Cabin in the Sky
Minnelli begins with the two attractions Hollywood has to offer a Broadway director, realism and proximity. Altman’s Thieves Like Us has something of the feeling in his sets, Minnelli cranes in over the congregation in one gag to see the sinner in the back pew everyone’s talking about.
Little Joe has a dream of dying, that’s the film, he wakes up with it all worked out in his mind. Gambling with cheats and betting on the Irish Sweepstakes and even getting a job as elevator operator in an air-conditioned hotel, all that is counter to a state of grace and he knows it, even though his wife prays for him to lose and prays for him to work. Hotel Hades has an Idea Dept. working down the centuries for the fall of man, his dice crony is Lucifer, Jr., the demon in charge. The preacher is a general of the Lord, uniformed in white like the Revelation. Georgia Brown plucks a magnolia blossom for a hat, even she is an instrument of the Devil. In his dream, Little Joe nearly misses his chance for Heaven and a “cabin in the sky” with Petunia, his wife. He wakes from a gambler’s gunshot with the wisdom of the ages.
The realism affords Minnelli a dramatic coup as he tracks down the street to Jim Henry’s Paradise where Petunia looks in to find Joe wounded. In the cabin in the dream, Joe works so hard at honest labor he buys his wife a washing machine, the moving man bursts into frenetic tap dancing within the poor but well-kept confines. Lucifer, Sr. arranges a Sweepstakes win, a misunderstanding separates Joe and Petunia, he squires Georgia Brown to the Paradise, where Duke Ellington and His Orchestra are playing. All the hints of an M-G-M musical pay off, the camera follows a pair of jitterbugs into the joint that is jumping, Minnelli’s camera gives a seemingly offhand view, not framing the action to pictorial effect, it’s like being there.
The gambler, Domino, has his great number. “Shine” expresses the notion that he is outfitted well, Minnelli sets up a Piero della Francesca background of thin arcade columns and roof for this. A fight and then a tornado wreck the place, Domino kills Joe and Petunia, they climb the Heavenly steps after a certain amount of haggling, the view is infinite, Joe wakes in his bed.
Eddie “Rochester” Anderson is a great comedian whose lacerating style is matched by Butterfly McQueen in even a small part as Lily. Experts crowd the scene, Moke & Poke fill out the Idea Men with Willie Best and Manton Moreland in top form, and Louis Armstrong playing comedy in pure style as the Trumpeter, who had the idea of the apple.
Ethel Waters sings beautifully, and can kick a leg up, “Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe” begins a suite of songs taken as a theme from close-up to dance camera. Lena Horne is a young lady of fashion who, as mentioned, wears a flower instead of her hat by whim, not a piece of deviltry, a slip of a girl who also sings (and so does Anderson, a heroic cantillation).
Rex Ingram has the savor of comedy as Lucius and Lucifer, Jr. that is ever watchful and appreciative, like Jack Oakie full of satisfaction and alarm, ready to do a piece of business on the instant. “Bubbles” Sublett goes to town in “Shine” quick as Astaire. Oscar Polk as Fleetfoot and the Deacon, also in top form, and Ernest Whitman as Jim Henry, with a pair of dice in either pocket, complete the picture (except to mention Kenneth Spencer’s great baritone and the hot stepping of Bill Bailey).
I Dood It
“That wasn’t a kiss, that was a war effort!” Sedgwick’s Spite Marriage, supervised by Keaton himself.
More fun than a barrel of monkeys it is not allowed to be, modestly, Minnelli’s second film merely, but up to the limit exactly, there was a war on (the finale spills over as a punchline but it’s Roy Del Ruth’s Born to Dance).
Jimmy Dorsey’s on the radio Saturday night, hepcats throng the studio, one well-dressed young man takes no interest, the Broadway star making a guest appearance is all he cares for.
Some thought Borzage’s Stage Door Canteen was a lot of hooey, Minnelli covers all bets.
Mordaunt Hall didn’t get Sedgwick’s film, Bosley Crowther didn’t get Minnelli’s, the New York Times marched on (so did Variety).
It was funny enough to win the war there and then (critics are such duds).
Halliwell’s Film Guide, “boring”.
As the Park Savoy valet service pants-presser says to begin with, “I’m so crazy about you, I’m crazy,” which is how Barefoot in the Park (dir. Gene Saks) ends.
Meet Me in St. Louis
The rousing overture pays tribute to Orson Welles and gives you the most exhilarating sight of Harry Davenport singing and dancing the title tune and trying on smoking caps in exchange for his wool-billed collegiate with green and white horizontal (circular) stripes (he contemplates a velvet brimless but settles on a fez).
The streets are as familiar as they could be, except the roads aren’t paved. Overall there is a significant anticipation of Curtiz’ Life with Father, as well as an astounding presentiment of Mulligan’s To Kill a Mockingbird, with just a gleam in the eye of Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.
Minnelli’s calm technique is mostly absorbed in Technicolor composition, but responds at once with a dolly-in and dissolve on young Alonzo’s smiling appreciation of Esther’s ruses.
Agee (did Carl Sandburg ever have days like this, at the Chicago Daily News?) said it was “strictly a romance safely told, disappointing and angering in the thought of the great film it might have been.”
Une Partie de Campagne? Sunrise? Liebelei?
Kael points out that everything except the second-unit background footage was shot in Hollywood. That includes the Grand Central Station set and the stupendous shot at the center of the film, where the couple leave a subway train, cross to another line and are separated in one camera movement, it ends on a sign, which may be the origin of an Altman trademark. Minnelli pays homage to the second unit with a view from the Empire State Building’s observation deck that pulls back to show a photographic display in a store window.
The lunchroom scene is filmed in one shot, and had immediate consequences in Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle. Show business is left behind for art here, as when Walker descends the spiral staircase on his milk rounds, in a showy shot that ends on a circle of kittens drinking milk from a bowl.
At the Museum, Walker and Garland are chatting in front of a quite large carven Sphinx (which for some reason looks like Minnelli, cf. Two Weeks in Another Town). Garland sits on the statue’s pedestal, and then draws her feet up to one side, so that for half a minute you have a charming statue of her as A Woman of the 40s, unforgettable.
Bergman and Fellini have nothing on this, if you know of a better film go and see it.
Yolanda and The Thief
The indescribable simplicity of the theme has always balked critics, who after The Clock had no excuse for misunderstanding Minnelli’s intentions.
A convent girl comes of age and assumes control of the family fortune, a con man hears her prayer and arranges to present himself as the very incarnation of her guardian angel.
This takes place in the Andean nation of Patria, the fortune is vast and diversified. The quality of fairy-tale may be assigned to Minnelli from Stroheim, who endows the thing with ecstasies of knowledge and insight bartered away for superstition and sheer gullibility, until the young lady’s real guardian angel appears.
While that happens, Minnelli entertains with surprising Dalian technique in one M-G-M number, and a Bridget Riley dancing-floor in another.
The lush forwardness of the style is meant to convey a kind of barbaric wonder at all the splendors a young girl can sign away unthinkingly, and what a maze of splendor her bridegroom will be in.
The citation from Cocteau’s muse is conceived by Huston, let us say, to justify wholesale homage in Beat the Devil to Minnelli’s taxicab joke.
Minnelli opens and closes as if this were a film musical, but (as Crowther almost perceived) Ziegfeld Follies is something else again, the stage revue reckoned per se.
A Tudor building inscribed with the Bard and a circus tent with Barnum lead to Ziegfeld’s celestial abode, where it’s always a heavenly day (George Roy Hill adopted it for Slaughterhouse-Five). He reminisces while Bunin’s Puppets re-enact a 1907 opening in stop-motion. He asks for and receives crayon and paper to sketch “a beautiful pink number” for a new revue starring “my old friend Fred Astaire”, among others.
The number combines Picasso’s imagery and Berkeley’s manner. Already it is treated in the style of the film, somewhere between the record of a stage performance and a musical number for M-G-M, somehow expressing both from one second to the next. Costumes are visibly clothes or fanciful items, the performers are seen as working and as representations, the style of Ziegfeld is brought into a Janus view for the camera.
Virginia O’Brien’s number on “men” and Esther Williams’ water ballet accomplish the transition back and forth to the full style. “Number Please” for Keenan Wynn is an abstracted stage farce on telephone communications. A bit of La Traviata secures the note, musically speaking. “Pay the Two Dollars” is a showpiece for Victor Moore countered by Edward Arnold as the lawyer and vaudeville straight man.
Astaire has the great song, “This Heart of Mine” (Harry Warren/Arthur Freed), superbly rendered by him. Fanny Brice and Hume Cronyn have won the Irish Sweepstakes, but he’s given the ticket to the landlord, William Frawley, for rent. Lena Horne sings “Love” in a Caribbean bar, by way of Minnelli’s long takes. “Limehouse Blues” is a Griffith bit for Astaire and Lucille Bremer with a dream sequence for dancing.
Every element of a stage production is evident, the purpose of Ziegfeld Follies is to evoke the theater.
Another virtuoso number, the great lady’s “Interview” (Judy Garland). Gene Kelly and Astaire go to town in the very droll three-step “The Babbitt and the Bromide”.
Red Skelton’s TV commercial for Guzzler’s Gin is another clear example of Minnelli’s direction (this is Minnelli’s film, his sub-contractors are just that), performed in Skelton’s electrifying style and at the same time a vaudeville routine, visibly.
“Beauty” has a rear-projection of clouds and a layout of Dalian beauties in gold to distinguish the film as such, with Kathryn Grayson’s singing.
It’s useful to compare Wellman’s Lady of Burlesque, Wyler’s Funny Girl and Friedkin’s The Night They Raided Minsky’s. I Love Lucy adapted some of the material, Minnelli having brought it to a sure footing.
Powell’s Ziegfeld is a great characterization setting the tone of the film, he has the same quicksilver variability, in his case showmanship and ardor, that is the secret of Minnelli’s technique.
Minnelli’s portrait of the philistine is akin to Zeffirelli’s Tea with Mussolini in the general mindset and the dual arrangement, the details differ.
The famous industrialist had a ne’er-do-well brother and partner now vanished, perhaps in the Army. The personal fortune derives from an invention by a company engineer, Karl Steuer, thought to have died in a fall. The fernsteuer or “distance controller” is not described or explained, the company makes aviation and automotive equipment. The industrialist claimed the invention as his own, after murdering its inventor.
Minnelli comes quickly alive to a Washington, D.C. cocktail party (cf. the crowded bar & grill in Brigadoon), most of the time is spent rather quietly deploying the visual language of the film, the mansion life of an oddly anachronistic childhood spent in Middleburg, Virginia, the eclectic Dreams That Money Can Buy modernism of the brother’s ranch house.
And speaking of modern, Bosley Crowther’s review shows him to be precisely as silly as anybody then or now.
Robert Mitchum is cast as the brother with a slandered reputation so as to play against type as a man of culture. Robert Taylor is the celebrity whose mind is an envious blank, Katharine Hepburn is the professor’s daughter who marries him.
The undercurrent is even deeper than this, in a way. The composition equates the usurped brother with the mansion’s Negro caretaker, the former appears to the wife on the ranch he no longer owns as its caretaker, she does not recognize him because no photographs of him are allowed at home or at the factory.
Steuer (who does not appear) had said of his invention, “this will really fix the Nazis.”
Hitchcock’s Suspicion is deliberately taken as a model in the wife’s investigation, Rebecca also figures analytically varied in the wife’s makeover and the absconded deus ex machina, Lang’s Secret Beyond the Door has certain similarities. A tale of Cain and Abel.
The mind encompasses all things, art is a mirror, there you have a definition of Surrealism out of Hamlet, the nature of this film.
If it had been signed by Buñuel, its precision could not have been more acute. Audiences thought they were getting an M-G-M musical, and eventually they did. These are the strolling players of Hamlet, however, and of Minnelli’s youth.
The construction follows two lines reflected in the filming, these are the closed world of Manuela and the itinerant life of Serafin. She longs to see the Caribbean, he travels on it. An insert of crashing waves gratifies her visit to Port Sebastian, he arrives in undiffused sunlight (Eastwood in Pale Rider takes note of this effect).
Don Pedro is the mayor of her town, betrothed to her by arrangement, and the pirate Macoco on the lam. “Home is best,” he’ll tell her all about Paris.
The artificiality of style is that of Ziegfeld Follies, where the stage is represented, the material is further considered in Madame Bovary. Manuela is a straitlaced girl with a romantic imagination enflamed by Macoco.
The complicated treatment by Minnelli has the raw sunlight at the port dissolve into the string of beauties in town, all of whom are greeted by Serafin as “Niña”. He dances ecstatically among the striped poles of a gazebo, which express his exaltation. Manuela at the parapet overlooking the sea reproves him for his impudence, he questions her lack of romance, the wind blows her hat into a puddle, he retrieves it.
He walks across a garlanded tightrope to her room, she tries to cut the rope with a pair of scissors. He recognizes Don Pedro as Macoco, they have met at sea. Serafin acts the pirate to win the girl, she discovers the ruse and her fiancé’s imposture.
Her mind is revealed at her second meeting with Serafin, he and his troupe are performing in the town square, he hypnotizes her with a “revolving mirror” and she sings a hot number with a torch verse, “Mack the Black”. After this, she wants to go home, Fleming & Vidor’s The Wizard of Oz is echoed in her aunt’s reply on the usefulness of wishing.
Serafin plays the part heroically, facing down the guards and threatening to burn the town unless Manuela is presented. “He asked for me,” she tells an altruistic volunteer.
Her vision of Serafin as Macoco atop a tall mast or dancing with a spear beside a chest full of gold is often misunderstood, like the film itself, as satire.
In The Clock, Minnelli makes a statue briefly of Judy Garland, here she is The American Woman of the 1940s in a vivid portrayal.
Enraged at the deception (“I despise actors”), Manuela hurls plaster statuary at Serafin, a picture frame knocks him out, she tenderly sings “You Can Do No Wrong” in a Pietà with the classical painting as background.
The songs have been as underrated as the film. Losey’s analysis of the technique in Providence is very important, Logan’s Camelot and Edwards’ The Pink Panther have various approaches drawn from the material, Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks is very close in its reading.
The film is presented as Flaubert’s narration of the novel in court, where he is on trial for publishing “an outrage against public morals and established custom” on the subject of a woman characterized by, among other things, “insatiable passions”. This lifts the screenplay from the exacting precision of Flaubert’s prose, makes Emma the central character in practically every scene, and frees Minnelli stylistically.
He has all the resources of M-G-M and the technique he wielded in The Clock. Into a transcendent, all-encompassing satire he casts the lot (the back lot of a French town where Robert Pirosh’s Combat! series was filmed when not in France). The art direction is carried to a point of eminent usefulness, but is not filmed congruently with its sense of evocation direct from Flaubert, as explained. His technique is applied to something else, the direction is mainly standard. The only way to represent Hollywood in Madame Bovary, or Emma in Hollywood, is to let the scenes work of themselves, to all appearances.
It’s a good film, on the surface. Bosley Crowther recognized this, in the New York Times. The failure of the characterizations alleged by other reviewers is a delusion he avoids. Without going into particular details, he appreciates that Dr. Charles Bovary is a man whose genius is to know his place and time, within those limits he is a healer. Emma was schooled in a convent, reared on Les Modes Illustrées and romantic novels, out of place and time. An aristocrat loves her and fears her, an æsthete can’t afford her either. She breaks her husband financially behind his back, and kills herself.
A good film, a great film properly understood, Minnelli and Ardrey are at great pains to make all this clear and plain so that Pauline Kael’s remark, “if you hadn’t read the book, you wouldn’t guess what it was about from this film,” is an utter non sequitur, though Variety hardly did better.
The same sort of subtlety brandished in The Band Wagon governs the transition from Charles in the mud and rain among the pigs outside the Rouault house, through the stone foyer mopped by crones who aver “a doctor should have a beard”, to the kitchen where Emma is a vision in white, “the flower behind the dunghill,” with daffodils and hanging garlic as she makes breakfast in a frying pan.
She and Rodolphe have their tryst at the agricultural fair, where the pharmacist Homais conceives his plan of winning a Legion of Honor by repairing a club foot (“I have all the literature”) and tells her of the great scientific age ahead, “the blind will see, the lame will walk.” A speaker addresses the crowd, just audible behind the lovers’ dialogue, “but the farms cry out for fertilizer, and there is no fertilizer! We ask for manure, we demand manure, for the further development of our fair land!”
The aristocrats at the ball sweep Charles along in their billiards and unconcern, he drunkenly drifts to cut in on Rodolphe and his wife, who has seen herself in a mirror surrounded by beaux, and servants smashing glass during their waltz after her complaint and Rodolphe’s command, “the lady’s going to faint, break the windows!” This spectacular scene was noted by Crowther.
The linen drapier Lheureux takes promissory notes for Emma’s furnishings and traveling clothes, morals are for “priests and philosophers”, until he sells the notes to the estate agent Guillaumin and exhibits moral outrage over her conduct, solemnly greeting a lady on the street after consigning the Bovary household to auction.
And so on, a thousand details. The Yonville boors prattle at Emma’s salon while the æsthete declaims lines from “The Iliad, by Homer”, and the Marquis enters from Charles’ consulting room to laugh at the sight, rending her face with pain.
Everyone is what they are, Emma’s gowns are prepossessing, Minnelli follows her with avid interest just to see what happens to her, how ennui turns to bitterness and cunning, the living woman in the life of her mind. The sacrifice is expressed in the last rites administered to her in absolution of her five senses. She kisses the cross, and dies.
Men die, truth does not, Flaubert tells the court, truth that is beauty. “Minnelli believes more in beauty than in art,” Sarris tells us.
After his first meeting with Emma, and Flaubert’s evocation of her schooling, Charles dines with the mayor of Yonville at an inn. He is told what a fine place it is, how shopping conveyances (says a lady) will certainly please his wife. The unassuming doctor is trying to determine if he can make a living there, at this remark he laughs out loud, “I don’t even know if she’ll marry me!” The lady cheerfully responds, “tell her about Yonville!” Charles astride his mount at a literal crossroads goes “to his doom.”
“It’s like a picture in a storybook,” she tells him. She is a daughter of Lear, he must have “the finest home”, her debts to the drapier are secret. Later, she signs his name to more notes for a trip to Italy with Rodolphe. The coach drives by without a word in the night, she returns home shocked and sick. A letter left behind begins, “what can one say?” Charles doesn’t even read it, only burns it in front of her staring eyes. She recovers in a few months.
Charles takes her to the opera in Rouen, where the æsthete is a law clerk and has become a great snob, pretending to be a partner in the firm (his sagacious mother sent him away from Emma to Paris). He is put to the business of liquidating the estate of Charles’ late father, which is valueless. He borrows money from the boss to pay for a Wagnerian hotel room he apologizes for as “vulgar”. The waiter is a leering rogue.
Doubtless Minnelli could have made the film differently, if he had wished to, as Gigi, for example.
Father of the Bride
Both of these films, Father of the Bride and Father’s Little Dividend, are what they pretend to be and something more, the production of a work of art and the creator’s response to it, based on Minnelli’s own direct and indirect inexperience.
There is quite a vivid representation of the wedding ritual in Father of the Bride, with massive preparations, even a rehearsal. Some of this is intimately related to the theme, in both films there is plenty of opulent gag material expressive of it in far reaches.
The nature of inspiration, the collaborative work of films (cf. Two Weeks in Another Town) and stagecraft, and then the poignancy of the work lost and found again in all this.
Father’s Little Dividend
The consequences are for The Long, Long Trailer (newlyweds) between Father of the Bride and Father’s Little Dividend. The theme is continuous, here there is a sort of little Mallarmé child to be reckoned with.
Moreover, there is a direct countering of theme in the conclusion. Despite his best efforts, the hapless artist sees his work depart from him in Father of the Bride until he sees it satisfactorily accomplished, in Father’s Little Dividend it is repugnant to him, he loses sight of it in the game or sport, and only becomes reconciled to it when there is danger of reproof or dismissal.
The superb technique accomplishes all this as easily as the anecdote.
An American in Paris
There are no fewer than five references to Chaplin, if you include Kelly’s morning routine at the opening. Minnelli’s naturalistic approach to the musical purposely confines Kelly to hoofing for the entire film before the ballet, and builds up great amounts of force behind the notion that, at any moment, the film may irrupt into song and dance. There is a very characteristic use of sets in depth, which is to say that the sets are functional in that they are large and detailed enough to be seen across a shot that moves into the seen portion of the set, etc. In a Levant/Kelly number, which crosscuts (and by tracking) on two angles in Levant’s small room, there occurs a shot very atypical of M-G-M, a cut to another angle on Kelly’s dance step, without initiating a new shot.
The great cinema ballet (which begins with City Lights) is pointedly a departure from Balanchine’s work in Hollywood, and also the metamorphosis of the entire film into “art”. A secondary theme is developed out of Berkeley’s For Me and My Gal, as later in Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Richard Brooks’ Sweet Bird of Youth.
The gradus ad parnassum is replaced by the nu descandant un escalier.
The Bad and the Beautiful
Where copyright is king, the coat of arms is a helmet plumed (with panache or feathers on it), the motto of Shields Pictures, Inc. is “non sans droit”.
At the sessions of sweet silent thought the producer stands before writer, director and actress, consigned to perdition. The youthful partner eclipsed, the starlet created and abandoned, the novelist wooed and widowered. They are each at the top of the profession, he is broke in Paris. Each one owes his success to the man they now spurn. This works both ways, every way, the unique quality of this vigorous masterpiece.
The reproduction of a studio set or office is absolute, the isolated dressing room on a sound stage, “Gus is still my agent”, the Hollywood party in all its insulated glory, the bravura of a writer at his studio window calm and sunny, the clean lot, factory buildings, profusion of posters (steady production), it’s no wonder Kazan & Pinter’s The Last Tycoon is very much a remake (Nicholson in Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces replicates the actress’s furious breakdown in her car).
Gaucho, the Latin lover, sweeps along with the general progress and vanishes with the writer’s wife (the writer wins a Pulitzer for A Woman of Taste, an impediment to his art, the bewitching Southern belle). Welles’ Citizen Kane is thoughtfully emulated throughout.
The jigsaw puzzle of a roman à clef is insoluble, finally. The anagram of experience (“he’s more than a man, he’s an experience”) in a press agent’s lobby, tightly arranged for mutual reflection among the shards.
Woody Allen’s Hollywood Ending and Fellini’s 8½ variously reflect the final surprise, so does Ray’s The World of Apu.
The producer is that “ringmaster of the dry well your absences provision”, the comedy is his to play, he understands the rude world as sleepy, unawakened, he steps through the door into a deal for the “one-million-dollar picture” (Godard’s Bande à part), into a love affair to bolster a would-be actress in her father’s shadow, frees the writer from kaffeeklatsch and wifely symposia. He is not an artist, not the one he thinks he is in a moment of grandeur, supplanting Von Ellstein behind the camera, forgetting his own rule of forward motion for a stasis of exalted scenes, a fragment in the total composition.
He is rejected for his rule, destroyed by his own violation of it. An act of pity informs the hardened hearts around him, they listen to his idea for a new production because he is destitute, or rather the chance of such a thing befalling them more than once is attractive.
Keaton’s The Balloonatic anticipates the form, it begins in funhouse horrors and ends by sailing over a waterfall into the blue. The Chinese poet writes of businessmen,
what know they of the arcane master
who saw it all in a cup of jade
enlightened left heaven and earth
rode transformation into immutability?
The Band Wagon
Like An American in Paris, this has a complicated structure tilted toward the climactic dance, here counterpoised with a showstopper by Fred Astaire at the very opening, this is one of Astaire’s best routines—it’s so electrifying it provides the calm Minnelli needs to work for the next hour or so, and Minnelli is full of labors that require uncommon preparation and detail.
Cordova’s hotel room is all done up in springlike colors in the scene where he finagles Byrd, all in a long mobile take that ends in Cordova admiring his own genius in a mirror of beaten gold. In his next scene, the pitch to the backers, his room is full of summery yellows, and this subtle color change is accomplished with very careful set dressing, or maybe it’s the flowers that have been changed. The glimpses of him at work, seen through half-open doors, constitute a rogues’ gallery discreetly mounted for the benefit of potential victims.
Something of Balanchine is in the little ballet where Gabrielle Gerard is first seen, a repeated pirouette with a backward tilt. The Central Park duet is Astaire paying Gene Kelly a compliment for the fine tributes Kelly does here and there, and a very serene and breezy little thing, another invention.
The famous flop sequence depends for its very risky effects on good draftsmanship, and gets it. “Louisiana Hayride” and “Triplets” are beginning to look like Singin’ in the Rain analysis, but they’re just elements of construction, leading toward the great, inestimable Mickey Spillane ballet, a complete expression of Minnelli’s musical theories along this line.
The central line gives you Œedipus Rex (in which part Cordova is first seen, with bloody makeup streaming down his face, and a joke of Cocteau’s on his mind) as one of the many features about which the cast sings, “That’s Entertainment!”. Mel Brooks had the good sense to push this into overdrive in The Producers.
The Long, Long Trailer
The caveman slugged a girl and dragged her away, nowadays she comes with “a forty-foot train”.
Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, who devised Minnelli’s two comedy mirrors (Father of the Bride, Father’s Little Dividend), make this altogether one of the great newlywed comedies, a surreal vein of humor sewn together in one catastrophic nightmare after another until the final test, getting the trailer over a mountain to reach the job site (the bridegroom is a civil engineer).
Crowther was baffled, in his capacity of film critic for the New York Times, he actually wrote, “there isn’t much peril that the sequence of adventures designed for them will be mistaken as drama on any but the lowest slapstick plane.”
The Writers Guild nominated the screenplay for Best American Comedy, but gave the prize to the authors of Billy Wilder’s Sabrina.
All the meticulous artificiality of Doctor Zhivago might have been inspired by Brigadoon, which opens with precisely the light effect Lean uses to evoke Lara’s presence. Minnelli ultimately adds a Giorgione flash to Ames & Gibbons’ monumental sets, to the accompaniment of those running deer from Clarence Brown’s The Yearling, after which is heard the little musical figure that accompanies the melody of Lewis Gilbert’s You Only Live Twice, from Prokofiev’s famous First. The last Charisse/Kelly duet, amidst the ruins, is bound to remind one who has seen it of Balanchine’s Davidsbündlertänze. The ending, after a very brilliant New York bar & grill scene (all it has to do is create and sustain a certain hubbub, and it does), is very close to one of The Twilight Zone’s finest creations, “Static” (dir. Buzz Kulik).
The controversy is over the question of filming in the studio. It is said that budgetary constraints prevented filming on location in Scotland. When the sculptor George Segal began his Holocaust monument, he was offered the chance to take his molds from homeless dead people. But his idea was something different, and what the work lost in documentary accuracy it gained in the representation of a state of mind.
Van Gogh at St. Rémy is transcribed analytically as an American patient in the Castle House Clinic for Nervous Disorders, the essential complaint is an artistic one, and you may count on the fingers of one very talented hand the number of critics who are aware that this film is not about putting curtains up in the clinic library or common room, rather it’s “curtains for St. Rémy” configured by the patient, or not, and thereby hangs a tale.
An incredibly brilliant, skilled, careless film in which Minnelli’s CinemaScope compositions, sometimes modified by camera movement, harbor every complexity and nuance.
It’s a question of fustian or fashion vs. the painter, of self-government vs. the Indians, it serves as the basis of Lust for Life, and it reflects Minnelli’s experience in the studios (one of the patients resembles him).
Minnelli between Father of the Bride and The Reluctant Debutante, with The Thief of Baghdad promoted to a poet, anyone’s.
It rises in the interior to a garden and a lady and the Caliph from an Indian miniature.
Musically, it’s Borodin.
Lust for Life
The film exists to define an unusual position vis-à-vis the stance, for example, of the Salon des Indépendants against the official mediocrities of the day. The latter collision takes place for Van Gogh at the Hague with Mauve’s plaster casts, his vocation is hampered at the Borinage by committeemen, the crisis is averted when he leaves Paris for Arles.
Gauguin stands for the Parisians in their varied professional grasp of the art. Van Gogh, who carried Dutch painting from Rembrandt to Mondrian, cannot abide professionalism in that sense, it assails him like a murder of crows, he has no professional footing whatsoever.
Minnelli is elliptical on many points that are nevertheless indicated minutely, the script is tightly written so that Van Gogh’s erudition, Guillaumin’s unframed picture, Rachel’s gift, and other matters, are present if recognized from the biographical materials dealt with to sweep away the clouds from the sun of all art.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “but the quality of the spiritual suffering of the sick and self-doubting Van Gogh is difficult to bring to full expression in conventional histrionics or words—of which, incidentally, there are many, perhaps too many, in this film.” Michael Atkinson (Village Voice), “turned by Vincente Minnelli into an oppressive Hollywood nut-crash.” Leonard Maltin, “brilliant adaptation”. Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader), “Minnelli anchors the film in a dazzlingly schizophrenic, first-person point of view.”
Tea and Sympathy
Almost a comic pendant to Lust for Life during the first half, leading to a very similar tragic conclusion but specifically redeemed by the dea ex machina, so that the hard professional types represented by Gauguin are left wanting instead, speculatively.
Minnelli has the great advantage of a stage cast in deeply-studied performances.
The very adolescent comedy is discerned for its own sake as well as for any relative purpose in defining the drama.
Russell takes the theme in Valentino, far-reaching variants include MacLaine’s Bruno, Ashby’s Shampoo, and Bertolucci’s Luna.
Contrariwise, criticism has tended to regard the film increasingly as an argument from its own terms against itself, insupportably.
“Overblown and bowdlerized version of a quiet little Broadway play,” says Halliwell, “impeccable production values, but no spark.”
New York sophistication, different from “style” or “class” or savoir-faire or anything else, as the laboratory distillate of a Hollywood studio.
The basic materials are Cukor’s Pat and Mike, some skillful actors not exercised in this overmuch to a purpose, and Minnelli’s swift, easy style forcing a grace upon it all, a universal rhythm to which all can contribute, in which all can participate.
“It cleverly brings together the worlds of haute couture, sports (particularly boxing), show business, and the underworld” (Variety).
“Brisk if longish comedy” (J.T., Village Voice). “A misfire” (Time Out Film Guide). Halliwell finds it “lumbering”.
The material is subsequently put to another, satirical purpose in The Odd Couple (dir. Gene Saks).
The title illustrations are from Sem, the expert caricaturist. The prologue in the Bois de Boulogne has a charming tune, the diurnal version of “the night they invented champagne.” Honoré observes, “there... is the future” and sings, prophetically, “thank Heaven for little girls.”
The spectator is kindly requested to note the performance given by the cat in the first scene, and will thereby learn what great acting is all about. Minnelli pans his dance camera back and forth on whatever action obtains, without cutting.
“It’s a bore,” sings Gaston.
Aunt Alicia’s lessons are introduced with a bit of dialogue. “Last week she taught her to eat cold lobster to perfection!” “What for?” “She says it’s extremely useful.” “Marvelous!”
A lesson, ortolans, jewelry. For love—“I don’t understand the Parisians,” sings Gigi.
At the Palais de Glâce, a lovely valse des patineurs is playing. Liane d’Exelmans is “common,” i.e., “ordinary... and coarse.”
Maxim’s is Maxim’s, and also a repetition of Ascot Opening Day. Gaston sings, “she’s not thinking of me,” and concluding that she’s “a rollicking, frolicking bore,” pours his glass of champagne on her bosom.
It’s happened before, “to Alfred de Musset, Victor Hugo, Napoléon, and...” Honoré. His valet is a regular Leporello. “I only keep him on to prevent his talking to others.” How break it off? “There’s no way to write without it reeking of wounded pride. Victor Hugo couldn’t pull it off!” Vengeance is sweet, or else “it’s a bore.”
Alicia’s response to the contretemps is a long extracted “Myyyyy Wooooord!” Gaston is “edgy.” Honoré says, “Verdi felt the same way at the first performance of Aida.”
Gaston’s album of revelries has him in the harlequin costume of An American in Paris, falling asleep.
On the other hand, there is Gigi. “Gaston, Gigi takes advantage of you.” “Oh, let her—it amuses me.”
The unusual spaciousness of Minnelli’s wide screen makes this rather difficult to watch on television, as two-shots and groupings are forced into close-ups.
Gaston and Gigi play cards (she cheats), and Minnelli edits by cutting, until “the night they invented champagne” gets the dance camera moving, briefly.
Minnelli opens in Trouville with a beach scene by Boudin, modulates into seaside portraits by Jacques-Émile Blanche, and ends with the tennis match from Lolita.
“An old wound” interrupts Honoré’s battle plans. They sing “I remember it well” before a backdrop of pale sky and clouds that darkens as they sing, and a pale cast of yellow light is thrown upon them and the bachelor’s buttons on their table.
Hermione Gingold’s resemblance to Charles Gray has never been more evident. Cecil Beaton outdoes himself with Aunt Alicia’s costumes, which ring the changes on centuries of French fashion.
“Don’t flop into the chair, insinuate yourself,” Aunt Alicia tells Gigi. “Ascend!” Advanced lessons cover wine, cigars (à la d’Exelmans) and clothing (Gigi’s first dress looks like a parody of Velazquez’s Infanta).
They’re paying off, those lessons. Elegantly attired in another dress, all white, she is ridiculed by Gaston but holds her ground. “I’ve never heard it said you had any taste in clothes.”
Put to his trumps, Gaston has a Humbertesque vision of Gigi marrying some young clod. He sings another version of “I’ve grown accustomed to her face,” which here is “she’s a child,” etc. And then the revelation hits him. “Gigi,” he sings, and there are swans in the pond behind him, and Minnelli has a sequence of stills catching Leslie Caron’s performance most tellingly.
Minnelli on La Belle Époque is like Hirschfeld’s great cartoon of Eliza Doolittle on Prof. Higgins’s strings on George Bernard Shaw’s strings. Everyone knows how everything is done, but not why.
And there is Alicia in her bath, taking counsel on legal matters pertaining to the proper upkeep of a mistress. The dialogue is frank throughout, in these risqué situations (as Debussy said of Jeux).
Gigi refuses, but will go on receiving “licorice, and caramels, and champagne on my birthday.” Gaston is incensed. “Europe is breeding a generation of vandals,” he tells Honoré. “They’ll destroy everything beautiful.” He leaves, and Honoré sings the great tune, “I’m glad I’m not young anymore” in close-up to a camera that never moves until he rises from the table with a flourish and it watches him walk to the street, with the faintest echo of “Singin’ in the Rain”.
Alicia dresses and goes out, as one gathers she almost never does, in the duller dress of the fin de siècle. She speaks of “the music of eternal Spring” and is rebuffed.
“Say a prayer for me,” Gigi sings to her cat, who seconds her most feelingly. L’amour et la mort...
Gigi loves Gaston, so they’re off to Maxim’s, where she plays the courtisane by regaling poor bored Gaston with the fruits of all her lessons. He’s being sent “crashing through the ceiling,” he takes her home, rushes out, stands before the great fountain at midnight like a Toulouse-Lautrec silhouette, rushes back and proposes. “Thank Heaven,” her grandmother says, “for little girls,” sings Honoré, and the film ends on a sunny day in the Bois, with the happy couple riding away in a carriage, and Honoré giving the camera a little Gallic shrug.
This is what is meant by a serious musical. How La Belle Époque comes down to a rake and roué and les femmes fatales done to a turn by the reality of the situation, which is Gigi.
Obviously a model for Losey’s La Truite, in a way. It’s all very humorous, naturally, especially as it’s all in the guise of another world and another time.
Minnelli marshals all his technique into grand effects produced by the camera with the utmost simplicity, as in Louis Jourdan’s great monologue (a model for Losey’s Don Giovanni). “But oddly lacking dance numbers,” says ‘Alliwell.
The Reluctant Debutante
She is an American, the London season bores her.
Boredom is the main theme over three-quarters of the film’s length, boredom to dire excess. This is one of the finest stretches of comedy ever put on film.
There is an answer to boredom. The perfect comedy is replaced by a knockabout of sorts, the whole thing collapses after a fashion, there is a deus ex machina.
And there you are.
Variety and the New York Times were agreed that it was silly good stuff got up fine. There you have the experts’ opinion.
This is, of course, Kismet.
Some Came Running
A complete panoply of the artist’s dilemma. He is “loved but not understood” by the public. His license is envied, his discipline ignored. He is read and admired by academics who loathe him.
The best critic, Bosley Crowther, professed he found no sense in it at all. Camp followers enjoy the work as “an intellectual soap opera”. Self-explanatory, then.
Minnelli’s superb realism is partly to blame. His widescreen compositions at times have a polyvalence unique after Gance. Champ contre champ in one image.
The conclusion is very much related to Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces draws on this (Altman’s Nashville, also).
The effective symbolism of Bama’s hat (he even sleeps in it) disposes of métier, Beckett’s “housekeeping”. The confrontation on this point is in Rossen’s The Hustler.
Wolfe’s angel and the river and the twenty-third psalm point to the real audience for the work. Minnelli extends the framing shot of Van Gogh in a mirror amongst commodious furnishings (Lust for Life) as the hotel window seen from outside. The wide screen economically conveys space or the components of a scene. It can bear a complicated expression as a composed image, and though it can be divided almost insensibly as individual playing areas (so that a two-shot appears as medium close-ups played separately), there is no articulation of the frame (as in Truffaut), which always presents an integral surface.
The acting is variably criticized according to readings of the film that are short-sighted. The mob cannot, the schools will not receive it, nonetheless Sinatra casts a look on the scene before him that might be Mailer’s.
Home from the Hill
Life and death of the hunter (Robert Mitchum).
Long estrangement of his wife (Eleanor Parker).
Their ephebe of a son (George Hamilton).
The hunter’s self-reliant and lowly bastard (George Peppard).
“Entirely eludes this reviewer,” said Bosley Crowther of the New York Times.
The abstruseness makes child’s play of all Minnelli’s other work, the virtuosity displayed here and there, notably in the boar hunt, is not his prime concern.
Bronislau Kaper’s theme is taken up by Nelson Riddle for the title tune of El Dorado (dir. Howard Hawks).
Bells Are Ringing
The theme is essentially related to Singin’ in the Rain. The muse (Judy Holliday) works under several names, Melisande and Mom among them, at an answering service. The service she provides is answered at a posh party of the sort depicted by Antonioni and Fellini, during which the invitees sing “Drop That Name” (the muse cannot keep up, when they sing “Raymond Massey” she sings “Lassie”). But she inspires a playwright (Dean Martin) as well as a dentist (Bernie West) who wants to be a songwriter. Each develops “The Midas Touch” independently, and a mix-up leads to a revelation.
Now, the extreme violence of this teaching is the main difficulty, along with the putative complexities of the plot. Minnelli furthermore films this all on a sound stage as an adjunct to the stage production. His idea is to let the main conflict explode with its own fizz, with the plot and the symbolic romance on their own in the other two rings.
The wide-ranging satire includes the Bonjour Tristesse Brassiere Company, a former employer, and Marlon Brando, who is sent up by Frank Gorshin. Beethoven’s Tenth, Op. 6 is explained by a client to be a solecism, and so a bookie operation is shut down, but not before the muse herself is suspected.
At this stage, it is important to grasp the overall structure and perceive that the role of the playwright was not cast by mistake (with all due respect to TV Guide).
The long take is Minnelli’s principal weapon, nowhere more effective than in the nightclub scene where the songwriter, the playwright and the actor compare notes amid a bevy of dancing girls imperturbably recorded by the camera. Fellini again picked up the notes provided by Minnelli‘s bridge-and-river set for Amarcord. Robert Ellis Miller’s Sweet November and Albert Brooks’ The Muse echo the film very differently.
The final point to be raised is in opposition to Halliwell’s contention that Bells Are Ringing (“that rings a bell”) is long on plot and short on dancing. As one has pointed out, the essential dramatic conflict is Schumannesque, Philistines vs. artistes, and so broadly drawn as to be amusing. Minnelli’s M-G-M dance camera tracks the muse around the interior stage-set for all it’s worth.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Sui generis, despite the pedigree from Ingram and the rationale from Curtiz (Casablanca, Paul Henreid) and Hathaway (13 Rue Madeleine for the structurally divergent ending). Visconti’s La Caduta degli dei follows.
Minnelli’s greatest film, even The Clock is in it.
Madariaga (Lee J. Cobb) is Mark Twain, Ingrid Thulin dubbed is not diminished, Glenn Ford, Charles Boyer, Paul Lukas and Karl Boehm with Yvette Mimieux and the rest of the cast cannot be spoken of for the genius of their performances. The title characters are a scourge, and so is Bosley Crowther, whose review can only be construed as a defense of the earlier masterpiece (“indeed, the less attention paid to this picture, the better for the simple dignity of the human race”).
Two Weeks in Another Town
The metaphor is of an actor becoming a director, this is to convey to your understanding what it means when the bright blank of success effuses in critical prose that stops abruptly in mid-flight due to a lack of awareness that is cumulative, and what is needed to redress the crisis.
Two Weeks in Another Town is two hours in a movie theater, largely with reference to Fellini’s La dolce vita. It goes into 8½ by the same token, also Godard’s Le Mépris and Kazan’s The Last Tycoon (and The Arrangement).
It springs from The Cobweb perforce in the opening scenes, and looks ahead to On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.
Variety said, most foolishly, “Two Weeks in Another Town is not an achievement about which any of its creative people are apt to boast.” The studio excised it to make it more wholesome. What remains is nevertheless one of the greatest films ever made, about which Minnelli wrote, “what we filmed was a better picture than what was released.”
The Courtship of Eddie’s Father
An elaborate understanding of Hitchcock’s The Farmer’s Wife by an expert on silent films whose resemblance to Dina Merrill’s poodle amounts to a cameo by proxy.
Since the original source is so rare, masterpiece though it be, criticism is somewhat disadvantaged.
“A little child can lead me,” says Farmer Sweetland first, last and always, pleading his case.
Details of the construction are the main comic points, compared with Hitchcock.
“I was a fink and a hustler for thirty-six years, and now suddenly I’m an ingénue!”
A philandering Hollywood screenwriter gets shot in the porthole of a Hungarian producer’s yacht while trying to tryst with the man’s wife and is reincarnated as a woman.
There is nothing but poetic justice in it, but wit is a shaft that holds fast.
As comically patient and surreal as the celebrated encounter of an umbrella and a sewing-machine, the great moment at which they realize every string attached goes nowhere is the pivot and aim.
He’s an Episcopalian minister and headmaster, she’s a starving artist.
He keeps a daub in his office, representing his wife. The mistress paints yellow gray and black beach scenes, no people (“man spoils things”), and she’s an atheist and whatnot. Her young son has to be in his school by court order, after a series of infractions.
He realizes he’s lost his vocation, he’s just a corrupt old moneybags on a building campaign. She loves a man for the first time, it isn’t all carping variance.
He resigns, she begins to paint with color and life. A sabbatical, then he’ll take up his calling again, with a wife who remembers their early devotion.
So it’s as close to Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as Benrhardt’s Miss Sadie Thompson. Critics have always held that it’s rubbish, and they should know.
Minnelli presents the characters at face value in a long haul enlivened fitfully at first with side glances from casual observers, reflections of nature, and so on. A furiously complicated thing to prepare and shoot, the general dullness he has to depict suddenly reveals his magician’s hand here and there again and again.
The transformation takes place in the actors. Richard Burton has a conscious relaxation from Huston’s The Night of the Iguana, Elizabeth Taylor moves into Zeffirelli’s The Taming of the Shrew.
Charles Bronson is another beach artist, amateur and hellraiser. James Edwards notes the scene, Robert Webber is a sharpie on the building committee. Eva Marie Saint is the wife who gets the bad news from her fool of a husband and has to reckon up twenty years on the wrong track.
The end result is only a beginning, a possibility. The location served in Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks and Corman’s The Terror. It was painted by Robert Henri at the turn of the century, no doubt by others as well.
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
The Minnelli statement of purpose as an experiment in the laboratory foisted on a professor of psychiatry in New York, the anti-musical or non-musical, still more, the artistic production seen in the head as raw imaginative understanding, the very purpose of the thing.
This stems from Gigi and Bells Are Ringing visibly, but also and most importantly from Two Weeks in Another Town, where it starts as an awareness of one’s position and becomes the freedom to invent.
While for Lerner this is My Fair Lady looked at another way, Minnelli takes The Pirate and Madame Bovary and so on to a further point of explication, Daisy Gamble’s inner life reflects square Warren and hip Tad (cp. Woody Allen’s Annie Hall), she gets the idea of her freedom and walks out on Prof. Chabot like Shaw’s Eliza.
A Matter of Time
The tragedy of an impoverished, aged belle, the comedy of a Cinderella movie star.
The main line is from Madame Bovary, to which is added an even more forceful satire.
There is still, however, the chance of a lifetime, the discovery in a screen test filmed alla Fellini (Two Weeks in Another Town).