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  1. As a wise person said here recently 😉 not everyone has to like everything.
  2. Yes, Willson wrote a very enjoyable book about the making of the stage show, But He Doesn't Know the Territory! It was brought back into print a few years ago, and I recommend it for anyone interested. It did indeed take him many years to lick the story. Though he had extensive background as an instrumentalist, composer/songwriter, and radio personality, he had never written anything for the stage, and it took him a long time to get the libretto (the spoken part of a musical) in shape; eventually he needed a collaborator (Franklin Lacey, who gets co-librettist credit) to make it stageworthy. Example: One of the ideas he passionately wanted to incorporate was understanding and sympathy for the physically afflicted: his idea was that Winthrop had cerebral palsy. He was eventually persuaded that this carried more weight than the show could hold, but it took him a long time to figure out what to do instead. Then someone remarked how effective the anonymous lisping kid who sang one line of "Wells Fargo Wagon" was, and they realized that that was their solution: a speech impediment he was made self-conscious about, in combination with the loss of his father, would make him an introverted sullen kid whom a bandmaster could help. I was so glad he said that, because it's an essential point, and not everyone gets it (I myself took an embarrassingly long time to notice it). And I think it's one of the essential American folk tales, in much the same way Faust and the star-crossed lovers are European. The con man who, unknown to himself, really can do what he's pretending to do. Another handy example is The Rainmaker, the movie in which Burt Lancaster pretends to be able to bring rain to a parched town, and in the end actually does (and brings new life to the people he meets as well). Harold Hill prides himself on being a phony band leader. But he arrives in River City, and what does he do? He turns a squabbling school board into a barbershop quartet. He turns some mean-minded town ladies into a dance troupe. He turns a juvenile delinquent "from the wrong side of the tracks" into an enthusiastic drum major. And (see above) he makes a miserable kid delighted with a new cornet. He teaches new dances to all the young people in town. He does practically nothing but bring music to everyone! Because he teaches them that there's music everywhere, if only they tune in to it. It's right there at the start of Marian's big song (which I stupidly once considered a generic ballad): "There were bells... but I never heard them, till there was you." And what a great subject for a musical, which brings music to us in the audience.
  3. And for me it's The Music Man that's essential, so we both get to be happy. Brad Bird is in fact covering it as his Essential this evening, and I wonder what he'll say. (If he declares it the most satisfying film adaptation of a great American musical, he'll get no argument from me.)
  4. Here's my favorite Fred & Ginger dance (a close call among tons of worthy candidates). It comes early in Swing Time, when he's been smitten with her (a dance instructor) at first sight, and has pretended to be a klutz so she'll teach him. Our clip begins when she loses patience with him, gets fired for it, and Fred comes to her defense. Then magic happens: Despite all the elegant and famous evening gowns she wore in the series, this is my favorite of her movie dresses. I'm absurdly charmed by the way she picks up its hem when she gets moving. Two other points to admire: (1) the series' standard procedure of full-body shots in long takes for dances, so we can really feel the tension of their work build as if on a stage; (2) the little hop-hop-step that they keep doing is the very step she was trying to teach him in the lesson.
  5. That's perhaps a bit of an oversimplification. Like many enduring movie pairings there was resentment on both sides that was professional, not really personal, because they wanted to be valued as a solo attraction, not as half of a package deal. Probably especially so for Astaire, who throughout the 1920s had been part of a double act with his sister Adele (widely considered the stronger of the two), and then after her marriage he went into the movies and immediately found himself trapped in a different pairing through most of a decade. Still, there's reason to believe that they got along quite all right, once nobody assumed that they were inseparable, and they could look back on the partnership from a distance. My own favorite among their movies is probably Swing Time, but Top Hat is a terrific choice too. If not now, then next time TCM shows it.
  6. I would say it's a matter of individual perception whether Harry Hamlin was "terrible" in the movie (or was, perhaps, as good as the material and the need to emote with not-yet-added monsters allowed), but he had already been very good on film -- certainly in Movie Movie (back to Stanley Donen!) and according to my distant memory in the miniseries Studs Lonigan. Then he made Making Love, and because he and Michael Ontkean played boyfriends in it, the offers for Hollywood movies stopped for both of them. In case anybody doesn't know: The screenwriter for Clash of the Titans, Beverley Cross, was married to Maggie Smith at the time of filming. They remained married until his death in 1998.
  7. Just a paragraph in passing to take note that every time TCM shows Two for the Road, I'm a very happy viewer indeed. I own the DVD, but even so, I have to record it each time, just to see what's going to be said to introduce it. And more than likely, I'll stick around and watch it again. Audrey Hepburn + Albert Finney + Stanley Donen + Frederic Raphael + Henry Mancini + multiple road trips through France + nifty intricate structure = bliss for me.
  8. It can't be done. The best we can do is edit it down to one line -- "Duplicate post, sorry" sort of thing. I find myself wanting to come to Robert Ryan's defense. Obviously I can't say that someone's visceral reaction to an actor is "wrong" -- it is what it is. But Ryan was a very good actor who could inhabit sleazy characters so well, they seemed to be him. And he did appear in a lot of mediocre movies as dislikable characters over the years; that seems to be how the studios saw him, and sometimes a working actor just has to take the best jobs offered at the time, and keep going. But when he got a chance to show his quality, he definitely did. He did it onstage in plays like The Front Page, and he could do it onscreen when given the chance: look at his Claggart in Billy Budd, or at one of his last performances, in The Iceman Cometh, for some great screen acting. That said, I'll mock his song renditions in Mr. President as gleefully as anybody. No defense offered on that one.
  9. Well, we catch Fran as the amiability is just starting to wear thin. But they have 20 good years of marriage behind them, and I wouldn't think that one gives that up in a flash; even if things are getting a bit rough right now. Remember, we see a year or less of their lives. It doesn't seem so remarkable to me that he sticks with the status quo for a while, until she outright says she wants to marry someone else. And there are lots of nuances along the way (I oversimplified with "amiability" for instance; but there are plenty of moments where we see why their marriage used to work, even if it's hitting some trouble now). Thanks for the Side Street recommendation. I'll mark it for recording.
  10. I would hesitate to say that -- the book is great too -- but I have to salute Sidney Howard for a really masterful dramatic adaptation. I've tracked down the published play, and it begins with a long introduction from Sinclair Lewis, praising the way his novel (much of it internal, in Sam Dodsworth's train of thought) was turned into something that could reach an audience through words and actions. He pointed out that the way the book introduces Mary Astor's character 3/4 of the way through would never work in a dramatic medium; she has to be threaded back through the narrative, glimpsed at an early point. And it's noteworthy that most of the lines we remember ("My dear, you're almost certain to" or Sam's last words to Fran that you mentioned) are contributions from Howard (with Lewis's collaboration and approval). That seems to be a contribution from William Wyler. Chatterton wanted to play her character as an unsympathetic witch, and Wyler got her to play Fran from her own point of view, an amiable woman at the moment when she's worrying that she might have missed her chances in life, and consequently insecure and lashing out. (Mary Astor, who became close to Chatterton, speculated that this might have cut uncomfortably close to the bone for her. And in fact, which of us can't relate to that, at some point in our lives?)
  11. I had to watch Dodsworth again this time around, despite having discovered it just last summer and rewatched it then. What a great movie, deservedly a favorite of Robert Osborne and indeed apparently anyone who introduces it on TCM. A good start in Sidney Howard's dramatization of Sinclair Lewis's novel, impeccably directed by William Wyler, with ideal design, editing and cinematography, and tip-top acting. Among the latter, with all respect to superb contributions from Maria Ouspenskaya, David Niven, Odette Myrtil, Ruth Chatterton, and others, I want to especially single out Walter Huston and Mary Astor, who are not only perfectly in character but seem completely unaffected and real and alive, in a way that is impervious to changing tastes in acting styles. Likewise the movie's theme of discovering who one is (and who one's partner is), even relatively late in life, feels remarkably timeless. Bravos all round.
  12. They do, but let me add a caveat for anyone who's never seen it and wants to try it on their account: they're not really a couple in this movie. They do have scenes together, they're part of the merry band of miscreants, they even have the scene (startling if one knows the period in film) in which Grant looks forward to their sharing a bed because the "boy" will make a nice little hot-water bottle... but the plot doesn't pair them together romantically, they both end up elsewhere. (At this late date I don't think I'm spoiling anything, especially as the plot, what little there is of it, isn't about suspense.)
  13. In the interest of clearing out the DVR, I watched Sylvia Scarlett for the first time last night. It was a flop in its day, and it would be nice to find that this collaboration of George Cukor, Katharine Hepburn, and Cary Grant is a neglected masterpiece. Indeed, it's not hard to find essays online that say exactly that: that it challenges gender norms (Hepburn spends much of the movie disguised as a boy, with both Grant and Brian Aherne feeling ambiguous attractions to him/her), chooses an episodic-picarasque structure, mixes genres, etc. But as far as I can see, it's just kind of a mess. I don't mind mixing of genres if well done (and if each genre works on its own terms), but this mindless hopping among Dickensian beginnings, heist, musical, commedia dell'arte, pastoral, romantic comedy, tragedy, and perfunctory wrap-up just suggests people who don't know what to do next and willing to try any old thing. It's said that Hepburn lost confidence in it as they were filming, and I think her instincts were right. Still, it's an oddity worth seeing (by those interested in such things) for its place in movie history and in the careers of its three main participants. If it hurt Hepburn and Cukor for a while, it had a positive effect for Grant. He can be seen assembling the elements of a loose, irreverent star persona here, and I can imagine being a moviegoer at the time and wondering what he might do next.
  14. Would it? Was this stated in the surrounding commentary? (This is a genuine question, I'm not being sarcastic or anything like that.) If so I'm somewhat surprised, but I know this is a shifting target as time passes. In the recent Broadway revival of The King and I, the many Thai (or Siamese, in the nineteenth-century story) characters were played by actors of many Asian origins, and the King himself was played first by a Japanese movie star, then by American actors of Filipino and Korean ancestry. In the case of Flower Drum Song, we can legitimately regret the casting of Juanita Hall, who was deemed here and in South Pacific to be acceptable as Asian despite being of African-American parentage. (Though I'm not without sympathy for her ability to get cast at all, at that date.) This has always been a real problem with the show. The Helen character is just left hanging, after being set up as important. I guess we're supposed to have forgotten her by the end, but I never do. Mako is always great, isn't he? Even in negligible roles like the ones he got on M*A*S*H or Magnum. I'm delighted I caught his performance in Pacific Overtures on Broadway.
  15. If you can somehow contrive to see The Crimson Pirate, I recommend you do so. It's not trying to be anything but a grand romp, and it succeeds.
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