Friday, January 25, 2013

cinema obscura: two with tony

I admit it. I miss the comedies of the '60s. They were breezy and stress-free and there was nothing mean-spirited about them. Yes, times have changed. Either that, or I've become way too old.

The average modern film comedy leaves one feeling battered and worn out, even the so-called "chick flicks" and romantic comedies. Face it, the romantic comedy died in that Rob Reiner-concocted scene in which Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm in a deli/restaurant.

Today, there is no more exposition - nothing is set up as modern comedies come barreling at us with veritable cattle prods in hand, zapping us every five seconds or so with dubious double-entendrés and CG-enhanced pratfalls.

The problem with all of this? Most of the time, it simply isn't funny - just strained.

Which brings me to two minor gems from the 1960s, both starring the ever-underrated Tony Curtis.

1964's "Wild and Wonderful," directed by Michael Anderson ("Around the World in 80 Days," "All the Fine Young Cannibals"), is a nifty take on the eternal triangle. Only in this case, it's a dog - a handsome white French poodle - that comes between a man and a woman.

Monsieur Cognac is a national celebrity in France, the star of his own TV show, as well as films, and he's completely in love with his owner Giselle Ponchon (Christine Kaufmann, Curtis's wife at the time), obsessively so. Giselle has an acting career of her own, but Cognac always comes first.

One day, Cognac disappears and goes on a bender. He meets Terry Williams (Curtis), an American musican performing in Paris, and in one of the film's more hilarious scenes, Terry and Cognac indulge in a drinking spree. True to his name, Cognac loves alcohol. When Giselle tracks down her dog and meets Terry, she falls madly in love - much to Cognac's chagrin. The rest of the film is about how a disapproving Cognac sets up roadblocks for Terry and Giselle, feigning illness and even abuse (supposedly at the hand of Terry) and generally acting out.

"Wild and Wonderful" is effortless fun. George Clooney should do a remake (with Marion Cotillard, perhaps?). And Universal should release the original on DVD already.

A year earlier, in 1963, Curtis made an affable Universal comedy for a first-time director named Norman Jewison - "40 Pounds of Trouble" - about a casino manager who gets stuck with an orphan as a marker.

Sound familiar? Jewison's debut film is, of course, based on the famous Damon Runyon story, "Little Miss Marker," which has inspired at least three other film versions - Alexander Hall's "Little Miss Marker" (1934) with Adolphe Menjou and Shirley Temple; Sidney Lanfield's "Sorrowful Jones" (1949) with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball, and Walter Bernstein's "Little Miss Marker" (1980) with Walter Matthau, Julie Andrews and, again, Tony Curtis.

In Jewison's version, Curtis plays Steve McCluskey who manages a Lake Tahoe casino for Bernie Friedman (Phil Silvers). He's trying to juggle his job with his attempts to evade the private eyes hired by his ex-wife to collect past alimony.

Complicating matters are (1) Bernie's niece, Chris Lockwood (Suzanne Pleshette), who arrives to sing at the casino and who Steve thinks is actually Bernie's mistress, and (2) a 6-year-old named Penny Piper (Claire Wilcox), who has been abandoned by her father who owed the casino money. When Penny's dad ends up dead, she ends up with Steve.

It all culminates in an antic chase through Disneyland, with Steve trying to evade his assorted pursuers, using Chris and Penny to pose as the perfect family. Pure pleasure.

The exceptional supporting cast includes such pros as Silvers, Kevin McCarthy, Howard Morris and Edward Andrews. Better yet, Pleshette matches up well with Curtis - they make a hugely attractive couple - and she gets to sing in a few scenes.

Jewison followed "40 Pounds of Trouble" with Doris Day's "The Thrill of It All," made the same year and directed from a great script by Carl Reiner. A year later, in '64, Day recruited Jewison to direct her and Rock Hudson in the best of their three comedies together, "Send Me No Flowers," based on the Norman Barasch-Carroll Moore Play.

Next for Jewison came "The Cincinnati Kid" and "The Art of Love" (both 1965), "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming" (1966) and then his Oscar winner, "In the Heat of the Night" (1967).

A nice, steady rise.

Note in Passing: Thanks to my friend Marvin for sending me a rare VHS copy of "40 Pounds of Trouble," taped off of television when it was still possible to see the film. I'm in heaven.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

cinema obscura: Harold Prince's "Something for Everyone" (1970)/James Lapine's "Impromptu" (1991)

Theater directors rarely get any credit when they venture into film. Case in point: I loved what Morton DaCosta did with the film versions of plays that he originally directed on stage, "Auntie Mame" (1958) and "The Music Man" (1962). Both are noteworthy for their fidelity to their stage predecessors and yet are impressively cinematic.

DaCosta would direct only one other film - 1963's now-forgotten "Island of Love," starring Robert Preston, Tony Randall and Walter Matthau.

You could say, "That was then, this is now." But matters haven't changed.

Harold Prince made what I thought was an auspicious film directing debut with the delicious 1970 Angela Lansbury-Michael York black comedy, "Something for Everyone," one of those sophisticated sex comedies in which the randy young hero (York) sleeps his way through every member of a family (shades of Pasolini's "Teorema" with Terence Stamp).

The film is just about impossible to see nowadays, although Prince's second (and last) film, a truncated version of the Sondheim musical, "A Little Night Music," has been available on DVD.

The estimable James Lapine, meanwhile, made one of the best films of 1991 - now also forgotton, of course - with "Impromptu," a randy farce about the affair between Frederic Chopin (Hugh Grant) and George Sand (Judy Davis, alas, in oneof her last great film roles). Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Emma Thompson and Julian Sand round out the cast.

I can't think of anything wrong with this film.

Lapine subsequently filmed the Michael J. Fox-Nathan Lane show-biz comedy, "Life with Mikey" and the Anne Tyler adaptation for HBO, "Earthly Possessions," sarring Susan Sarandon and Stephen Dorf.

If rep houses still existed and had resourceful bookers, "Something for Everyone" and "Impromptu" would make a great double-bill.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

turner this month - bravo!

Ringing in the new year, Turner celebrates the exquisite Loretta Young (left) as its Star of the Month, screening 37 of her films during prime time and late-night hours every Wednesday during the month. Also showcased are Sal Mineo (via four titles on January 10th), Shelley Winters (five titles on January 19th ) and, on the occasion of his 100th Birthday, the antic and underappreciated Danny Kaye (with 13 features on the following night, January 20th ). Dick Van Dyke is showcased on January 21st.

The month kicks off on January 1st with a selection of roadshow musicals, all based on Broadway hits, natch, and all made at a time when the film musical reached its zenith, the 1960s, thanks to 70mm, stereophonic sound and unchecked choreographic enthusiasm. These five titles make the current “Les Misérables” look like the dreary stick that it is.

The mini-marathon starts at 6 a.m. with Francis Ford Coppola’s “Finian’s Rainbow” (1968), the third and final Tommy Steele roadshow musical (the other two being Disney’s “The Happiest Millionaire” and George Sidney’s “Half a Sixpence”); followed by William Wyler’s “Funny Girl” (1968), in which Wyler recruits Walter Pidgeon and Anne Francis from “Forbidden Planet” for supporting roles; George Cukor’s masterful “My Fair Lady” (1964), with Audrey Hepburn (above) in a role she was born to play; Joshua Logan’s towering “Camelot” (1967), in which cinematographer Richard H. Kline shoots stars Vanessa Redgrave and Richard Harris up close while honoring the work’s innate intimacy, and Gene Kelly’s “Hello, Dolly!” (1969), an elephantine lollipop that has, yes, improved with age.

Going in the complete opposite direction are two titles being screened in the wee hours of Janaury 5th , both by film miminalist Amos Poe – “The Foreigner” (1978) at 2 am and “Alphabet City” (1984) at 3:45 a.m.

Later that night, you can savor an early William Castle title, the clever “The Whistler” (1944) at 10 p.m., followed by Anthony Asquith’s “Libel” (1959), based on the venerable play by Edward Wooll (that had just been revived on Broadway) and starring Dirk Bogarde and Olivia de Havilland.

January 6th offers the top Kim Novak sex comedy, “Boys’ Night Out” (1962), directed by Michael Gordon, at noon, and a Jimmy Stewart-Henry Koster double-bill, “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation” (1962) and the film of the Henry Ephron and Phoebe Ephron 1961 play, “Take Her, She’s Mine” (1963), starting at 8 p.m. (That's Sandra Dee, essentially playing Nora Ephron in the latter film.)

The American New Wave of the ‘70s is well repped on January 8th, starting at 12:30 a.m. with Robert Altman’s “California Split” (1974), one of the filmmaker's better, least self-conscious films, and Hal Ashby’s electric “The Last Detail” (1973), with a first-rate Jack Nicholson. Later that night, Turner has fun with a selection of caper flicks, screening everything from Lewis Milestone’s “Ocean’s 11” (1960), less fun than it tries to be, at 8 p.m. and Jean-Pierre Melville’s silky “Bob le Flambeur” (1955), at 12:15 a.m.

The Mineo films, starting at 1 p.m. on January 10th include Don Weis’ “The Gene Krupa Story” (1959), with Susan Sohner, Alfred L. Werker’s “The Young Don’t Cry” (1957) and Don Siegel’s “Crime in the Streets” (1956), both with James Whitmore, and Mineo’s seminal film performance, in Nicholas Ray’s “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955), with Jimmy and Nat.

An unsual trio of films (clashing subject matters! clashing styles!) dominate the early hours of January 14th – Jacques Tati’s “Jour de Fete” (1949), starting at 2 a.m. and followed by Nicolas Roeg’s haunting “Walkabout” (1971) and Elliot Silverstein’s “A Man Called Horse” (1970).

Write this one down: “Carnal Knowledge” @ 12:30 a.m. on January 15th. Nicholson, again, soars in Mike Nichols’ consummate, most emblematic work from 1971. Now, watch it or, better yet, record it.

Rome is showcased in five daytime titles on January 17th, starting at 10:45 a.m. with Mario Lanza in Roy Rowland’s “The Seven Hills of Rome” (1959), followed by José Quintero’s “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone” (1961), based on a Tennessee Williams novel (as adapted by Gavin Lambert), Guy Green’s affecting/intelligent “Light in the Piazza” (1962), featuring a very fine Yvette Mimieux, and Delmer Dave’s “Rome Adventure” (1962), where Suzanne Pleshette met Troy Donahue.

Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers romp delightfully in Howard Hawks’ blissful “Monkey Business” (1952). Join the fun at 6 p.m. on January 18th.

Winters' gets her night on January 19th with back-to-back screenings, starting at 8 p.m. iwht Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita” (1962) and then Robert Aldrich’s “The Big Knife” (195), George Cukor’s “The Chapman Report” (1962), Stuart Heisler’s “I Died a Thousand Times” (1955) and Fred M. Wilcox’s “Tennessee Champ” (1954). Eleven films and two TV specials showcase Danny Kaye on January 20th, starting at 6 a.m. with an episode of “The Danny Kaye Show” (1961), directed by Bud Yorkin and, at 10:30 a.m. an episode of “The Dick Cavett Show” (1971). Among the films to catch are Peter Glenville’s “Me and Colonel” (1958), with Curt Jurgens (@ 4 p.m.); Charles Vidor’s “Hans Christian Andersen” (1952), featuring an top Frank Loesser score (@ 8 p.m.), and Frank Tashlin’s very funny “The Man from the Diner’s Club” (1963), airing at 4 a.m. on January 21st.

Dick Van Dyke, meanwhile, twinkles his way through five films on January 21st – Bud Yorkin’s “Divorce, American Style” (1967), at 8 p.m., and Norman Lear’s “Cold Turkey” (1971), Delbert Mann’s “Fitzwilly” (1967), George Sidney’s “Bye Bye Birdie” (1963) and Garson Kanin’s “Some Kind of Nut” (1969). (“Divorce” encores at 3:30 p.m.on January 31st.)

Moving along, several titles jump out at me – Robert Aldrich’s “Autumn Leaves” (1956) at 11:30 a.m. on January 22nd; George Marshall’s “The Happy Thieves” (1962), at 12:30 a.m. on January 23rd; Sidney Lumet’s “The Anderson Tapes” (1971) at 4 a.m. on January 23rd, and a wacky trio beginning at 11:30 p.m. on January 24th – George Roy Hill’s thoroughly awful “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (1967), Vincente Minnelli’s great “Some Came Running” (1958), with a great Sinatra and David Swift’s breezily sleazy “Under the Yum Yum Tree” (1963).

Airing on January 27th are Nunnally Johnson’s “Black Widow” (1954), which is essentially “All About Eve” done as a murder mystery and stars Ginger Rogers in n atypically camp performance, and the Howard Hawks classic, “His Girl Friday” (1940). They play back-to-back, starting at noon.

Robert DeNiro had one of his early roles in “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight” (1971), a whirling comedy that nominally stars Jerry Orbach (also in an early role), along with Leigh Taylor-Young and Jo Van Fleet, who’s a hoot. James Goldstone, a solid filmmaker who died way too young, directed. It screens at 4:30 a.m. on January 28th.

The 29th offers three Otto Preminger films – “Carmen Jones” (954) at 6 a.m., “The Man with the Golden Arm” (1955) at 7 :45 a.m. , “Saint Joan” (1957) at 1:15 p.m. and “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959) at 3:15 p.m. Finally, following “Murder” is the Tony Curtis vehicle, “Not with My Wife, You Don’t!” (1966), directed by Norman Panama.