Just two of the many reasons that the still-underrated 1955 “It’s Always Fair Weather” ranks very high on my list of my all-time favorite film musicals is it’s sardonic yet cheerful send-ups of advertising and this new medium called television as well as its brilliant use of the brilliant song-and-dance gal Delores Grey. This clip has all three in spades. (Ms. Grey appears at the 1:23 spot.)
Just for the record, yes, that’s the immortal Frank Nelson (uncredited) as the announcer, and Gene Kelly (who codirected with Stanley Donen), Dan Dailey and dancer-choreographer Michael Kidd in a rare acting gig near the beginning. The music is by Andre Previn, best known these days as a conductor and arranger, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who wrote every single golden word in this movie and, as far as I’m concerned, deserved the Nobel Prize for World Literature, though that’s probably just me.
It’s time for me to take a moment to reflect a bit on what I learned from my rather hectic but definitely fun and enlightening time at the TCM Fest. As previously reported here and everywhere else, it turned out to be a fairly roaring success and is promised to be repeated next year in Hollywood. Because of time constraints and because I wasn’t able to enjoy the truly titanic number of films seen by, say, a Dennis Cozzalio — currently working on a detailed and sure to be great summary of the event — I’m going to limit myself to a few random observations covering material I have not mentioned in prior TCM-centric posts. (Here, here, and here.) Naturally, it’ll still turn out to be much longer than I originally intended.
Borgnine, Donen, Rainer
As someone with parents in their eighties and nineties, I’ve become especially interested lately in the way things work for people of a certain age. So it was with some some special interest that I listened to the words of 100 year-old thirties star Luise Rainer, 93 year-old star character actor Ernest Borgnine (“Marty,” “The Wild Bunch”), and 86 year-old directing great and one-time boy genius, Stanley Donen — best known for co-directing “Singin’ in the Rain” and other MGM musical classics with Gene Kelly but also an outstanding director in his own right of both musicals and “straight” films.
I’m having a rough morning here. Not that it’s been all bad here at TCM Fest in the heart of Hollywood, in fact a lot of has been very good. I did catch three movies yesterday, each in their own way fascinating: the unusually emotional Delmer Daves western, “Jubal”; the bizarre and fascinating inept and inapt once ultra-scandalous wartime British gangster film set in America, “No Orchids for Miss Blandish”; and the first public screening of the 1963 sci-fi/horror hit “Day of the Triffids” in a genuinely impressive restoration which would have been even better if I hadn’t been so sleepy — or if the introduction hadn’t been so long. (It’s hard to blame a film restorer for excess enthusiasm, but, well, the garages close here at 2:00 a.m.). A post screening discussion between Leonard Maltin and Ernest Bognine after “Jubal” earlier in the day, on the other hand, was another highlight. I’ll be posting about that one a bit later, I think.
But then there was the hour I just spent trying struggling with IT people to try and use the wi-fi at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. (Absolutely no knock on the hotel, where everybody has more than helpful and I seem to be the only one having the problem. Apparently they’re system and my lousy Vista using laptop computer are just having a bad relationship.) And, so, I find myself back at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf trying to tie up loose ends, including feeding this here blog beast. And I’m in need of a bit of cinematic comfort.
Fortunately, tonight the festival is coming to the rescue with some old personal favorites of mine and about a gazillion other people. So, now a movie moment from “Singin’ in the Rain” showing tonight at the Egyptian Theater with its great co-director, Stanley Donen, appearing afterward. I wasn’t sure about it as I’ve seen it a million times, but I can definitely use the cinematic comfort. And here’s it is….
…No, actually, here it isn’t because suddenly all the clips I can find on YouTube on “embedding disabled upon request.” It’s been that kind of a morning. So, instead, here’s a pretty great clip from 1935’s “Top Hat” which showed last night.
I’m just a hair late but, as I write this director Stanley Donen’s 86th birthday has just wrapped up. The man largely responsible for several of the greatest musicals ever made always seemed to excel especially at cafe scenes, and this send-up of modern dance from 1957’s “Funny Face,” with a frustrated Audrey Hepburn “expressing herself” is certainly one of them.
Mr. Donen will be in attendance at a screening of his most famous and perhaps greatest musical classic, “Singin’ in the Rain,” at the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood, on Saturday, April 24. Should be amazing.
An important chunk of entertainment history left us yesterday with the death of Larry Gelbart at 81. Gelbart was gifted both working alone and as a collaborator with other writers. It probably helped that relatively early in his career he labored alongside Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, and Neil Simon on comedian Sid Caesar’s classic early variety shows. In the sixties he graduated to Broadway and the movies. With Burt Shevelove, he cowrote the book for the Broadway musical/Zero Mostel vehicle, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” (later filmed by Richard Lester) and the hard to find all-star cult British comedy, “The Wrong Box.” A Chicago-born graduate of L.A.’s Fairfax High (right across the street from Cantor’s Deli), he lived in England for a time, working with another nice Jewish boy named Marty Feldman at the height of his English television fame.
He became much better known in the seventies as the primary writer during the early, funnier and more politically pointed days on the television version of “M*A*S*H.” I get to write about him because he made a mark in movies that’s too important to ignore, writing several good ones, and some not so good. He’ll probably be most commonly remembered for his work on “Oh, God” with George Burns in the title role, and what is probably Dustin Hoffman’s best performance in “Tootsie,” which is something of a comedy classic. He also co-wrote with Sheldon Keller the vastly underrated and all but impossible to see spoof of early Hollywood (specifically Warner Brothers) films, “Movie, Movie,” directed by Stanley Donen and starring George C. Scott, Eli Wallach, Trish van Devere, and Barry Bostwick. (A likely model for “Grindhouse,” in that it was also a double-feature complete with fake trailers.) It more than made up for the regrettable but profitable “Blame it On Rio,” written by Gelbart and also directed by Donen, which starred Michael Caine, Joseph Bologna and an extremely young Demi Moore.
In the nineties, he divided his time between Broadway plays like “City of Angels,” a musical spoof of classic hard-boiled detective novels, and pointed TV movies like “Barbarians at the Gate” — a tongue in cheek version of a nonfiction book about the buyout of Nabisco — and 1992’s “Mastergate,” an unbelievably witty parody of the hearings that invariably follow major Washington scandals.
Mr. Gelbart never stopped writing until almost the end, and was easily one of the most respected and beloved writers in all of show business. 81 isn’t exactly young, but we could’ve used a few more years of his presence. It’s a sad weekend for the world of funny.