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Archive for the ‘Backstage Country Dramatic Musical’ Category

Two Weeks With Love

10 Sep

Two Weeks With Love – directed by Roy Rowland. Period Musical. 92 minutes 1950.

★★★★

Jane Powell is 21 here, playing a 17-year-old who desires to grow up.

Up is where Powell would never grow, because she is 5’1” and doomed to play shrimps. Her perfectly convincing 12 year-old younger sister is so because she is 5’2” and is played by Debbie Reynolds, aged 19, also a shrimp.

Personettes. Movies are full of them. Gloria Swanson, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, James Cagney, Joe Pesci, et al: tiny dynamos all.

Most of the musicals of this era are somewhat flaccid of plot, but they each usually have one marvelous number in them. And this one has Debbie Reynolds singing “Abba-Dabba Honeymoon.” It’s the number that made her famous and funneled her into Singing In The Rain. She joins cheeks to duet it with Carleton Carpenter and knocks it out of the park. There is a lot more to be said about Debbie Reynolds’ gifts and give than her first name has so far permitted.

The story is the same old strain on our credulity as so many other Powell films in which she is a sweet young thing in love with a man way out of her age range and class.

Here he is played by Ricardo Montalban, who is only 30 but is a man of such aplomb as to be almost on the level of Louis Calhern who plays Powell’s father.

Ricardo Montalban was an actor who could turn a thankless role into an occasion for our gratitude. If you compare him to the ill-natured Edmund Purdom in Powell’s Athena, you will see why we are so lucky to have Montalban before us here. But the idea of his marrying Powell is as inconceivable as a nightingale wedding an elk. We swallow this pill in order to get to the good parts. And all the musical matter is delightful, as is the ice-cream soda style of the film as a whole.

It does not seem strange to me that these musical are on DVD now and that people are seeing them for the first time. It isn’t nostalgia that causes it, and it isn’t scholarship, and it isn’t because they are classic, because they’re not; they’re simply of their period. It is because they remain entertainments as simple and pleasing as they were ever meant to be. These are not musicals about the horrors, or social and sexual mores, or a moment of history, and they are not sophisticated musicals, although they often include highly talented and sophisticated people. They are as easy to take as the ice-cream soda mentioned above. You don’t need to remember them. They’re not meant to stick to your ribs, any more than an ice-cream soda is.

They’re popular because ice-cream sodas never go out of style.

 

Annie Get Your Gun

16 Oct

Annie Get Your Gun — Directed by George Sidney. Backstage Musical. A country bumpkinette sharpshooter wins fame, fortune, and the man of her dreams. 107 minutes Color 1950.

* * * * *

It was written for Ethel Merman who in a theatre sang and acted everything directly out to the audience, and the director has wisely staged Betty Hutton’s numbers exactly the same, smack dab at the camera. But for a quite different reason, which is that the whole movie is a cartoon, and no one is more cartoonish than Hutton. She wants to burst out of the frame. She acts and sings always at the limits of her technique, which of the coast-to-coast variety. She punches out every song and locks her elbows to deliver the blow. She is The Great Frenetic. But she is really rather endearing in the role. Irving Berlin in his greatest score wrote the words and music, and Herbert and Dorothy Fields wrote the book, all of it in competitive response to Rogers’ and Hammerstein’s Americana musicals State Fair, Carousel, and Oklahoma! Competitive except in the matter of the treatment of natives; the Indians here are the most cartoonish of all. Ugh! But never mind, so is everyone else. Howard Keel is stalwart, affectionate, sexy, and true, and very much worth watching as Frank Butler, Annie’ rival deadeye, and his rich baritone caresses the songs warmly. We also have Louis Calhern as Buffalo Bill, and he’s an actor of incomparable suavity of bearing and always a treat to see. Benay Venuta played Dolly Tate on the stage with Merman and does so here, to good advantage. The film is haunted by the ghost of Judy Garland who began the film incurably depressed and facing Busby Berkeley who had always been mean to her and who was stupidly assigned to direct her. Moreover her work stupidly began with the film’s sole and exhausting production number, “I’m An Indian Too” (after Berkely and Garland were fired, completely restaged for Hutton’s looney bin of frenzy). We have the footage of Garland’s version; she is, of course, far more talented than Hutton, but by this time she was an irretrievable addict, and this ended her career. But Hutton is fine and the entertainment value of the material has not faded, particularly since no attempt is made to begin with to approximate any reality but Show Business which as the film warns us in a truism which nowadays extends to all areas of private, political, public and spiritual life, there is no business like.

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Country Strong

11 Jan

Country Strong – directed by Shana Feste – musical drama about the interactive effects on those around her of a country superstar going under. 100 minutes color 2010

* * * *

Of course, Gwyneth Paltrow is the principal reason for seeing any movie she might happen to be in. She is angelically lovely and elegant, and she is a wonderful actor. She was the first true film ingénue since Audrey Hepburn, and like Hepburn had to find her footing when she was no longer 23 but 33. Here she plays the older singer, experienced, skilled, gifted, and appealing. However the script the actress must play does not offer her the scenes needed for us to drop behind the character and see her for ourselves. The editing here is coarse, moving to closeups and closeups and closeups, and the story, which is potentially interesting, is imbalanced. The effect of the characters on one another goes largely unpursued. And so the film waves on the line like a set of farmer browns too tattered for anyone to wear any more. We also have Tim McGraw as her pushy husband who cannot bear to touch her, as she succumbs to drugs and booze and profligacy. He is quite good in those scenes of personal repugnance to her. However, he is in full beard. Garrett Hedlund, as the up and coming songwriter performer, is also in a beard, which means that the two leading men are partially hidden from us the entire time, a great mistake on someone’s part. He is well cast, however, and steals the picture when he is in it, because his part is of one who sympathizes and who acts on his sympathies. This does not make him a sympathetic character, but, as he is a sympathetic actor, he, at least, is very well cast. The only character who develops is the Country Barbie brilliantly played by Leighton Meesler. You don’t think you’re going to like her, but she convinces and surprises as she moves from stage to stage of her role. All the singing and songs are lively, sung, full out, and capture the dinner-bell clamorous urgency of country. It is well worth seeing for them, for some of the writing, for some of the scenes, particularly the great scene with Kevin the cancer child, where Paltrow gives us her loving spoonful all right. And for a view into a world, into which few of us would wish or dare to tread.

 
 
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