Monday, March 26, 2012

Laughs & Lilt: "Sullivan's Travels" (Preston Sturges), Gene Kelly (complex icon)

"Cold are the hands of time that creep along relentlessly, destroying slowly, but without pity, what which yesterday was young. Alone our memories resist this disintegration and grow more lovely with the passing years." -Preston Sturges

Preston Sturges with Joel McCrea in a swimming pool.

"Sullivan's Travels" (1941) - New Friends clip: Preston Sturges' masterpiece starring Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake about a Hollywood comedy director who poses as a bum to find out about the real world. In this scene he starts his trip at a local diner at the edge of town and meets the sultry Ms. Lake and forms a lasting friendship. Writer and film critic James Agee wrote of Sullivan's Travels: "A brilliant fantasy in two keys -- slapstick farce and the tragedy of human misery."

After his experiment ends, Sully (Joel McCrea) decides that he is too happy to make "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and would rather make people laugh.

Veronica Lake and Joel McCrea as The Girl & John Lloyd Sullivan

In Preston Sturges' classic comedy of Depression-era America, filmmaker John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea), fed up with directing profitable comedies like "Ants in Your Plants of 1939," is consumed with the desire to make a serious social statement in his upcoming film, "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" Unable to function in the rarefied atmosphere of Hollywood, Sullivan decides to hit the road, disguised as a tramp, and touch base with the "real" people of America. But Sullivan's studio transforms his odyssey into a publicity stunt, providing the would-be nomad with a luxury van, complete with butler (Robert Greig) and valet (Eric Blore). Advised by his servants that the poor resent having the rich intrude upon them, Sullivan escapes his routine and continues his travels incognito. En route, he meets a down-and-out failed actress (Veronica Lake).

With its almost Shakespearean combination of uproarious comedy and grim tragedy, Sullivan's Travels is Sturges' masterpiece and one of the finest movies about movies ever made. Cast: William Demarest, Porter Hall, Joel McCrea, Franklin Pangborn, Robert Warwick, Veronica Lake

Sullivan: "I'm sorry to disappoint you.... but I don't want to make O Brother, Where Art Thou? I haven't suffered enough to make O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

The film's last line is the clincher - the lesson he ultimately learned. He and the Girl look far off into the future as he reminisces about his experiences: "There's a lot to be said for making people laugh! Did you know that's all some people have? It isn't much but it's better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan! Boy!"

Gene Kelly (Pinky Benson) makes Shirley McLaine (Louisa May Foster) laugh in a scene from "What a way to go" (1964) directed by J. Lee Thompson

George Cukor’s frothy showbiz exposé integrates competing versions of events that play out in flashback during the libel trial of dancer-turned-memoirist Kay Kendall. Back during their dancing days as “Barry Nichols and Les Girls,” Kendall claims her fellow trouper Taina Elg had an affair with Gene Kelly (Barry Nichols); Elg claims it was Kendall; Kelly claims they’re both wrong, he loved les troisième girl, Mitzi Gaynor, now his wife. Who’s telling the truth? Featuring Cole Porter’s final film score and Kelly’s final starring appearance in a full-blown musical. Screenplay by John Patrick, from the story by Vera Caspary. Nominated for three Oscars, winning for Orry-Kelly’s costumes.

Gene Kelly in "Christmas Holiday" (1944) directed by Robert Siodmak

Without disparaging his towering achievements as triple threat, it is clear that Kelly's happy-go-lucky 'Yankee Doodle' dancin' boy image seems less resonant in today's pop culture vacuum. Despite superb supporting turns in "What a Way to Go!" and "Forty Carats", it is obvious that Kelly's grinning goodwill ambassador fell out of step with the sixties antiestablishment antiheroes. But Kelly's image does not need a rehabilitation so much as a reshifting "perception-wise," to paraphrase a tune from "It's Always Fair Weather".

Mesmerized by Gene's athleticized self-approval and tireless cherchez la femme-ing, critics and audiences have overlooked the contradictions in his cocky all-American huckster persona. Debuting as a draft dodger in "For Me and My Gal", Kelly used his charisma's sinister edge to limn a mother-fixated killer in "Christmas Holiday", camouflaged his rendition of a gigolo in "An American in Paris", deftly enacted a womanizing summer schlocker in "Marjorie Morningstar", and capped off his musical comedy career as a small-time fight promoter toying with a fix in "It's Always Fair Weather".

Reconsidering the Kelly persona from a distance of several decades, one can enjoy his eventual triumphs over shortcomings in "Singin' in the Rain", etc. It is a tribute to his unflappable charisma that unsavory character flaws all registered as temporary slippage, indiscretions cured by true love and transformed by joyfully aggressive dance. In his most seductive choreography ("The Pirate", "Cover Girl"), he seemed to be dancing his demons away, and it is time to credit him for a more complex image than previously assumed.

If his solo work reveals a pretentiousness that never darkened Astaire's sunny horizons, no male dancer was ever as sexually potent in tandem on-screen;

he can make a soft shoe with Debbie Reynolds an adventure in eros. It was barbarous of MGM not to lend him for "Guys and Dolls" and "Pal Joey". Kelly could take comfort in his singular contribution to the all-but-extinct musical form; time will reveal an icon more complex than the quixotic puddle jumper of "Singin' in the Rain". In film after film, this superb actor choked back darker impulses to earn his goodness; he is the all-American operator who plays all the angles, but ultimately seeks the light in a song-and-dance spotlight. Source:

That infamous scene in "A Clockwork Orange" (1971) -directed by Stanley Kubrick- where Malcolm McDowell’s character warbles "Singin’ in the Rain" while terrorizing a couple didn’t sit well with the man who immortalized the song: Gene Kelly. McDowell told Bill Newcott about their awkward encounter at a Hollywood party.

-Well as you know, when "Singing In The Rain" came out, for generations of people, him swinging around that lamp post and slapping in that water, and singing… it’s one of the most euphoric moments we’ve ever seen on film. So when I had to come up with something for this sequence, which involved my character in a very brutal situation, that’s when he’s happiest. So “Singing In The Rain” just popped out. I just started singing it, and Kubrick bought the rights and we redid the whole thing and incorporated it.

-I was invited to come to Hollywood by Warner Brothers. I came out and it was very nice to meet everybody. I had never been to Hollywood before. And some guy who was my minder said, “Hey, there’s a party in Beverley Hills tonight, Malcolm. Do you want to go, there’s going to be lots of stars there?” And I went, “Yeah!” I would love to!” And we go and he said, “Hey, you won’t believe this. Gene Kelly’s here. Would you like to meet him?” And I went, “Oh yeah!” So had his back to me and he tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Gene, I’d like to introduce you to Malcolm McDowell” and he looked at me… then turned around and walked off. But you know, I totally understood. I guess I kind of ruined his moment in a way. But of course, it was an homage to him, because it was so amazing. And so indelible in me as a person, that I blurted it out and started singing it.

Brilliant, electric, and always inventive, Gene Kelly defined the Golden Age of the movie musical, not only as the genre’s biggest star after WWII, but as an innovative dance choreographer and director (with underrated acting skills, to boot). His collaborations with choreographer/director Stanley Donen — including ON THE TOWN, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, and IT’S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER — revolutionized dance on screen and the look of movie musicals.

Kelly and Donen’s work relocated prewar films’ penchant for escapism and fantasy to the real world, reflecting real-world concerns, and better integrating the dance and musical numbers into the characters’ story, even their psychology. This modern approach has ensured the lasting appeal of their work (also on display in the choreography for LIVING IN A BIG WAY, COVER GIRL, ANCHORS AWEIGH, and TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME).

In later years, Kelly played an ambassadorial role for the movie musical through his involvement with and appearances in the MGM anthologies THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT and THAT’S DANCING. Gene Kelly received the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1985.

Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly in "Brigadoon" (1954) directed by Vincente Minnelli

“He wanted to create numbers in which the dancer did with his body what the actor did with words. He strove to devise a cinematic language of dance which replaced dialogue and told the audience what the character felt, thought, was.” —Gene Kelly biographer's Jeanine Basinger

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Joel McCrea & Frances Dee video

Frances Dee & Joel McCrea in "Wells Fargo" (1937) directed by Frank Lloyd. Joel McCrea married actress Frances Dee in 1933, after they met while filming "The Silver Cord". They had three sons and remained together for 57 years until his death.

Katherine DeMille and Joel McCrea in "Banjo on My Knee" (1936) directed by John Cromwell

Joel McCrea and Laraine Day in "Foreign Correspondent" (1940) directed by Alfred Hitchcok

Joel McCrea & Frances Dee in "Wells Fargo" (1937) directed by Frank Lloyd.

Joel McCrea & Frances Dee video, featuring stills from Joel McCrea films: "Bed of Roses" with Constance Bennett, "Dead End" with Sylvia Sidney, "Birds of Paradise" with Dolores del Rio, "Union Pacific" with Barbara Stanwyck, "Primrose Path" with Ginger Rogers, "Sullivan's Travels" with Veronica Lake, "The Palm Beach Story" with Claudette Colbert, "The More the Merrier" with Jean Arthur, "The San Francisco Story" with Yvonne De Carlo, "Ride the High Country", etc. Soundtrack: "Everything I love" by Glenn Miller & His Orchestra, "Goodnight, sweetheart, it's time to go" by The Platters and "I'm looking for someone to love" by Buddy Holly & The Crickets

Friday, March 23, 2012

"Les Girls" (1957) by George Cukor - Full Movie HQ (Gene Kelly, Kay Kendall, Mitzi Gaynor)

"Les Girls": They’re the most vivacious… vexacious… flirtatious personalities in gay Paris!

"Les Girls" is a notable film for two reasons: Save for his brief musical numbers with Fred Astaire in That's Entertainment II, this George Cukor-directed effort marked Gene Kelly's last full-length, big screen appearance for the studio that made him a star. For Cole Porter aficionados, the 1957 release was bittersweet as it would be the final project graced by original songs from the legendary composer.

Set in Europe, "Les Girls" spins the tale of cabaret dancer Sybil Wren (Kay Kendall), the focus of a libel suit instigated by former roomie/stage partner Angéle Ducross (Taina Elg), brought upon by revelations made in her memoirs. With American export Joy Henderson (Mitzi Gaynor), the threesome were part of a musical act produced by Barry Nichols (Gene Kelly), an "all work and no play" professional whose whole life revolved around the stage. Or at least, until fetching Angéle entered the picture. Playing a harder edged yet toned down variation on his Don Lockwood role in "Singin' In The Rain", Kelly is as smooth as ever.

The trio of lovely ladies compliment their co-star, and each other, beautifully: Kay Kendall's Golden Globe®-winning turn as Lady Sybil is delightful, Taina Elg offers appealing charm and Mitzi Gaynor is quiet sexiness personified (making one wonder why this talented dancer/singer never caught on with movie audiences). Source:

"Les Girls" (1957) directed by George Cukor, starring Gene Kelly, Kay Kendall, Mitzi Gaynor and Taina Elg

Happy Anniversary, Joan Crawford!

"There will never be a bigger movie star than Joan Crawford. And, in our business, that is probably the largest legacy one can leave." — Jack Valenti, President of the Motion Picture Association of America

Someone once asked producer Jack Warner to define the word “star.” He replied: “I can give it to you in just two words—Joan Crawford.” — Rona Barrett, 1977

"She came up the hard way and she’s proud of it. If she could go back and change every circumstance that made her the Joan Crawford of today, you can be sure that there is one thing Joan wouldn’t change: She’d still want to be born out of the Babylon of the earth, she’d still want to be born south of the tracks. She’s grateful for that kind of a beginning because everything she owns today she earned. Hollywood never gave her anything. She gave Hollywood something…" — Robert White, Los Angeles Times, 1939

Joan Crawford's Oscar-winning performance for "Mildred Pierce" (1945) directed by Michael Curtiz

"Joan Crawford is Hollywood." — Barbara Ribakove, Photoplay, 1975

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Marie McDonald (The Body), Judy Holliday (The Brain) - "Living in a Big Way", "Born Yesterday"

“When a woman is in love she is really living; when she’s isn’t, she’s only existing. Love is more important to me than success. I’d much rather have the agony of love than have great success and drabness without it.” -Marie McDonald

Marie McDonald (6 July 1923, Burgin, Kentucky, USA - 21 October 1965, Calabasas, California). Nickname: The Body. Her mother was a former Ziegfeld girl and her grandmother an operatic singer. Her father was not so artistically inclined, earning a living as a warden at Leavenworth Prison. Her parents divorced when Marie was just 6 years old. Marie's mother remarried and the new family moved to Yonkers, New York, where she attended Roosevelt High School and excelled in piano and wrote for the school newspaper.

Although Marie was offered a college scholarship by Columbia University in journalism, her impressive beauty and physical assets propelled Marie to try a show business career.

A Powers model at 15, she quit high school and started entering beauty contests, winning the "Miss Yonkers" and "The Queen of Coney Island" titles, among others. In 1939 she was crowned "Miss New York," but subsequently lost at the "Miss America" pageant.

The attention she received from her beauty titles, however, pointed her straight to the Broadway stage and the "George White's Scandals of 1939."

This in turn led to her move to Los Angeles, finding work in the chorus line while trying to break into pictures. She found her first singing work with Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra on his radio show and eventually joined other bands as well. Although Universal signed her up, she couldn't get past a few one-line jobs.

Was the model used by illustrator Alex Raymond for the Dale Arden and Princess Aura creations for the Flash Gordon comic strip. Some of the beauty titles Marie held were Miss Yonkers, Miss Loew's Paradise, Queen of Coney Island and Miss New York.

In 1947 Marie was booked for a six-week stay in Las Vegas to get a divorce from agent Vic Orsatti. Bugsy Siegel's girlfriend, Virgina Hill, asks her to ride in the Heldorado Days parade as Queen of the Flamingo Hotel float. When she refuses the companionship of gangsters and murderers, Siegel has to cuff her once or twice to convince her.

Press agents dubbed Marie "The Body" and the tag eventually stuck. Though her physical attributes were impressive, her talent was less so. Managing to come her way were the films "Guest in the House" (1944), "Getting Gertie's Garter" (1945), "Living in a Big Way" (1947) with Gene Kelly, "Tell It to the Judge" (1949) and "The Geisha Boy" (1958) with Jerry Lewis. Marie was once in contention for the Billie Dawn role in "Born Yesterday," which could have been her big break, but she lost out to Judy Holliday.

Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)

Marie McDonald married seven times, twice to Harry Karl, the shoe tycoon who went on to marry Debbie Reynolds. In March 1958, Marie had sued for divorce from Karl and was awarded a million-dollar settlement. After Marie's death, her three children went to live with Karl and Debbie Reynolds.

She replaced sexpot Mamie Van Doren in the movie "Promises! Promises!" (1963) but had numerous fights on the set with the other bombshell star Jayne Mansfield. She married the producer of that movie, Donald F. Taylor, who would be her last husband.

She was found dead from an overdose of Percodan sleeping pills at her dressing table by her husband in their Calabasas Hidden Hills ranch home in the San Fernando Valley. Her seventh husband, Donald F. Taylor, committed suicide shortly after.

Gene Kelly and Marie McDonald in "Living in a Big Way" (1947), directed by Gregory La Cava, which features what Gene Kelly considered some of his favorite dance creations.

This was Gene Kelly's first picture since serving in World War II in the Navy. Gene Kelly (Army pilot Leo Gogarty) marries model Margaud Morgan (Marie McDonald) in a nine-day whirlwind romance before shipping out, and doesn't even have time to consummate the marriage.

Marie McDonald plays Gene Kelly’s bride (a role Louis B. Mayer hoped would launch her on a Lana Turner-type career). But the film’s true focal point is Kelly. You’ll see him cavorting with a clever dog, wooing a statue, scampering across the beams of an uncompleted apartment and joining children in a medley of games. Source:

"It had to be you" - Gene Kelly and Marie McDonald, from the movie "Living in a Big Way" (1947) directed by Gregory La Cava

Elizabeth Taylor holding her book "Nibbles and Me" with Marie McDonald on the set of “Living in a Big Way” in 1947.

No girl has ever been called more names! That would be Evelyn, the guest who manages to throw her pretty shadow around where any man near must see it - and when it comes to a man she grants no rights to anyone but herself! -"Guest in the House" (1944)

Six years before entering film history in the title role of "All About Eve" – as duplicitous, back-stabbing ingenue Eve Harrington – Ann Baxter took a trial run in John Brahm's "Guest in the House" (1944), also known as "Satan in Skirts". The impressive cast of characters include Ralph Bellamy (Blind Alley), Aline MacMahon (Heat Lighting), Ruth Warrick (Citizen Kane), Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard of Oz) and Marie McDonald (Living in a Big Way).

Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952) directed by Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly

Hagen's hilarious performance owes something to Judy Holliday, who developed a similar character in routines worked up with Singin' in the Rain screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green when all three were part of a New York satirical troupe called "The Revuers."

Judy Holliday had since become a movie star, thanks to her Oscar-winning performance as Billie Dawn, another squeaky-voiced character, in "Born Yesterday" (1950) directed by George Cukor. Because a supporting role no longer was appropriate for Holliday, the "Singin' in the Rain" producers went after Jean Hagen, her understudy in the stage version of "Born Yesterday".

Over fifty years ago, Judy Holliday won the Best Actress Oscar in this comic fable, confounding her competition, Bette Davis in "All About Eve" and Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard". She plays Billie Dawn, the unruly mistress of millionaire junk dealer Harry Brock. Afraid she'll embarrass him in front of the congressman he is planning to bribe, Harry hires a tweedy tutor (William Holden) to smooth her rough edges. Of course, everyone gets the education they deserve.

But, unlike the madcap heiresses of 1930s screwball comedy, the wacky behavior of the 1950s dumb blonde is linked to dimness, rather than a liberating eccentricity.

Holliday was a comedienne of shrewd intelligence and exuberant talent. Her not-so-dumb blondes enjoy a superior detachment from the world and were a model for the slightly later comic characters of Marilyn Monroe.

Holliday also had a false start in films. As a member of the comedy group, The Revuers, with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, she was hired to appear in a Carmen Miranda movie called Greenwich Village. The Revuers act was cut out of the film, but they can still be glimpsed as extras. One of their nightclub routines was a satire of the early days of talking pictures, which Comden and Green expanded into the brilliant musical "Singing in the Rain".

In the film, Jean Hagen closely modeled her performance of the screeching diva Lina Lamont on Holliday's performance in the nightclub skit.

Harry Cohn of Columbia paid $1 million for the play "Born Yesterday" intending to star his hottest property, Rita Hayworth. He was forced to shelve the project after her marriage to Aly Kahn. Cohn, a famously vulgar and abusive film mogul, did not want Holliday "that fat Jewish broad" in the part.

Judy Holliday only made 6 other films. She was called before the House on UnAmerican Activities Committee right after making this film. She mystified the questioners who accused her of Communist activities by answering in the voice and illogical logic of her "Born Yesterday" character, Billie Dawn. She wasn't officially blacklisted by the HUAC, but her refusal to cooperate cost her at least part of her career. Source: