Till the Clouds Roll By. Let me just say: I understand why the copyright wasn’t renewed on this fluffy Jerome Kern biopic from MGM. Even the musical numbers I found wretched and uninspiring, despite appearances by Angela Lansbury, Judy Garland, and others. I didn’t finish watching this one.
Ziegfeld Follies. Oh, MGM, I’m not sure of your aesthetic values, but OK — I get that this is your Fantasia with gratuitous glamor and all the prettiest stars: Cyd Charisse, Virginia O’Brien, Esther Williams. The movie, a series of musical and comedic sketches, is best watched in two sittings. If you survive the weird puppet sequence at the beginning, you’ll be rewarded with a kinky dance number: Lucille Ball cracking a whip at undulating devil girls. Lena Horne has the best song: “Love” (check out Abbey Lincoln’s recording). I’ll overlook Fred Astaire’s balletic dream sequences with Lucille Bremer (thank you, Gene Kelly, for redeeming this genre). Ugh, hokiness even tarnishes the novelty of Kelly and Astaire dancing together in the penultimate act. Yes, all musicals are a little “hokey”, but even I met my limit with the contrived nonsense in Ziegfeld Follies.
The Harvey Girls. “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” is forever emblazoned on my memory from the million times I watched That’s Entertainment as a kid. I was happy to see the rest of the film at last. (Except for The Wizard of Oz, I never could find other Judy Garland features on VHS when I was growing up. Soon I’ll watch The Pirate for the first time!)
After two duds, finally, MGM delivers! I fell for this musical Western about a plucky waitress (Judy Garland, who else) taming the erudite-Doc Holliday-type saloon owner (John Hodiak) across the street. The whole supporting cast has a chance to shine. Angela Lansbury is dynamite as the cynical saloon singer in love with Hodiak. Meanwhile, Ray Bolger exhibits his signature goofy charisma and gets to show off in a dance number. Sweet Cyd Charisse and spicy Virginia O’Brien too each get their own numbers. Clips from TCM
My Darling Clementine. John Ford directs this fictionalized telling of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the OK Corral. Like Stagecoach, it’s a damned fine movie with an excellent cast — so much more than a “Western”. I would have preferred a more historically accurate story. (Their first beautiful error was filming in Monument Valley.) Holliday doesn’t have the genteel Georgian dentist aura that makes him so interesting and paradoxical; still, Victor Mature gives a good performance as Holliday, the tortured consumptive. Despite his unassuming manner, one man stands out: Henry Fonda. I love his Earp: solid, upright, direct, a man who just wants to get a shave without getting shot at. We can all respect that.
La Belle et La Bête. In high school, I started getting into film and even worked at a video store. I prided myself on all the weird tastes I was cultivating and watched whatever I could get my hands on: Black Orpheus, Metropolis, The Red Shoes, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Harold and Maude. La Belle et La Bête was one too and I looked forward to re-watching it.
Jean Cocteau’s fairy-tale is as striking, sensual, and enchanting as ever. I am left with so many favorite shots: the line of disembodied arms holding candelabras, Belle in her riding hood running — slow motion — into the Beast’s chateau, the haloed Beast carrying Belle up the stairs to her room. The film pairs rich imagery with brisk storytelling and atmospheric music. Set in the 17th century, the movie contrasts Belle’s difficult life at home — her bossy sisters, goofy brother, ineffectual father — with the strange, but luxurious life she has with the Beast — opulent dresses, garden walks, no chores. If ever there was an arty film by an auteur director that could appeal to a wide audience, this is it. One of the best fantasy films ever.
Fun slideshow: Jean Marais becoming la Bête.