Wednesday, August 01, 2018

indelible moment: DaCosta's "The Music Man"

Not Surprisingly, Morton DaCosta has never been appreciated among rigid cinéphiles. He directed only three films, two of which were based on stage plays that he helmed - and rather triumphantly - on Broadway.

They would be "Auntie Mame" and "The Music Man."

I suppose that his status as a stage director made him a questionable filmmaker in the minds of those who self-identify as cinematic purists.

But the two DaCosta films based on his stage successes are anything but lacking. Far from it. "Auntie Mame" (1958) and "The Music Man" (1962), both Warner Bros. titles, are films that have a fierce fidelity to their respective source material but are also uncannily - creatively - cinematic.

He shrewdly honored the works' stage backgrounds by employing a curious blackout device to end certain sequences in both films. The lighting grows dim in certain scenes until the characters on screen are surrounded in blackness - very much a stage-bound device but one that works.

DaCosta's eye for the film medium, meanwhile - which crops up when one least expects it - is especially evident in his witty staging of the piano lesson near the beginning of "The Music Man," set during the clever Meredith Willson musical number, "If You Don't Mind My Saying So."

Shirley Jones is the piano teacher to Monique Vermont's student and, for the occasion of the lesson, DaCosta and cinematographer Robert Burks playfully filled the expansive Technirama screen with the piano's entire keyboard. It's a visually eccentric moment and it jumps out at me - like a pop-out book - every time I watch this wonderful musical (which is often).
Note in Passing: DaCosta's third film, also for Warner Bros., was 1963's "Island of Love," starring his "Music Man" lead Robert Preston, Tony Randall, Walter Matthau and Betty Bruce. It was decidedly not based on a stage play. Turner Classic Movies will screen it 6 a.m. (est) on August 9th.

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~images~

~Shirley Jones and Monique Vermont in the "If You Don't Mind My Saying So number from ""The Music Man"
~photography: Warner Bros. 1962©

19 comments:

Tom said...

Hey, I really appreciate this post. I love this film but never picked up on the way the piano keys are splayed across the screen. Very clever. Thanks for pointing it out. Can't wait to see the movie again - especially on a big screen.

mel said...

I have watched DaCosta's The Music Man innumerable times but I never noticed that they filled the screen with the entire piano keyboard in that scene.

I repeat little Amaryllis' words:
"THANK you."

Toni said...

My 8 year old & I love Auntie Mama.

Mike Schlesinger said...

Not to be the turd in the punch bowl, but as you noted, MUSIC MAN was shot by Robert Freakin' Burks, who did most of Hitchcock's post-war classics--and AUNTIE MAME was Harry Freakin' Stradling Sr. (three Oscars and 15 nominations). I'd wager that they, far more than DaCosta, were responsible for the look of those films. Indeed, let us never forget that Welles leaned so heavily on Gregg Toland's expertise for CITIZEN KANE that he insisted they share the same card in the credits, even though SDG (now DGA) rules granted directors sole billing.

Kevin Barry said...

When Jack Warner acquired the film rights to a Broadway musical or play he treated it with respect and didn't monkey around with the material that worked on stage. I treasure both Auntie Mame and The Music Man (as well as Gypsy, The Pajama Game and My Fair Lady) because they preserve the integrity along with the look and feel of the original stage production. I think the "staginess" of these movies is part of their charm and preferable to the cinematic hatchet job that M-G-M performed on Showboat and On the Town, and the way Columbia shredded Pal Joey.

joe baltake said...

Mike- To your point, I'm sure that most directors, particularly first-time filmmakers, depend on the vision (pardon the pun) of their directors of photography. It's a given. But, given that "The Music Man" and "Auntie Mame" were shot by two different (experienced) cinematographers, I'd like to think that they both achieved DaCosta's "vision" of his films. Both are remarkably similar, visually.

Kevin- And let's not forget about Warner Bros.' film versions of "Damn Yankees," "Camelot," "Finian's Rainbow" and "Mary, Mary" - all utterly faithful to their stage sources. The film of "Mary, Mary" even has the same set as the Broadway production.

-J

Mike Schlesinger said...

And J.L. also produced 1776 with almost the entire Broadway cast, even though there were at most only two cast members (Daniels and DaSilva) with any possible name recognition.

joe baltake said...

Mike- Yes, Jack Warner transferred his fidelity to Broadway shows to Columbia when he produced "1776," an excellent adaptation. I have an old laser disc of the film with its overture (which leads into the main credits, which are different from the release version), the intermission break and ent'racte and exit music. It's superior to the most recent DVD, which includes none of these. -J

Kevin Barry said...

Yes, Joe, and I saw most of them at Radio City Music Hall (all except the roadshows)... A Majority of One and Dark at the Top of the Stairs are two more Warner stage adaptations.

joe baltake said...

Kevin! You remind me that I have the Radio City programs for all the (non-roadshow) titles that we've mention. Another: "Never Too Late," "Tall Story" and "No Time for Sergeants." I'm sure there are more. -J

Louise P said...

My favorite part of that number is the fast-spoken/sung dialogue between Shirley Jones and Pert Kelton who played her mother. Hilarious!

Mike Schlesinger said...

Well, the laserdisc was pretty much ALL the footage; the DVD is Hunt's preferred cut. Though when I asked him recently why he dropped the reprise of "The Lees of Old Virginia," which I love, he admitted he'd gotten "a lot of shit" about it and now realizes it was a mistake.

joe baltake said...

Mike- I've read that Peter Hunt prefers the Sony DVD but I find the Pioneer laser disc of the film much more satisfying. In addition to the reprise of "The Lees of Old Virginia" (one of my favorite songs in the film), it seems to me that other numbers have been extended a bit ("He Plays the Violin"?) on the laser disc. -J

Mike Schlesinger said...

Oh, I wasn't disputing that. I prefer the LD cut as well! But I'm not about to tell Hunt he's wrong! :-)

Lisa Delman said...

Mortie DeCosta was my Great Uncle--he was my grandfather's brother. His original name is Tecosky. My mother's maiden name is Harriet Tecot. I wish I could have hung out with him. I was very young when he gave us a dog named Friday. I am a published author. Strange that when my book came out by Penguin, I got theater interest from several sources. I then began researching my Great Uncle. Nice blog post--thanks for the information. Lisa Delman

Judy said...

Okay, so I'm two years late on this post. Morton DeCosta was my grandfather Jack Tecosky's cousin-- Music Man opened on Broadway the year I was born.... I have old photos of Morton in the living room of our home in Philadelphia as my folks celebrated my arrival (first girl after three boys). He was good friends with Theodore Bikel, who I came to know when he was on the speaker circuit, late in his career. Music Man, to this day, is still my favorite musical from that era, and I watch whenever I can catch it broadcast.

Thanks so much for your post, and for holding this movie up high. Morton was a terrific talent. My dad and I both played in the show at different times in our lives in honor and in memory of Morton DeCosta.
Judy Tecosky Fisher, Miami, Florida

Judy said...

Don't know if what I just tried to post went through, and I'm only two years late in finding this...

Thanks for a great post, holding Morton DeCosta and the Music Man high. I, like Lisa Delman, am a relative. (He and my grandfather, Jack Tecosky, were cousins. Music Man opened on Broadway the year I was born, and Morton was able to make it to my "welcoming" party in Philadelphia (I was the first girl after three boys), and we still have pictures of him in our living room hanging out with family...
Music Man became a "theme" for me and my family... Both my dad and I were in the show, and as my niece left for NYC to try to "make it" on Broadway, I even wrote a parody of the song, "Till There Was You" for a send off.
Reading your blog tickled my heart...thanks

joe baltake said...

Dear Lisa & Judy- Thanks for the kind words and the invaluable info. I devoted an essay entirely to Morton DaCosta, titled ”tec” (DaCosta's nickname),on July 3rd, 2013.

And Judy- Yes, both your messages went through. They aren't automatically posted because each reply is moderated first. It may take a few minutes. Or days! In your case, it was just about 10 minutes.

-J

wwolfe said...

We saw this last year at the Last Remaining Seats series that shows movies in the grand old downtown movie palaces of Los Angeles. It was a wonderful evening. It never occurred to us that the movie was in some way insufficiently cinematic.