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 Passings: 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.
Finally, in one of my responses back in 2010 to two of DaCosta's relatives, I mentioned that I was planning a profile on the director. The essay, titled ”tec” (DaCosta's nickname), was published on July 3rd, 2013.
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