Evening Primrose (1966)

mv5bmtmzmde2ntuzml5bml5banbnxkftztcwndm1mjy4mw-_v1_uy268_cr40182268_al_Evening Primrose is a musical written for the television series ABC Stage 67, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and I am indebted to Realweegiemidget for making me aware of this film. It sounded too quirky to pass up. A sort of grotesque little Romeo and Juliet set in a department store.

Anthony Perkins is Charles Snell, a poet who decides to get away from the world and devote himself to inspiration and poetry by hiding out in a department store. To his surprise, however, the department store is  already inhabited by people, who pose as mannequins during the day and live their lives at night. Almost all of them are elderly. Mrs. Monday (Dorothy Stickney) is the original resident, arriving in the department store before the turn of the century. During various depressions (1921, 1929) more people arrived.

There is one young person there, however. Ella Harkins (Charmian Carr) was left in the department store as a child and now works as a servant to Mrs. Monday, though she is viewed and treated as an outsider. Charles is immediately enchanted with her, but Mrs. Monday and her people have very strict rules. One does not associate with Ella, who is not living there from choice; one cannot ever leave (they are afraid of exposure); and one apparently must do everything Mrs. Monday says, who’s really running a kind of snobby dictatorship. Her will is enforced by “the Dark Men,” mysterious inhabitants of a mortuary who periodically visit to enforce Mrs. Monday’s laws by turning people into mannequins.

It makes one wonder very much how many of the mannequins are really mannequins and how many are simply corpses. Interestingly, all the mannequins are young people. Though one perhaps could make a case that the elderly inhabitants, playing their bridge, dancing their waltzes, are half-mummified, too.

It’s ironic. Charles left the world so he could leave the petty money and social concerns of life and encounters another oppressive society in microcosm in the department store. Ella and Charles have to meet on the sly while he teaches her how to read and do arithmetic. It’s actually very touching, along with Ella’s desire to “see the world,” which she can barely remember. She poignantly sings about her memories in a song that compares things like the sky to various department store items.

It’s a rather romantic film, if ironic and deeply quirky, even horror-ish, and it totally had me going until the end, at which point I was a little horrified. I laughed, and was a bit horrified.

downloadEvening Primrose, as I understand it, is distinctly minor Sondheim, but the songs are rather catchy and poignant, especially “Take Me to Your World. It was televised in color, but only recently did they find and released the black and white copy on DVD. It still looks rather grainy, but the film has a certain atmosphere about it. It made me think of a wax museum.

I must admit to being taken aback to learn that Anthony Perkins did a musical, but he does well. His voice has a somewhat limited range, but it works for the role. Charles Snell is still a little eccentric, but one still feels completely invested in his character.

I can’t help but think of Charmian Carr as Liesl, but it was nice to see in her an another film. Here, she is sad, eager, both brimming for life and longing for it – they are a rather adorable couple. If you like Perkins or Carr, are in the mood for something a little offbeat or are a fan of Stephen Sondheim, it’s definitely worth seeing.

The film can currently be seen on youtube.


Posted by on October 24, 2016 in Movies


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“The Characters in Costume Blogfest” Begins Next Friday!

lotr-6Andrea Lundgren – of Into the Writerlea – and I are so excited for next week and the Characters in Costume Blogfest: Fiction and Film. Our tag is:

“Appearance, Accuracy, Description, Makeup, Casting, Costumes & More.”

Beginning next Friday, October 28th-30th, it is focused on characters both in film and fiction. How they look, how authors describe them, how they are costumed, how they are transferred from the page to screen. In short, what goes into creating the appearance of a character through words or on screen.

The original announcement with the sign-up link can be found here.

There is still plenty of time to sign-up. The sign-up never closes…at least not until the blogfest is completely over.🙂

Andrea Lundgren has already made a beginning by writing this thought-provoking article about how Cinderella’s stepsisters are presented in fiction and film. It is called “Cinderella’s Stepsisters: Ugly or Mislabeled?”

Can’t wait to hear from everyone next week!


Posted by on October 21, 2016 in Books, Movies


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How I learned to love The Great American Songbook

away-1“They can’t take that away from me…”

It began with Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger in Shall We Dance. Fred Astaire was singing “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and I thought it was beautiful. I wanted to know who wrote it and where I could hear more songs like it.

It wasn’t the first time I had heard such songs. I grew up watching musicals, but as a child I found all “slow” songs boring. I wanted dancing, comedy and funny, upbeat music.

More accurately, it really all began after my grandfather died. One thing that happens when you lose a person close to you is that you don’t know what to do with yourself. Do you sit and cry? Think? Try to forget? Is it okay to do an enjoyable activity? Is that a betrayal? If you have immediate work to do, all the better. But I didn’t have pressing work and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I wanted to watch a movie. But I didn’t want to watch just any movie.

This was because my grandfather was such a good man. He was kind, gentle, strong, and always there for you; and it felt wrong to watch the kind of movie he never would have watched. So I watched a musical. And another musical. And another. It all began with a rediscovery of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I’d never before appreciated what a genius Fred Astaire was. Or Ginger Rogers. In truth, it was the beginning of my love, not just for Astaire, Rogers and The Great American Songbook. It was the beginning of my love for old movies.

But the song that started it all was “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” The music was by George Gershwin and the lyrics by his brother, Ira Gershwin. It was the last completed film by George Gershwin before he died at 38 years of age. Ira was devastated, as was Fred Astaire, who had known Gershwin for many years.

But at the time of first hearing the song, I knew nothing about it. All I knew was that there was something both touching and enduring about the song and the lyrics: “The way you wear your hat – The way you sip your tea – The memory of all that – No, no, they can’t take that away from me.”


George Gershwin

Many people – including Fred Astaire himself – did not care for the fact that the song was sung briefly, on a ferry boat no less, with no dance. However, I rather like the setting for the song and there is something poignant about the fact that they do not dance at that moment. How the movie messed up was by not having them dance together at the end of the film to “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” instead of the rather bizarre pseudo-ballet they have instead, with the imitation Ginger Rogers, Harriet Hoctor and very little dance between Astaire and the real Rogers. The lack of a dance, however, did not prevent the song from becoming popular.

I looked up the song and found that the best way to introduce myself to Gershwin’s work was to get my hands on a collection of his songs, sung by Ella Fitzgerald: Oh, Lady, Be Good! – Best Of The Gershwin Songbook. I read a book by Michael Feinstein called The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs, which also proved an excellent way to get started.

Since then, I’ve moved on to Jerome Kern (and the sublime 1936 film Show Boat), who has remained an especial favorite, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (one of the great lyricists of his day), Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Harry Warren… They are composers who wrote songs that – no matter how trite the plot of the movie or musical – transcend and endure.

The Great American Songbook refers to popular songs (often overlapping with jazz songs) that were composed during the 1910s-1950s and have since been considered standards. They are mostly romantic songs, 32 bars, but the variety and emotional range is amazing. I was once reading about Byzantine art. I don’t remember much about the book, but the author talked about how great intensity of feeling and brilliance can be achieved when artists mine an art with very specific, confined rules. It’s not that one cannot break rules (not all songs were 32 bars), but the very confinement can yield greater intensity and creativity.


Jerome Kern

The other thing that fascinated me about the standards is how they blend African-American music, Jewish music (most of the composers were Jewish and Cole Porter used to say that his goal was to write “Jewish tunes”) and European operetta with American vernacular. I never used to know much about American music (I mostly studied western classical music in high school and college), but I have come to the conclusion that it should be given much more general attention. In fact I have the somewhat radical idea that American music AND movies should be taught in American schools. There is so much to learn and appreciate and it has been one of the best ways for me to look at  the American melting pot, racism, prejudice, the blending of traditions, creativity and resilience…and simply what it was like to be alive then.

I’ve wandered from my original point. But perhaps that is my point. To see what can start with a movie and a song! They can’t take that away from me…

This post is part of The Things I Learned From the Movies Blogathon, hosted by the wonderful Ruth of Silver Screenings and equally wonderful Kristina of Speakeasy. Be sure to check out the rest of the posts for Days 1, 2, and 3.


Fred Astaire introduces “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” in Shall We Dance (1937). The plot is a little shaky, but the songs are sublime. In this scene, Astaire and Rogers have just married, but are planning on an immediate divorce. This plan, however, unaccountably makes them sad.

And one of several of Ella Fitzgerald’s interpretations. She sang one version with Louis Armstrong, but this version is from her Gershwin Songbook.


Posted by on October 14, 2016 in Music


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