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“You’re the Top”

So, I’m taking a brief break from my blog. A dearth of ideas (I’m clearly not watching enough movies right now) coupled with a busier week than usual has resulted in little blogging. I was straining to think of something for Friday, but then it occurred to me that chatter for the sake of chatter probably does not make for compelling reading. But I will be back Monday…and will still be online reading blog posts.

However, today I thought I would post a song that I absolutely adore. I’m in the process of learning the lyrics. At the moment, I keep singing the first few verses ad nauseam. “You’re the Top” was written by Cole Porter for his 1934 musical, “Anything Goes.” It was introduced by Ethel Merman. The musical never did get a good film adaptation, but has been revived multiple times on Broadway, most recently in 2011. I even got to see it once in Seattle (though I thought the tap dancing was a bit flaccid, but perhaps my standards are a bit high).

The lyrics are delightful, but filled with so many contemporary allusions that I went in search of an article that provides historical annotations to the lyrics, which I definitely recommend reading.

Here is a somewhat bleary video featuring Ethel Merman and Bing Crosby in the less than faithful 1936 film adaptation (half the songs were apparently removed to make way for songs written specifically for Crosby). But the rapport between them is fun. The lyrics have, however, been considerably modified.

And Ethel Merman again in a 1934 recording.

And I can’t leave out Ella Fitzgerald. She is pure pleasure to listen to.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2016 in Music

 

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Dorothy Lamour in the “Road To” Series

Dorothy-Lamour-with-Bing-Crosby-and-Bob-Hope-in-Road-To-Bali-1952Dorothy Lamour is best remembered for her participation in the “Road To” series and yet her contribution is underestimated at the same time. Imagine Road to Morroco without Lamour. It wouldn’t be the same. Not only did she look amazing in Edith Head’s creative and dazzling costumes, but she sang, could dance a little when the occasion called for it, and played the straight man to Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s crazy duo (making their unofficial comedic team a trio rather than the traditional duo), while getting in a few wisecracks herself.

Playing the straight man is an underappreciate art form. Not everyone can do it. You have to first be aware that you are in a comedy (some people are just too serious, even playing the straight man they are lugubrious). But you still have to be able to keep a straight face and play the role as if your character really is in earnest. It’s a balance and Dorothy Lamour achieved it, anchoring the films, which could have gotten unbearably silly without her (and anyone who can keep a straight face during their antics is doing pretty well for herself).

Since I am focusing on Dorothy Lamour, I did not watch Road to Hong Kong, the final 1962 Road movie where Crosby and Hope decided not to cast Lamour because they wanted somebody younger (she would have been 48 to Crosby’s and Hope’s 59). She was understandably miffed by the snub, though she did appear in a cameo. But what a joy it is that they were able to make six films together!

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As usual, Crosby is wooing with his voice

Road to Singapore (1940) – Road to Singapore was not even meant for Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. The original idea was to have Fred MacMurray and Jack Oakie star together, but somehow they ended up with Hope, Crosby and Lamour. At the time, Dorothy Lamour was actually a bigger movie star than Bob Hope and received a higher billing than he (Crosby was a superstar). Unlike later Road movies there is actually something resembling a plot. Crosby is an easygoing rich playboy running from responsibility with his irresponsible pal Hope. They end up in Singapore with Lamour living in their cabin and keeping house for them. Fortunately, later Road movies dispensed with the added subplot of Crosby’s family, which put a slight crimp in their free-wheeling approach to stories.

In Road to Singapore, Lamour still seems to be in sarong mode, playing Mima, a native girl with an indeterminate accent, though she doesn’t actually appear in a sarong. As in all Road movies, the two guys fight over her as if she were a football to be won, though she usually gets to choose the man she wants in the end. Actually, Road to Singapore, she even gets to play the noble native girl who pines for the man she loves while heroically giving him up because she realizes that he is not for her (rather like Bird of Paradise, where Dolores Del Rio realizes that there can be no life for her and Joel McCrea and nobly jumps into a volcano). Fortunately, Mima doesn’t have to do anything so drastic and gets Crosby in the end.

009-dorothy-lamour-theredlistRoad to Zanzibar (1941) – This film provides Lamour with a slightly better role. She is actually a con artist, who along with the delightful Una Merkel, tricks Hope and Crosby into saving her from a slave auction. The auctioneer is naturally in on the deal and splits the proceeds with the women 50-50. Her goal, you see, is to get through the jungle and to the wealthy millionaire who is waiting to marry her and she convinces the men to take her and her friend on a safari through the jungle. Until Crosby sings a song and she falls in love.

As would become the pattern in all succeeding Road to movies, Hope and Crosby are con artist/entertainers looking for a quick buck, always fleeing either an angry father or the people they’ve conned and always forswearing women…right up until they see Lamour. They stab each other in the back and even Lamour manages to frequently be rather hardcore. In Zanzibar, she steals their safari and leaves them to quite possibly die in the jungle. But no one ever takes it personally.

Road to Morroco (1942) – The most well-known of all the Road movies, in this film Lamour is a Moroccan princess who is trying to manage her complicated love life. Everyone wants her – Crosby, Hope and Anthony Quinn (who wanted her in Singapore, too). But her astrologer has seen that her first husband will die, so she needs to marry some disposable guy so she can have the man she really wants. It’s all very complicated, especially when it turns out that what her astrologer saw was a bug and not a star. First she wants to marry Anthony Quinn and then she wants to marry Crosby. Poor Hope was always just the disposable husband.

This is also the film where I noticed that there is a definite pattern about who sings to who. Lamour sings to Hope and Crosby sings to her. Whoever is sung to falls in love. Bob Hope’s trouble seems to be that he never gets to sing a song.

In this video, the trio reprises “Moonlight Becomes You,” but their voices get mixed up. How Dorothy Lamour ever kept a straight face during this scene is evidently her secret.

Road to Utopia (1945) – Along with Road to Morroco, this is probably the best Road movie. This is also the movie where I realized that Dorothy Lamour’s best roles are the ones in which she gets to play a schemer. She also gets to sing one of my favorite songs of hers, “Personality.”

The story takes place at the turn of the century, giving her an opportunity to wear something other than “exotic” wear. She is trying to track down her father’s map to a gold mine, which leads her to Alaska and into cahoots with Douglass Dumbrille, who plans to double-cross her. But Crosby and Hope have the map (each has a half) and she has to seduce both of them.

lamour-bing-and-bobAnd once again I noticed something curious. She spends a lot of time kissing Bop Hope. But she rarely kisses Bing Crosby. What’s with that? When he does, it’s sort of halfhearted. Bob Hope puts a lot more into it. She and Bob Hope usually have a love scene of sorts and then Bing Crosby saunters along and coolly sings a love song and wins the girl without even looking like he’s trying.

Road to Rio (1947) – I do enjoy this one a lot, but it doesn’t actually have the best role for Lamour. She’s not a schemer! That role is actually given to Gale Sondergaard, who does scheme very well. Instead, Lamour is the victim, who is being hypnotized and controlled by Sondergaard, who wants her to marry her brother so they can get their hands on her fortune. Lamour spends half the film in a daze, slapping Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and telling them she hates them.

Road to Bali (1952) – Whereas Road to Singapore has too much plot, in Road to Bali they finally dispensed with the idea of plot completely. This film is pure zaniness and eccentricity, pop references and star cameos (Bogart, Jane Russell, Bing Crosby’s brother, Bob). A gorilla tries to abduct Hope and Crosby, a volcano god blows up in wrath, women are popping in and out of a basket when people blow a horn. It doesn’t build to Crosby’s love song to Lamour, there just is one, because there is supposed to be one.

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First Road movie in technicolor

But Road to Bali is the film where they finally gave in to what was a subcurrent all along. It is the Design for Living subcurrent. Why should Dorothy Lamour have to choose between the two men when she can have both? In Road to Bali she can’t decide and when they arrive on an island where women can take multiple husbands, decides to wed them both. Unfortunately, her evil cousin arrives to intervene and Hope and Crosby go unknowingly through the marriage ceremony without the bride. In the end, she chooses Crosby while Hope toots on his horn to reveal Jane Russell coming out of the basket. In a twist, it is actually Bing Crosby who ends up with both women and Hope with none.

I was kind of hoping it would be Lamour who could end up with two husbands, but oh well…

The continuity in the six films is actually pretty remarkable. The jokes and references to previous films, Edith Head did the costumes for all six. Johnny Burke wrote the lyrics for all the songs and Jimmy Van Heusen (most famous for writing songs for Frank Sinatra in the ’50s) wrote the songs for all except Road to Singapore. But the best continuity of all is the cast. Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour are the ones who really made the series such a successful and entertaining one.

This is my final contribution to the “Dot Blogathon.” It was so much fun to participate – a huge thanks to Silver Screenings and Font and Frock for hosting! Be sure to read the previous entries for Day 1 and 2.

Dorothy Blogathon

 

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2016 in Movies

 

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White Christmas (1954)

download (1)This Christmas I did not watch as many Christmas movies as I usually do, though I had a huge list of films I intended to see (someday, I really am going to watch It Happened on 5th Avenue and the 1951 A Christmas Carol). Partly, this was because I went out of town for the holidays. But the day before I departed, I was able to watch one last Christmas film with my friend, Andrea Lundgren. We watched White Christmas.

In general, I tell people that I prefer Holiday Inn to White Christmas (partly because of Fred Astaire), but I do enjoy White Christmas and my cousin – who is just discovering classic movies – recently told me that he loved White Christmas, particularly the dialogue, and since I watched it with my friend who also loves this movie, I was in a highly receptive frame of mind.

I think what I appreciated most this time around is the interaction between Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. They play Bob Wallace (Crosby) and Phil Davis (Kaye), who meet in the army during WWII. When Davis saves Wallace’s life, he uses it as guilt leverage to wheedle his way into a musical partnership with the already popular and famous Wallace. Fortunately, it turns out well, because Wallace and Davis become an even bigger hit as a duo act, then go into musicals and become producers. In fact, their success is so far beyond what Davis had ever hoped for that he now wants Wallace to ease up a bit and stop working so hard and give Davis a little free time.

How Davis intends to accomplish this is to get Wallace married with tons of kids and he keeps pushing girls at him without success, until they hear the Haynes Sisters perform: Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen). That finally does it, with Bob Wallace and Betty Haynes attracted to each other…which is fortunate, since Phil Davis and Judy like each other. As Andrea wondered, what would have happened if they both liked the same girl? Awkward.

Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen

Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen – singing about snow while on a train…which I love, because any time spent on trains automatically makes me like the movie better

Bob Wallace and Betty Haynes are pretty slow movers when it comes to relationships, but between the mutual machinations of Phil and Judy, they manage it so all four of them spend Christmas in Vermont at a lodge that turns out to be owned by their former general, General Waverly (Dean Jaggers). General Waverly’s having a tough time, though. There’s no snow in Vermont and his ski lodge is empty of custumers. He’s also feeling a bit cast off and useless, put out to pasture while the world moves on. But Bob, Phil, Betty and Judy set out to help by putting on a Christmas show (“let’s put on a show” is another venerable classic movie tradition).

White Christmas is kind of a conglomeration of bits and pieces of story ideas, songs, and performers, cobbled together to make one story, but that is part of its charm. Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney provide the vocals; Vera-Ellen and Danny Kaye dance. Crosby and Kaye bounce off each other in bromance fashion and Clooney and Vera-Ellen play close-knit sisters. We start out in war-torn Italy in 1944, move to the Florida of nightclubs and musicals and end up in cozy Vermont. There is the war, the ambition of entertainers, the desire for family and a home, and the pain of being passed over in retirement.

Even the music is cobbled together by composer Irving Berlin from his vast oeuvre. The title song, “White Christmas,” was originally introduced in Holiday Inn by Bing Crosby in 1942 (a song that resonated across the country and among the servicemen abroad) and most of the other songs were introduced in previous films and musicals. “Count Your Blessings,” however, was specifically written for this film.

white_christmas_01One of the things I particularly noticed this time was Bing Crosby’s delivery of dialogue. It’s not that he isn’t believable as a romantic lead, but it seems like he is at his absolute best in a buddy picture scenario. His best partners are guys: Bob Hope, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Danny Kaye. He brings an apparently spontaneous, easy-going, free-flowing and entirely natural sounding dialogue and dynamic to his interaction with these men that is unique to him. As my cousin told me, what he liked most about the film was the dialogue. He felt it was still relevant today; how people actually talk to each other.

While Andrea and I were watching, she wondered how old Rosemary Clooney was. Neither of us knew, but it turns out that she was the youngest of the four lead actors. She was only twenty-six and playing the older sister to Vera-Ellen, who was around 33. At the same time, Bing Crosby was around 51 and Danny Kaye 43. I recently watched Susan Slept Here, starring Dick Powell at 51 and Debbie Reynolds at 23 (they were supposed to be 35 and 17 respectively) and one of the first things anyone mentions about that film is the age gap, but I’ve never heard one comment about White Christmas. But as Andrea observed, Rosemary Clooney has a natural “gravity,” which makes her seem more mature. It also goes to show that in movies, age is often relative. It’s how it appears more than it how it actually is.

Side note: I did not realize that Michael Curtiz directed this film. What an incredibly versatile and seriously underestimated man. He’s probably directed more classic favorites than any other director: CasablancaThe Adventures of Robin HoodMildred Pierce, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Captain BloodAngels With Dirty Faces…he directed the kind of classic films even non-classic film lovers know.

No review of White Christmas is complete without a few musical clips. This scene always cracks me up; watch how Bing Crosby can hardly keep a straight face while Danny Kaye hams it up with zest. Rosemary Clooney recorded both parts in this song, singing for both herself and Vera-Ellen.

Trudy Stevens dubbed all the singing for Vera-Ellen, except the “Sisters,” number, which was done by Rosemary Clooney. “Snow” was originally written for “Call Me Madam” and was titled “Free.” It wasn’t used, however, and Berlin later scrapped the lyrics and added different ones for White Christmas.

I think this performance pretty accurately captures why the song struck such a chord during the war, particularly among servicemen away from home.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2015 in Movies

 

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