2013 CAPA Summer Movie Series (Columbus, OH)

It’s my favorite time of year in central Ohio, or nearly. CAPA, our local arts organizing group, has announced its lineup for the 2013 Summer Movie Series held in Downtown Columbus’ historic Ohio Theatre. For those of you unfamiliar with this seasonal gem, the June 28 through Aug. 25 series features a plethora of classic movies shown in the theater that was originally built as a movie house and is now used for concerts, ballets, etc.

Among this year’s offerings are two Hitchcock movies, which you know delights me. The wonderfully amusing The Trouble with Harry, To Catch a Thief and the Jimmy Stewart rendition of The Man Who Knew Too Much will certainly be on my schedule.

Other prize showings include An American in Paris, Grand Hotel, Citizen Kane, Bonnie and Clyde, The Thin Man, 1974’s The Great Gatsby, and Touch of Evil.

I have been notoriously bad about achieving all the CAPA Summer Movie Attendance goals I have set in years past, and I won’t pretend this year will be any better. I do hope to at least catch the Hitchcock flicks, but I’ll admit The Man Who Knew Too Much won’t be at the top of my list.

Feature: Duel of the Dudes

The love triangle is a standby of the romantic movie in which women or men have to choose which lover best suits them. It occurred to me in reviewing Love on the Run that it might be interesting to delve into hypothetical battles between actors and guess which would prevail. Granted, in most of these cases the outcome will depend on who the object of affection is as he or she is the ultimate decider. Nevertheless, based on the typical on-screen persona of the men below, who would you guess to be the victor in a romantic comedy or drama (Explain your answer!)? Without letting my own bias into the mix, below are my conclusions about Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.

 

Despite being probably the most prominent dancers of their time, Astaire and Kelly never appeared in a narrative movie together. They pop up as themselves in The Ziegfeld Follies and That’s Entertainment II, but otherwise the two never had to fight over a girl. I mentioned in my review of the former flick my opinions of my favorite of the two dancers, but I will try to keep that conclusion out of this argument.

Both men wooed women on screen through song and dance, but their styles of dance were distinctly different. Both could tap, but Astaire was the real hoofer whereas Kelly adopted more of what we now consider a Broadway or Jazz style. This difference is important in this battle as Kelly’s technique was more sensual (think An American in Paris) whereas Astaire’s was more fun. While Fred was busy holding hands and swinging his partner too and fro, Kelly was right up against his ladies, showing his prowess. It is for the mere reason of dance style that I think Kelly pulls to the lead.

Looking at their on-screen personalities, both men generally played kind, gentle lovers. Kelly occasionally went beyond that comfort zone to play a disgraced soldier (For Me and My Gal) and a criminal pirate (The Pirate), but he was always kind to the women in those stories. Astaire, on the other hand, seems to have proved in his cinematic history that he can always win over the girl, even when the alternative is Peter Lawford (Easter Parade). Kelly’s on screen personalities, however, did not shy away from being a down-and-out underdog in some instances, which perhaps could make Astaire the stronger lead in a love triangle.

Nevertheless, based on dancing style and the likelihood that Gene Kelly could act as a strong romantic contender against anyone, I will choose him as my victor. What do you think of this duel? Was it an unfair fight?

Ziegfeld Follies

Gasser

Ziegfeld Follies (1946)

     This post will be short because how much can one really say about a movie without a plot? Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. was world-known for his lavish stage shows that lacked a plot but entertained spectators with one song, dance or comedy vignette after another. The movie Ziegfeld Follies does the same.

     The film was originally completed in 1944, 12 years after Ziegfeld’s death. Some audiences found offensive the opening that features William Powell reprising his role as the showman –previously having played him in The Great Ziegfeld— in heaven devising a new revue. Not having been around to be a fan of Ziegfeld when he was alive, I could not care less as the scene endures for a few minutes before we never see him again.

     There is nothing particularly appealing to me about a movie that strings together unrelated songs, dances and visual effects. Ziegfeld Folliesis not without its gems, however. The movie featured the only time outside of That’s Entertainment II that Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly dance together. The two were masters in their own way, but their styles are very different, so it is nice to compare and contrast them here. Where Astaire is lanky and fit, Kelly is muscular and nimble. I will always choose Kelly over Astaire for multiple reasons –voice, dance style, looks– but the two are well matched when dancing together.

     Really the one reason I sought to watch Ziegfeld Follies was for Judy Garland‘s appearance in it. She acts and sings in a comedy sketch as “The Great Lady”, a character very different for her. The scene was originally planned for Greer Garson to mock herself, but the actress had turned it down. Garland, therefore, plays a snooty, self-loving super actress with a refined, Garson-esque voice that shows yet another facet of her acting talent. She welcomes a group of reporters and puts on a dramatic show of flitting about her apartment and posing for any photos that might want to be snapped. The scene is fun, absurd and makes Garland look absolutely stunning. We can probably thank Director Vincente Minnelli for that.

     The movie is packed with a long list of other stars, some more entertaining than others. If you enjoy just watching a bunch of talent paraded about for two hours, then Ziegfeld Follies is for you, but as far as I am concerned, a plot is necessary to keep me from getting distracted.

Source: TCM.com

Something to Sing About

Ring a Ding Ding 

Something to Sing About (1937)

Something to Sing About had a number of things going against it when I sat down with it last weekend. The DVD was one of those cheap three-movies-in-one discs and the picture quality was choppy from the start. I certainly thought to myself at the beginning “this is a bad movie.” I was far from correct, however.

Despite the majority of his fame as gangster and tough-guy types, James Cagney had a background as a song-and-dance man in New York, where he grew up. Besides living in that grand and diverse city, he did not actually have the rough upbringing one would expect of the man who assaults a female character with a grapefruit. Nevertheless, Hollywood liked him best in those tough roles and the public had a hard time accepting him in light-hearted dancing parts. It is often said Yankee Doodle Dandy nearly ended his career.

In Something to Sing About, Cagney plays the singing and dancing leader of a band popular in New York who has been recruited by Hollywood for a one-picture contract. This Terry Rooney proposes to his girl before leaving town and has no grand ambitions about making it big. Once out west, the studio big wigs find he has many shortcomings: his hairline is terrible, his dialect is poor and his wardrobe leaves something to be desired. In the picture Terry is to fight a couple of goons and rehearses the close but fake punches before the film starts rolling. The other actors, apparently, like to have some fun with “greenhorn” actors and so actually sock him. Terry responds as we would expect a Cagney character to and starts throwing punches and breaking all the furniture on the set over the goons. The director keeps the film rolling.

Terry assumes he’s through in Hollywood and so returns to New York where he and Rita (Evelyn Daw) get married and take a honeymoon to South America. While they are on the boat, the Terry Rooney picture becomes a major hit and the studio is set to sign him to a long-term contract, but no one can find the star. The studio puts out a public notice to help track him down, and after being mobbed by fans near a theater, Terry finally returns to his employer.

The contract itself presents a problem, however, as it requires Terry to remain single. Rita and the studio heads agree that if the wife pretends to instead be the star’s secretary, they can remain married. The romance gets complicated, however, because the studio wants Terry to star with –and appear to be romancing– their star actress Stephanie (Mona Barrie).

I thought I had Something to Sing About pegged from the start: Terry would go to Hollywood and become a star and the excessive female attention would have him forget all about the girl back home. That certainly is far from the case. Terry never once suggests he is anything but in love with Rita; the circumstances just make things look bad. Cagney’s character remains appealing to audicnes because being a dancer has not softened his character from the one to which we are accustomed. He still has the fight and gruff of his gangster types, only he’s in a more legitimate racket.

On a more important note, however, is Cagney’s dancing. He opens the picture with a tap number on the stage of a nightclub that would blow your mind. His footwork is more impressive here than I have seen in his other musicals. He is not just tap-dancing, he’s doing jazz and ballet-type moves as well. Cagney’s performance here rivals Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly as far as I am concerned and (as a former dancer myself) is among the best dancing I have seen in classic movies. Cagney allegedly worked off-screen with Astaire to practice some of the routines and his choreographer was one he worked with before getting into movies.

I cannot emphasize enough that any Cagney fan or anyone loving dance or musicals MUST see Something to Sing About. You will not believe what talent this often-gruff actor had.

  • Watch Something to Sing About in its entirity on YouTube.

Source: Legends: James Cagney by Richard Schickel, TCM.com

Thousands Cheer

Gasser

Thousands Cheer (1944)

     I suppose there is no better way for a movie lover to celebrate another July 4th except by watching a patriotic flick, and although I selected Thousands Cheer, I am afraid it is yet another Gene Kelly bad-soldier film. That is not to say the picture does not promote the army, it just fails to make a soldier out of Kelly, who in For Me and My Gal also missed the mark as an ideal military man.

     Kathryn Grayson joins Kelly as classical singer Kathryn Jones who announces to her audience she is leaving with her father for an army camp where she will engage in morale-boosting. The whole opening has a creepy incest feeling to it as both Kathryn and her conductor Jose Iturbi (as himself) say she is leaving her singing job to “run off with a man”. Not helping this uncomfortable dialogue is that the father Col. Jones (John Boles) does not look too old to be ruled out as a sweetheart, plus they talk to each other as strangers because the father had left Kathryn’s life early on. We can luckily get passed that when Kathryn waits to board the train with her father. She is alone standing beside Kelly’s Pvt. Eddy Marsh, and as the two glance around at all the soldiers smooching goodbye to their sweethearts, both give expressions of longing and glances at each other. At the last moment, Eddy grabs the gal and lays a couple on her, with no objection from the lady, but clearly is unaware she too will be on his train. The best part of the movie is a cute exchange once the train is moving when Kelly fears this girl has gotten the wrong idea and is following him. He tells her they’re through, but she plays along and insist the kiss means they are engaged.

     Once at the base, Kathryn is a hit with all the men except Eddie, but he eventually comes around, sneaking into the house she shares with her father to convince her to go on a date. The romantic feelings seem genuine but it turns out his intention is to have her meet his family of trapeze artists and explain why he would rather be in the Air Force. Falling into his scheme she offers to talk to her father about a transfer, but he ultimately kisses her again and the two settle on their mutual affection.

     Eddie has had a couple of sour run-ins with Col. Jones by this point and because he has been a lousy soldier unwilling to respect his superiors or show any inkling of discipline, Kathryn’s father does not think of him as the perfect suitor. Eddie vows to get his act together in the military and just days before being shipped out secures and engagement with his girl. The trouble now lies in Kathryn’s mother, Hyllary, played by Mary Astor. Because she left her husband because he was too devoted to the military, she naturally objects to her daughter suffering the same fate. She attempts to take her daughter home, but the girl refuses because she has arranged a major show featuring Jose Iturbi, Eddie’s family of trapeze folk  and a host of Hollywood celebrities. When Kathryn goes to speak to Eddie about the trouble, however, the soldier gets riled and rushes off to face Hyllary, but because he abandoned his duty the boy is thrown in the guard house and will have to face a disciplinary hearing. Col. Jones convinces Eddie’s family to use him in the show and re-teach him discipline and teamwork.

     Here the story line is interrupted for 40 minutes to allow for the variety show that features too long a list of MGM performers to mention. Mickey Rooney MCs musical performances featuring Lena Horne, Ann Southern and Virginia O’Brien, among others; skits with Lucille Ball, Red Skelton and Frank Morgan; and Bob Crosby and his orchestra. The latter is Bing Crosby‘s brother who became famous in his own right as a band leader and can be found featured in a variety of movies. I want to make special note of the final performer, Judy Garland. Although Rooney continually introduced all the other female performers by emphasizing their va-va-voomness, if you will, for Garland he says she is “cute and sweet” despite that the girl was at the peak of her sexual attractiveness in Thousands Cheer —thin, blonde and beautiful. This introduction surely added to Garland’s pessimistic feelings about her looks given Louis B. Mayer had dubbed her his “little hunchback” not long after hiring her.

     Jumping back into the story now that the audience has had plenty of time to forget the conflict there in, Eddie performs a dangerous stunt on the trapeze successfully and, jumping ahead to his getting ready to ship out, a tearful Kathryn again agrees to wear his ring while she waits for him. The ending is a big musical number with Grayson in front of performers from a variety of countries singing some patriotic number.

     I have never been a fan of Grayson’s singing voice, but she keeps it rather subdued in Thousands Cheer so I did not feel the need to fast-forward through her numbers as I have in the past. I would rather have seen Judy Garland in this part, having starred opposite of Kelly in For Me and My Gal and proving the two had great chemistry. In that movie, Kelly plays a soldier who become a deserter in a far more disgraceful manner than his mere lack of devotion in Thousands Cheer. In that picture, at least, Kelly sings. For Thousands Cheer it is Grayson as the lead singer with no support from Kelly. The man does put on one dance number, however, which is totally worth the wait.

     Despite my trouble seeing Kathryn Grayson as a very appealing romantic figure, Kelly shows what a talent he was by proving he can make affection toward anyone seem real. He is so romantic, charming and genuine in his emotions on screen here that I found it hard to resist swooning.

Feature: ‘Glee’ makes ’em laugh (or tries)

Last night’s episode of “Glee” featured a dream sequence in which glee club teacher Will Scheuster imagines he is living the “Make Them Laugh” number from Singin’ in the Rain. He takes on the Donald O’Connor character and is accompanied by one of the student dancers for an attempted step-by-step re-enactment of one of the most memorable songs from one of the most influential musicals of all time.

I am a regular “Glee” viewer but am a fan with reservations, and Tuesday’s episode only underscores this. I understand the desire to pay tribute to this famous movie routine, but I enjoy the movie version far better. Matthew Morrison has a fabulous, broadway-style voice that is much prettier than O’Connor’s, yet I’m still siding with the film. O’Connor’s voice has far more character and he was much better with the physical comedy of the scene than Morrison is. Also I was confused which character he was playing at first as I was trying to remember the movie. It seemed strange to me to have one of the least noticeable student characters occupy the Gene Kelly role, a character who dominates the film.

I do not aim to be overly critical of the show, and might be prompting hate mail from all the “gleeks”, but am instead offering that for those tweens who just loved that song last night, they better rent the source material.

Compare for yourself:

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