"The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" ... Bogart, Shakespeare, The Maltese Falcon, Those Great Movies

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

4 CMBA Member Blogs Win Haiku Contest!

The Winners in their triumphant victory march!
 BestforFilm movie site recently sponsored a contest for the best Japanese haiku poetry inspired by movies. It was a big competition, and I am thrilled to congratulate four CMBA blogs chosen as winners: Caftan Woman, Flick Chick, Clara of via Margutta and the the team of Brandie, Carrie and Nikki of True Classics! These winning women are pictured above in appropriate wardrobe ...

Caftan Woman was awarded second prize for her clever and witty haiku based on Charlie Chan on Broadway.  Flick Chick was awarded runner-up for her laugh-out-loud haiku based on Some Like It Hot.  Clara was awarded runner-up for her really funny haiku based on From Here to Eternity.  The True Classics team was awarded runner-up for their unique laugh-with-a-shiver haiku based on Psycho.  Click on this link to view their wonderful work:

It just goes to show you how much talent the CMBA has to offer. Kudos, ladies!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bad Hair Days for Beautiful Stars -- Yes, Even They Had Them!

Today I was in a Sherlock Holmes mood, so I watched Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon with the wonderful Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.  I was inspired to do this just-for-fun pictorial by the hair stylist who was so incompetent he was able to make handsome, distinguished Basil look silly!  Takes a real lack of talent to do that!  I'm using captions for my little remarks for 2 reasons.  First, they pretty much speak for themselves, and second, fitting text with several pictures is a real pain, as most movie bloggers know!  Enjoy!

Basil Rathbone in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon.
Really?  Arthur Conan Doyle believed the dead could speak
to us -- why didn't he come back and complain?

Joan Crawford must have had 285 bobby pins
in this every-which-way updo...

Bette Davis in The Little Foxes ... great movie,
fabulous performance ... maybe the hair is
authentic for the era, but sometimes
authentic can be taken too far...

Judy Garland in Meet Me In St. Louis ... again, great movie, great
singer (darling Margaret O'Brien) ...but I never could figure out
 whether those are puffed-up bangs or long hair tortured forward ...

Rudy Vallee ... popular singer, cute face ...
sharply defined hair part and what
looks like 3 cans of Brylcreem ...

Young and beautiful Joan Crawford ... but let's face it,
no decent streetwalker would wear that hairbow!

Silent film star Valkyrien ... I don't know how I feel about the
hair ... but look at that gigantic bonnet thing ...

William Holden in Sabrina ... it's hard to find any picture that
makes Holden look bad ... but yellow hair?  I don't think so ...

I really don't mean to pick on Joan, but she had some weird do's ... same
bangs (?) as Judy, with a groove in the center, but with puffs of hair on
each side ... In the 1920's, they used to call those "cootie garages" ...

I have no idea who this lady is .. it is a happy day for her,
but why did 1920 fashion designers create headgear that came
so far down on the forehead that it looked positively neanderthal ...

Hope you had fun with this look at what are, in my humble opinion, some pretty bad do's!

Monday, May 16, 2011

CMBA Movies of 1939 Blogathon - On Your Toes

Original movie poster
 1939 was certainly an incredible year for movies, more truly great masterpieces released than any other year in film history. On Your Toes was one of those movies. A great movie? Not really – it’s a fun story, wonderful cast, particularly a marvelous assembly of beloved character actors. However, On Your Toes is the vehicle for one of the greatest musical numbers of stage and film. It was the first of its kind, a jazz ballet which is a part of the story itself. I’m talking about Slaughter on 10th Avenue, composed by the great Richard Rogers. If only for this, On Your Toes takes its place in film history. As an interesting side-note, famed choreographer George Balanchine is said to have created the ballet. I found a couple of sources that claimed it was actually his ballerina wife, Tamara Geva, who starred in the original play, who choreographed the ballet. I guess we will never really know, but I would love to know what went on in the Balanchine household over this issue!

Rogers and Hart

Ray Bolger

With music and lyrics by the successful duo of Rogers and Hart, story by George Abbott, On Your Toes was originally intended as a starring role for Fred Astaire, but Astaire felt that his debonair image would not be a good fit, and he was absolutely right. The main character, Phil Dolan, Jr., called Junior by everyone, is a dancer, but not a debonair white-tie-and-tails type. The character of Junior grew up on the vaudeville stage, is a dancer and comic, and also a gifted composer. On Your Toes premiered on Broadway in April, 1936, and made a real vaudevillian into a major star -- the marvelous Ray Bolger. It ran on Broadway for 315 performances and was a great success.

Warner Brothers and executive producer Hal Wallis obtained the rights to the play and it was released to movie theatres in 1939. As Hollywood commonly does, some changes were made to the story. However, an unexplainable decision was made to omit all of the songs except for Slaughter on 10th Avenue and another short ballet scene. The music from the songs can be heard as part of the background score, but there is no singing at all. In all my research, I was unable to find an explanation for this baffling decision. The songs from the play had become well-loved standards such as “There’s a Small Hotel,” “It’s Got to be Love,” “Quiet Night,” and even the title song itself, “On Your Toes.” Without the songs, the movie version of On Your Toes was reduced to a typical screwball comedy with one fantastic number. I was really disappointed that I could not find a video of the original ballet from the movie, but this little trailer will give you some glimpses:

Eddie Albert
 The story itself is simple and holds no real surprises until the final number. Junior Dolan (played as a young boy by a future great, 14-year old Donald O’Connor) is part of the family dancing team with his parents Phil and Lilly Dolan (James Gleason and Queenie Smith). He has a crush on a little ballet dancer, Vera (played by Sarita Wooten, who also played Cathy as a child in Wuthering Heights). After he is grown, Junior (now played by Eddie Albert) takes off on his own to be a composer. Through a series of comic circumstances, Junior becomes entangled with a Russian ballet troupe touring America. The troupe’s dictatorial owner and director is Sergei Alexandrovich (Alan Hale), and he is wonderful as the emotional, fist-pounding, slippery eel with no money who manages by pure bullying to get the whole floor of a first class hotel to house his people. The loveable Hale is as funny as ever, but this is not a loveable guy!

Vera Zorina
Junior is reunited with little Vera, now a ballet star with the Russian troupe (Vera Zorina). One short ballet sequence, Princess Zenobia, showcases Eddie Albert as an unintentional part of the cast, giving it a comic element that the audience loved. Sergei is infuriated, but Junior is a hit. The upshot of the plot is that we come to the troupe’s premiere of Junior’s piece, Slaughter on 10th Avenue, with Sergei having arranged for 2 Russian hit men to actually shoot Junior on stage at the end of the ballet, when their real shots will be masked by the fake gun Junior will use to “kill” himself in the ballet. Of course the plan is discovered and the men are arrested before they can do the deed. All of this plot line bleeds into the ballet as it is being performed, with a comic appearance by Junior’s friend trying to warn him to keep dancing and not use the fake gun until the police come. At the end of the movie, Junior and Vera are together and in love.

I believe that the most significant reason that the movie is fun to watch is the cast of familiar character actors who give their all as comic characters. Pictures are the best way to recognize these actors, who are not often known by name.

Alan Hale in his most likeable
role, Little John in Robin Hood

Frank McHugh as the
frazzled stage manager, Paddy Reilly

James Gleason as
Junior's father

Leonid Kinskey as Ivan,
shown here as Sacha the
bartender in Casablanca

Queenie Smith as
Junior's mother

Erik Rhodes as Konstantin,
a bad ballet dancer with a big ego
The Slaughter on 10th Avenue ballet has everything – unsurpassed music, a lurid bar, a stripper and prostitute (Vera), her pimp, two hilarious barmen who move as one person in their duties, three policemen who raid the bar wearing dark sunglasses and sniffing the floor to the tune of “Three Blind Mice”, while all the time telling the story of the prostitute and a man (Junior) with great pathos, love and lust. The pimp shoots a man who tries to get on stage to grab Vera. Junior pays the pimp for Vera, and their dance reveals not only the lust, but the beginning of feelings for each other. The bar closes for the night, the lights go off, and we see the man look at the girl with incredibly lustful determination to have her. He gives her a drink, she teases him with dance and flings herself onto a table on her back. The man leaps on top of her, but the inevitable outcome is interrupted by the pimp, angry and jealous. He pulls out his gun, the girl throws herself in front of the man, and she is killed. The man goes after the pimp and kills him. He dances around the pimp’s body, flipping it over, looks at the dead girl, and picks up the gun to shoot himself. It is at this point that Junior has to keep the orchestra re-playing the final part several times and keep dancing. Finally, he sees the police have come, lets the number end, and shoots himself with great relief.

 Vera Zorina, usually billed just as “Zorina,” was a star ballerina with the Ballet Russe. She had a brief career in Hollywood, and she was a perfect pick for the part, with her incredible dancing talent and beautiful appearance. She shines in the part of Vera. She was also George Balanchine’s second wife – Balanchine must have felt he needed to marry his ballerinas. He was certainly on his toes with that (I know, it’s a real groaner!) Yet another strange decision by Warner Brothers was to cast a young and handsome Eddie Albert. Eddie Albert as a dancer? He’s a wonderful comic, but an odd choice for the part. However, a quote from John Reid found in the Internet Movie Data Base explains: “Albert is no dancer…but with the aid of a visual double for one or two shots, plus post-synched taps, he actually manages rather well, and even duets with the great Zorina with reasonable facility.” Not a bad critique for a non-dancer, especially when you see the demands of his part.

The Slaughter on 10th Avenue ballet was filmed long after the Hayes code had taken effect, and its explicit sexual content is a little surprising. Zorina’s dancing as a stripper, the totally obvious lust of the man played by Junior, prostitution shown as an aspect of love, dance moves between the man and the girl, Zorina on her back with Albert looming over her – perhaps they got away with it because of Zorina’s fame as a classical dancer, or because it was a piece created by the formidable Richard Rogers and someone named Balanchine, or maybe the censor was taking a nap. However it came about, it was a piece of luck for audiences. The original On Your Toes has been revived on Broadway twice, and the musical suite of Slaughter on 10th Avenue has taken its place with the classics on the repertoires of many symphony orchestras.

In 1948, Slaughter on 10th Avenue was again performed as part of the movie Words and Music, a highly fictionalized biographical story of Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart. This time around, it was done in a shorter, truncated version, comic parts removed, not attached to a story as in the original, and in a more sanitized manner. Nine years earlier, the ballet was quite controversial as discussed above. Perhaps it isn’t so strange – movies were becoming more and more conservative as they moved into the 1950’s. Still, it is fantastic. Gene Kelly did his own choreography and danced with stunning Vera Ellen. I was lucky enough to find the number on its own on YouTube, and present it here. Even with the differences in presentation, it retains much of the feeling, and the music is, of course, sublime. I hope you will take the mere 7 minutes to experience a remarkable achievement in dance.