Pilot #5

A hero of the Air Corps in 1942, on Java.

This is mainly in the screenplay, flashbacks from his friends to satisfy the Dutch commanding officer as to his heroism, Sidney’s direction takes it to the vortex of a state machine, vividly realized.

All the King’s Men is but a gloss on this, A Face in the Crowd only commentary, this is the original article, the “new empire” and “new world” led by “young folks” against “old fossils” at the urging of a governor who pulls all the strings, with express reference to the Via dell’Impero.

“Would you young people wait for me in the Trophy Room?” A Fascist turnover. “In two years you won’t know this state.” Demurrers and evictions. “You can’t let people vote, people are dopes.” One of the great masterpieces of the war yet hardly known at all, like Dmytryk’s Behind the Rising Sun and Preminger’s Margin for Error.

The hero, a “cheap ward-heeling would-be Fascist” (cf. Preston Sturges’ The Great McGinty).

In the face of the juggernaut (cf. John Farrow’s Wake Island), the one pilot with a salvaged plane who knows how to deal with a Jap aircraft carrier.

“One enemy. One Fascist enemy, gentlemen. Our enemy, who shall be destroyed.”

Hal Erickson, “an oddly liberal-minded film to come from conservative old MGM” (Rovi).

The Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “dated... flagwaver... woodenly patriotic... limited historical interest.”

Halliwell’s Film Guide, “rather unpalatable propaganda encased in dim drama.”

Leonard Maltin, “so-so curio.”


Bathing Beauty

Steve Elliot writes songs for the Broadway producer George Adams, who is in California preparing a water pageant. Elliot is in love with a swimming instructor, they plan to quit their jobs, he’ll write “symphonies, tone poems, sonatas”, no more Tin Pan Alley.

A former protégé of Adams’ now works for Cugat under another name. The bride and groom are married, he is presented with another wife and three children. The bride goes East, to Victoria College in New Jersey.

Elliot follows, but can’t come in, no men are allowed except professors, and “professors don’t count.”

Elliot is at the bar of Adams’ Town and Country Club, where Harry James is the featured entertainer. The disconsolate songwriter plays musical glasses full of whiskey, some on the rocks and one out of tune. It’s successfully adjusted by a quick sip from a passing souse, a lawyer hired to change the charter of Victoria College, founded May 7, 1772 as a co-educational institution. Before he can do so, Elliot enrolls.

Sidney’s technical skill is evident from Esther Williams’ first dive into the pool, filmed above and below the water continuously, tracking out before and beside her, after Carlos Ramirez serenades her with a song of Elliot’s all around it, to her annoyance.

His structural invention picks up the drama (“the play”, as Hitchcock would say) at this point by introducing Basil Rathbone as Adams. There is a meticulous construction throughout on the broad theme of Broadway and the classics, which is generally subordinated to a surpassing analysis of Forties design, sparse, Classical, with an oceanic motif and an Early American basis.

Every effort is made to dissuade Elliot or expel him, he’s housed in a cluttered basement, girls in school uniforms and waves of Forties hair flock to see the composer of “Boogie Woogie Shoogie” and other hits, he wipes the blackened panes of his basement windows, each time revealing a face.

The place is spic-and-span, he goes to class. Prof. Hendricks teaches “Loch Lomond” in a stodgy arrangement, Elliot is vexed, his music sets me back ten years.” The girls bring him coffee and doughnuts, he writes an arrangement. “You take the high note and I’ll take the low note, and we’ll make sweet music together.” It becomes an octet in front of Harry James’ orchestra.

Red Skelton’s facility and precision are manifest in a mime on how girls get dressed in the morning, concluding with a garter belt that snaps back.

His eurhythmics class has him in pink tutu with the girls (a very famous episode of I Love Lucy) at the barre, and then a ballet routine on The Nutcracker in which a chocolate candy wrapper gets stuck to one foot then another, and so on, ending on his wife’s face with a smack.

He is expelled on Parents Day when his room is full of girls and Carlos (who emerge from a closet on a bicycle built for four), the mother of one of them is Margaret Dumont.

His wife gets a job in the water pageant (“Can she swim?”, asks Rathbone as Adams, Skelton looks into the camera and says, “Is he kidding?”), to music supplied by Harry James and Johann Strauss, Jr. The phony wife confesses, all ends happily as predicted at the college, “He says he has a thirst for knowledge and wants to quench it in a swimming pool”, where in evening dress he joins his wife.

“It couldn’t happen in a nicer place than California,” reads an opening title. “She vanished into hot air,” says Xavier Cugat of his treacherous performer. Ethel Smith, “former organist of Your Hit Parade”, taps the pedals in blue-shod feet like Chaplin’s baked potatoes, Helen Forrest sings “I Cried for You”, Jascha Heifetz’s discovery in a Romanian café of “Hora Staccato” is described by Rathbone to introduce Harry James, who plays it.

Williams is poetry in motion underwater, and provided with a Busby Berkeley extravaganza for the finale, varied by Klee geometrics. A charming performer on terra firma, too.



Anchors Aweigh

The magnificent influence of Edgar Kennedy is on every frame, and he is featured briefly doing a master turn and giving a master class. Structurally, this is a combination of drop-dead comedy and lickety-split musical style, you can actually see the jointures in one or two places early on.

There is a gag done to perfection that Tom Stoppard later developed into a radio play (the “time lady” gag). Sidney’s work on Our Gang paid him richly in this film.

Kelly, whose mimetic powers are absolute, deliberately imitates Astaire’s manner in two places, notably in the parody of Fairbanks (and Valentino).

M-G-M’s overwhelming force of abstraction is very much in evidence in his Olvera Street dance (which derives from Chaplin) and throughout. Amid the splendors of the off-camera studio (and the first time that camera floats on-camera, it’s all over), a fine tribute to Citizen Kane occurs in the course of a crane shot.

This must be compared with Minnelli’s Father of the Bride as a conscious acknowledgment and acquisition of silent film comedy in the sound age.


The Three Musketeers

Lester’s double feature has an evident model here. The compression makes for supreme efficiency, the affair of the Queen’s diamonds establishes amicability as the basis of the relationship between France and England, the Countess de Winter is the very embodiment of treachery, her consuming passion for the impossible Count de Wardes (“I shall positively be cremated sitting so close to the fire,” says D’Artagnan as De Wardes) is the balm in her veins.

Richelieu is simplified into 1st Minister, his cold calculation is on war with England and the divestment of his king’s power. D’Artagnan and Constance are from the country, “I shall endure nothing, Sir,” he tells his Gascon father, “from any man.” Richelieu is a Mabuse, “It takes a good man to prevent a catastrophe, my lady, and a great man to make use of one.” The King is a dawdler, “How can I face Richelieu when my men don’t wear decent clothes?”

Athos was married to De Winter, and knows her as “evil itself”. Porthos eyes a lady whilst fighting and receives a wound “between myself and my horse”. A rich widow is the boon he asks after Richelieu’s downfall, a monastery for Aramis (who says of D’Artagnan, “he does rather well for a farm boy”), Athos his lands, confiscated long since and nearly usurped by his wife, who bears the brand of a common criminal on her shoulder.

Constance is made her keeper. “We don’t treat no dog in England like you’re treatin’ her,” says the Duke of Buckingham’s soldier. A knife for an end is turned on Constance and the Duke.

The executioner of Lille leads her away. Richelieu is hoist with his own petard, “I am the State,” he tells the King, “and these men have set themselves above me.” They have his carte blanche to the Countess, “By my order and for the good of the State, this was done.”


Annie Get Your Gun

The title oddly suggests, in context, Godard’s “creative force” in Notre musique. “Peace medicine” and “war medicine” are among the oppositions that make up the structure. Annie Oakley/Frank Butler, Buffalo Bill/Pawnee Bill, cowboys and Indians, sun and moon, etc. Goethe’s ćsthetic drama never had it so good, from the moment Annie drops into a gawp at close sight of Butler, to the very last shot. The resolution has an exact pitch, which must be realized from such slender constructions as the Wilson Hotel, where showfolks are not admitted, leastways not Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and whose proprietor (Mr. Wilson) puts up Annie Oakley for the championship, against Buffalo Bill’s man, who in the course of the film wears his own initials on his hat, tie, gloves, buckle and shoes, and he’s not even a star of the show (that’s show business), as he points out to her when her likeness goes up in the very outfit she’s wearing, he gets bested, she laments, “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun”.

The Andy Griffith Show neatly dissected the plot as a bare, essential line of mystery, men are such fools women must cater to them, else there’d be no getting on at all. That is a service, we must see Chief Sitting Bull, the victor of Little Big Horn (and now with Pawnee Bill) make “Little Sure Shot” his daughter at an Indian ceremony (“I’m an Indian, Too”, she sings) and violate his Rule No. 3 (“keep bow tight, keep arrow sharp, not put money into show business”) at her exploit in the arena. The touring Indians have “a small fire” in their railroad car, make camp in a headliner’s at her insistence, things get sorted out. The public sees a covered wagon on fire chased by Indians and rescued by brave Annie Oakley’s shooting and the cavalry led by Buffalo Bill (she calls him “Buffalo”).

“Annie,” Buffalo explains, “our European tour was an artistic success.” The show’s manager explains, “He means we’re broke.” Chief Sitting Bull suggests a merger with Pawnee Bill’s Far East Show, where Frank Butler has relocated (Annie gawps at him in dreams, even). Her medals from the capitals of Europe are the financing.

Not far from the Statue of Liberty, there is a rematch, Chief Sitting Bull rearranges her sights to miss, she gets the picture, Frank makes her his partner, all ends in a Busby Berkeley on horseback (opposing lines file side-by-side, concentric circles spin this way and that). The Chief calls it “peace medicine”.

Sidney has the M-G-M resources on Betty Hutton, and thus reveals one of the great performances in cinema, a freckle-faced backwoods gal who is the soul of comedy, and who to please the man she loves puts lemon juice on her face, bathes and powders and does her hair up right for the tragedy of his disinterest.

Louis Calhern is the saintly showman, Edward Arnold his rival Pawnee Bill, Keenan Wynn the manager, Harve Presnell the marksman with a ten-gallon head and monograms everywhere.

The direction is unexpected in its inventions, among them a sequence of backgrounds with extras suddenly turning into the cattle boat with live steer and cowpokes, just after London peers through the fog in a similar shot. The prodigy of the Wild West Show set with its Ford Country backdrop and performers, the rhythm of a railroad car at sunset (and again by moonlight), long takes, J. Carrol Naish as the Chief (who can not only read letters, he’s writing a book), subtly-conceived musical numbers, a film much more than entertaining, a major work and beyond all critical speculation as reportedly occurred in the Broadway revival, omitting “I’m an Indian, Too”.


Jupiter’s Darling

“I never knew that slavery could be anything like this!” Hermes Pan takes off from Nijinsky in Scheherazade into a parody of his Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun for the initial number.

Hannibal and the Cunctator, by Dorothy Kingsley out of Robert E. Sherwood.

“Haven’t you any manners at all?”

“No, I’m a barbarian!”

The Lubitsch theme (Angel).

So we are oceans apart

And for my dream I must wait;

I want affairs of the heart,

Who cares for affairs of state?

This underwater ballet is an Olympian fantasy of living statues, the daydreamer is Greek and lengthily betrothed to Fabius (she puts off the date from year to year).

“We’re on the road to Rome,” sing Hannibal (all wet, an admirable likeness of Fidel) and his barbarians.

A hole in the wall of Rome.

Esther Williams, Howard Keel, Marge and Gower Champion slaves, William Demarest a barbarian captain, George Sanders bringing up the rear (Norma Varden his mother the matron) as the dictator.

Who has seen Balanchine’s Circus Polka in its original form with elephants (it works with children certainly), Pan has pachyderms.

On the eve of Rome’s destruction, the choices are Hannibal, Fabius, and Vestal virginity, the Greek chooses fire.

Hannibal’s assault. “Take your choice, the woman or Rome.”

A complete Lubitsch, from Das fidele Gefängnis to That Lady in Ermine.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times did not follow the plot, he found the film “elephantine”.

Variety, “fairly entertaining... hit-and-miss affair.”

Tom Milne (Time Out), “elephantine”.

Hal Erickson (Rovi), “her silliest film.”

Halliwell’s Film Guide, “the higher lunacy.”

Great poetry in the underwater pursuit ever deeper, the horse on the beach reappears in Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes, milady’s painted elephants in Blake Edwards’ The Party.


Pal Joey

The Mayor’s underage daughter gets him thrown out of Gold City.

He lands in San Francisco chasing mice at a Barbary Coast nightclub.

A society dame opens Chez Joey on Nob Hill.

He takes a powder for a girl from Albuquerque.

Sidney on Rodgers & Hart in excelsis with “Zip” and the rest of it, very keenly played all the way.

Andrew Sarris (The American Cinema), “unforgivable”.


Bye Bye Birdie

“Watch it, rube, don’t bend the fur.”

The bareness of the sketch is preserved, a vaudeville on the Presley theme.

A Gotham intellectual, a Gotham critic, and a Gotham artist walk into a bar. The intellectual says “πr2”, the critic says “pie are round”, the artist says “et tu, Brute”, and they join each other in a Manhattan.

“One summer I worked for the circus. Oh, those midgets! Wild.”

Big doings on the international scene. “The Russians! First they take Czechoslovakia, now they take my four minutes” on The Ed Sullivan Show.

“Handsome men, from Yale or Purdue...”

“...how about a malted with a little vodka?”

It tells Tchaikovsky the news.

The belt goes into The Man Who Had Power Over Women (dir. John Krish).

“Good night, Elvis,” said Jack Paar, “whatever you are.”

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times missed the boat, “they lose me after the bunker scene,” as Mel Brooks has it in Blazing Saddles, and that was Crowther’s objection per the title character, remembered from A Face in the Crowd (dir. Elia Kazan).

Variety did not agree.

One “DJ” of Time Out writes, “one of the more unsung ‘60s musicals,” whatever that means. Halliwell’s Film Guide has a word for it, “incoherence”.