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Ziegfeld Girl

Gasser

Ziegfeld Girl (1941)

 
     Lana Turner‘s Sheila is picked by Mr. Ziegfeld when he spots her operating an elevator. She happens to already possess the poise necessary to walk gracefully down a flight of stairs with a book balanced on her head. Hedy Lamarr‘s Sandra is at the theater while her husband Franz (Philip Dorn) auditions as a violinist. He does not get the job but Sandra does land employment. Judy Garland as Susan gets approved for a cast spot after Mr. Ziegfeld follows through on seeing her in a father-daughter vaudeville act. The three women become friends but their involvement in the follies will impact their lives differently.
 
     The plot puts the greatest emphasis on Sheila who gets the most attention from audience members. She is dating Jimmy Stewart as Gilbert, a truck driver working toward the responsibility of hauling a larger load, which would hopefully precipitate the couple’s marriage. Sheila’s newfound attention, however, has her meeting a lot of wealthy men, one of whom she permanently goes around with in exchange for a lavish apartment and loads of shoes and furs. Sandra’s love life is also toppled by the success of the show. Although she loves her husband, he disagrees with the woman supporting him and the two split up, with Sandra moving into a boarding house. The woman takes up with a married singer in the cast thinking it will be a safe platonic relationship; although, the man has other plans. Lastly, Susan struggles with separating from her performer father (Charles Winninger) but manages to impress the casting director with her spectacular singing and gets a bigger place in the show. Her love life is marked by Sheila’s younger brother Jerry (Jackie Cooper), and the two have a standard young-person courtship.

Lana, Hedy and Judy

 
     Ziegfeld Girl is one of those instances when Garland found herself feeling rather inadequate among the stars of MGM. The studio was generally known for having the most glamorous actors on its roster and Garland failed to meet the standard. I previously mentioned Louis B. Mayer’s nicknames for the girl, and her casting alongside the exotic Hedy Lamarr and stunning Lana Turner only emphasized her insecurities. Nevermind that her character is essentially relegated into adolescence –despite Garland being only two years younger than Turner– while the other stars battle with big-time romantic turmoil.  
 
     The Sheila character in Ziegfeld Girl not only screws up her love life but spirals into alcoholism, which eventually impacts her career and threatens her life. The character was originally depicted as dying before the film’s close but initial audiences reacted poorly to that ending. The movie instead shows the woman in a dying state before action switches to the stage and the film closes on a high note, although with Sheila’s fate ambiguous. The picture also seems to have a major flaw in terms of costuming. If the plot is meant to take place in the 20s, the fashions are reflective of the 40s when the movie was made. The follies ran on Broadway from 1907 to 1931.
 
  • Ziegfeld Girl is set for 10:15 a.m. ET Jan. 25 on TCM.
 
Sources: Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clark, TCM.com
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What to Watch Thanksgiving: Musicals

Musicals tend to be very family friendly fare, which is possibly why Turner Classic Movies has sprinkled several throughout the day and night Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. At the top of my list is Judy Garland‘s great Meet Me in St. Louis.

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

I feel like the plot of this story of a large St. Louis family in 1903 does not matter much in the grand scheme of things. The narrative is marked by the romances of Garland’s Ester with the neighbor boy and sister Rose (Lucille Bremer) hopes her long-distance boyfriend will get around to proposing. The family as a whole also struggles with the idea of moving to New York as a year goes by.

The songs in Meet Me in St. Louis are among the reasons to watch the flick. Many famous numbers we still remember today are just as enjoyable out of the context of the film as they are in. Among them is the title song, the Oscar-nominated “Trolley Song” that was filmed in one take and Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

This picture marks the first encounter of Garland and Director Vincent Minnelli. The two feuded on set until Garland viewed the daily rushes and discovered how beautiful Minnelli was making her look. The young star had all kinds of confidence issues about her appearance, some of which stem from Louis B. Mayer’s pet names of “ugly duckling” and “my little hunchback.” The woman had also been reluctant to take the part that returned her persona to that of a teenager because she had finally found success in adult roles, such as For Me and My Gal. The new-found chemistry between the star and director led to a marriage in 1945 and four subsequent films. Despite being gay, Minnelli would father Liza with Judy before the two divorced in 1951.

Meet Me in St. Louis is a great way to see Judy in one of her best roles and to sing along with the family to the memorable songs.

Musicals scheduled on TCM for Turkey Day include:

  • Meet Me in St. Louis at 10 a.m. ET.
  • The Music Man at 1:45 p.m.
  • Anything Goes at 8 p.m.
  • Shall We Dance at 3 a.m.
  • Flying with Music at 5 a.m.

Source: Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clark

Everybody Sing

Ring a Ding Ding

Everybody Sing (1938)

I think I am pretty safe in saying if often takes actors that will become big stars a few years before they start appearing in highly entertaining productions. Judy Garland, who was recognized pretty quickly by MGM executive Louis B. Mayer as a goldmine, surprised me with Everybody Sing, which is a musical that not only contains a really entertaining cast and script but fantastic musical numbers as well.

By the time this film was released in 1938, Garland had three others under her belt, although those include Broadway Melody of 1938 (released in 1937), which featured Judy in a very small role, and Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry, which I have previously reviewed as a mediocre spot for the youth. Everybody Sing was a great step forward as it offered the leading role to the teenager and would be followed in the same year by Garland’s first Andy Hardy movie and then another sour production in Listen, Darling.

What is most resounding about Everybody Sing is surely the cast. Garland as Judy Bellaire is mothered by Billie Burke who would become Glinda in Wizard of Oz, fathered by Reginald Owen, lives with maid Olga, played by Fanny Brice, and is friends with Allan Jones‘ Ricky Saboni. Judy is expelled from her girl’s school after being caught jazzing up some tunes in her vocal class, but when she returns home the girl is unable to get a word in edgewise to inform her self-centered family of the trouble. The father is a play writer, the mother is an actress who gets her current production’s lines mixed in with her personal dialogue, and her sister is absorbed in singing lessons and secret boyfriend/house cook Ricky. Only Olga and Ricky will hear of her trouble.

When Judy discovers that Ricky makes his real living singing at a restaurant, she immediately gets herself on stage and is adored by the audience. The family, however, is rather set on sending Judy to Europe to straighten her out and keep her away from the performing profession in which the rest of the family engages. Judy conspires with a voyage-mate, however, to have pre-written postcards mailed at each destination on the trip while she ducks off the boat and proceeds to live a secret life performing at the restaurant. A regrettable blackface performance ensues as part of this process.

In the midst of all this, Ricky struggles to maintain a romantic relationship with Judy’s sister, Sylvia (Lynn Carver), who has falsely gotten herself engaged to her mother’s stage partner Jerrold (Reginald Gardiner) to split up whatever romantic entanglement might be occurring there. Ultimately, all is resolved and the film closes on a major musical revue backed by Ricky himself and staring Judy and even the maid, Olga.

The Bellaire family reminded me very much of the Bullocks of My Man Godfrey except this bunch is theatrically inclined as a profession, not as a mere part of their insanity. The poor servants struggle to do their duties while dealing with their masters’ eccentricities. For instance, Olga desperately seeks to discover how many individuals will be staying for dinner because she has only four squab she must divide among what turn out to be seven eaters. Ultimately, the family gets spaghetti.

I had never seen Brice in a film before, although I recently watched Funny Girl starring Barbra Streisand, which is about Brice’s career and marriage, although a largely fictionalized account. The resemblance between Brice’s actual acting and the performance of Streisand is pretty strikingly similar. Although I found Brice to be quite comical and much like a female Chico Marx –although with a Russian rather than Italian accent in this case– she could get to be a bit obnoxious after a while. Still, I’m glad to have finally seen the comedienne first hand.

Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry

Gasser

Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937)

     Some movies are more important for their meaning in cinema history than for their actual stories or performances. I would say Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry falls into that category as it was the first pairing of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, a couple who would do 10 pictures total together. MGM spotted as soon as filming started the great appeal of the two together, and all of their follow-up roles together would be for that studio.

     The Garland-Rooney headliner films include most of the Andy Hardy movies in which, much as in real life, Judy would play the girl next door who cannot seem to draw the romantic attention of Mickey who was the real focus of those movies. Rooney and Garland knew each other before doing Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry, however. They attended the same acting school for kids in Hollywood. Garland was 15 in this film, Rooney 17, and she was still in an awkward phase of adolescence that presented problems for Louis B. Mayer who had hired her to an MGM contract. She was stuck in between cute kid and sexy young adult, which resulted in her sitting on the shelf for a while before the studio could figure out how to use her. Mayer also had the MGM commissary on strict rules to only feed her chicken broth because her favor for sweets had her figure anything but curvy, as one can see in this film. Mayer would also put Garland on diet pills, which combined with her mother’s regiment of uppers to make her shine in auditions (started at age 9, I believe) and downers to get her to sleep, could be blamed as the groundwork for her lifelong pill addiction.

     Returning to the movie, Rooney plays jockey Timmy Donovan who can win any race on any horse. Garland is Cricket West, daughter of the owner of the boardinghouse where Donovan and a slew of other jockeys live. Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry does not start out about them, however. We first follow Roger (Ronald Sinclair) and Sir Peter Calverton (C. Aubrey Smith) as they voyage from England with their horse Pookah that they plan to run in a big race in America. Early on they spy Donovan as the jockey they want, but the boy is so arrogant it takes some trickery to get him in the saddle. Donovan becomes pretty loyal to the foreigners and teaches Roger to ride as a jockey.

     When Donovan’s estranged father calls for him claiming to be sick and asking his boy to throw a race riding Pookah so he can win the money for an iron lung, the jockey follows through. The shock of the loss, however, kills Sir Peter with a heart attack leaving Roger and his stable-hand sort of stranded in the U.S. with no money. Roger plans to sell Poohah because he does not have the entrance fee for the big race. Figuring out his father’s scam, Donovan demands some of the winnings to put Pookah in that race, but further interference by the low-down father reveals the jockey’s dishonest loss in the last race and he is barred from riding. Luckily, Roger learned enough about jockeying to make a go of it.

     Garland’s role in Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry is pretty negligible. She sings one song, “Got a Pair of New Shoes”, and just acts as a side character to the drama between the boys. Rooney is his usual, great self, but Sinclair, in a role intended for Freddie Bartholomew, is kind of dreadful. I found him very annoying and easily saw how Bartholomew would have been a better fit.

     There are also a couple scenes with Rooney and Sinclair that if taken out of context would suggest a sexual relationship between the characters. I’m sure audiences thought nothing of it at the time, but images of the two of them riding a horse together combined with a follow-up scene when Rooney continually pulls Sinclair’s pants down so he can rub his thighs is suggestive by today’s standards. Just a funny note.

Feature: Classic Movie Gossip – Remakes

So I’m not terribly up on what movies are being considered for production in Hollywood these days, but I have caught wind of a couple remakes of classic movies on the forefront.

I just learned from a post by Angela at The Hollywood Revue that Johnny Depp is for certain set to play Nick Charles in a redo of The Thin Man. You’ll know from reading my post on that/those films that I love them and the fabulous performances by William Powell and Myna Loy, one of the greatest movie teams in cinema history. It sounds like only Depp has been cast so far and that the movie will be based on the book by Dashiell Hammett. Although I think Depp lacks the ability to play sophistication with the same ease as Powell, I am even more concerned with the role of Nora Charles. Loy plays such an off-beat woman. Although she is constantly pleading her husband to stay away from the detective work of his past, she is a tough broad who might be even funnier than Powell. In one scene in the first flick in the series, Powell socks her in the jaw to prevent her from being shot. She wakes up to complain she wanted to see her hubby take out the hoodlum.

I also heard a couple months ago about a proposed remake of A Star is Born starring … wait for it … Beyoncé! It would be directed by Clint Eastwood, which is even weirder. Now I concede that the Judy Garland version is itself a remake of an earlier Janet Gaynor version (and there was a 1976 version starring Barbra Streisand that I’ve heard no one mention), but the later movie far outshines the first and is a landmark in Garland’s career as it was a comeback after so many troubling times. The greatest problem I have with this proposal is obviously Beyoncé. I think we all remember how she was outshined by newcomer Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls. The chick is not exactly a great actress or starring role material, and she cannot expect to sing her way through that entire film.

I’m not certain I have ever knowingly seen a remake of a favorite classic film. I liked the recent 3:10 to Yuma but have no interest in the original even though I have heard it is better. Westerns, you know. Not my fave. I have watched original versions upon discovering their existence, but I have not hit the theater for a redo on purpose.

On a similar note, Martin Scorsese has a Frank Sinatra biopic scheduled for 2013 that has me concerned. I’m a big Sinatra fan, so I am pretty convinced I will not be satisfied with anyone in that role. I have also read at least five books on the guy, so I’m going to spot anything inaccurate. I think I’ve heard Leonardo DiCaprio’s name floated around for this part, which I think is all wrong.

From what I have read from other classic film bloggers, the feeling seems to be mutual when it comes to remakes of the classics we hold dear. My theory is one should only remake old films that were either obscure or did poorly but still had a good basis for a hit if it was done properly. If anyone can put a positive spin on the concept, I’d be glad to hear it.

Cabaret

Ring a Ding Ding

Cabaret (1972)

     I was a bit blown away by Cabaret as I engaged in my first viewing last night. I had avoided the musical despite is obviously jazzy style and music because of a … we’ll call it fear of Liza Minnelli. I will attempt not to delve too deeply into my opinions of her as the film itself warrants much discussion, but being this was my first Minnelli exposure (outside Arrested Development) I was highly distracted by the woman herself.

     Given that Minnelli in her more recent years has become a seeming lunatic and butt of jokes, I had no particular desire to see any of her films. However, any young person could say the same about Elizabeth Taylor and be forever ignorant of the monstrous career she had in her younger days. I find it difficult not to instantly draw comparisons against Minnelli’s mother, Judy Garland. Their voices are similar and Liza occasionally affects an expression similar to her mother, but I dare call the daughter a mutant version of Garland. Minnelli’s singing voice is decidedly different from Judy’s in most ways, thankfully. Although I would call Minnelli’s character in Cabaret fairly obnoxious, her performance grows wonderfully as the film progresses.

     Cabaret takes us to 1930s Berlin where American Sally Bowles is working as a headliner act in a small club where she sings and dances. The film commences with Michael York as Brian Roberts meeting Sally when acquiring a room at her boarding house. The two become fast friends, but when Sally –who has already professed a love for sex– puts the moves on Brian, we learn he thinks he is gay. Fast forward a few scenes and Sally manages this time to stir sexual desire in her companion and the two become lovers. Sally, who longs to become an actress, has a penchant for flirting/sleeping with any man who might be a producer or otherwise affiliated with the German film company Ufa. Although this makes Brian mildly jealous, it is not until wealthy Maximilian Von Huene (Helmut Griem) begins courting Sally –with Brian always in tow– that we see the sting of cuckoldom. When Max finally abandons the duo after showering both with gifts, we learn that indeed both Brian and Sally had been sleeping with him. In the midst of all that, a penniless friend, Fritz (Fritz Wepper), falls in love with a wealthy young woman, Natalia (Marisa Berenson) and struggles to convince her to marry him.

     In the backdrop of life’s adventures for this group is the rise of the Nazi party. Although we are entreated to the occasional glimpse of their presence, the upcoming trouble is not mentioned until Natalia says she cannot marry Fritz because she is Jewish. The subject matter increases from that point on with a musical display in a country town and finally a most unsettling and impactful close to the film.

     I have always generally lumped all musicals into the category of comedy. Even those with particularly dramatic storylines usually have a large amount of laughs. Cabaret broke the mold in that regard (Although now that I think about it, Cabaret could be better described as a music movie, because it contains no spontaneous breaking into song. All numbers are performed on the stage within the confines of the plot). Some very unique editing works to juxtapose scenes of gaiety, usually musical numbers, against Nazi brutality. The song selections arranged against the goings on in Sally’s life also manage to convey greater meaning, such as the protagonist singing about finding a man who might stay after first sleeping with Brian, or vocalizing about money upon meeting max, or a number about threesomes. The editing, which won one of the eight Oscars for the picture, is truly genius. The film contains nothing but plain, sharp cuts between scenes. Whereas standard filmmaking uses fades between scenes to show the passage of time or wipes to show a change in scenery, Cabaret moves quickly from one place and time to another and even inserts unrelated images to covey a greater meaning –giving me chills at times. The editing reverts to the neanderthal techniques of early silent films, which is a rather brave endeavor.

     Although I would still not declare myself a Liza fan, I can understand why she won the Best Actress award. The movie also took home statuettes for set decoration, cinematography,  score, sound, and Director Bob Fosse, and Supporting Actor Joel Grey (the master of ceremonies at the club). Cabaret set a record of receiving the most Academy Award wins without claiming Best Picture, which went to The Godfather.

Source: Robert Osborne

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