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Everybody Does It (1949) – A James M. Cain Comedy about Opera

Everybody_Does_It_FilmPosterJames M. Cain may be best known for hard-boiled tales of lust and murder, but he also liked opera (which, if you think about it, are pretty much hard-boiled tales of lust and murder) and wrote several comedic stories. One of them is Career in C Major adapted for the screen twice (well, once – the second film is a remake of the first): Wife, Husband and Friend (1939) and Everybody Does It (1949).

Leonard Borland (Paul Douglas) co-owns a wrecking company with Mike Craig (Millard Mitchell). Business is not so good, but he’s married to a very wealthy socialite and doesn’t want to live off of her family wealth. Doris Borland (Celeste Holm) has always dreamed of becoming a professional singer. The trouble is that she’s not all that good and no one’s ever told her this. According to her father, Major Blair (Charles Coburn), Doris comes from a long line of “frustrated sopranos.” Doris tried to become a singer five years previously, without outstanding success, but it seems to have caused marital difficulties and she gave it up. But after attending an opera, her ambitions seize her again and she starts vocal training and plans to give a concert.

Leonard flat-out says she won’t do it and is a “lousy singer” and she responds that if it hadn’t been for him making her give up her career before, she could have been a star already. Doris is encouraged by her fawning teacher, her friends and her mother (Lucile Watson). Utterly defeated, Leonard makes plans to rent a hall and he and Mike Craig beg, bribe and blackmail all his costumers and friends into attending.

Everybody Does It (1949) Directed by Edmund Goulding Shown: Linda Darnell, Paul Douglas

Everybody Does It (1949)
Directed by Edmund Goulding
Shown: Linda Darnell, Paul Douglas

But also attending is a real opera star, Cecil Carver (Linda Darnell), who is on the hunt for a tall baritone (she complains that all the baritones seem to be shrinking) and when she sees Leonard – definitely a hulk of a man – she likes what she sees. Leonard is anxious to hear a professional’s opinion about his wife’s chance of success and Cecil offers to give him one, in her apartment, in a slinky gown. She admits that his wife has a perfectly fine voice, but not the kind that will amount to much. But just before he leaves she discovers, quite by accident, that he is the one who has a perfectly splendid voice, though he never knew it and he takes quite a but of convincing. His singing tends to cause glass to break and her mirror does not survive the evening.

She convinces him that she could teach him how to sing with the argument that it would be the best lesson in the world for his wife to learn that it is actually her husband who has the great voice and could have the career. He goes along with it out of desperation, but his plan is, to say the least, pretty hapless and guaranteed to cause mayhem.

It’s not a bad comedy at all, but the best part of the film is by far the ending, with laugh-out-loud slapstick meeting opera as Leonard makes his operatic debut. He’s got a bad case of stage fright and everyone – Cecil, the acerbic conductor who always is making snide comments, the stage-manager – separately give him pills and various forms of calming medicine until he’s as high as a kite. His entrance on stage is, to say the least, unforgettable.

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Paul Douglas and Celeste Holm

The cast is fun. Celeste Holm plays more of a bubble-brain than usual, a socialite in need of a dose of reality. Douglas is her well-meaning, but hapless husband who looks like a mug and sings like a Greek god. Linda Darnell vamps it up in a remarkably persistent attempt to woo Douglas. And Charles Coburn is a somewhat desperate crank, hiding in the pantry to get away from his wife and daughter’s music talk and issuing dire warnings to Douglas about letting women have their way.

Celeste Holm is the only actor who does her own singing. Douglas and Darnell are dubbed, but they do a creditable job of lip syncing. This film actually offers an excellent example of something I think modern movie musicals could learn from: the difference between a pretty voice and a spectacular one. All you have to do is listen to Holm and the opera singer dubbing for Darnell (Helen Spann) to hear the difference…though one wonders if Holm had to do anything to keep herself from sounding too good or if she just knew that her voice would not be up to operatic standards.

At the beginning of the film, I did have some reservations about the fact that Leonard is apparently trying to keep Doris from having a career, but ultimately it’s not about that. It’s about delusion. But, of course, if Leonard had just supported his wife and kept quiet, she would have found it out for herself and all would have been well much earlier. At the beginning of the film, they are a couple at cross purposes who both end up letting their singing get in the way of their marriage.

When Leonard sees himself in costume, he complains that he looks like a goat

When Leonard sees himself in costume, he complains that he looks like a goat

Everybody Does It was made to capitalize on the spectacular success of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s A Letter to Three Wives in 1949, which starred Linda Darnell and Paul Douglas are one of three married couples. Celeste Holm, ironically enough, provided the voice for the never-seen Addie Ross, who tries to steal Douglas away from Darnell.

Trivia

The opera that Leonard and Cecil star in is called “L’Amoure di Fatima,” which is actually a fake opera with key songs and one scene composed by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, best known for his music for classic guitar.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2015 in Movies

 

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Porgy and Bess – George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, DeBose Heyward

I don’t live in Seattle, but I can catch a ferry and get to Seattle and make a day trip of it. We drive to the ferry, park, take the ferry over the Puget Sound and walk to wherever we’re going and, mercifully, The 5th Avenue Theatre is only a fifteen minute walk from the ferry.

There’s nothing like seeing live musical theater. I love movies, but there’s a thrill that comes with actually being there, the connection with the music, the performers and audience. Every time I sit in the audience and the overture begins, it such a thrill of anticipation and excitement, it’s electric and almost the best part of any performance. You can literally feel the entire audience’s anticipation. Several weeks ago, when I went to see Porgy and Bess, the conductor began his down beat and I watched his head pop up and down in the pit as the music soared out of it. Music was meant to be heard live.

Sometimes, getting to the theater can be an adventure. It’s rained once and my umbrella turned inside out, repeatedly, while I kept bumping my cousin in the head with it until we gave it up and let ourselves get soaked. The worst is when I was getting off the ferry and slipped on a wet spot. My right leg slipped forward and my left knee slipped down…onto the cement. When I got up, there was a lovely tear in the knee of my pants and I was bleeding. We had to trail around Seattle looking for a Bartell drugstore to get band aids. Hole in pants, bloodstains and all, we still saw the musical (it was Cinderella) and I still have the scar.

Fortunately, in Seattle people are very casual and you can literally show up at a musical in pajamas without raising eyebrows (though I don’t recall seeing pajamas).

Several weeks ago I saw Porgy and Bess, which first opened in 1935. It’s been called a “folk opera” and was written by George Gershwin, with lyrics by his brother Ira Gershwin and DeBose Heyward, the author of the book Porgy. It was meant to be an opera. It certainly sounds like an opera to me, musically. No one but operatically trained singers could perform the songs, though it is sometimes likened to a musical as well.The original opera, as performed in 1935, was apparently 4 hours long and had no spoken dialogue. The version I saw was the Broadway touring production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which was adapted in 2011. It has been made more like a musical, with dialogue, some dancing, and was shortened by at least an hour and a half.

Gershwin’s music is extraordinary, a blend of jazz, European opera, African-American music, Jewish music. Gershwin was incredibly prolific and wrote music for quite a few musicals (several of which Fred Astaire and his sister Adele starred in), several movies in the 30s and several classical works like his famous “Rhapsody in Blue.” His brother, Ira, always wrote his lyrics for him. Tragically, George Gershwin died young, in 1937, of a brain tumor and his brother never quite recovered. Ira provided the lyrics for several more movies (such as Cover Girl and A Star is Born, collaborating with Jerome Kern and Harold Arlen, respectively) but his heart was never truly in it.

The story of Porgy and Bess is fairly straightforward: about the inhabitants of Catfish Row, a small community in Charleston, South Carolina during the 1930s. Porgy is a crippled peddler and Bess is the former girlfriend of the local bully, Crown, who finds love and peace with Porgy and a degree of acceptance in the community. I can’t judge what the original opera was like, but the 2011 adaptation is part romance (and a very touching romance), but really is about the community, living through loss, a hurricane, hostile police, drug addiction (especially in Bess’ case) and still managing to find joy in life.

Catfish Row is interesting, because in a way, they administer their own justice. The police only pop in when something serious has occurred – like a murder – and questions people, but they don’t seem to be providing any real order, safety or justice. That is left for the community, which creates an “us versus them” mentality.

I was very impressed with the actors who played Porgy and Bess and the duets they sing together were lovely, such as “Bess, You Is My Woman Now.” “Summertime” is always a standout and the character of Sportin’ Life (who sells drugs) sings his famous song “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” I do agree with one review I read that the dances (which I believe were not in the original 1935 version) were fun, but not quite as knock-it-out-of-the-ballpark wonderful to make it a great enhancement to the show – I was left faintly wishing for more.

Unfortunately, I had to catch a ferry – if I missed it I would have to wait an hour and a half for the next ferry, past midnight – so I had to rush out during the last scene, and I don’t quite know how it ends. My loss! My understanding is that it is very inspiring, with Porgy leaving for New York to find his Bess.

Many of the songs have become jazz standards, sung in a much lower register. The most famous is “Summertime.” Below is Leontyne Price’s version – she was an opera singer, who also played Bess, I believe, at some point – and then next is Sarah Vaughan’s version – a jazz singer, also known as The Divine Sarah Vaughan. Both versions are simply gorgeous.

 

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2014 in Musicals

 

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