A bootleg soft-shoe for a Sunday morning

You can always grab my attention with a musical, good, bad, or indifferent. Phil Hall, dug up an interesting case in this week’s entry in his always interesting column The Bootleg Files. “Where’s Charley” starred Ray Bolger, best known by far as the Scarecrow from 1939’s “Wizard of Oz,” starring in a film version of the Broadway musical that had revived his career from a post-Oz rut. The stage play had been a very successful vehicle and the movie was a hit but, according to Hall, the widow of songwriting great Frank Loesser, performer Jo Sullivan, disliked the movie so much she somehow managed to singlehandedly suppress it for all these years.

The sequence featuring the show’s break-out hit, “Once in Love with Amy,” goes on very long and during the later portions you may find yourself recalling Pee-Wee Herman as Bolger gets a bit too silly. With all that, this excerpt — which comes from a badly faded print — shows a nice piece of work. Bolger had real grace enough to get over the fact that he was 48 and playing an Oxford student.

In my experience about 95% of “lost” movies turn out to be disappointments and this looks too stagy and twee. So what? I think it’s high time we were allowed to see it for ourselves, complete with that score by Loesser. You can hear Jo Sullivan talk about her late husband’s work, which included such classic scores as “Guys and Dolls” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” on this Fresh Air interview.

  

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Premium Hollywood after Dark meets “The Reefer Man”

An excerpt from the oddball, and still sadly unseen by me, pre-Hays Code 1933 science fiction comedy, “International House” which has one of the most interesting movie casts ever, including comedy legends like W.C. Fields, George Burns and Gracie Allen, singer and underrated comic actor Rudy Vallee (“The Palm Beach Story,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”), Bela Lugosi, who I’m sure was really funny, and the great musician and performer Cab Calloway. The oddly prophetic plot involves a bunch of folks descending on a Chinese hotel to bid on a strange new invention called “television.”

Seeing as we have an initiative on the ballot, Proposition 19, that might legalize marijuana here in California, this particular movie moment seems appropriate for a Saturday evening. We don’t advocate illegal activities here at PH, but if you happen to be in Amsterdam or past the three mile limit in the manner of the late William F. Buckley, don’t let us stop from doing what you were probably going to be doing anyway.

Thanks to my buddy, Wes, for putting this on his Facebook page where I could steal it. I’m sure he also doesn’t advocate or condone illegal activities. On the other hand, he serves martinis on the rocks, which is a crime against urbanity, I tells ya!

  

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Hard days at the office #5: Business language and Ms. Brockovich

I could have gone in a lot of different and rather obvious directions for the last entry in this series of clips from work-related movies, “Office Space” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” being but two of the more obvious possibilities. However, when it comes to productions that really capture the feeling of struggling to get a job in the real world, and then keeping it and balancing it with other commitments, Steven Soderbergh’s deceptively modest “Erin Brockovich” is one of the very few that really seems to get it.

I would have edited this series of clips a lot differently, but it does give a feeling for the movie. (If you remember “Erin Brockovich” at all you’ll know this is NSFW. Actually, if you put up a camera in most offices and then ran it on YouTube, it would probably be NSFW.)

A bonus and a bit more commentary after the flip.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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Frank Loesser centenary movie moment #1

If you were listening to NPR news this morning, you might have caught a very nice interview with Jo Sullivan Loesser, the widow of Broadway legend Frank Loesser, best known for his songs for “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Guys and Dolls,” a real contender for the best musical comedy score of all time.  The occasion is that this is the year Loesser, who died in 1969, would have turned 100.

So, here’s the key number from “How to Succeed,” in which young, extremely fast-rising executive and ex-window washer J. Pierrepont Finch serenades his favorite person in the world. The film version, directed by David Swift, isn’t a particularly brilliant piece of cinema in terms of taking the piece from stage to screen, but it documents the play on film rather nicely, as you’ll see below.

Of course that’s a young Robert Morse up there as Ponty. I’m not sure how widely known it is to younger viewers of “Mad Men,” but Morse is better known these days as the conniving and sagacious Bertram Cooper, until recently the senior mucky-muck of ad firm Sterling Cooper. (Any similarities between the often somber TV show and the sprightly satirical musical aren’t, of course, all that coincidental.) Morse is an even better actor today, but the above shows how skilled he was at age 35 back in 1966-7 (when he still looked about 20).  Daniel “Please don’t call me ‘Harry'” Radcliffe, who really is still practically a zygote, is going to be taking on the role shortly on Broadway, which will be interesting.

After he’s done…well, I wonder if Vincent Kartheiser (i.e., Pete Campbell) can sing at all. I’d pay to see that.

  

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