Monday, March 30, 2009

various movies

Bells Are Ringing (Vincente Minnelli 1960) - A landmark of sorts: Judy Holliday's last film, Arthur Freed's last musical and Minnelli's next-to-last musical. Comden & Green wrote the original for Holliday but I didn't know that until after seeing it because one of the first comments was that she was miscast. I don't know what the Broadway production was like but it's been somewhat clumsily adapted to film - Holliday's final solo could just as well have been filmed on stage. Holliday's continual stream of gags undercuts what little serious spine is in the story to start while she sometimes has trouble getting over what she has to do. Dean Martin just wanders (playing a guy who everybody thinks will no longer be successful now that his partner is gone - wonder if that bit was in the original). Still, there are two memorable novelty numbers and some of the story songs hold their own. Frank Gorshin's Brando parody is fantastic.

The Leech Woman (Edward Dein 1960) - Even at 77 minutes this is heavily padded by stock footage and some of the worst old-age makeup ever filmed. In fact I didn't first understand that the lead actress was even supposed to be old, the makeup was that confusing. Otherwise the only other notable point about the film is how unpleasant all the characters are. It opens with a nasty marital shouting match and from there we see everybody lie, cheat, double-cross and eventually kill. The only people that don't participate are the two police detectives at the end and that's probably because they aren't on screen long enough. Oh, and there are no leeches in the film.

Hellzapoppin' (H.C. Potter 1941) - Accounts I've read of the original Broadway production make it sound like a nearly unbelievable experience - vaudeville anarchy pushed into near-Happening chaos. The first section of the film appears to be a fairly straight documentation of that approach before settling into something like a backstage/lets-do-a-show musical. Like so many early Marx Bros films, Hellzapoppin' tends to flag when Olsen & Johnson aren't on-screen but there's still enough inventive material (including viewers watching the film being re-edited to change the story) that it makes most modern comedies still seem timid.

Lyrical Nitrate (Peter Delpeut 1991) - This assemblage of silent film fragments preserved in a Dutch archive does have a kind of mystery that you might expect when they're removed from any narrative. Still, you can't help but wonder what could have contained that castaway footage or want to see the entire film that held the striking Crucifixion sequence. Overall it feels like a test-run for Bill Morrison's stunning Decasia.