• Poster of the Month

  • My Momentary Celebrity Obsession

    Click to find out why Marlene has me mesmerized.

  • What I’m Reading

  • What You’re Reading

Ziegfeld Follies


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


Room Service


Room Service (1938)

     From what I have found in my encounters with the Marx Brothers so far is that the films using some material of their stage shows and/or focused more on their antics than the actual story line are the ones that most tickle my fancy. Room Service, unfortunately, does neither. Based on a stage show and adapted for the Marx Brothers, it relies heavily on the actual story to generate laughs and not enough on the random actions or dialogue of the boys.

     The story would also become a Sinatra musical, Step Lively, although the two films differ greatly as one relies on musical numbers and the other on the personalities of its stars. Leading the pack as always is Groucho Marx as play director Gordon Miller who has occupied for some time without paying his bill a room in a hotel managed by his brother-in-law Joseph Gribble (Cliff Dunstan). He also has 22 cast members staying at the residence while he prays for a financial backer to appear to support his show. Also on his team are “treasurer” Binelli, played by Chico Marx, and silent as ever friend Faker, embodied by Harpo Marx.

     The trouble the crew faces is that the hotel director Wagner (Donald MacBride) is quite angry about the unpaid $1,200 bill. As Groucho, Chico, and Harpo start layering on Groucho’s wardrobe so as to more profitably abscond from the property, they hear from cast member Christine (Lucille Ball) who has landed a backer for the show. The trouble is, the man is coming to the hotel to discuss the matter. Heturns out to be the go-between for a wealthier and anonymous gent, looking to minimize publicity because he wants his girlfriend included in the show. He agrees to fund the play but will come back at 10 a.m. the next day to deliver the check and sign the papers. Now the boys are stuck trying to stay in their room without being jettisoned to the curb. The solution: someone must play sick.

     By this point, the play’s writer Davis (Frank Albertson), an airheaded guy from a small town who burned all his figurative bridges on the way out, has come to collect on an advance for his script in order to pay his lodging. With money obviously not available, he is invited to room with the three Marx brothers’ characters. He is also selected as the one to play sick –first with measles then a tape worm– so that the hotel cannot throw him out. This works in the boys’ favor but they are unable to leave the room or order room service as they wait around for 10 a.m. and the lot begin to whine of starvation. They eventually finagle a stolen meal from one of the hotel workers and a scene of physical comedy ensues as all four stuff their faces.

     The crew does secure their check the next morning but in the process Wagner and Gribble argue enough with the men to freak out the money lender, and although he leaves the money, has payment stopped on the document later. Nevertheless, Wagner thinks the money is legit and holds the check, extending credit to the theater crew. Groucho et al seize the opportunity to rush their show into production during the five days it will take the check to clear before Wagner finds out they’ve duped him out of $15,000. All starts to fall apart at the last minute before the actors hit the stage, so some false acts of suicide are used to distract Wagner from destroying the effort.

     This was the first movie for which the fourth Marx Brother, Zeppo, acted as agent for his siblings, securing for them a $250,000 fee. The film allegedly lost $340,000 at the box office, which perhaps solidifies my previous remarks about it not being my favorite. It was the first film the brothers did that was not written for them, which truly emphasizes how unique of performers they were. You could not simply cast Chico, Harpo or Groucho into any generically written part; the roles had to be crafted with them in mind from the outset.

Source: Robert Osborne, TCM.com

Without Love


Without Love (1945)

I find it difficult to picture a world in which Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy persist together “without love”, but that is precisely what their third film together asked audiences to do, although they were expected to hope for it.

    After appearing in Woman of the Year in 1942, audiences were hooked on the pairing and the stars themselves grew addicted to one another. They would remain so for the rest of their lives through nine films and Tracy’s marriage that could not be dissolved because of his strict Catholic beliefs. When theater-goers proved less thrilled by the unromantic The Keeper of the Flame also released in 1942, Hollywood producers came to their senses and returned the actors to the genre in which they were best received for Without Love.

     Military scientist Pat Jameson (Tracy) finds himself the caretaker of a mansion belonging to Jamie Rowan (Hepburn). Jamie is not convinced at first that Pat and his dog Dizzy are suitable for the joint but she is persuaded both because her scientist father was friends with Pat’s father and because he is working to perfect a oxygen mask for Air Force pilots flying at high altitudes. In getting to know each other, the duo have explained their respective reasons for never wanting love in their lives again: Pat was hurt by a selfish woman in France and Jamie’s ideal husband died in an accident two years into their marriage. Since she finds her life meaningless, Jamie proposes the two get married so she can work as Pat’s assistant. The union would be strictly businesslike however and strictly without love.

     On their wedding night, Pat’s somnambulism gets the best of him, however, and he sleep walks right into Jamie’s bed, much to her shock and disapproval. After that hiccup, however, the marriage runs smoothly. Friends and family, however, have started to notice the absence of passion in the relationship, so a neighbor who previously made advances toward Jamie inches his way in. The couple has a row while they are in Chicago offering up the finalized oxygen mask because Pat’s ex is in town and wanting to see the man. Jamie returns home and starts an affair with the neighbor while Pat checks in with Lila. Pat comes home as both halves of the marriage discover jealousy the necessary spark to ignite the flame of love, and the Jamesons restart their companionship properly.

     Adding to the cast are Lucille Ball as Jamie’s business manager of sorts and Keenan Wynn as Jamie’s cousin. Given a childhood of “I Love Lucy” episodes as my Ball baseline, I found the younger actress here elegant and beautifully spoken. Wynn was also younger and less gruff in voice than I am accustomed to, and their characters are quite charming in their side-story romance. Wynn was a fabulous character actor well suited in both comedies and dramas who has about 150 movies to his credit. Hepburn and Tracy are their usual great selves as well, but I would not call Without Love any great achievement, just another on the list of their collaborations.

  • Without Love is set for 10:15 a.m. ET June 15 on TCM.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

%d bloggers like this: