Shirley MacLaine in ’69-70

Posted in Hollywood (History), Movies, Women with tags , , , , on April 24, 2015 by travsd

Today is the birthday of Shirley MacLaine (b. 1934). Quite at random, a post about two films she made back to back, drawn from my notebooks.

020-shirley-maclaine-theredlist

Sweet Charity (1969)

An all-star effort: music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, book by Neil Simon (screenplay by Peter Stone for the film), directed by Bob Fosse (both stage and screen), and based on a Fellini film (Nights of Cabiria).

I find much of this film (mostly the song and dance numbers) truly demented and amazing…just riveting in energy and weirdness, emulating both Fellini (sometimes a little too much) and Warhol, as well as the burlesque tradition Fosse knows so well. Unfortunately there isn’t much of a plot, so it really sags between the numbers. It is about a dance hall girl (of the “private dancer” variety) who longs desperately for real love and a normal life. But it rambles and feels static. One segment has her trapped in a closet. Another has her trapped in an elevator. At first, it resembles Fellini too much…her first boyfriend is a mafia looking hood in sunglasses, and her second one a famous  Italian film director (played by Ricardo Montalban).

At the heart of the film is MacLaine, who has played this type of woman countless times: loose with men, ironically, out of goodness and a trusting nature. In such roles she is never less than completely sympathetic and vulnerable. Hence she is great here as Charity. Plus she can dance—if not exactly sing. I am glad she was cast in the film instead of Gwen Verdon, the star of the stage version, who invariably makes my flesh crawl. Stubby Kaye plays the guy who runs the dance hall, Chita Rivera is one of the girls, Sammy Davis Jr is a psychedelic cult leader (in a number that’s just a bit too weak given the weirdness of the scene prior to it where she hooks up with the film director). There is also another familiar face, with but a single line: Bud Cort plays (what else) a hippie in the park. Most of the songs are great and two are famous: “Big Spender” is so well known and so associated with burlesque that I had always assumed it was much older. “If My Friends Could See Me Now” is the other hit.

p1OOXGF8FVt1F1izdbPshbwIbI7

Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)

Clint Eastwood rides in over credits, oblivious to harbingers of danger: a cougar, a sidewinder, a skeleton, a tarantula. He plays his “Man with No Name” in this movie — only this time he has a name: “Hogan”. Hogan encounters three guys in the Mexican desert raping a nun (MacLaine). He dispatches them all handily.

Hogan proves to be a gentleman with Sister Sara, but only just so far: he makes her bury the guys who were raping her, for example. He prefers that they go their separate ways, but it turns out that she is being pursued by imperial French cavalry. Hogan has a heart, and decides to help evade this band. Then he hatches a plan to take a garrison on Bastille Day with the Mexican revolutionaries she supports and which he sometimes does business with. She knows the layout, and claims to have taught the soldiers Spanish. Bit by bit though we get hints that she is either more (or less) than the nun she claims to be. The film is very well plotted but slow paced, exploring the chemistry/antagonism/growing together of the two characters.

En route, Hogan gets shot by a Yaqui Indian arrow. Sara has to remove it while he gets drunk. Then they blow up a train bridge, in a spectacular but brief shot.  When they get to the town, it turns out that “Sister Sara” is not a nun, but a whore. But there is no time to fight about it. They and the Mexican band invade the French fort and are victorious. Hogan goes back to where Sara is taking a bath — a hint of the final resolution of all this romantic tension. An epilogue has them back in the dessert, Hogan this time carrying all kinds of wedding presents, and “Sister Sara” seriously tarted up. The moral of the story? When in doubt, Shirley MacLaine is always secretly a prostitute.

 

This Weekend at Anthology: Mucho Charlie Chaplin!

Posted in Hollywood (History), Comedy, PLUGS, Silent Film, Movies, Comedians, Charlie Chaplin with tags , , , on April 24, 2015 by travsd

Easy-Street-007

This weekend at New York’s Anthology Film Archives: lotsa great Charlie Chaplin movies! Just click on the highlighted movie titles below for my blogposts on each film:

Saturday, April 25

4:15pm: Program 1:

A Woman (1915)

Easy Street (1917)

A Dog’s Life (1918)

6:oopm: Program 2:

Shoulder Arms (1918)

Sunnyside (1919)

A Day’s Pleasure (1919)

8:00pm: Program 3:

The Idle Class (1921)

The Pilgrim (1923) 

Sunday, April 26

5:45pm: The Gold Rush (1925/ 1942)

7:30pm: City Lights (1931)

More details are here. 

For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

Tomorrow on TCM: Son of Kong

Posted in CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Movies with tags , , , on April 24, 2015 by travsd

images

Tomorrow morning at 7:30am, on Turner Movie Classics: a classic sequel of sorts, at least a precedent-setting one: Son of Kong (1933).

It’s rare for me to dis a movie of this genre from this time period, but RKO  so clearly just dashed this one off – a bad precedent. This sequel was released only 9 months after the blockbuster original, but in comparison with that masterpiece this one is is beyond silly and disposable.

Son of Kong is set a month after the events of King Kong. Film-maker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is in hot water again. Countless people are suing him. Having nothing better to do, he agrees to take a job with the ship captain from the last film (Frank Reicher) on his boat. Just what his job will be on the boat is never explained . Along the way they pick up the inevitable girl stowaway (Helen Mack) and the man who gave Denham the original map to Skull Island (John Marston) and who now claims there’s treasure there (he’s on the lam from the law).  Will wonders never cease! This part of the plot takes way too long, it’s very rambling and leisurely.

500px-Sonofkong16

When they finally get to the island they find “Little Kong” (a spiritual ancestor of Godzooki) and have some cute, funny adventures involving prehistoric creatures. Then when they find the treasure, there is a simultaneous hurricane and earthquake, and the island is reclaimed by the sea. Our heroes all escape alive with the help of Little Kong, who doesn’t. On the positive side they are all now rich and won’t have to make any more King Kong sequels.

That is…at least until Mighty Joe Young (1949)….

For more on early film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

Century of Slapstick #80: Love, Loot and Crash

Posted in Century of Slapstick, Charley Chase, Comedy, Harold Lloyd, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , on April 24, 2015 by travsd

love__loot_and_crash__title_card_

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the release date of the still-popular Keystone comedy short Love, Loot and Crash (1915). People like to check this one out for two reasons. (A) It is one of the first comedies with a prominent role for Charley Chase, who wouldn’t be a proper star until almost a decade later at Hal Roach. And (B) it also features Harold Lloyd in a small role as a fruit vendor; this was during his very brief stint at Keystone.

The plot: a pair or crooks have a plan to rob a house—one of them will go in drag and masquerade as a cook, answering a want ad. The whole thing is ruined when a policeman comes in for his usual graft…some free food and hanging around the kitchen to flirt. The crook panics and throws the cop in the cellar, then flees with his cohort and the daughter of the house who wants to elope. The father chases them down the street. Then the cop grabs a bunch of his fellow Keystone Kops and they pursue, giving us A VERY satisfying comic chase — one of the very best of the early ones. I talk about it a bit in Chain of Fools in the context of cross-cutting.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

Tomorrow: Sophie Tucker at the Ziegfeld Society!

Posted in BOOKS & AUTHORS, PLUGS, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , on April 24, 2015 by travsd

unnamed

Speakeasy Dollhouse’s Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic

Posted in Broadway, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Women with tags , , , , on April 24, 2015 by travsd

ib

We were grateful last night to receive some free passes to see the show currently ensconced in the venue occupying the historic Liberty Theatre, site of the original productions of shows like George M. Cohan’s Little Johnny Jones and Little Nellie Kelly and legendary revues like George White’s ScandalsHitchie-Coo of 1919, and Blackbirds of 1929Nowadays its a restaurant and party space behind the Liberty Diner, but still an appropriate place, one would agree, for an attempted re-creation of Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic. Though amazingly (given all that has been razed in that area) the actual theatre that served as venue for that historic series of revues still stands: it’s the New Amsterdam (although the Frolics took place in a second venue on the New Amserdam’s Roof).

“Interactive, immersive” experiences are rarely my thing. I’m one of the few people it seems who found the original Speakeasy Dollhouse to be a torturous ordeal. I strongly dislike the pressure of being expected to “participate” and the performers always fall so far short of what I imagine the actual experience to have been like that it can only engender contempt. It always seems to me they’ve mastered about 5% of whatever it is they’re supposed to be doing, yet they’re most insistent about doing it in my face anyway. Thus the paradox of my inevitable reaction: I have a strong desire to run away, but I also want very much for them to go away as well. Or, barring that, I want the opposite. I want to be picked up, whisked away, told precisely where to go immediately and moved from point to point by thrilling and compelling action. I have no time or inclination to mill about like a cow at some place I wouldn’t otherwise be.

At the Midnight Frolic we found ourselves most confused on that score. After checking in outside the door to be admitted to the venue, we were asked our names once again once we got inside. I couldn’t tell if the second check-in expected my real name or some fictitious name on the “passport” we were handed, but we later surmised that perhaps it had something to do with dinner reservations (it’s a dinner theatre experience). At all events, once inside, it was unclear where we should go. As though we were in some Kafka story, the room was full of empty tables, all marked “reserved”. This left standing around on the floor, where we could see some performers cavorting around on a balcony above. Apparently, there is a narrative about the death of Olive Thomas (which happened in Paris, not at the Frolic itself), but we didn’t make it that far because then the show started and that drove us from the room.

The performance starts out with a wretched, apparently original song that sets the period tone for the evening by mentioning something about testicles. And then we are confronted by a great confusion of anachronisms and slapdash gestures in the direction of traditional show business. A gentleman who is supposed to be Eddie Cantor, but who for some reason looks much more like Dwight Frye  in his role as Renfield, comes out and sings in a vocal style much more characteristic of the late 20th century, which I suppose matches the piano bar music the band plays that does everything BUT evoke the ‘teens or ‘twenties of the last century. The gentleman doesn’t seem to be doing an Eddie Cantor impression. He just kind of seems to be named “Eddie Cantor”. When “Will Rogers” came out and neither told jokes nor did rope tricks but SANG the 1929 Rodgers and Hart song “I’ll Take Manhattan” (I guess this was supposed to be that time when Will Rogers got hit on the head and thought he was Ella Fitzgerald), we had already had more than enough and vamoosed.

The one element we found enjoyable (while were there) was the re-creation of the chorus line, which included an impressive and adorable array of fetching females: about a dozen of them, which alone is impressive. Watching them sing “Ain’t We Got Fun” was joyous and infectious. Personally, I would have opened with them doing that number and STAYED in the spirit of that, instead of the atrocious non-impressions. (Later I’m told there is also a promising Gallagher and Shean (Glen Heroy and Charley Leyton) and an excellent Josephine Baker, played by Delysia LaChatte. We hope to see them do these acts on some future occasion.)

The pleasure of seeing so many friends and colleagues in the cast gave us a boost. We spied Melody Jane, Kat Mon Dieu, Syrie Moskowitz, and others we know as well. It is always good to see them employed. And for that reason we hope the show will continue on as the tourist abattoir it is so obviously set up to be. For New York theatre buffs, it will be like fingernails on chalkboard. But for a stranger in town, it is probably better than watching television in your hotel room, although personally I’d much rather do the latter, because then I could lie in bed and flip the channel.

To learn about vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

Tonight: The Wasabassco Radio Mystery Hour

Posted in Burlesk, Contemporary Variety, PLUGS with tags , , , , on April 23, 2015 by travsd

13267_812313165470705_646900933877121009_n

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,894 other followers

%d bloggers like this: