m. Timothy Bottoms, hot off of "The Last Picture Show," stars.

15 Dec. – Cluadio Guzman’s affecting indie, “The Runaway” (1961), teaming a game Cesar Romero with a kid and a dog, gets an infrequent TV showing at 3:15 p.m.
The playbill for the stage version of Tennessee Williams' "Period of Adjustment," starring James Daly, Barbara Baxley, Robert Webber and Rosemary Murphy in the roles played on film by Anthony Francisa, Jane Fonda, Jim Hutton and Lois Nettleton.
18 Dec. – Oddall Christmas continues with a screening of George Roy Hill’s first feature, “Period of Adjustment” (1962), based on the Tennessee Williams play that Hill also helmed on stage. See it at 1:30 a.m. and again on repeat 24 Dec. at 6 p.m. It's something of an unhearalded treat.

For me and me alone, Katharine Hepburn was something of an overrated actress but in George Stevens’ sweet and observant “Alice Adams” (1935), she had her best role and gave one of her greatest performances, living up to her rep. Turner will screen it at 7:30 a.m. Later in the day, David Hugh Jones’ “84 Charing Cross Road” (1986), with Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft, airs at 8 p.m. With that pedigree, this film should be better known.
O'Hara in Frank Borzage's pirate flick, "The Spanish Main"
19 Dec. - Frank Borzage’s “The Spanish Main” (1945), at 8 a.m., is the film that years later prevented Maureen O'Hara from nabbing the role for which she was made - as Anna Leonowens in the film of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The King and I." Richard Rodgers reportedly didn't want a "lady pirate" mucking up his beloved property. Apparently, he had a very good memory and remembered "The Spanish Main." Sad because O'Hara had the right background, looks and temperament for the role and could sing. Instead the role went to Deborah Kerr who was ghost-voiceced by, yes, Marni Nixon.

20 Dec. – Rosalind Russell and James Stewart excel in
“No Time for Comedy” (1940), William Keighley’s film of the S.N. Behrman play, which is on par with Mankiewicz's "All About Eve" in terms of Broadway venom - only less campy. It screens at 1:45 a.m.

21 Dec. - Jane Fonda gets the spotlight today, with back-to-back screenings of Robert Stevens’ “In the Cool of the Day” (1963) at 2:30 p.m., Peter Tewksbury’s “Sunday in New York” (1963) at 4 p.m. and Gene Saks’ “Barefoot in the Park” (1967), at 6 p.m.

















Chaim Topol! As Tevye!
22 Dec. - Norman Jewison’s “Fiddler on the Roof” (1971) is a great film musical, beautifully done in just about every area. But it needs to be singled out for its casting of Chaim Topol in the lead role, for retaining the haunting dream (and very comic) sequence and for never, ever, downplaying Judaism. Right off, Jewison plays hommage to Hebrew religious symbols and artifacts during the film's rousing opening number, "Tradition!," as the Star of David and assorted menorahs flash on the screen with urgent, breathtaking speed. Everything that follows is just as memorable. "Fiddler on the Roof" airs at 10 a.m.

Original films and their remakes take over most of the remainder of the day, with one slight sidestep: George Cukor’s “The Women” (1939) airs today at 7:45 a.m., while its remake, David Miller’s “The Opposite Sex,” (1956) doesn't show up until 4 p.m. on 28 Dec. Cukor’s “My Fair Lady” (1964) shows at 8 p.m., followed by the original, Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard’s “Pygmalion” (1938) at 11 p.m.; Rouben Mamoulian’s “Silk Stockings” (1957) at 1 a.,m., followed by Ernst Lubitsch’s original, “Ninotchka” (1939) at 3 a.m.

Errol Flynn - hear him sing (!) in “Thank Your Lucky Stars”
23 Dec. - David Butler’s “Thank Your Lucky Stars” (1943), at 7 a.m., is worth a glance only to catch Erroll Flynn in a cameo crooning something called "That's What You Jolly Well Get."

24 Dec. – Norman Taurog’s charming “Bundle of Joy” (1956), the Debbie and Eddie vehicle, is on hand at 11:45 a.m. And later there's Frank Capra’s “Pocketful of Miracles” (1961) at 3:30 p.. repeating 29 Dec. at 1:45 a.m. Glenn Ford is the affable star, but one has to wonder how the role of Dave the Dude managed to escape Sinatra.
Bette Davis and cronies in Capra's "Pocketful of Miracles," his remake of "Lady for a Day"
25 Dec. - More originals and remakes: Robert Z. Leonard’s “In the Good Old Summertime” (1949) at 3 a.m., followed by the Lubitsch original, “The Shop Aaround the Corner” (1940) at 5 a.m.; George Cukor’s “Little Women” (1933) at 7 a.m. and its remake, Mervyn LeRoy’s “Little Women” (1949), later in the day, at 2 :15 p.m.

Turner's ambition, sprawling two-day Sherlock Holmes marathon, bleeding into 26 Dec., will be capped by James Hill’s nifty, little-seen “A Study in Terror” (1965), at 4 a.m. The excellent John Neville stars.

Two Jacks, a Judy and a Kim in Mark Robson's sophisticated "Phffft!"
27 Dec. – Ray Milland’s surprisingly engrossing “Panic in the Year Zero” (1962), starring Milland and the indispensible Jean Hagen, shows at midnight.

Comedy hits hightlight most of the day. Charles Walter’s “The Tender Trap” (1955), at noon, stars Sinatra, a treat as always, but his best bud is the estimable David Wayne, the original Ensign Pulver on stage. This film was made the same year that Jack Lemmon scored as Pulver in the John Ford-Mervyn LeRoy film version. Speaking of Lemmon, he has a double-bill today, with Mark Robson’s quite contemporary “Phffft!” (1954) airing at 2 p.m., followed by Gene Saks’ “The Odd Couple” (1968) at 4 p.m.
Russell and Carson, a match made in heaven, in Michael Curtiz's "Roughly Speaking"
28 Dec. – Michael Curtiz’ “Roughly Speaking” (1945), at 6 a.m., starring Rosaline Russell in another strong performance, also contains my favorite Jack Carson performance. Based on a novel by Louise Randall Pierson, this film was way ahead of its time in its observations of an independent-minded woman (Russell, natch) trying to cope and excel in a man's world and the husband (Carson) who elects to back her up and support her even though he doesn't fully endorse - or even understand - her views.

P.S. Vincente Minnelli’s "Designing Woman” (1957), with Peck and Bacall, always makes for terrifc viewing. It airs at 8 a.m.

29 Dec. - Another original and remake: Capra’s “Lady for a Day” (1933) at midnight, followed by that repeat of “Pocketful of Miracles” (1961) at 1:45 a.m.)





Nancy Kwan kicks up dust in the
"Grant Avenue" number in Koster's "Flower Drum Song"
Henry Koster’s “Flower Drum Song” (1961), a recent addition to the National Film Registry after years of neglect, screens at 5:45 p.m. It is arguably Rodgers and Hammerstein's best musical and certainly the team's jazziest. Stay up and catch John Hughes’ “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986) at 10 p.m.

30 Dec. - Richard Brooks’ “Battle Circus” (1953), with the unusal casting of June Allyson and Bogart, airs at 2:15 p.m.
You-know-who ... Say no more


31 Dec. – Hitch. All day, starting at 7 a.m., followed by a “Thin Man” marathon. What a way to end the year! Celebrate!

Note in Passing: Check out the typically wonderful Turner Remembers tribute to the film personalties who passed during the year. Just go to the TCM Media Room and click on "TCM Remembers 2009" under "Now Playing - Today on TCM.Com."