Sunday, August 19, 2012

Words and Music. 1948

This is another one of those bio musicals made in Bizarro World, better known as Hollywood USA. This one is from the Freed unit at M.G.M. and is supposedly about the wonderful song writing team of Rodgers and Hart and that is where the factual begins and ends in this “fantasy" film.  Rodgers who was straight is played by the gay actor Tom Drake, and Larry Hart who was gay is played by straight actor Mickey Rooney. Yes I know in 1948 homosexuality could not be presented on the silver screen so instead Mickey-Larry is shown as being tortured mentally by his lack of height and female companionship and especially the rejection of his affections by Betty Garrett. The film takes place in the 20’s but it’s strictly 1948 in terms of fashion and décor, but that was the usual approach by Hollywood when dealing with recent time periods in the 40’s and 50’s. Ok fine especially since those late 40’s clothes are wonderful in beautiful pop out at you Technicolor. One of the oddest moments (among many) comes when Tom Drake goes to movies to see Garbo’s  Camille and I thought ok its now 1936 but instead the filmmakers make it seem that he’s watching a silent film complete with orchestra accompaniment  and with no dialogue issuing forth from the mouths of Garbo and Robert Taylor. Odd to say the least and why didn’t they just show a clip from a real silent film? The movie of course is full of Rodgers and Harts wonderful songs performed by an array of M.G.M. stars and co-stars including Perry Como, Ann Sothern, Mel Torme, June Allyson, Judy Garland (looking thin and depleted) and a ravishing Lena Horne. To watch her sing “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “Where or When” in Technicolor is indeed one of the great joys of late 1940’s musicals. Some of the others don’t fare so well, and we would have to wait a few years for the likes of Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald to really do justice to these great songs. One of the best things in the film is the “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” dance number with a very sexy Gene Kelly in a tight lavender tee shirt dancing with Vera Ellen. This is an important moment in film musicals because it is the first time as far as I know that a gangster pulp fiction like theme was used as a backdrop for a dance routine and points the way to the future use of this kind of theme in complicated dance numbers in musicals like Singin In The Rain and The Band Wagon and can also be seen as a precursor for the beautiful ballet at the end of An American In Paris. Also in the cast is a young Janet Leigh and Cyd Charisee.  The pedestrian like direction is by Norman Taurog a Hollywood veteran who began his career in 1920 and actually won a best director Oscar in 1931 for directing Skippy a now forgotten Jackie Cooper movie.  He later went on to direct a wide range of movies at M.G.M. and later became the director of choice of all those dreadful Elvis Presley movies.


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