Archive for the ‘Billy Gilbert’ Category

Weekend In Havanna

23 Dec

Weekend In Havana – Directed by Walter Lang. Musical. A cruise ship to Cuba crashes and the lawyer assigned to prevent a suit comes up against a determined lady. 81 minutes Color 1941.

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Brilliant! Partly because of the Technicolor process that made color something it never was in real life. And, of course, one didn’t go to the Fox musicals for real life any more than one went to a box of Toffinetti chocolates for a hearty meal. One went for wit, ebullience, and a blond with the common touch. Alice Faye was an Irish lass from Hell’s Kitchen, good hearted, easy, accessible. She had an allure she seemed almost unaware of, but the camera was not unaware of it. Her big, subtle, sleepy, China-blue eyes and her sensual and volatile mouth drew one in, as did her sultry alto when singing, at which point the camera drew close to catch it all. Gosh, what a lady! And she’s a darn good screen actor, too, as is the lushly handsome John Payne opposite her. The amazing costumes of the Fox musicals are in full array on her, as they also are on that island of tropical repose, Carmen Miranda. This movie is not like one of the deep naturalistic musicals of Gene Kelly at MGM, which moved musicals forward. It was rather the confection of a brilliant production crew and a formula for entertainment that was crisp, exotic, and fantastical in its detail and array. I have a high opinion of Fox musicals. I think of Fox musicals as piñatas. They don’t change much from one to the other. They always have the same predictable function and form, but they bring delight and they are full of astonishing gifts! Also with Billy Gilbert, Leonard Kinsky, Sheldon Leonid, Cesar Romero.



The Kissing Bandit

30 Sep

The Kissing Bandit – Directed by Laslo Benedek. Musical. The milquetoast son of a famed Mexican bandit longs for his son to take up the gun, and become “The Kissing Bandit.” 100 minutes 1948.

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In Ann Miller’s picture book of her musicals, this one is described, by common agreement of all its principals, as The Worst Musical Ever Made. I don’t know what the worst ever made is, but this can’t be it. First of all it is a lot of fun! It’s a Latin American farce, so, if you like The Pirate as much as I do, you will find this picture has its own version of amusement. (True, it would have been better directed by Vincente Minnelli.) Much of that amusement is supplied by J. Carrol Naish who, with a light-bulb nose, plays the funniest bandito in the world, grumpy, greedy, and galumphing. He is abetted by Mildred Natwick who is super as a lecherous duenna. For its stars we have Frank Sinatra, who is in perfect voice, and Kathryn Grayson, the same. These two had made musicals together before this, and got along. Why?  As they are so oddly matched, they are perfectly suited to one another. For Kathryn Grayson with her valentine face and bosom and her operetta soprano and Sinatra with no body weight at all and his crooner’s baritone are a naturally funny combo and they both play their parts well in the style of light farce, with Sinatra as the fool and Grayson as the femme voluptueuse. None of Nacio Herb Brown’s songs (save Love Is Where You Find It) are hits, yet that is not the problem. The problem is that the costumes are lousy. They drown the performers and the performances. They are not just over the top, which would be fun, they are vulgar, and one is wrenched from what is going on by the distraction of their garishness. Only until Grayson gets into a black dress and then into a white one, do her scenes work. A neat pas de trois, with Cyd Charisse and Ann Miller and Ricardo Montalban, is almost demolished because of the gold shoulders the two ladies wear. (As an aside, I wonder – why it was Sinatra was always presented as sexually callow in his films, a boy with no passion, sexual experience, or drive. Was it to still milk his appeal to fifteen year old bobby soxers?) The great Robert Surtees filmed it, and it still works to entertain escape and beguile. See if you don’t agree.

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