Show Boat (1951) starring Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner, & Howard Keel

The Cotton Blossom, owned by the Hawks family, is a show boat known for musical entertainment traveling down the Mississippi River. Julie LaVerne (Ava Gardner) and her husband, Steve (Robert Sterling), are the leading actors of the show. After a jealous boat hand calls the local police on Julie (who’s father was white and mother black), they’re forced to leave; interracial marriages were forbidden (in the 1890s). Magnolia (Kathryn Grayson), Captain Andy’s (Joe E. Brown) pretty young daughter, becomes the new attraction; she has a great smile, a good voice, and learned much by watching Julie. Her leading man is Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel), a charming/handsome gambler, who is impressed w/ her at first sight. The two fall quickly in love and marry, w/o the approval of her mother, Parthy (Agnes Moorhead).

Nolie soon faces reality; gambling means more to her husband than anything. She confronts him after he gambles away their fortune; he leaves in the middle of the night. Nolie runs into two old friends, Ellie May and Frank (Marge and Gower Champion), who sang and danced on the show boat. They’re going to perform at a nightclub; Nolie tags along. None of them know that Julie is working at the same club; she is backstage and recognizes the song Nolie sings. Julie leaves the club abruptly, angering the manager and owner, b/c she hears that Nolie needs a job.

A few yeard later, Julie meets Gaylord on a gambling boat, and realizes that he’s Nolie’s runaway husband. Julie gives him a piece of her mind, and shows him an ad w/ the captain, Nolie, and his little daughter. Gaylord swears that he never knew he had a child. Julie begs him, if he ever sees her old friend, to never tell how low she has sunk. Gaylord decides to go to Natchez (where the show boat is docked) and seek forgiveness from his family.

I’ve seen this colorful MGM musical (written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II) maybe 3 times. I recall loving the songs (and having the CD); my favorite songs are “Ol’ Man River” and “Life Upon the Wicked Stage.” Looking at it today (on TCM), there are some pretty good performances (esp. from Gardner). The role of Julie (who passes as white) is tragic, though she is beautiful, talented, and loyal (esp. to Steve, who eventually leaves her). She turns to alcohol and her singing suffers. At the end, Julie is left w/ nothing, b/c this society has no place for her.

[1] Ava is, as always, ridiculously and insanely gorgeous. In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of her than I did. It’s a stretch for a white woman to play a bi-racial woman, but she did it with what seemed like such ease. She accompanies so much with a look (which is evident as she watches Gay and Nolie sail off together with Kim — you all know what I’m talking about). 

[2] Now for Marge & Gower Champion: who couldn’t love them? Gower is this sort of… fluid-like creature with a stature and grace like Fred Astaire, but instead of Astaire’s “lanky movements” that defined his style, he somehow executes the more athletic, brisk movements that defined Gene Kelly’s style. And Marge has to be just about the cutest little person I have ever seen (great facial expressions!) and one of the most talented dancers… I’ve ever seen grace a screen. “I Could Fall Back on You” and “Life Upon the Wicked Stage” are two of the most outstanding moments in the movie. You’ll love them.

[3] Musically of course, the film is a masterpiece and though my favourite tune is “Make Believe”, I was extremely impressed by the version of Ol Man River sung by the actor William Warfield who must have had one of the most brilliant voices I have ever hear! I confess to never having heard of this gentleman prior to seeing the film and had imagined the singer to be Paul Robeson. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Some Trivia Behind the Film

  • The original production of Showboat opened in the Ziegfeld Theater on December 27, 1927 and ran for 572 performances.
  • Even though the character of “Magnolia” is supposed to look up to “Julie” in an older-sister type of relationship, in reality, Kathryn Grayson and Ava Gardner were born in the same year.
  • The Breen Censorship Office tried to raise an objection against the use of the “miscegenation sequence,” but they were unable to do so because the 1936 film had already used it (setting a precedent).
  • Lena Horne mentions in her biography that she wanted to do the role of Julie badly, but only got as far as performing a single number in the “Clouds” film in the opening “Show Boat” vignette. America was still a segregated nation in 1950; interracial romance was taboo onscreen.
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My Fair Lady (1964) starring Audrey Hepburn & Rex Harrison

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Flower seller Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) dreams of a better life.

[1] From first frame to last, the film is slick, graceful, gorgeous to behold, with costumes and sets richly evoking the Edwardian era…

[2] The acting from Rex Harrison deserves high praise, it is effortless and believable. The same can be said for Audrey Hepburn… 

…despite his success, the experience of tutoring Eliza has humbled him. The end of the film where they show respect and care for each other was a masterstroke as no romance was needed.

[3] What Higgins is, in reality, is a misanthrope. A misanthrope basically dislikes and distrusts everyone! Watch the film and you’ll notice that Higgins treats everyone with the same disregard…

[4] The songs are extraordinary in their ability to enrich our knowledge of the characters… Eliza’s father, who calls himself one of “the undeserving poor” is one of Shaw’s best comedy creations… 

[5] It’s a momentous film but it has its subtle points: watch the way in which Eliza’s eyes are centered on Higgins when she enters at the ball, and the way in which the two of them stare at each other for a few seconds at the top of the stairs a few moments later.

-Excerpts from various IMDB reviews 

This is a musical that I’ve seen MANY times (usually w/ my family as a kid); I esp. like the songs and costumes. This is one of my mom’s fave films; she’s a big Audrey Hepburn fan. The play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw was inspired by a Greek myth by Ovid. Pygmalion was a sculptor from Cyprus who carved a woman out of ivory. This statue was so beautiful and realistic, he fell in love with it. When Aphrodite’s festival day came, Pygmalion made offerings at the altar of the goddess of love, and wished for a bride who would look like his statue. When he returned home, Pygmalion kissed the statue, and found that its lips felt warm. He kissed it again, and found that it was transformed into a real woman. Aphrodite had granted Pygmalion’s wish. He married the woman (named Galatea) w/ Aphrodite’s blessing. 

You see this creature with her curbstone English? The English that will keep her in the gutter till the end of her days? Well, sir, in six months, I could pass her off as a duchess at an Embassy Ball. I could even get her a job as a lady’s maid or a shop assistant, which requires better English. -Professor Henry Higgins declares to Colonel Pickering 

Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn) is no marble Galatea lacking agency; she is a single working-class woman in early 1900s London who has a job (selling flowers), rents her own room, and lives a morally upright life (she insists: “I’m a good girl, I am!”) She dreams of having comfort and love, as we hear in the song Wouldn’t it Be Loverly?  Some lyrics below:

All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air
With one enormous chair
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?

Someone’s head restin’ on my knee
Warm and tender as he can be
Who takes good care of me
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?

Even in this early scene, it is Eliza’s will that drives the plot; Higgins might have tinkered forever with his phonetic alphabet and his recording devices if Eliza hadn’t insisted on action… It is her ambition, not Henry’s, that sets the plot in motion…

Eliza’s escape from the “lower classes,” engineered by Higgins, is a revolutionary act… It is a lesson that resonates for all societies, and the genius of “My Fair Lady” is that it is both a great entertainment and a great polemic. It was actually about something. 

-Roger Ebert

After meeting Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), Eliza wants lessons to get rid of her (Cockney) accent. She wants a better job working in a florist’s shop. Eliza even offers to pay, BUT the elderly/kind Col. Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White) insists on providing the funds (even getting her new clothes). Higgins only thinks of Eliza as a challenging project, NOT an individual w/ feelings and dreams.

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Eliza enters high society by attending a horse race with Higgins.

Over 6 months, Eliza works w/ Higgins (and Pickering, serving as a cheerleader) to improve her pronunciation, vocabulary, and manners. At the races, she looks gorgeous in her fitted white and black gown, and catches the eye of Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Jeremy Brett). Eliza makes polite small talk w/ some society people, BUT then launches into a funny/inappropriate story from her old life. We see that though Eliza can pronounce the words, she hasn’t yet learned which words to choose to speak in high society. However, the young/handsome Freddy gets a huge crush on Eliza, as we hear in On the Street Where You Live:

Does enchantment pour
Out of every door?
No, it’s just on the street where you live
And oh, the towering feeling
Just to know somehow you are near
The overpowering feeling
That any second you may suddenly appear

Higgins (who Eliza gets to know by living in his house) doesn’t praise the hard work Eliza has done or see how naturally pretty she was (underneath the soot and rags). On the other hand, Freddy (a mere acquaintance) is VERY happy to bring her flowers and get a glimpse of her face. It makes more sense that Eliza would end up w/ Freddy, NOT Higgins. 

At the ball, Eliza is stunning (hair, jewels, gown, her dancing, etc.)- even fooling Zoltan Karpathy, the blackmailing language expert (and former student of Higgins). However, she is dismayed/saddened when Higgins gets ALL the credit (You Did It). Eliza becomes sophisticated, transcending the parameters of the professor’s test of social engineering. She resents this, so she throws slippers at Higgins. Eliza sees that he has his own social and emotional limitations. 

Higgins seems unaware of the place of women; in his mind, Eliza’s worries are over. Eliza asks him what she is to do with herself, now that she has become a lady. He says that she could marry.  Eliza’s answer shows that lower-class women MAY have a stronger sense of morality than most “ladies.” She never before thought of selling herself into marriage.

I sold flowers. I didn’t sell myself. Now you’ve made a lady of me, I’m not fit to sell anything else. -Eliza explains to Higgins 

Eliza goes off to Mrs. Higgins’ house for advice. Sure, we know Freddy wants to marry her, but she’s NOT sure that’s the right step. (Notice how she tosses, then later retrieves, the ring that Higgins gave her?) The relationship between Mrs. Higgins (Gladys Cooper) and her son is humorous b/c the mother’s attitude toward her son is eccentric; she expresses herself w/ as much honesty as her son. Mrs. Higgins is filled with tolerance, intelligence, and imagination. Like Higgins’ housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, she was VERY concerned over the fate of Eliza from early on in the story.

Eliza’s hard work resulted in her developing an intense devotion and loyalty towards Higgins (and also Pickering). Maybe she’s NOT feeling a romantic kind love, BUT a strong desire to please? When the film ends, the audience is left to ponder what will happen to the characters later.  Now, for my younger sister, it was a foregone conclusion that Higgins and Eliza would marry. I was NOT 100% sure though; it’s an ambiguous ending. 

When Eliza emancipates herself – when Galatea comes to life – she must not relapse. She must retain her pride and triumph to the end. When Higgins takes your arm on ‘consort battleship’ you must instantly throw him off with implacable pride; and this is the note until the final ‘Buy them yourself.’ He will go out on the balcony to watch your departure; come back triumphantly into the room; exclaim ‘Galatea!’ (meaning that the statue has come to life at last); and – curtain. Thus he gets the last word; and you get it too. -George Bernard Shaw in a 1920 letter to actress playing Eliza (Mrs. Patrick Campbell) 

Shaw asserted that such a wedding is absolutely impossible. He subtitled his play a “romance” b/c the technical meaning of “romance” refers to anything that was highly improbable (EX: the transformation of a flower girl into a duchess in six months). A romance can also suggest a “happy ending,” and Shaw is not interested in that. He wouldn’t allow his creation, Eliza, to marry such a misfit as Higgins simply to satisfy the whims of the sentimentalists of the world, even though these people outnumber the realists. But we know Broadway, then later Hollywood, had other ideas! 

 

La La Land (2016) starring Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone

NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the film.

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Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) dance in Griffith Park.

[1] What has been thrown, hurled and heaved at this film is Oscar-seeking acting, Oscar-seeking direction and Oscar-seeking technical twiddling. And hey ho and guess what? It got Oscars.

[2] No legit Broadway-style singing technique. I cannot imagine what real Broadway singers and dancers must be thinking about this travesty.

[3] The big red flag with the story is that the music simply is not very good. There is not one memorable song or dance in the entire film! 

[4] The biggest fault with the movie is the complete lack of supporting actors to flesh out the story. The two main characters are just not strong enough to carry the movie for more than two hours without help. 

-Excerpts from various IMDB reviews

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Director Damien Chazelle (just 32 years old) and Gosling on the set of Sebastian’s apartment.

I find L.A. kind of romantic, actually. As a movie junkie, it’s a city that was built by the movies. There’s something really weird and surreal about it that I find energizing. -Damien Chazelle, director

Ugh, what to say re: this movie… My mom wanted to watch it (it’s on Fios On Demand) when we were hanging out at my parents’ house last SAT. We got through it… somehow. My dad and I saw it together (pausing here and there), then my mom saw it the next day; none of us liked it (as I’d guessed). “What kind of movie is this!?” Mom commented, confused and disappointed. She wanted to see what the fuss was about this Oscar-winning film, like many of you out there (who didn’t see it in theaters). A FEW of my friends saw it on the big screen; their opinions went from “I hated it” or “It wasn’t that great.” 

LaLaLand-apt
Mia (Stone) talks with one of her roommates in her colorful bedroom.

People love what other people are passionate about. -Mia explains to Sebastian

Um, you CAN be passionate re: something, BUT that doesn’t mean other people will be invested in it- sorry, that’s reality! Speaking of passion, WHERE is the chemistry between Stone and Gosling? Also, where is the interesting dialogue (which is something that makes or breaks a movie for me)? The script could’ve been written by an idealistic, sensitive, above-average 16 y.o. kid! 

How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist? You hold onto the past, but jazz is about the future. -Keith comments to Sebastian

If Sebastian is SO crazy re: jazz music, then WHY don’t we hear any of it (such as the greats mentioned or something new)? I mean, I’m crazy re: Shakespeare, and those who know me will definitely get an earful! LOL… I think John Legend (who also acts here) worked on ONLY one song. What a waste! 

 

La La Land (2016) Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)
Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone) walk over a bridge.

You could just write your own rules. You know, write something that’s as interesting as you are. -Sebastian says to Mia 

Mia is more interesting than Sebastian; she’s also more likable. She suffers through a variety of demoralizing auditions (like a LOT of aspiring actors), has a nice boyfriend (what was wrong w/ him, anyway?), and is on the verge of quitting L.A. I DO like the fact that she writes her OWN story (trying to be a BIT positive here). Why don’t we get to see some of her play? Well, if you have 2 hrs to waste, check it out for yourself. If you’re a fan of classic musicals, smart/snappy dialogue, and effective acting- don’t bother. 

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

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A poster for the film.

This is a FUN (which we REALLY need these days) Technicolor musical full of dancing, singing (duh), and witty humor!  The tale centers on a trio: Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly)- popular star of MANY silent films, Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Conner)- Don’s comical accompanist/best pal, and Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds)- a unknown talent that Don meets by chance.  He brags about his work, BUT she is NOT impressed, calling herself a serious actress who works on the stage (NOT film).

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Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) performs at a party, along with other dancers.

At a big studio party one night, Don is amused to discover Kathy popping out of a false cake and performing w/ a troupe of dancers. Don’s co-star/wannabe fiancee, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), is VERY jealous when she sees him chatting w/ Kathy. Don has NO romantic interest in Lina, who is a self-centered bimbo, BUT the magazines have linked them together (w/ help from their studio).

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A director talks to Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) while Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) watches.

The studio head insists that Don and Lina make a talkie next; silent films are on the out (audiences are crazy for sound). The MAIN problem: Lina, though familiar to moviegoers, has a terrible voice (screechy w/ an unrefined New York accent)! Hmmm… HOW will this get solved? 

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Cosmo (Donald O’Conner), Kathy (Debbie Reynolds), and Don (Gene Kelly) perform “Good Morning”- an impromptu song.

Don and Cosmo realize (after spending some time w/ Kathy) that she has MANY talents, incl. her lovely voice.  SHE can do the talking for Lina in the new film; after that, she will get HER own work.  What could go wrong?

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Cyd Charisse (famed dancer/choreographer) with Don (Gene Kelly) during a number.

There is some VERY interesting trivia re: this film.  In 2007, the American Film Institute (AFI) ranked this as the #5 Greatest Movie of All Time. Reynolds (only 19 y.o. when filming began) was NOT a trained dancer; Fred Astaire saw her crying on the set (after Kelly insulted her), and decided to help her prepare.  After the “Good Morning” number, Reynolds had to be carried to her dressing room b/c she had burst some blood vessels in her feet- OUCH!  Are you a fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine?  Cyd Charisse is the maternal aunt of Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor); you’ll see the obvious resemblance.

Movies & Plays To Check Out (JAN 2017)

MOVIES:

Hidden Figures

This movie centers on three brilliant African-American women (referred to as “human computers”) working at NASA in the 1960s. The three leads are Taraji P. Henson (Empire), Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae (who is also a singer). They are joined by Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), Kristen Dunst, and Mahershala Ali (House of Cards; Luke Cage). Before Col. John Glenn (up-and-coming actor Glen Powell) went into space, Henson’s character (Katharine Johnson) had to “check the math” behind the mission. I learned that Johnson is still alive in small-town Virginia- wow!  Check out the trailer below.

 

Lion

Critics have raved re: Dev Patel in this film, as well as the boy who plays Indian adoptee to Australia (Saroo Brierley) as a child.  In case you’re NOT a big fan yet of the British-Indian actor, know that Patel is transformed for this role (hair, body, and accent).  I’ll be seeing it next weekend.

See the trailer below; the cast includes Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, and David Wenham.

 

Singin’ in the Rain (in select theaters: SUN, 1/15 & WED, 1/18)

TCM and Fathom Events is co-presenting this musical at select theaters for two days ONLY. This movie premiered 65 years ago (1952) and stars Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds (who recently passed away at age 84), and Donald O’Conner. I heard about it on TCM, then checked online for details (see link below).

http://fathomevents.com/event/singin-in-the-rain/more-info/details

One of the most famed/respected dancers/choreographers of her time, Cyd Charisse, has a supporting role. Checking IMDB, I found that Rita Moreno is part of the ensemble (VERY cool). I’ve never seen this film before, but it’s available on YouTube for ONLY $2.99! 

 

The Salesman (AFI Silver Theatre: SUN, 1/22 at 5:15PM)

This film is part of the 21st Annual Iranian American Film Festival which was previously held at the Freer Gallery (now undergoing renovations).  It is directed by Asghar Farhadi (A Separation), who is NOT afraid to realistically tackle subjects which are still taboo in his native Iran. While A Separation was about impending divorce, this film deals w/ the assault of a young wife and her husband’s subsequent emotional turmoil and drive for revenge. I got my ticket already.

Follow the link below for tickets and see the trailer.

https://silver.afi.com/Browsing/Movies/Details/m-0100001136

 

PLAYS:

As You Like It: Folger Shakespeare Theatre (Pay-What-You-Will: TUES, 1/24 at 7:30PM)

This adaptation of The Bard’s comedy will run from JAN 24th – MAR 5th starring actors from Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. I’m interested in this b/c I’ve only seen one movie re: this play. I haven’t read the play (it’s rarely taught/studied in schools/universities). 

See the link below for more info.

http://www.folger.edu/events/as-you-like-it

Caroline, or Change: Round House Theatre (UPDATED: Pay-What-You-Can on THURS, 1/26 at 7:30PM & WED, 2/1 at 7:30PM)

This is a musical written (book and lyrics) by the renowned Tony Kushner; it contains aspects from his own life as a boy growing up in the South. The play centers on Caroline, an African-America maid for the Gellmans, a Jewish family in 1960s Louisiana. It combines different types of music: spirituals (gospel), blues, Motown, classical, and Jewish klezmer and folk. 

More details at the link below.

http://www.roundhousetheatre.org/performances/caroline-or-change