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Girl Crazy (1943)

Songs by George and Ira Gershwin, a dance choreographed by Busby Berkeley, an appearance by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra, an early appearance from June Allyson, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland doing what they do best? Who could ask for anything more!

George and Ira Gershwin’s 1931 musical “Girl Crazy” is transformed plot-wise, but many of the songs are kept, most notably “I Got Rhythm,” “Embraceable You,” Fascinating Rhythm,” and “But Not For Me,” all songs that have become standards.

Danny Churchill (Mickey Rooney) is the playboy son of a wealthy publisher who is sent out west to an all boys agricultural and mining school (not that we see much agriculture, mining, or school…just horse-riding and singing). There is, however, one girl present. The granddaughter of the dean (Guy Kibbee). She is Ginger Gray (Judy Garland), who is in charge of the school’s mail and drives the rickety car.

She is not, however, impressed by the east coast playboy, though he is more than impressed with her. He has to prove his love and prove that he’s not a quitter at the school and save the school from closing down by attracting applicants…by staging a musical rodeo. They thus manage to get the “let’s-put-on-a-show” plot line into the story.

Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were amazing and seem to be able to do pretty much anything. Mickey Rooney sings and dances and plays the piano with Tommy Dorsey and does physical comedy and is a wonder to behold. He also has a sweet chemistry with Judy Garland. It seems like in so many of Judy Garland’s movies, she is pining away for her wayward man, it is nice to see things reversed with Rooney trying to win her.

Judy Garland was twenty-one in Girl Crazy and she looks fresh, alive and lovely. She had a hard life and in many of her later movies you can see it on her face, but in Girl Crazy she still looks as if she has the whole world before her as she enters womanhood. She just about glows.

She also could seemingly do anything: comedy, drama, sing, dance, etc. She always had a good sense of comedic timing, but could then turn around and rip your heart out with a song. In Girl Crazy, the song is “But Not For Me.”

The musical “Girl Crazy” in 1931 is the musical that made Ethel Merman a Broadway star. Judy Garland’s role was played by Ginger Rogers, but Ethel Merman introduced “I Got Rhythm”and blew everyone away. In the movie, the song becomes a Busby Berkeley choreographed western extravaganza with Garland, Rooney, Tommy Dorsey and many others. It’s a rousing way to end a film.

I’m always rather in awe of Judy Garland’s dancing. It’s not that she’s Cyd Charisse or even Eleanor Powell, but she always gives the appearance of total ease and rightness. It’s a joy to watch her dance and she always makes it look good. So often, now, I feel like singing and dancing is all about making it look like the performer is working hard, but Judy Garland looked as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

My sister and I have often talked about how comedians and people with good physical comedic timing often seem to be able to dance. It’s not that they are the most technically proficient, but that they have a physical lightness and adroitness that translates well to dance. Judy Garland has that same ability. For me, not only could she never sing too many songs, but she could never dance to much.

This is my contribution to “The Judy Garland Blogathon,” hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. To see all the posts for this blogathon, click here.

Judy Garland breaks one’s heart.

Mickey Rooney fails to make an impression on Judy Garland.

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2017 in Movies

 

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The Young Lions (1958)

The Young Lions was supposed to be a turning point in the career of three men: Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Dean Martin. It turned out, however, that the only person it really helped was Dean Martin, who successfully made the transition from comedy to dramatic actor.

The story is taken from the novel by Irwin Shaw, though it feels a bit like two separate stories put into one film. One story follows Christian Diestl (Marlon Brando with blonde hair), a ski instructor and shoemaker who becomes a lieutenant in the German army during WWII. Initially, he is optimistic about Hitler, thinking he will make Germany strong and prosperous. But as he witnesses the horrors of war and the crimes of the army, he becomes increasingly troubled and disoriented, unsure of what his duty is.

Meanwhile, America is preparing for war. Both entertainer Michael Whiteacre (Dean Martin) and department store clerk Noah Ackerman (Montgomery Clift) are drafted into the military. This part of the story initially feels like From Here to Eternity, with the Jewish Ackerman encountering antisemitism in his barracks and having to fight to earn acceptance. Eventually, however, both men end up in France and Germany, pushing back the German army, which is disintegrating.

The film culminates with the discovery – both by Diestl, who is wandering behind enemy lines, and Whiteacre and Ackerman – of a concentration camp, filled with starving people, and their attempts to grasp the full horror of it.

What is interesting about the film is that it does not deal with ideologies per se: Nazism, freedom. It comes off more like three men – who aren’t really that different from each other in terms of basic principles – who are not ideologically motivated. Mostly, what we hear from the German officers is the imperative of obeying orders, with a few who have qualms. In fact, it isn’t hard to imagine someone like Whiteacre or Ackerman fighting for the Germans (apart from the fact that Ackerman is Jewish). These are not guys fighting for any other reason than because they have been drafted and who’s loyalty is to their comrades.

Clift and Martin

In truth, Diestl comes off more like a pacifist than a man who specifically takes issue with the Nazi party line. He reacts negatively to the German occupation in Paris (I wonder what he would have made of Poland – France was mild in comparison) and seems more appalled by the cruelties of war than the specific crimes of Nazism.

All three men – Brando, Clift, and Martin – had high hopes for the film, but it doesn’t quite live up to all it could be. It feels, at times, like the story lacks cohesion or direction. Is a bit lethargic. But the actors themselves do well and were clearly giving it their all. Brando was seeking to revive his sagging box office appeal (which didn’t quite work) and probably has the most interesting role in the film.

The Young Lions was the first film Montgomery Clift made after having reconstructive surgery on his face after a terrible car accident. He was hoping also to make a comeback and perhaps even win an Academy Award, but sadly the reaction of most audiences was shock at his changed appearance and apparent ill health (he looks like someone who more likely would have been turned down by the draft board).

Dean Martin, however, was far more successful in achieving his goals. He had just broken up his partnership with Jerry Lewis and wanted to show that he was a viable dramatic actor. The very next year he would make Rio Bravo and receive much acclaim for his performance.

In The Young Lions, his more natural and laid back approach to acting is actually a very nice contrast to the method approach of Brando and Clift (who do not share a scene in the film, adding to the sense that we are watching two separate stories). Martin’s Whiteacre is a slightly spoiled singer and performer who thinks he is a coward. He spends part of the film hating himself for trying to get out of service, but eventually he conquers his fears in a sense of shared camaraderie.

He was actually fortunate to get the role. It was originally intended for Tony Randall, until it was decided that Randall was not suited for the part. Dean Martin, however, seems perfect.

This is my second contribution to the “Dean Martin Centenary Blogathon,” hosted by Musings of a Classic Film Addict. Be sure to read all the rest of the posts from days 1, 2, and 3 of the Blogathon!

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2017 in Movies

 

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Airport (1970)

As my dad said, “If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going.” I’m not sure it was the intent, but the film Airport does testify to the durability of the Boeing 707, with George Kennedy’s mechanic character repeatedly and lovingly discoursing on how it’s the finest of its time. The plane even survives a bomb blowing a hole in the side of the plane from the lavatory.

I was interested in seeing Airport because I had heard that it was the film that inaugurated the string of 1970s disaster films (including The Poseidon Adventure ) and that it was exactly the kind of film that was spoofed in Airplane!. The film is also interesting for the bonanza of familiar faces: Burt Lancaster, Jean Seberg, Dean Martin, Jacqueline Bisset, Helen Hayes, Van Heflin, Lloyd Nolan, George Kennedy, Maureen Stapleton, Dana Wynter, Jessie Royce Landis, and Barbara Hale.

The film is based on a novel by Arthur Hailey, an author of a number of bestselling novels that were also turned into movies. The setting is an airport in Chicago, at night, during a snow storm. One 707 is stuck in the snow, having turned too quickly and missed the runway. Picketers are outside, protesting the noise pollution that disrupts their sleep at night. Mel Bakersfield (Burt Lancaster) is the manager of the airport, who has marital issues at home. His brother-in-law is Captain Vernon Demarest (Dean Martin), a playboy pilot who does not get along with Mel and has gotten stewardess Gwen Meighen (Jacqueline Bisset) pregnant. Costumer relations Tanya Livingston (Jean Seberg) has to deal with a variety of issues, including chronic airplane stowaway Ada Quonset (Helen Hayes), as well as her relationship with Mel. To top things off, a bomber (Van Heflin) gets on a flight for Rome, which is Captain Demarest’s flight.

It’s an eventful night. One only hopes that all nights are not like it for poor Mel.

One thing that fascinating me was the totally blase attitude towards security. Ada Quonset would never be able to stowaway in today’s security-obsessed world. One of her favorite tricks is to say that her son dropped his wallet and is allowed to go up to the plane to return it. The only thing the airport seems particularly alert to is customs (with Lloyd Nolan playing an experienced custom’s officer). And there is no way that Van Heflin’s bomber would have gotten anywhere near an airplane now.

Dean Martin and Jacqueline Bisset

It’s a very earnest film, with the exception of Helen Hayes, who appears to be having a ball stealing every scene that is not nailed down (those scenes that she is simply not in). She is a sweet little old lady who knits on flights and pretty much has the entire system figured out, to the frustration of Tanya Livingston.

Dean Martin plays the captain who is irresponsible in his personal life, but is at least a responsible pilot who is calm under pressure. I am used to thinking of Dean Martin as a very charming guy, but he’s actually rather a jerk in this one. It’s not Dean Martin’s fault; I think he’s playing the character as written.

Dean Martin is one of those actors who is living proof that singers can be good actors. In fact, there are a surprising number of singers who were so successful in acting that they were able to make movies where they do not need to sing to justify themselves: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Doris Day, Bing Crosby, Barbra Streisand. I often think that when musicals are made today, instead of having actors try to sing, get a real singer and have them act. It worked wonderfully for Dean Martin.

Airplane is not his finest film. It would make a good soap opera, actually. But I was pleased to see him in one of his non-musical roles.

This post is my contribution to “The Dean Martin Centenary Blogathon,” hosted by Musings of a Classic Film Addict. For more posts celebrating Dean Martin, check out the recap for Days 1, 2, and 3 of the blogathon.

 
21 Comments

Posted by on June 6, 2017 in Movies

 

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