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Archive for the ‘Dick Powell’ Category

Gold Diggers Of 1933

19 Apr

Gold Diggers Of 1933 – directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Musical. Will three chorus girls land rich husbands? 97 minutes, Black and White 1933.

★★★★★

In writing a review of a movie I saw two days ago, I have to look up on Google to remind myself what the the heck the story was. Oh, yes, I remember now. It is, let us say, pleasingly forgettable.

For why should we not forget it? The point of the Warner Brothers Musicals is the appeal of the stark contrast of a striking presentation with the ordinariness of the story and the actors. At MGM Judy Garland was many things but ordinary was never one of them. Alice Fay and Betty Grable and Shirley Temple at Fox were lavishly unordinary. Rogers and Astaire frolic through the vast white telephone art deco concoctions at RKO, and you can mistake neither of them, together or apart, for anyone else at all.

But here at Warners we have the endearing Joan Blondell, someone leaning over the backyard fence for a good gossip. We have Ruby Keeler whose musical comedy talent verges on the indiscernible. She carefully watches her feet when dancing, and her singing voice makes a rusty bedspring glad it doesn’t sound worse. But she’s sufficiently pretty and has the correct specific weight to play opposite the collegiately cute Dick Powell, who does have talent, and also has the smarts to sing and act with such conviction as to completely elude embarrassing himself.

What we want is these perfectly accessible folks skirting around the sets and gesturing in odd counterpoint to them. For what is also going on is the Busy Berkeley kaleidoscopical monstrosities of choreography to give the lie to ordinariness at every glance. You think Warner Brothers is the out-at-elbows studio of the ‘30s? Nah. Here’s production values up the wazoo.

We return to the Warners musicals for the juxtaposition of the modest talents of the performers counterpoised against the immense immodesty of the regimental use of the females of the chorus numbers for which these musicals remain famous. Escapism knows no more distant exit than these deliriums.

Things start with the witty Ginger Rogers singing the great lampoon song, “We’re In The Money,” which was the Depression era mock-anthem. This in a movie which is to end in another production number, the funeral march of : “The Forgotten Man, ” the dirge of the impecunious.

Ginger is somewhat sidelined by the story of chorus girls eating beans while waiting for a part, for they are Aline MacMahon as the cynical funny one, Ruby Keeler as the star, and the one-in-between, Joan Blondell, who recites rather than sings the words to “The Forgotten Man,” and does so with enormous effect.

Probably the most popular songwriter American ever had was Harry Warren, and so the score also includes ”In The Shadows When I Sing To You.” That lovely actor Warren William injects a dose of realism as the out-of-town interloper, and a strain of actual elegance. But we don’t go to Warner’s movies for elegance. We go for the energy of the vulgar. It’s a great energy. Sometimes it frightens me. Sometimes I like it. Here, I like it.

 

Cornered

18 Aug

Cornered – Directed by Edward Dmytryk. Noir. An ex-Airman searches out the murderer of his wife. 102 minutes 1945.

* * * *

Film Noir has three ingredients: [1] it has an embittered hero up against a nightmare or a ruthless female creating a nightmare; [2] it was made in that period between about the end of World War II and about 1950 when the post traumatic zeitgeist of The War bubbled up like a fumerole and Rosie The Riveter lost her power; [3] it is in black and white.  Noir is not defined by lighting, even if it’s done by Alton or MacDonald or Ruttenberg. A female version is Double Indemnity or Strange Impersonation. The female and male versions are seldom found in one film, although The Maltese Falcon is a famous example of it. Cornered directed by Dmytryk is a perfect instance of noir, and Dick Powell, like Alan Ladd, one of its great avatars. A fascinating actor, with a face you can’t not watch and a marvelous speaking voice, think of this dirty, snide male as that happy singing boy of the pre-war Warner musicals. The plot of this is like the plot of Affair In Trinidad or The Big Sleep – it’s lots of puzzle pieces that don’t eventually fit because there’s actually two different puzzles on the table, one having to do with retribution and one having to do with Nazi takeover. Cleverly written in part by Ben Hecht and beautifully shot by Harry Wild, Cornered is remarkable in that the scenes in the rubble of France convince one that the later South American ones are on real locations too. We never know who the big boss is until finally he emerges from the shadows. Very interesting that Dmytryk casts as the proto-Nazi the scion of one of the greatest Jewish acting families in history.  But who is it? Is it Walter Slezak who is all over the place? Is it that slinky dame?  Is it that other cross-dressed dame? Don’t ask me. I aint tellin’ nobody.

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My Favorite Blond/Star Spangled Rhythm

23 Jan

My Favorite Blond/Star Spangled Rhythm —  director Sidney Lanfield/George Marshall – Mystery Farce in which a coward gets involved with a WWII spy ring. And A Hollywood WWII effort Variety Show.  Black and white 1942.

* * * * *

The Ghostbusters is a better Hope film of this era, but this one has its moments, as a mock spy caper, with Madeleine Carroll as The Hitchcock blonde she was. Star Spangled Rhythm is a Paramount varsity show and far more fun, with Hope as a cameo, spouting in-jokes about Crosby who is also in it. In a huge cast of Paramount superstars, the main attraction is Betty Hutton. You might say, if fact you would have to say, she “propels” the plot, for she had pop-eyes in every cell of her body. Here she throws herself into each scene as though onto a trampoline. This was her way, and if you can stand it, you can stand anything. But boy do you have to give her credit for total engagement, and she is superb in one scene with two men attached by the hands, trying to get over a wall. It’s a very funny scene, brilliantly played by her and by the other two, who were avid contortionists. Ray Milland, Franchot Tone, and Fred MacMurray are amusing as three men playing bridge like three women, a sketch written by George S. Kaufman. And there is Rochester doing a superb zoot-suit number with Katherine Dunham, young and great. Boy, do they rock! George Balanchine’s choreography of a jazz ballet with Vera Zorina is fascinating, not least because of Zorina’s amazing figure — yikes! Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer wrote the music for the film, and the score includes That Old Black Magic and Dick Powell and Mary Martin singing Hit The Road to Dreamland, the latter of which is taken over by a quartet of black male singers who are just wonderful! So there is really a lot of jam on the thin piece of toast this picture is, which was a War-effort effort. The toast may be stale by now, but the jam — especially as regards the black singers and dancers — is still fresher than fresh!

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