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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Brewster McCloud

Warner Archives’ long-awaited DVD of Robert Altman’s rarely seen 1971 follow-up to his “MASH” breakthrough is an example of some of the best, but a lot more of the worst, of the great director’s filmmaking approach. Bespectacled Bud Cort (“Harold and Maude”) stars in the title role as a geeky but confident youth building a human-powered flying machine in a fallout shelter at the then new Houston Astrodome, looked over by a mysterious goddess-like earth mother/protector (Sally Kellerman). Meanwhile, assorted right-wingers in Brewster’s sphere are dying under never fully described or explained circumstances, including witchy Margaret Hamilton (“The Wizard of Oz”), complete with ruby slippers, and unrecognizable Stacey Keach under an enormous amount of age make-up as a greed-obsessed millionaire. A tough, plays-by-his-own rules San Francisco cop named Frank Shaft (Altman favorite Michael Murphy) is working the case, but the only thing connecting the deaths is the presence of bird feces on the corpses — which is, I guess, supposed to be hilarious and also meaningful. Meanwhile, the seemingly sex-negative Brewster bumps into a girl with a talent for wacky black comedy car chases (Houston-bred Shelley Duvall in her first film role). Altman discarded the original screenplay by Doran William Cannon, who wrote the infamous “Skidoo,” and so the writer can’t be blamed for the narration featuring Rene Auberjonois as a possibly half-bird ornithologist. It’s not all torture. The final few minutes find their way to a bit of actual movie poetry beneath the skylight of the Astrodome, but this bird doesn’t stay airborne for long.

Click to buy “Brewster McCloud”

  

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A chat with Alex Gibney

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There’s no doubt that Alex Gibney is on a historic roll as a documentarian. Within only a few years, he’s been involved with probably the largest number of popular and influential documentaries of any single human being not named Michael Moore. Those works would include the outstanding “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” and the equally strong, and Oscar winning, “Taxi to the Dark Side,” about American use of torture in the “war on terror.” Gibney has also made his share of more historically themed documentaries, including “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.” He was also involved as a producer in two of the other most important and controversial documentaries of recent years, the Iraq-war expose, “No End in Sight” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

If Gibney’s past output is hugely impressive, however, his upcoming list of films is dizzying. At the recently wrapped Tribeca Film Festival in New York, he premiered as a “work in progress,” a new and apparently very revealing, look at former New York state governor, attorney general, and Wall Street watchdog Eliot Spitzer and the sex scandal that drove him from office. He also has a segment in the upcoming film version of the super-hot bestseller, Freakonomics, as well as new films about two very different cultural legends: bicyclist Lance Armstrong and author/super-hippie Ken Kesey of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Merry Pranksters fame.

There’s also the recently completed “My Trip to Al-Qaeda” and the film Gibney was promoting at his publicist’s L.A. office one recent afternoon, “Casino Jack and the United States of Money.” It’s a work of amazing journalistic detail that also works very hard to be lively and accessible.

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Even if I felt that Gibney didn’t quite master that “accessible and lively” aspect too consistently this time around, his “Casino Jack” reviews so far have been great overall. He’s certainly a filmmaker to be reckoned with and one with an outstanding body of work behind him and much, much more to come. Not my idea of a lazy person.

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Your late night and early morning movie news

John Krasinski* The smart and likable John Krasinski of “The Office” may be out of the running for the Captain America movie though his agent appears to be keeping busy. I take it some fan boys didn’t think he was sufficiently ultra-muscular or traditionally handsome or something enough for the role, but I find that a bit weird — especially considering that Steve Rogers starts out as an ordinary guy and it’s not Krasinski’s McLovin or something. He’d be a good choice and I hope they change their minds.  The other reputed candidates aren’t as well known to me, but the guy from the “Tron: Legacy” trailer certainly doesn’t strike me as anything too special based on what I saw there.

* It used to be that winning the best picture Oscar had major repercussions at the box office. At least for the so-far low-grossing “The Hurt Locker,” that might not be the case, though I’m sure it’s DVD sales will be a lot better than they would have been otherwise. The Iraq war drama appears to be caught in the crossfire between theater owners and studios over DVD releases.

* The show has taken its share of critical lumps, but Sunday’s Oscars did just fine in the ratings.

* Jim Emerson on the latest self-destructive move of Variety. Why do newspapers of all stripes seem to think that increasing prices and decreasing value is the way to salvation? I’d really like to know how that’s supposed to work.

* Howard Stern can be funny, but this item and accompanying clip, about his and cohost Robin Quivers’  nasty, idiotic reaction to “Precious” star Gabourey Sidibe’s career prospects reminds me of what made me dislike him rather strongly back in the day– it’s not just the nastiness, it’s the fact that he doesn’t have a damn clue what he’s talking about. Or is it the case that John Goodman, Chris Farley, John Candy, Victor Buono, Dom De Luise, Nick Frost, Jonathan Winters, Jonah Hill, and countless other, admittedly mostly male, actors who are in the fat-to-obese category have had “no” careers over the last several decades?

Not that overweight actors, especially including severely obese ones like Ms. Sidibe, shouldn’t try to lose weight if they want a larger selection of parts and a longer and healthier life, though it’s always vastly easier said than done. Still, it’s definitely not true that she will “never” work again if she stays at her present weight. She’s already got work on Showtime.

* In Hollywood, imitation is the sincerest form of success envy. And so, it’s possible that Warner Brothers may be looking at the huge first-week success of “Alice in Wonderland” and thinking about going to meet the Wizard. One thing is true — as wonderful as the MGM classic is, the weirdness of the very long series of books has barely been touched by the movies,

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Mouse reshuffles, Leo the lion on the block, and other tales

* In the real world Obama appears to be rethinking Afghanistan; in the cable TV world Lou Dobbs is relieving CNN of his xenophobia and is threatening to go into politics while The Onion has the real scoop. Meanwhile in the movie world, Disney’s new chairman, Rich Ross, is reorganizing. It sounds as if technology will be leading the way in the new regime. Also, the structure of the organization will resemble more a television network, we’re told, than a movie studio. Once upon a time that might have worried me, but these days TV is hardly any worse than movies. I’m not sure if that’s good news about TV or bad news about movies. (A little of both?)

* The lion of Hollywood has been a bit mangy for a long time now. Peter Bart reports that MGM is about to be sold and the whole thing, 4,000 titles and all, is worth about $1.5 billion, which would be a lot of money to you and me but to a once mighty film studio sure sounds paltray. One factor, even the older titles in the library ain’t what they used to be, either. The studio’s signature titles: “The Wizard of Oz,” “Gone With the Wind,” and “Singin’ in the Rain” are now available on Warner Brother’s DVD along with a good chunk of their best known classics.  The ghosts of Culver City’s glory days are restless tonight.

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* Apparently being a movie critic these days is such an unstable, lousy position that some of the best known reviewers are jumping ship and becoming film festival programmers. Yesterday, it was Newsweek’s David Ansen. Today, it’s the L.A. Weekly/Village Voice’s Scott Foundas. Anne Thompson has the depressing news that might nevertheless be creating more opportunities for some of the better known online folks.

* The fruits of my compatriot Will Harris’s London sojourn are appearing in the form of some extremely worth-your-time interviews. First with writer/director Richard Curtis of the criticially underrated “Love, Actually” and the soon to be released “Pirate Radio.” Also roly-poly movie superstud and general all around good guy Nick Frost of “Shaun of the Dead,” etc., as well as “Pirate” newcomers Tom Sturridge and Talulah Riley gets the Harris treatment as well. Bob says collect ’em all.

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