Monday, April 02, 2012

beyond fred, ginger & gene

Vincente Minnelli's “Bells Are Ringing,” made in 1959 and released in 1960, is something of a transitional musical film. The genre was already starting to wane at the time and Minnelli, seemingly aware of this, made inventive decisions to accomodate the changing tastes of the moviegoing public.

For one, he abbreviated the Jule Styne-Adolph Green-Betty Comden score which, although wonderful on stage, would have been deadening on film. (The only real loss is the haunting ballad, "Long Before I Knew You.") Once the score was pared down, Minnelli came up with clever ways to stage the numbers, the best being Dean Martin's rushing rendition of "I Met a Girl," sung as passersby bump into and push him along Times Square.

For "Mu Cha Cha," he dropped the Comden-Green lyric, and had it staged as a casual, improvisatory number. On Broadway, "Bells Are Ringing" was co-choreographed by its director, Jerome Robbins, and Bob Fosse. For the film, Minnelli hired - and reportedly quickly fired - the estimable Hermès Pan, replacing him with the unknown Charles O’Curran. (Pan's only contribution that was retained in the finished film is the "Midas Touch" number, featuring Hal Linden, and Minnelli practically obscures it.)

On film, the "Mu Cha Cha" number is beautifully simplistic, with star Judy Holliday being taught the cha-cha-cha by Jimmy Ames (as a delivery kid) and Ruth Storey (as a colleague at the answering service where Holliday's Ella Peterson works). It boasts a pleasing, scratch-pad casualness.

The charming, low-keyed number, as noted, was choreographed by O’Curran and scored by Styne - and photographed by Milton Krasner and edited by Adrienne Fazan. Comden and Green's unused lyric isn't missed.

The number: "Mu Cha Cha"

The composer: Jule Styne

The choreographer: Charles O'Curran

The dancers: Judy Holiday, Jimmy Ames and Ruth Storey

The cinematographer: Milton Krasner

The editor: Adrienne Fazan

The production designers: Preston Ames and George W. Davis


Alex said...

Watching a film by Minnelli is often to tremble at the sight of pure perfection

Jim said...

Alex, I agree with you high estimation of Minnelli. For me his staging of this simple number is the clearest expression of his amazingly generous sensibility as an artist.

Sheila said...

Minnelli had the skill and generosity to lend whatever material he undertook an air of grace and depth.

Sharon said...

What a treat to find the dance clips you selected on The Passionate Moviegoer! The "Bells are Ringing" cha cha was terrific, cannot explain why I did not remember it.

jbryant said...

Great new feature, Joe.

I'd suggest spotlighting Debra Paget's incredible cobra dance from Lang's THE INDIAN TOMB, but its appeal is perhaps more erotic than terpsichorean.