The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show

George Burns explains the art of the straight man right to the camera, placidly demonstrating in a most detached episode.


Frankie and Johnny

The outrage endured by the New York Times reviewer was so engrossing that he evidently forgot to sign his name, which is where matters seem to have stood ever since, critically speaking.

The script provides a mirror structure, as well as a central scene that gives the height and source of Frankie and Johnny’s inspiration. The two parallel components are headed by Elvis Presley and Anthony Eisley, each with a comic sidekick (Henry Morgan, Robert Strauss) and a girl (Donna Douglas, Sue Ane Langdon), the nexus between them is a jealousy over Nellie Bly (Nancy Kovack). This has nearly fatal consequences when a prop pistol is loaded with real bullets, but a lucky charm saves the day.

The scene in which Douglas, Langdon and Kovack are costumed and wigged for Mardi Gras almost identically (blonde in white silk) is a paroxysm of the film’s entire working method, which is a complete coordination of lighting, set design and costumes to achieve a thoroughgoing work of art (and in fact there is a nineteenth-century landscape painting just visible enough on the riverboat to serve as a purposeful measure of the film’s success). The three are in a parlor belonging to a large stateroom, it’s decorated in light medallioned wallpaper with curvate moldings, gas lamps cast a yellow glow, hidden daylight fills the background, paintings on the walls are in shadow, a window is suffused with violet light, the divan has a golden cushion, it’s a nineteenth-century ideal of continuous ornamentation very rarely achieved and with complete success. Samuel Fuller seems to have recalled it in Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street.

De Cordova’s way of working is the antithesis of, say, Richard Brooks’ in The Last Time I Saw Paris, where a deep sense of naturalism in the lighting permits a steady investigation of its effects in dramatic scenes. Frankie and Johnny is studied from natural lighting and in a period sense, builds upon this into a painterly sense of applied light on various colored surfaces in different ways, and culminates in a fully-functioning plan for lighting the whole picture from start to finish in a structurally expressive way, and De Cordova does not dwell on all these labors but cuts quite rapidly throughout.

Johnny’s problem is gambling, he thinks he’s lucky (Nellie is a gift from the gypsies), the gambling hall flattens out all the light into boredom—this is reflected in the pale green dining hall or show room where Presley walks among the blue covered tables singing, and only after the climax is the brilliance of this blue and green made visible.

The drama, then, is between the richness of private life compared with the drabness of certain professional obligations and personal employments sometimes held to be glamorous, such as writing film criticism for the New York Times. De Cordova has a modulation to the backstage world, dim and parti-colored, preparing the Mardi Gras costumes later on.

The stage number with the title song is akin to “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” in its heightened colors, and also points up the transition from painterly to photographic in the whole venture, with daring unlit backgrounds against which players and sets are isolated, so that the entire art of the film is painting with light.

Every detail has its place in the scheme of things—that landscape painting (by Bierstadt, perhaps) also serves to prepare the number in red marching band uniforms on the docks, with blue sky and clouds for background, or the treeline (and there is also an English pastoral fantasy scene).

Every resource of lighting and color is put to tremendous use, so that the finest effects actually transcend the stateroom scene, as when Eisley and Strauss are conversing in the saloon and one background has two gas globes like oranges on a near wall next to a slender white serpentine column appertaining to the bar, while the reverse shot across the room with its red walls shows blue light through the red-curtained windows.

A thoroughly-annotated cutting continuity would be required even to discuss the minutely-apportioned usages in every scene. The old critique of Technicolor is belied in Douglas’s honest representation (in a light-colored dress with pink trim), sung to by Presley through one porthole after the next as the camera tracks left along the deck, of a cake.


I’ll Take Sweden

Dad jets daughter off to Stockholm, he’s with International Oil, her boyfriend’s a beachnik.

The Swedish assistant is a Lothario, he’s sent to Saudi Arabia but doesn’t go, drafting a subordinate.

Widower Dad meets a fair Swede latterly unattached. The beachnik’s called in to save the day.

The stunning farce has Bob Hope as Bob Holcomb with BH monogrammed on his smoking jacket. His daughter asks, “why must you be so provincial?” He says, “go figure it, we both left California in the same plane.”