Summer Stock (1950)

Summer Stock film poster

Jaz: Summer Stock makes a great case for saving the newspaper industry. And recycling. Because not only does Gene Kelly make glorious music with newsprint, he also reads the articles AFTER dancing all over them. After which I’m sure he lined the canary cage … and then composted it. If that’s not love for paper-based media, I don’t know what is.

Summer-Stock-Kelly-Newspaper

I’d like to see YOU tap dance on your Kindle!

I love musicals, Gene Kelly, and Judy Garland (excepting a brief period when my sister played Garland’s music nonstop — for months I couldn’t listen to “The Trolley Song” without wincing). To see all three of them joined in technicolorful harmony was bliss. It makes me want to watch Meet Me in St. Louis and For Me and My Gal again.

Summer stock friendly star

Judy Garland singing “Friendly Star”

Perhaps nostalgia has something to do with it: a part of my childhood is punctuated by the sound of the Summer Stock soundtrack on scratchy vinyl. My personal favorite? The Gospel-inspired song, “Dig for Your Dinner.”

As for plot, if it’s depth you’re going for, brush off that copy of Moby Dick. But if you want to see whether or not the theater group pulls off their barn-staged musical, Gene Kelly tap dance on the dining room table, and Judy Garland get happy — in a strange, albeit wonderfully artsy choreographed act — leave the dust bunnies undisturbed.

summer-stock-judy-garland-1950_i-G-67-6719-ELVA100ZBeaver and I give it four carrots (out of five).

Note: This post is in no way meant to discourage the reading of Moby Dick. In fact, I fully intend to finish it myself. Right after I watch Meet Me in St. Louis.

Liz: I was unsure about the movie for the first few minutes, but then Gene Kelly showed up and it got a whole lot better.
summer stock garland kelly
I liked the overall story–hard-working girl trying to save her farm gets shackled with her irresponsible sister’s boyfriend’s acting troupe. Trouble of the heart then arises when her paternally dominated fiancé (and his father) objects to the show being put on in her barn and when she falls for her sister’s boyfriend as he begins to learn where on the family tree the leading lady characteristics really are.
The cast includes numerous familiar faces beyond the main stars, which always makes me happy. The musical numbers were okay. Nothing spectacular, but not bad, though I wasn’t sure what to make of the semi-religious ones, such as the one where Judy Garland dances around in a suit jacket and stockings.
summer stock 1950 3
I usually don’t like romances between two people already involved in relationships, but I liked this story. It was a bit cliché with the oft used circumstance of one character being in a lackluster engagement with a likable-but-not-romantic-hero-type and the other being in a relationship with a beautiful but spoilt and selfish woman. Predictable, but was cute nonetheless.

Overall conclusion: Enjoyable and worth the watch.

Summer Films: South Pacific

LIZ: First off, when I say South Pacific, I am referring to the 1958 movie, not the 2001 TV movie or the play, neither of which I’ve seen. Now that I’ve made that disclaimer, on to the movie.

I love the music (how could you not like a Rogers and Hammerstein collaboration?). “I’m going to wash that man right out of my hair” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” are a lot of fun and have catchy tunes.

I must admit to having sung the former with a good bit of feeling at times. “Some Enchanted Evening” is, of course, a romantic favorite.

I like the cast too. Bright, cheerful Mitzi Gaynor is perfect for the nurse in love. The sailors are a great comic relief, about a 101 pounds of fun worth actually.

Pretty much the only thing I didn’t like about the movie was the storyline … It just felt preachy. The lieutenant lost my sympathy leading Liat on when he had a girl back in the States, and I just didn’t see why Nellie had such a problem with Emile having had a Polynesian wife. Side note: The play actually won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1950. I know Carousel, Singing in the Rain, and The Sound of Music are just a few of the musicals that aren’t all laughs and giggles, but I still have a hard time putting musical and drama together in a movie description.

LIZ GOES INTO SHOCK: I did a little snooping on IMDB and discovered that most the voices in the movie were dubbed! The lip-syncing was excellent, but WHY? The scene where Emile sings (you think anyway) “Some Enchanted Evening” to Nellie loses something knowing that it’s faked. Don’t get me wrong, I like the actors, but surely there were enough singer/actors to cast people who could actually perform the role in its entirety. Mitzi Gaynor actually does her own singing, by the way.

Conclusion: It’s not my favorite Rogers and Hammerstein musical, but it has great music.

JAZ: Nellie Forbush is terribly, passionately, ditzily, hopelessly in love with Emile De Becque.

But something’s keeping her from marrying the handsome, millionaire, golden-voiced, charming French-accented man of her dreams.

Handsome, millionaire, golden-voiced, charming French-accented De Becque (The one on the left). Not crazy about the pleated khaki pants, though. 

Is it that they’ve known each other a mere two weeks? Or that he’s twenty-ish years older? Or that he killed a man in France? Or that he has two “mixed” children, which would bother most women in the WWII era?

No, it’s the fact that his long dead and gone wife was Polynesian (“I lived as I could,” he explains apologetically).

Why? Beats me.

In other racist news, Lt. Cable can’t seem to wrap his mind around marrying Liat, the beautiful Vietnamese woman he loves.

Basically South Pacific revolves around their getting over their prejudices. But for a film all about intercultural tolerance, there’s amazingly little of it going on.

Apparently De Becque’s true name is “Frenchman,” because that’s what he gets called 99% of the time. Forbush condescendingly asks the children several times if they understand her, despite the fact that they’re trilingual and she knows only one measly language. And (SPOILER ALERT!!!!) only the suitably lighter-skinned couple ends up together. Cable dies tragically in battle, thus dooming the one possible interethnic marriage. What does that say about the film’s true stance on racial prejudice?

Oh, and what’s up with all the color filters?

Yellow!

Orange!

Yellowy orange! Yeah!

Beaver liked the grass skirts. He said they made him hungry.

We give this film 3 carrot sticks out of five. For the awesome song and dance numbers.

Bibliomaniacs, Bollywood & Brits

“Too few people,” writes Eugene Fields in The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac, “seem to realize that books have feelings.”

If that’s true I have a few miffed – if not positively irate – books in my possession. Louann Brizendine’s The Female Brain adorns the coffee table, neglected for weeks (given the topic, I’m sure it understands). I picked up Julie Powell’s “Cleaving” two weeks ago and now it’s hidden under Breakfast at Tiffany’s and School of Rock. But The Man Who Loved Books Too Much (nonfiction, Allison Hoover Bartlett) saw eager page turning and I’m proud to say I have reached page 112. Aha!

Anyway, that’s what I started reading in May. Bartlett describes the antique book culture, bookstores, libraries, so vividly I want to rush out and buy armloads of books. Smell the pages, feel the coarse paper on my fingertips … And then I remember the books I read as a young child, books like King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, Piggins, Wednesday is Spaghetti Day, and my very own copy of Madeline my mom bought at a Houston book fair.

Piggins the mystery sleuth/butler. 

That’s when I sympathize with bibliomaniacs. But book theft? No way.

I also read the Harry Potter series voraciously over the past two months. After that I saw several film adaptations, and have this to say: they are but poor shadows of the originals. I prefer my imagination.

After that I watched the French film Le Concert (breathtaking music, moving, humorous), British film The Scapegoat (promising beginning, dull ending), Indian film Barfi! (off-beat, thought-provoking, beautiful), and started on the Japanese anime series titled One Piece (funny and weird).

Note: The Scapegoat reminded me of a Mexican telenovela called La Usurpadora: Two women who look alike switch places with not-so-unforeseen consequences. If you’re choosing between the two, I suggest checking out the telenovela.

Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew

Jaz on The Taming of the Shrew

 The Taming of the Shrew is a story about the death of feminism.

Or is it?

Katharina, a fiery independent beauty, is married off at the first offer to rowdy, volatile fortune seeker Petruchio and morphs into a submissive, ingratiating wife.

Or does she?

Maybe it’s just me, but Petruchio and Katharina’s first meeting came off as rather flirtatious. The zingers come one after the other in quick succession, and if Katharina truly disliked him, she would have left the room immediately – she wasn’t one to sit and take it, not even for her father.

On the other hand, suppose she truly despised him. Why did she go along with the wedding?

Perhaps Petruchio intrigued her. Perhaps Katharina decided life would be more tolerable living with a rude, straightforward male than with her heartless father and egotistical, conniving and pretentious goody-goody sister Bianca for the rest of her life. Marriage was the only way out then – since Baptista forbade Bianca from marrying before her. Sadly, Petruchio was the only one who asked … and the only one likely to ask, ever.

Imagine having to live Katharina’s life. Ignored by her father, snubbed by her sister, known to all as “that shrew.” It would drive anyone into a mad fury.

So did her decision lead to the squashing of her independent spirit? Or was she merely playing along with Petruchio’s charade?

Truth be told, I haven’t figured it out yet, although I’m inclined to lean toward the latter. I enjoyed the play: it’s splattered with humor – on and off-colour – and catchy quotes.

“Tush, tush! fear boys with bugs!”

As for Bianca’s bevy of beaus, they’re amusing but tend to blur into each other. They serve only as foils for Katharina and Petruchio.

Liz on The Taming of the Shrew

I much prefer Shakespeare’s comedies to his tragedies, and The Taming of the Shrew is quite a comedy. The wife-hunting scoundrel Petruchio is cruel enough to match the shrewish Katharina. Though I don’t care for Petruchio because of his overly harsh treatment of Katharina, I find the story entertaining and witty, and I enjoyed the 1967 movie version starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Called a “battle of the sexes”, it’s certainly a battle of wits, and that’s a type of battle I relish.

The Taming of the Shrew has spawned at least two adaptations: Kiss Me Kate and Ten Things I Hate about You. If I didn’t already like The Taming of the Shrew, Kiss Me Kate would give me reason to. The movie of that name, based on the Cole Porter musical and starring Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel, is one of my favorites. In it, an arrogant stage actor puts on a production of The Taming of the Shrew and tries to win back his ex-wife, who plays the shrew—both on stage and off. In traditional Shakespeare fashion, there’s a mistaken identify in that one of the performers claimed to be a Howard Keel’s character while gambling (and losing). Two gangsters call on Howard Keel during the play’s opening performance to collect on the debt, and Howard Keel cleverly uses them to keep his ex-wife from leaving the show with hilarious results.

As the play is full of witty dialog, the musical is filled with great songs, like the beautiful “So in Love” and the amusing “Too Darn Hot” (performed by dancer Ann Miller) and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” (performed by the gangsters, one of whom is Keenan Wynn, or, as I know him, “the bad, bald guy from the Fred MacMurry Absent Minded Professor”).

So, next time you’re in the mood for Shakespeare, check on The Taming of the Shrew and Kiss Me Kate.

What are your thoughts on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew?

The Phantom of the Opera

Welcome to Our Mutual Friends Blog! This month we’re talking about “scary” or ghoulish classic movies or books. We’re starting with The Phantom of the Opera.

Jaz on The Phantom of the Opera

I wish Hitchcock had directed a film version of The Phantom of the Opera. As it is, I contented myself with the 1943 movie starring Claude Rains (The Phantom), Susanna Foster (Christine Dubois) and Nelson Eddy (Anatole Garron). While Claude Rains was a talented actor, this role didn’t quite mesh with his onscreen personality. I see him as the repentant accomplice in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, not a sinister, masked musical fanatic. But I did like the effect of the ominous caped shadow fleeing through dark halls.

The film is based on a novel of the same name, first published as a serial in 1909 –according to the all-knowing google – by French author Gaston Leroux. I haven’t read it, but informed sources (i.e., my sister) clearly indicate the film is to the novel like a mini marshmallow is to a 24-oz steak: light and sweet versus dark and intense.

Susanna Foster and Nelson Eddy show off their gorgeous voices, and that helps make up for the film’s lackluster attempt at horror. There’s one scene in particular that I liked: when Christine stood in diva Biancarolli’s place and sang a succession of impossibly high notes as clear as glass. What a moment of triumph!

Clear glass aside, I found it a bit difficult to empathize with Foster’s character. She seems shallow and affected. Her joyful reaction to the news that Biancarolli had been taken ill, as well as her indifference to the rival suitors, makes her appear callous.

This film was not without humor – albeit unintentional. In one scene Anatole Garron breaks a deadly fall by gripping onto a stage curtain for dear life. After hanging there for a good while, he manages to catch hold of a rope and slide down to safety. The entire time, three workers on the stage below idly glance up at his antics. And the sight of the phantom working away at the chandelier’s giant chain with a tiny hand saw was rather humorous. I kept expecting him to turn away in frustration.

I didn’t have time to view the 1925 silent film, but it looks creepy. I might watch it this weekend. Expect an update soon …

Liz on The Phantom of the Opera

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched the Andrew Lloyd Webber The Phantom of the Opera and or listened to the soundtrack. However, the plot of the movie has several major holes, like how did a gypsy boy grow up in the caverns of an opera house to become a well-educated “genius” (according to Meg’s mother) living in posh surroundings? The 1943 movie of the same name has a much better plot and some pretty good music, though of a more classical bent that Webber’s score. I haven’t read the French book on which all of these are based, so I can’t compare them to it.

The 1943 movie: Claude Rains does an excellent job as the poor, soft-spoken violinist who morphs into the cruel phantom of the opera. In love with one of the chorus girl, Rains secretly pays for her to have voice lessons until he tragically loses his job due to arthritis or some joint trouble that hinders his playing. Having spent his savings on paying for Christine’s voice lessons, he tries to sell a symphony he’s written. The arrogant music publisher refuses to talk to him. Rains hears someone playing his composition, mistakenly believes the publisher has stolen his music, and goes mad and strangles the publisher. The man and his assistant were doing acid etching when Rains arrived, and the assistant throws the tray of acid into Rains’s face, causing the phantom’s famous deformity. Rains seeks shelter under the opera house and turns his love for Christine into a passion to make her prima donna at whatever cost—a much better origin for the phantom of the opera than that given in the Webber play in my opinion.

Christine has two suitors in the movie, a tenor played by Nelson Eddy and a policeman. Both are likeable and their attempts to beat the other out and win Christine’s affection are humorous.

The end of the movie was a bit surprising, but I won’t give that away. I’ll simply recommend you watch the movie to find out what happens.

Favorite Musicals: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

This is a Special Edition of Our Mutual Friends. In addition to being about a fabulous movie, this week’s post is written by a special guest, friend and fellow aspiring author Lucy Morgan-Jones.

I can’t resist saying a few words about the movie, but then I’ll be quiet and let Lucy do the talking.

 Liz on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Red heads! Seven of them! That’s enough to make this a great movie. The catchy songs, great dance routines, and fun storyline are extras. The movie just makes me smile—“Bless your beautiful hide,” alphabetized brothers, Frankincense, Sobbin’ women, the bride kidnapping.

Interestingly, this movie also helped me with connect with one of the members of my critique group. I recognized the influence of this movie on her story and mentioned it. We then discovered we had a “mutual friend” in classic movies, particularly musicals, and I decided it would be fun to have her on the blog. So, without further ado,

Lucy on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

“Bless you beautiful hide, wherever you may be. We ain’t met yet, but I’m awilling to bet—she’s the gal for me!”

Not exactly words a gal dreams of hearing from hunky hero. Yet there is a certain appeal in his honest quest for a hardworking wife to love forever… er, make that cook and clean for his six other brothers.

I love this movie. Lovely scenery. Ratbag brothers who clean up rather well, exquisite dancing, fun, as well as melancholy singing (who could forget the wood-chopping scene and the song “Lonesome Polecat”) as well as the fun scenes where the remaining brides are abducted from town and later when they fall in love with the brothers and don’t want to be returned home.

I have a love for all things musical and this subconsciously influence my writing. When I wrote a novel last year it was influenced by Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. In a conversation with someone who also appreciates movies, this person said that Seven Brides for Seven Brothers had no plot. No plot! Of course it has a plot! Movie feathers ruffled, I sat down and began writing my story. It has definite overtones of a certain musical or two—and a plot… I hope. The idea of a hasty marriage, a home life that isn’t expected (finding out your new house is occupied by numerous extra men and it needs a through clean) and still having a happy ending… now that intrigued and inspired me in my writing.

Some random facts:

The brothers have been named alphabetically from the Old Testament and in chronological order are: Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank (short for Frankincense, the Old Testament having no names beginning with F), and Gideon. All of the brothers have red hair and are well over six feet tall, except Gideon, who is younger and shorter than his brothers.

MGM was much less interested in Seven Brides than it was in Brigadoon which was in production at the time, even cutting its budget and transferring the money to the Lerner and Loewe vehicle.

The dresses worn by the female cast were made from old quilts that costume designer Walter Plunkett found at the Salvation Army.

To perform the electrifying dance numbers and grueling action sequences, choreographer Michael Kidd cast four professional dancers, a gymnast and even a baseball player as Adam Pontipee’s six rough and tumble brothers. All seven of the brides were played by professional dancers.

Because there was no way of distinguishing between the Pontipee Brothers on the one hand and the Town Suitors on the other, the studio decided to make all of the Pontipee Brothers red-headed.

Even more amazing is the fact that this movie was filmed in only 48 days… and each scene filmed twice (one for widescreen) and one normal so it would play at all cinemas. So if you watch this on DVD in widescreen you could be seeing footage that is rarely seen before!

Enjoy!

About Lucy

Lucy is a follower of Christ, passionate reader of books and mum of four precocious children. She makes her home in north central Victoria, in Australia and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Christian Writers Downunder.

You can typically find her enjoying a cuppa while she teaches her children school, reading awesome stories, critiquing awesome stories, or lurking on facebook.

So, which brother do you think is the baseball player? And which song or dance scene is your favorite?

Favorite Musicals: Fiddler on the Roof

Jaz on Fiddler on the Roof

There are some films that resonate in a strong and personal way. For me, Fiddler on the Roof is one of them. Tevye, the main character, reminds me of my father: the way his smile crinkles up at the corners, his respect for traditional values, his love for people and his unwavering devotion to God. I myself identify with the characters in some ways; I grew up as one of five children in a noisy household outnumbered by women. We’d all squeeze onto the worn grey sofa in the living room and laugh as Tevye told his wife Golde the “dream,” tear up when the characters sang “Sunrise, Sunset,” and sing along at the top of our voices with “If I Were a Rich Man.”

Tevye is a poor (as can be guessed by the previous song title) Jewish man living in pre-revolutionary Russia. A milkman, he’s experienced the trials of poverty and wants something better for his five daughters. So when the eldest refuses a marriage proposal from the town’s wealthy butcher, telling Tevye she’s in love with a poor, spineless tailor, he’s forced to view the situation with a different perspective. Should he make her marry the matchmaker’s choice and ensure his daughter’s financial comfort, or let her choose the man she loves? Throughout the film, his traditional conceptions of life are challenged as his daughters fall in love, and again as political and social unrest develop throughout the country.

Unlike many musicals, Fiddler on the Roof contains a thought-provoking plot in addition to its entertaining and artfully crafted musical numbers.

Liz on Fiddler on the Roof

 I have a lot of memories associated with Fiddler on the Roof. To get it out of the way, I’ll start with the most embarrassing one. When I was young, my parents rented the movie, and they and my younger sister began to watch it. I opted to read a book. After a while, my father came to my room and ordered me to go watch the movie. That irked me. In protest, I sat just inside the living room doorway with my eyes closed and my ears covered for the rest of the first half of the movie (they broke it into two viewings). I’m afraid I have a stubborn streak. I don’t remember when, but I did later watch the beginning of the movie.

A surprising memory associated with Fiddler on the Roof is the use of the song “Tradition” in a Baptist Campus Ministries message and the fact that I remember it after all this time. I was familiar with the movie, and since the title of the song itself was informative, it was easy to remember that the message was about the importance of tradition and how it can act as an anchor when your faith seems lost or at least on rough seas.

Aside from great music, the movie has a good story. It’s both amusing and serious. Being a romantic at heart, my comments mainly revolve around the three oldster daughters: I loved how the oldest daughter fell in love with her childhood friend and changed her sisters’ song from “Make me a match, find me a man” to “Make me no match, find me no man.” I thought the second sister foolish for falling for a man whose interruptions of the scripture she questioned. And it broke my heart when the third sister was rejected by her father for marrying a Christian.

Other things that stood out: The scene where Tevye tells his dream to convince his wife to let the oldest daughter marry her sweetheart. Jewish men and women couldn’t dance together?

I mentioned great music. “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”, “Sunrise, Sunset”, and “If I were a Rich Man” were my favorite songs. If you haven’t heard it, the Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’s version of “If I were a Rich Man” is excellent. It’s my favorite version.

What’s your favorite part or song of Fiddler on the Roof?