Sunday, September 30, 2012

cinema obscura: Frank Tashlin's "The Lieutenant Wore Skirts" (1956)

Leslie Parrish (right) toasts Tom Ewell and Sheree North in Frank Tashlin's elusive "The Lieutenant Wore Skirts," airing on Turner Classic Movies next month
The incomparable Frank Tashlin (1913-1972) began his professional life as a cartoonist/animator and when he branched out and started working with humans, he animated them, too. Hilariously so. And he brought a cartoonish quality to the one subject that connects most of his films.


It was the 1950s and the Playboy philosophy was just beginning its reign of terror - and Tashlin's wide-screen comedies exposed the era's accepted penchant for leering (the filmmaker essentially fetishized it) for what it was. Junevile and unattractive and funny as hell.

Turner Classic Movie unearths one of Tashlin's more elusive, forgotten treasures next month, with a screening of 1956's "The Lieutenant Wore Skirts" scheduled for 2 October at 8 p.m. Tom Ewell plays his patented creepy middle-aged, middle-class wolf inexplicably married to a military babe - the wonderful Sheree North - and much of the film is about his relentless ploys to get her discharged. The film is as unstable as its noxious hero, wildly incorrect and guiltily pleasurable in spite of itself.

"The Lieutenant Wore Skirts" has sporadically popped up on the unreliable and erratic Fox Movie Channel, but it took Turner to finally showcase it. Hopefully, TCM will also claim another Tashlin orphan at the mercy of the Fox Movie Channel - namely 1962's "Bachelor Flat."
Tuesday, Terry and Tashlin, together at last
"Bachelor Flat" offers Terry-Thomas in prime form as displaced Britisher, a professorial paleontologist who teaches in an alien Southern California and who is wildly attractive to women - an inadvertent ladies men whose life comes to consist of colliding females.

Tashlin's cast here also includes Celeste Holm (as T-T's fiancée), and Tuesday Weld and Richard Beymer who had starrred two years earlier for Blake Edwards in another breezy Fox comedy, "High Time" (1960), all in the above photo/left.

And speaking of Tashlin, too few of his broad comedies from the the 1950s and early '60s have made it to home entertainment in any form. Sure, it's relatively easy to see his two Jayne Mansfield flicks, "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" and "The Girl Can't Help It," "Artists and Models" (1955), with Martin and Lewis and Shirley MacLaine and "Susan Slept Here" (1954) with Dick Powell and Debbie Reynolds. But what about the others? Aside from "The Lieutenant Wore Skirts" and "Bachelor Flat," also missing are "Say One for Me" (1959), also with Reynolds, this time with Bing Crosby and Robert Wagner and "The Man from the Diner's Club" (1963) with Danny Kaye and Cara Williams.

Release them, I say!


Julian said...

Joe, On your recommendation I got a copy of "Norbit," which you compared favorably to Tashlin. I found dizzying and dazzling, just like something Tashlin would have produced in the '50s or '60s. One note on your review: I agree with you also that it is closer to a Jerry Lewis movie than either of Murphy's two "Nutty Professor" films. Thanks for the tip on the two Tashlins on Fox. I've seen neither and look forwar to them. His movies really deserve to be seen by more people.

Vadim said...

“Hear Hear!”

Barry Cohen said...

Funny how you tied Tashlin to "Norbit" Are you deranged?

Jones said...

Turner showed "The Man from the Diner's Club" at least once in the past year.

Robert Chastaine said...

Hey, Joe, a shout-out for Frank Tashlin!

joe baltake said...

Dan- "Artists & Models" rocks.

susan said...

I saw "Susan Slept Here" a few months ago on Turner. It was interesting. The age gap between the two leads was pretty big (although he is only supposed to be 35, he looks 50), I liked it. Debbie Reynolds was adorable in it.