RSS
 

Archive for the ‘Carmen Miranda’ Category

Nancy Goes To Rio

15 Jul

Nancy Goes To Rio – directed by Robert Z. Leonard. Backstage Musical. 100 minutes, Color 1950.

★★★★★

The Story: A great musical stage star’s daughter is given the part her mother is supposed to play, leading to many complications.

~

The costumes by Helen Rose which exploit The New Look, the settings by Gibbons and Smith, the hairstyles by Sydney Guillaroff, the set decoration by Edwin B. Willis are as fabulous as the makeup that pinks every pore of the leading ladies’ cheeks. Each production-value detail is given full focus, every color full registration, every sequin stardom. The dictum insisting that everything show is the earmark of true vulgarity. It is one typical to this studio. MGM, and it is mighty entertaining.

For the costumes are super-duper and the apartments are fabulous. As fabulous as the ever-sedate Carmen Miranda’s hat of 30,000 tiny open umbrellas.

The movie takes us to Rio, one supposes because Carmen Miranda was a contract player and she had to be used. She has red hair here and she is wonderful as always, with lightning-flash eyes and a smile as wide and gaudy as all Brazil. This was to be the last film in her MGM contract, and it was also the last in that of Ann Sothern, and the last film in which Jane Powell would contrive to appear as a teenager.

At twenty-one she is quite convincing as a seventeen year old hoyden. She plays and somewhat overplays one of those young thespians who performs real life as Drama. But she is very good to be with. She has that combination of a righteous center with a giving humor that Katharine Hepburn had her own version of. It gives Jane Powell’s playing solid ground – but with a playground on it. In her glassy soprano she sings Gershwin and she sings Puccini. She’s laid back as a singer, never forcing, focused on her tiny body and keeping that sparkle going in her generous blue eyes.

The film is a form of entertainment that probably killed MGM before long, reflecting as it did the dangerously influential unrealistic American family values of Louis B. Mayer — a continuation in Technicolor of the Andy Hardy/Judy Garland musicals of a few years before. It is a masterpiece of the expertise of artificiality.

I was also seventeen when this came out, and I took care not to go. Now, I sit back and enjoy the false virginity of MGM. Neat production numbers, a variety of songs, and a not-to-be-missed scene with Barry Sullivan and master actor Sig Arno as a waiter. Glen Anders is also on view. But one of my real reasons for watching it was the presence in it of that magnifico Louis Calhern. This was his year: he introduced Marilyn Monroe in Asphalt Jungle. (Monroe was best opposite much older men, and she had the greatest character actors in films to prove that true, Charles Laughton, Charles Coburn, and Calhern.) Calhern was an actor of insuperable finesse. The scene when Calhern’s and Sothern and Powell sing and dance to “Shine On Harvest Moon” is the most endearing musical number I have ever seen in a musical.

Now, That’s Entertainment! Catch it.

 

 

 

Let’s Dance

05 Jun

Let’s Dance – directed by Norman Z. McLeod – Backstage Musical. 117 minutes Color 1950.

★★★★★

The Story: A song and dance girl marries into a Boston High Society family, and her dance partner tries to keep its matriarch from taking her child away.

~

Jaw-dropping – the possibility that the most vulgar star in movies could be partnered with the most elegant star in movies. Betty Hutton and Fred Astaire together?

Jaw-dropping – the absolute fact that they work beautifully together.

What a team! And why? It’s partly because Betty Hutton is so willing to throw herself into the work and enjoy herself so thoroughly. She does more than keep up with Astaire; she matches him step by step. She is game. She is imaginative. She is the Bette Davis of comediennes: she is willing to look grotesque to do her work. In fact she likes to do that.

But the real reason for the success of these two together is that Astaire, unlike Gene Kelly, throve as a partnered — particularly a clown-partnered dancer. The reason for that was the habit, established and by the public expected, since the days when he and his sister Adele danced on Broadway together.

But the reason also is that Musical Comedy as a medium requires most of the music to be comedic. Most musical numbers in most musical comedies are funny. Fred Astaire could be funny in solo dances – and this movie has one of his great works of comic dance: the jaw-dropping solo piano dance. But Fred Astaire also needed a partner who could dance funny. Every single song in this movie is comical, so is every dance. Astaire’s dancing plays off Hutton’s zest, just as she plays into the Hermes Pan-Astaire choreography’s zest. He matches her vulgarity with his race-track swindler strain: they come alive together and are a gas.

So while we may miss a great lyrical dance such as Astaire did with Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth, or Cyd Charisse, it doesn’t matter. Hutton would have been ridiculous in lyrical dance. She is too rowdy. But what she does with Astaire is grand. Her vulgarity is full of life energy – which gives it great audience access. She was the biggest star Paramount had in those days, and you can see why.

The movie begins better than it ends, because the antagonist played by the dowager Lucille Watson is the pivotal figure, but her pivot needs to turn on a musical entertainment hub – a number that convinces her to stop trying to get Hutton’s child. The case should never be in court; it should only threaten to go there. The story hinges on Watson’s loosening up, but it uses a horse race, whereas it should use something Hutton and Astaire dance.

The writing of the last act is over-detailed and too complicated and therefore drawn-out. But never mind. The piece is beautifully produced at Paramount, perfectly cast, and played.

Where nowadays can you find as blithe a genius as Astaire’s? Nothing like it came again. Well, you don’t have to go far. Go to the lode itself. He’s still here. Up-to-date as ever.

 

Springtime In The Rockies

04 Jun

Springtime In The Rockies – directed by Irving Cummings. Backstage Musical. 91 minutes Color 1942.

★★★★★

The Story: A Broadway star flees from the unsteady attentions of her fiancé and dances off with a cad to perform at Canada’s Lake Louise, which is somehow invaded by Brazil.

~

There are sixteen reasons for the focus on the Latin American market in this musical. The first one is the wartime need to confirm South-Of-The-Border friendly relations in order to keep the Axis out of the Western Hemisphere. The other fifteen are that island of repose, Carmen Miranda.

For here she is friends, in all her comic electricity, her big heart, her fanatical hands, her inexplicable and perfect enunciation, and her hips. She appears before us at all times on heels which are stacked as tall as she. She delivers her good natured malapropisms with zest and shrewdness and conviction. She brings every scene she is in to life, and she would exhaust us if she were in any more of them.

We also have Betty Grable at her best, and this is one of Grable’s best musicals. As usual she is better in her early scenes because the writing and direction is fresh, and because she was left to her own devices. But she is one of the most outgoing of performers – the most widely skilled of all the female musical stars of her era – generous and loads of fun.

As a dancer she is a power in a body. She moves with miles of technique around her. She dances with John Payne in a thunderstorm and is brilliantly inventive and right. In the finale, she appears with him in the most beautiful dance costume she ever wore – bare shoulders and turquoise sequins from her bust to her hips, then half fringed to her thighs and fully fringed to her calves. Take your eyes from her if you can.

She is essentially a comedy dancer. Cyd Charisse was one too, but Grable is quite different, so that, unlike the poker-faced Charisse, you cannot take Grable seriously in a solemn tango with Cesar Romero which Hermes Pan has choreographed for her in a misguided attempt to imagine she has the port de bras of Ginger Rogers.

Charlotte Greenwood does her usual high kick number she – which she has done in many musicals and whose merits I have never understood. Jackie Gleason has moments of his characteristic authority as the agent. Harry James, who married Grable, is mercifully whisked off stage when he is not playing the trumpet. And Edward Everett Horton plays the millionaire butler always so necessary for these musicals.

The Whitman Sampler plot of these Fox musicals is before us, and carries us in any direction that appeals to the eye. It does not much matter. For Grable is an actress of wonderful application, as witness her delightful scene with Miranda in the powder room.

Entertainment is the order of business – and why not? Sample it, whydoncha? It’s not fattening and it leaves no bitter aftertaste. Indeed, no after of any kind. And taste was never the issue to begin with.

 

Weekend In Havanna

23 Dec

Weekend In Havana – Directed by Walter Lang. Musical. A cruise ship to Cuba crashes and the lawyer assigned to prevent a suit comes up against a determined lady. 81 minutes Color 1941.

* * * *

Brilliant! Partly because of the Technicolor process that made color something it never was in real life. And, of course, one didn’t go to the Fox musicals for real life any more than one went to a box of Toffinetti chocolates for a hearty meal. One went for wit, ebullience, and a blond with the common touch. Alice Faye was an Irish lass from Hell’s Kitchen, good hearted, easy, accessible. She had an allure she seemed almost unaware of, but the camera was not unaware of it. Her big, subtle, sleepy, China-blue eyes and her sensual and volatile mouth drew one in, as did her sultry alto when singing, at which point the camera drew close to catch it all. Gosh, what a lady! And she’s a darn good screen actor, too, as is the lushly handsome John Payne opposite her. The amazing costumes of the Fox musicals are in full array on her, as they also are on that island of tropical repose, Carmen Miranda. This movie is not like one of the deep naturalistic musicals of Gene Kelly at MGM, which moved musicals forward. It was rather the confection of a brilliant production crew and a formula for entertainment that was crisp, exotic, and fantastical in its detail and array. I have a high opinion of Fox musicals. I think of Fox musicals as piñatas. They don’t change much from one to the other. They always have the same predictable function and form, but they bring delight and they are full of astonishing gifts! Also with Billy Gilbert, Leonard Kinsky, Sheldon Leonid, Cesar Romero.

 

 

Weekend In Havana

29 Mar

Weekend In Havana  –directed by Walter Lang – Musical Comedy. A cruise ship to Cuba crashes and the lawyer assigned to prevent a law suit comes up against a determined lady. 81 minutes Color 1941.

* * * * *

Brilliant! Partly because of the technicolor process that made color something it never was in real life. And, of course, in those days one didn’t go to the Fox musicals for real life — heaven forfend! — any more than one went to a box of Barricini chocolates for a hearty meal. One went for wit, ebullience, and a blond with the common touch. Alice Faye was an Irish lass from Hell’s Kitchen, good hearted, easy, accessible. She had an allure she seemed almost unaware of, but the camera was not unaware of it. Her big, subtle, sleepy, China-blue eyes and her sensual and volatile mouth drew one in, as did her sultry alto when singing, at which point the camera and all the crew drew close to catch it all. Gosh, what a lady! And she’s a darn good screen actor, as is the lushly handsome John Payne opposite her. The amazing costumes of the Fox musicals are in full array on Faye — as they also are on that island of tropical repose, Carmen Miranda. This movie is not like one of the deep “naturalistic” musicals of Gene Kelly at MGM, which moved musicals forward. Fox musical marked time in dazzling close order drill. They were rather the confection of a brilliant production crew and a formula for entertainment that was crisp, exotic, and fantastical in its detail and array. I have a high opinion of Fox musicals. I think of Fox musicals as piñatas. They always have the same predictable function. Their contents don’t change much from one to the other: they’re vibrantly vulgar and gaudy, but give them a good whack and they bring delight because they are full of astonishingly colored gifts!

[ad#300×250]

 
 
Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button