Archive for the ‘Lucile Watson’ Category

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.


Mr. and Mrs Smith

01 Sep

Mr. And Mrs Smith – directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Screwball Comedy. A young married couple find out they are not married at all, and all screwball breaks loose. 95 minutes Black and White 1941.


After Rear Window and for the next 20 years of his professional turnout, sad but true, Hitchcock grows incompetent as a director, but this film is his second Hollywood picture after Rebecca, and incompetency is nowhere visible.

He has a crackerjack script, and two of the most engaging and popular light comedians of the era in Robert Montgomery and Carol Lombard.

Montgomery is pure puff pastry. He is masculine, sexual, even lecherous, and keen. He maintains a demeanor of mischief  behind even his more earnest pleas for the hand of his erstwhile wife. You can always see him think, and he is always willing to be happy. So he combines intelligence and an easy-going nature. You can always see how smart he is, and therefore how dumb.

Opposite him is Lombard, who has a fine figure and who wears clothes beautifully and is perfectly willing to look foolish in them. She has a cold face and icy cheekbones – a fat woman’s face really – but she has such a big heart she carries all her contradictions before her like a prize bouquet. She can turn on a dime. She is a creature of many moods and sudden twists, not all of them wise. She is like a bird aflutter. Which suits this role perfectly, for she is determined to make her marriage fun.

Lombard was not a particularly accomplished actor for most of her career, nor a particularly gifted one to begin with, but she learned how to place her voice, how to free up her body, how to throw caution to the wind and wax sentimental, how to display her wiles. So that by the time she is making this film, her craft is virtually inherent. She has, to start with, what all great comic actors must have: she is big hearted and forgiving. By this time, she has become what her reputation promised she was, an accomplished comedienne. Her performance in this picture is only exceeded in brilliancy by the one which followed, To Be Or Not To Be, her last film.

She is one of the most generous of all actors. And you can see this on display as she supports Gene Raymond’s prolonged drunk scene. Raymond has the Ralph Bellamy/Rudy Vallee role of the the thud, that is, the best friend who doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t curse, and has a mother. Lombard gets him squiffed. And Gene Raymond is hilarious as, rising to his great height, he seems about to topple over at any moment. He ventures one lickerish look at Lombard, and you will fall off your chair laughing.

Hitchcock keeps the silliness ripping along licketty split. The sets look real and appropriate. Indeed, the entire movie takes place in enclosures, cabs, cabins, apartments, offices, which present no escape route for anyone and promise civilized sex as the only denouement for all the comic confusion. Hollywood Golden Age comedy at its best.


The Thin Man Goes Home

18 Jan

The Thin Man Goes Home – directed by Richard Thorpe. Who-Dun-It. The city sophisticates in a small town offer murder and detection to it. 100 minutes. Black and White 1945.
This series was not really murder mysteries. but pleasing charades in which the audience colluded – which is why they were so enormously popular. The murders are inconsequential. But the poise of Myrna Loy carries everything forward. Or you might say that the terror-tone of the pictures was really determined by Asta, the faithful trick dog of William Powell. Or it might be set by Powell’s cavalier suits.

Or it might be that we are always reminded that we are watching a movie. Which is really what we came to the Bijou to do. We are in on the joke of Nick and Nora Charles. Flippancy was the comedy of the age.

Anyhow, we the audience certainly feel we are part of a marriage which is sexy and affectionate. And we also feel, although she rags him something fierce, that the wife really supports the husband’s work to a degree that she becomes really part of it. But everyone keeps his temper, until the wrap-up, when the dastardly killer is unwrapped in a series of explanations impossible and not even desirable to grasp. And we are all part of that too.

As we are part of the banter between Loy and Powell, here written by Dwight Taylor (son of the great Laurette Taylor), so we always feel part of the party. Yes, these two are New York Sophisticates; and we are not; yes, they drink more than regulation allows, and we do not (although not here; here, only cider), but we go along with their ride as to the manner born. MGM let’s one peek into a world that never existed. That is the MGM style in its heyday, which this is.

And MGM’s huge stable of fine actors is corralled into this piece to give it depth of talent if not of profundity. Harry Davenport, Edward Brophy, Lucile Watson. Minor Watson, Anne Revere, Leon Ames, Gloria DeHaven, Lloyd Corrigan, Donald MacBride, and that tiny mushroom of bashfulness, Donald (O rightly named) Meek. I look upon him with wonder. Year after year, in film after film, he played exactly the same part. Fumbling, uncertain, apologetic, timid. With his appealing Jiminy Cricket face, he performed perfectly, an actor whose skill we enjoy but do not explore. A cartoon. I wonder what his life was like. He could not possibly have been the thing he portrayed. But what? He died the following year, but not before having made three more films.

Along with the movie, on the extras, is an MGM cartoon. I only remember Warner Brothers Cartoons at that time, but here is a brilliant one (the Warners manner, true), so good it has the imaginative power of a nightmare, if a nightmare could be very very funny. It is The Type For Cartoons. Don’t miss it..

It affords a pleasing chaser to our visit with the Charles, in this their penultimate of seven excursions in the form.

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