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Archive for the ‘Victor Moore’ Category

Ziegfeld Follies

13 Jun

Ziegfeld Follies – directed by lots of people including Vincent Minnelli. Song and Dance Musical Scrapbook. 110 minutes Technicolor 1945.

★★★

The Story: None. Flo Ziegfeld in heaven reminisces into being a last great follies. When it is over, he reappears as the other slice of the sandwich. The filling is a compendium of talent then under contract at MGM.

~

Some of these acts lie dead in the water. Others dogpaddle around. All of them are with Olympic grade performers, including Esther Williams who actually was Olympic grade. She tumbles under water smiling valiantly amid the kelp in a piece that feels forced, and, of course, is just that, as we are forced to believe that when she swims off-camera she wouldn’t dream of taking a breath of air there.

Judy Garland plays The Great Movie Star giving an interview, but the chorus boys have more life to them than the piece. Not even Garland, full of vaudeville fun as she was, can energize the flaccid material. For once, though, she is properly costumed and it’s good to see her looking so grown-up, cute, and soignée.

Red Skelton’s immediacy is funny as a TV pitchman for a brand of gin. And Victor Moore brilliantly convinces himself and each of us watching that he is being reduced to desperation by his blowhard lawyer, well played by Edward Arnold. It looks like an old Orpheum Circuit skit, and it probably was one. As does the piece with Fanny Brice playing a housewife who has to recover a winning sweepstakes ticket given by her husband to the landlord, William Frawley. The skit was must have been funnier on the stage; Brice must have been funnier on the stage, she probably relished her audiences, they in turn enriching her. Hume Cronyn surprises you by his deftness as the comic husband in this piece.

The one solid dud in the collection is Keenan Wynn in the telephone sequence. Directed by the famous acting teacher Bobby Lewis, one would have thought something might have been made of it, but it would have been better played by his father Ed Wynn, or at least by someone with natural funny bones, like Durante or Hope or Raye. Keenan Wynn could be funny as a character but not as a stand-up single. He is suicidally bad, poor guy. Let’s sink down into our seats and spare him further shame.

This being MGM, everything is over-produced, including Lena Horne’s solo, the wonderful song “Love.” With her hot eyes and powerful arms and elbows, Horne moves through the song’s genius in a costume wrapped around her like a wound.

Another singer, James Melton, sings the waltz scene from Traviata. And Kathryn Grayson sings the finale, in which Cyd Charisse twirls about as the ballerina, as she does in the opening, briefly with Fred Astaire.

Astaire dances four times in this film. And he sings. And there is no one like him, and, without meaning to, he really puts everyone else in the piece outside the pale. He is the one who’s worth the ticket of admission.

One of his dances is with Gene Kelly, in a frivolous duet, “The Babbit and the Bromide,” and Astaire opens the entire show with a turn or two in which Charisse dances and Lucile Ball appears wielding a whip as a dominatrix. Except for two sideways glances she asks us to take this hysteria seriously. No one with hair that particular color could possibly be serious.

But Astaire dances twice with the stony Lucile Bremer, once playing a society dame at a ball being wooed by a cat burglar, and in the second with Bremer as a Chinatown doxie being woed by Bobby Lewis, terrifying as the ganglord, and by Astaire as a Chinese peasant.

Bremer was a talented dancer, with good carriage, and a fine figure. She dances beautifully with Astaire, but as a screen personality she is meaningless. Astaire is dancing with a mummy, and it is odd that this was not found out sooner, when all Astaire needed to do was turn to Cyd Charisse who was standing there right next to him. Bremer’s face is cold; she can’t help it, but it is just awful to look at. She had made Minnelli’s Yolanda and The Thief with Astaire and Minnelli, another failed film, and these two pieces, one suspects, are left-overs from that film. Bremer was Arthur Freed’s mistress. He is the producer. Indeed, “Raffles” – an upper-crust dance at a satire ball – is an exact duplicate of the plot of Yolanda.

“Limehouse Blues” is fan dance, and is especially interesting as Astaire retains a poker face, his slant eyes expressionless, while they both wield four fans in startling metronomic display. It is actually a ballet, such as Gene Kelly would mount, and it works like all get out. Astaire’s cooperation with a partner on the dance floor is meritorious. The more you look at him perform the less you believe your eyes. Credulity is inapt to a miracle.

Both pieces seem to have been augmented by Minnelli’s set designs, décor, and color sense – with big corps de ballet. And certainly by his desire for fantasy-dance and dream-dance, of the kind he would put into play at the end of The Bandwagon, also with Astaire.

Why sample this smorgasbord?

Because Fred Astaire had the greatest body ever to appear in film.

One looks at all the Rembrandts one can.

 

 

 

Swing Time

01 Apr

Swing Time — Directed by George Stevens. Musical Comedy. A runaway-groom meets up with a dance instructor who wont give him a tumble. 104 minutes 1936.

* * * * *

Oh, you may say that Fred Astaire couldn’t act, and in one sense it’s quite true. He seems awkward and embarrassed saying lines. On the other hand, everything he does as an actor is apropos, and every move he makes is a dance, just as with that other Broadway hoofer James Cagney; like Astaire, Cagney is never not dancing. Which means that Astaire’s acting is always physically animated. If there is any problem with his acting, it may be that he is never still, never grounded in his lines. Swing Time is accompanied by a terrific commentary by John Mueller, who takes us through a good deal of what went on to make this piece the greatest of Rogers/Astaire musicals — which has to do with Astaire’s grueling rehearsal work, freedom from chance in the dances, his staff, and the nature of the picture itself. It is directed by George Stevens who was one day to direct Shane and A Place In The Sun and The More The Merrier and who brings to the picture an angle of vision and an allowance for acting excellence in the principals which unify it. Of course, it is a white telephone musical, which means that it is essentially a film in which only the dances are serious art: the rest is flip. This is as it should be, because Astaire is interested in discovering and firming up the musts of movie dance. His discoveries rule to this day. The film contains wonderful numbers of Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, including a most endearing version of “The Way You Look Tonight” which you will never forget. And at one point Astaire applies blackface and does a shadow dance with 24 chorus girls 12 in black, 12 in white, and then dances to a triple black and white rear projection of himself. Minstrel shows embody and celebrate an exuberance which our negro entertainers alone possess: blackface gives performers freedom: that is what is being enlarged on here, and, because it is respectful at heart, it would be offensive to be offended by it.  Rogers, beautifully dressed for all her numbers, is liquid in Astaire’s arms. She had a wonderful figure, graceful arms, strong square shoulders, a flexible back. And of course she could actually act, so she moves the spoken drama along while Astaire moves the dance drama along. Dancing he led her; not-dancing, she led him, so to say. At the end Stevens directs them in the most beautiful romantic dance ever filmed. A valuable suggestion Mueller gives is to watch the dances in slow motion. What a treat! To actually see for oneself what went into these intricate, witty dances!  Astaire’s body was a genius. That body is the ur of American movie musicals.

 

Swing Time

04 Oct

Swing Time – Directed by George Stevens. Musical. Two dancers and their lovers at cross purposes. 103 minutes Black and White 1936.

* * * * *

Swing Time is accompanied by a terrific commentary by John Mueller, who takes us through a good deal of what went on to make this piece the greatest of all Rogers/Astaire musicals — which has to do with Astaire’s grueling rehearsal work, freedom from chance in the dances, his staff Hermes Pan, and the nature of the picture itself. It is directed by George Stevens who was one day to direct The More The Merrier, Woman Of The Year, Shane, and A Place In The Sun and who brings to the picture an angle of vision which unifies it by personalizing the performances. Of course, it is a white telephone musical, which means that it is essentially a film in which only the dances are serious art: the rest is flip. This is as it should be, because Astaire is interested in discovering and firming up the essential musts of movie dance. His discoveries rule to this day. The film contains wonderful numbers of Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, and at one point Astaire applies blackface and does a shadow dance with 24 chorus girls, 12 in black 12 in white, and then dances to a black and white rear shadow projection of himself. Minstrel shows celebrate an exuberance which our negro entertainers alone possess: blackface gives performers unheard of freedom: that is what is being celebrated here, and, because it is respectful at heart, it would be offensive to be offended by it. “Never Gonna Dance” is considered to be the greatest dramatic-romantic dance ever filmed, and Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields won the Oscar for “The Way You Look Tonight,” and we are also treated to “A Fine Romance,” “Pick Yourself Up And Start All Over Again”. Rogers, beautifully dressed for all her numbers, is liquid itself in Astaire’s arms. She had a wonderful figure, graceful arms, strong square shoulders, a flexible back. And of course she could actually act, so she moves the spoken drama along while Astaire moves the dance drama along. Dancing he led her; not-dancing, she led him. The most valuable suggestion Mueller gives is to watch the dances in slow motion. What a treat! To actually see for oneself what actually went into these intricate, witty dances! Astaire’s body was a genius. That body made American movie musicals! Excellence upon excellence was his credo, never more so than here.

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