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Archive for the ‘Jane Russell’ Category

Red Skelton: America’s Clown Prince

17 Feb

Red Skelton: American’s Clown Prince. TV Shows. Low Comedy. 5 hours Black and White 1961.
★★★★★
I would see that cheese-eating smile, surrounded by the destructive exclamation marks of his sycophantic dimples, I would see his sappy visage of a deranged choirboy, his body swaying constantly as though he needed to go to the bathroom, I would see that fidgeting left hand of his extended at the wrist like a male ballet dancer making a running exit – and I would make a running exit.

He repelled me.

He revolted me.

For I was never taken by the sort of comedian so popular in America of which he was a type: the schlemiel. Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope, Lou Costello, Danny Kaye – I was drawn to them only insofar as they evinced quick wit. But as dummies, they bored me. I was pitiless.

So I never saw Red Skelton. He made a movie with Fred Astaire, but I didn’t pay any attention to him. I found him profoundly unfunny, grating even, a suck-up.

Since I am sometimes interested in challenging my biases, I took this out of the library, and immediately rolled on the floor laughing. For me, now, he is a very funny man. I was mistaken. No, not mistaken about his cheese-eating persona, but about walking away so soon all those years ago. Once he goes into his act, he is titanic.

I never saw him on Television, and these are 10 shows from his TV shows. I don’t know which volume I have here, for there are many and they are not properly numbered, but it is the one with the show in which he, as Freddie The Freeloader and Ed Wynn, adopt a squalling baby. Even funnier is a skit with Jane Russell as a dance-hall hostess-cum-Belle Starr. And funnier still is the one with Marilyn Maxwell where he simply sits on a soldering iron, and we watch his face screw into madnesses of agony.

For as a performer he has a genius with props. And he has a genius with witty sets, grace á the imaginations of his designers. He is a good mime. And his characters work well because they are greedy, mean, overbearing, dumb, and in all ways drolly human.

Red Skelton is a tonic. I love low humor. Sometimes. And sometimes I have to question those “sometimes” and go back and check them out. As here. Thanks, Red Skelton. Sorry. And welcome.

 
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Posted in Ed Wynn, Jane Russell, Low Comedy, Marilyn Maxwell, Red Skelton, Slapstick Comedy, TV COMEDY SERIES

 

The Tall Men

18 Apr

The Tall Men — directed by Raoul Walsh. Western. A couple of hold-up men get hired by a victim to lead a cattle drive from Texas to Montana, along with the victim’s lady friend.  122 minutes Color 1955.

★★★★

What do we see Westerns for anyhow? Raoul Walsh’s The Tall Men answers part of this this question most satisfactorily. He directed one of the five greatest Westerns ever made, The Big Trail, a wagon train story which brought young John Wayne in pale deerskin to the screen. It’s a better movie than this because it is about driving people and this is about driving livestock. But livestock are still very interesting, and there are 5,000 cattle here, in huge sweeps and runs and stampedes and herds, and there seem to be almost as many horses. Vast gangs appear to stop this drive and a whole tribe of Sioux Indians in full feather attempt to trap and destroy it. And all of this is set against the most spectacular mountains and deserts and valleys of the West, places you’d never get to see unless you were in a Western itself (in this case Durango, Mexico, 600 miles south of the border). And all these places giant and miniaturize the herds, the gangs and tribes, and the drivers themselves, and to these places none of the characters pay the slightest attention. But we do. Because we love to see Westerns for just such things. And because director Raoul Walsh has a singular eye for them. We also see Westerns because there is a hero: “He’s a man who you always wanted to become when you grew up, and when you were old were sad because you didn’t,” as Robert Ryan describes Clark Gable, and, boy, is he on the money. There is never a doubt about Gable’s leadership, authority, practicality, experience, or common sense about people. He has tremendous dignity and care for others, which gives him an underlying sweetness. He also has a deeply ingrained confidence in himself as an actor — lovely to see. As with all Walsh’s films the picture is grounded in a romance, in this case with Jane Russell. Jane Russell was a person directors loved to work with because she was down to earth, such a good sport and so easy to get along with, but she was not much of an actress, or, rather really not an actress at all. She was kept in a cage by Howard Hughes who owned her contract on the understanding he would support her her whole life if she allowed him to. To say that he seldom let her out to learn her craft is perhaps ingenuous, when the truth is that she was probably not inherently an actor at all. She mugs, she grimaces, she cannot say a single line convincingly. She is frightened. And therefore defensive. She had a wonderful smile, which radiates all through Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but is not on view here, although her justly famous figure is. Everything she does comes out broad, and thus she misses the humor inherent in the lines. She sings good though. The picture is one of the most beautiful color films ever made, but Leo Tover who filmed it, and Walsh, keep all color out of it, save the shades of red associated with Russell, a blanket, a pink blouse, a gaudy red party dress, a dark red cape. It’s a brilliant stroke and is the kind of spectacle only the vast, cattle-colored landscape of the West can make telling. There are long sequences of Gable and Cameron Mitchell, his unruly brother, riding in deep snow, and they are unforgettable because there is no other color but snow. The film is somewhat defeated by its costumes, a trait of color film after 1950, so Gable’s hat is store-bought-new as is his midnight blue shirt. His hair is never out of place. But he is a superb actor; he takes every scene at full value and makes it real and right, while other actors (except for Robert Ryan) founder with the improbabilities of the script. To say there is a plot or story here would be to detour your expectations. Cows are taken from one place to the next; certain episodes stall them; that is all. But that is almost all that is needed to make an heroic and engrossing Western for you.

 

The Outlaw

09 Jan

The Outlaw — directed by Howard Hughes. Western. Three men in a love triangle with one another, while a bosomy half-breed serves tacos. 116 minutes Black and White also Colorized 1943/46.

* * *

Howard Hawks cast and began to shoot this film with his own crew. Two weeks later he and the producer Howard Hughes parted company, and Hawks hastened on to direct The Big Sleep. But it is interesting to imagine what Hawks would have done with it, for while Hawks is not a director of a particular style, Hawks did have the capacity to create scenes that worked, that came to life, and he did this by taking the scrip and working it over on the morning of the shoot, everyone participating, and giving it to the actors after lunch and then shooting it in the afternoon. Hawks’ photographer, the great Lucien Ballard, left with Hawks, and Hughes brought in the great photographer Gregg Toland — but the same screenplay by favorites of Hawks, Jules Furthman and Ben Hecht. What was wrong with Hawks’ version? If anything, we shall never know, for Hughes directed this grotesque and flaccid version himself, and one thing obvious is that none of the scenes work at all, despite the presence of two very gifted actors and two interesting newcomers. Hughes is clearly a lousy director. Hawks story was to be the romance between three males, but Hughes wanted the bubbies of Jane Russell to be more pronounced. But the film still is the male romance. Walter Huston playing Doc Holiday holds the romance humorously in place bickering first over a horse with Billy The Kid and then, ridiculously, over Jane Russell. Jack Buetel is perfectly cast as Billy. A beautiful young man along the lines of Warren Beatty, he has the impudent confidence of who he is sufficient to flirt with another man without there being any danger of genital seduction. Men do this all the time, some do, particularly when they first meet. Walter Huston is the colluder in this seduction, while Thomas Mitchell as Pat Garrett is the jealous rival for Huston/Holliday’s love. But Hawks left. Without Hawks, Buetel and Jane Russell were lost. She was 19 and he was 23, both inexperienced and both suffering the lack of a proper director. The film never really exploits Russell’s attributes either, for she is in so few scenes. Of course, all the publicity was about her, lolling in a hayloft and looking sultry in a departing blouse. At 19 she is not quite The Magnificence she became. Russell was never directed by Hawks, but watched and learned what she could. It was not enough. Nor in the case of Buetel is it enough. He actually can act – half the lines – and it would have been Hawks’ joy to have cut the other half, had he stayed. Hughes shot scenes over and over, but nothing got any better. The sexual relations between Russell and Buetel are completely devoid of romance on Buetel’s part, and he is very funny about it. It’s in the script. He’s a saucy boy. He leads a dizzy chase by Indians, and partakes of other ridiculous and sound-stagey scenes. But the most ruinous thing about the picture is its score by Victor Young. It is as though it were written for a Porky Pig cartoon. He robs a Rachmaninoff big theme and spreads it like jam all over the love scenes, which, since they start with a rape in a stable, hardly contain romance. In every scene it appears in, his music reduces the action to nose picking. The film is more stilted in colorization than black and white for some reason and slower. This may be due to the wit of Greg Toland’s camera work, all of which is lost in the colorized version. The great Arizona set that was built for it was abandoned after 2 weeks, along with the director, and the result was the peculiar little vanity Western of great notoriety and little note, The Outlaw.

 

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

28 Dec

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes — Directed by Howard Hawks. Musical Two showgirl broads abroad find love and money and fine songs to sing about them. 91 minutes Color 1953.

* * * *

A perfume is suddenly in the room and one cannot think clearly of anything else. That perfume is Marilyn Monroe. Translated to cinematic terms this means you can’t take your eyes off her. Whenever she is on camera she draws focus. She is not trying to steal scenes. But there is a level of vulnerability available to her in the character she always played that is riveting. One goes goo-goo-eyed, just like the men in the movie do. The men are Charles Coburn who had acted with her before in Monkey Business, also directed by Hawks, and who is lovely here, and Tommy Noonan in a badly conceived role, playing an infantile millionaire poodling after her. Lorelei Lee certainly deserved a grown man as her vis a vis. But Hawks was not interested in Monroe’s sexuality. He liked scaloppini dames like Lauren Bacall and Ella Raines, women who were forward, the seducers not the seduced, that is he liked women who chased men, not women whom men chased, like MM. Hawks directed this movie in his usual plain camera style, but he directed none of the musical numbers except for Bye Bye Baby. He also had a terrible time with Monroe, as did everyone else, and he had no idea how to talk to her while they were making it. He could not understand how this little chippie bit player from Monkey Business could have become this big star. But Hawks had directed Jane Russell in The Outlaw, liked her, and knew her to be a woman of common sense. And Jane Russell had made herself a pal to Monroe; they both were childless; they both had famous athlete husbands; they both were disrespected sex bombs; they both sang real well. So Hawks talked to Jane when he wanted to convey something to Marilyn and Jane talked to Marilyn, and thus the movie got made. The songs are wonderful. The costumes are wonderful. Sydney Guilaroff did Marilyn’s hair in a loose pageboy for the Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend number, which really pays off. Howard Hughes had Jane Russell under contract, but released her on the understanding that she would be given plenty to do, and she does it superbly and partners Monroe well. Russell had a remittance agreement with Hughes that if she stayed under contract to him, he would support her for the rest of her life, and he did. However, he was stingy in renting her out, so she made few movies, and she thus never thoroughly developed her craft. Monroe on the other hand is in full swing here, in her first huge role. She brings to the part exactly what Carol Channing brought to it, when I saw her do it at the Ziegfeld on Broadway, which is the intelligence of a young woman who is so ignorant she knows everything. Monroe glows with this ignorance. She even knows so little she even thinks she has to make her diction extravagant to cloak it: “Thanks ever so.”  And like Channing she brings to Lorelie Lee a vocal style that is legato, which is to say, slow of speech, as opposed to the gum snapping fast come-back type blonde, and is also unearthly. In Channing the voice is freakish. In Monroe it is a heavenly candy store. Monroe, like Garbo, made up her character in the shower. Out on the street, talking to her, she did not wear the sexual garment which she never doffs here. But the fact was that she had made it up, she had made it up not out of whole cloth but out of something real in her, something extremely painful and no older than twelve. It became her destiny. The utilitarian vulnerability combined with her dishy looks, figure, and voice released in her the instinct to know how to play a woman who didn’t know anything. But it also gave her the invitation to be taken advantage of. And to use every means at her disposal to counter the dismembering fear that gave her.

 

 
 
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