Happy Birthday, Bob Hope!

"We've got Hope."

What can I say about Bob Hope? I suppose I could say that he is perhaps America’s most loved, most legendary comedian. Maybe I could say that he starred in nearly 80 films and left his mark eternally on the world of entertainment. I could also say that he was a true American patriot, and loved serving those who serve our country. What can I say about Bob Hope that hasn’t already been said by America? By the world?

He lived a full 100 years (1903-2003). He saw an entire century. He made millions of people happier. He made the world a better place.

Thank you, Mr. Hope, and rest in peace.

-luke

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Published in: on May 29, 2010 at 12:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

That poor suit...

“Dignity. Always dignity.”

Well, it’s time for my long-long-long-overdue review of the 1952 musical masterpiece, Singin’ in the Rain.

This film is one of my favorites. It is so memorable. This is a film that looks like it was just as fun to make as it is to watch. It seems that Gene Kelly’s notorious perfectionism paid off, as he truly did create a near-perfect film.

I think this film was extremely ahead of its time. In whole, it’s a smart parody of the film industry, something which hadn’t really been attempted before (with some exceptions). It satirizes, of course, the industry’s colossal transition from silent to sound, but it also pokes fun at the big-budget musicals of the 40s and 50s (despite being one itself). Nowhere is the latter parody more evident than in the elaborate, irrelevant (and very long) Gotta Dance! number. It’s a brilliantly choreographed dance scene, with some of the most vivid colors ever captured on film. And entirely useless. In this way, it’s an exact replica of many films of its time.

The satire is very obvious, but there are some who don’t understand it. I believe this is the reason many people don’t like the film. They don’t understand that it does NOT, in any way, take itself seriously. It’s goofy on purpose.

That’s not to say, however, that no effort went into the making of this movie. From the facts I’ve heard about this film’s production, I’d say that it was probably quite a piece of work. Debbie Reynolds herself quipped that making this movie and surviving childbirth were the two hardest things she’s ever had to do.

Both Reynolds and Donald O’Connor were admittedly nervous–even frightened–by Gene Kelly’s tyrannical direction. O’Connor said that during the first few weeks of shooting he was terrified of making a mistake and being yelled at by Kelly.

Debbie Reynolds also turned in a good amount of effort. Being only 19(!) at the time of filming, she lived with her parents and commuted to the set. She had to wake up near 4:00 A.M. and ride three different buses to the studio; sometimes, to avoid all that trouble, she would simply sleep on the set.

Of course, you’ve heard the stupendous, epic stories of the troubles the crew went through to bring you that iconic title number. If you haven’t, take a seat, and let me tell you a story.

‘Twas a dark and stormy afternoon in Culver City, California… Well, not really. You see, studio technicians had to cover two city blocks with tarp to give the illusion of nighttime. Then, they equipped the set with overhead sprays. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that there was supposedly a drought in Culver City the day the sequence was shot.

As you can see, I’m talking too much. And, I’m sure it’s also evident by now that a lot of work went into this movie. Fortunately, their hard work and troubles paid off. Although the film cost a total of $2,540,800 (astronomical for 1952), $157,000 of which went to Walter Plunkett’s costumes alone, the musical masterpiece returned a $7,700,000 profit upon its initial release. At this news, MGM forgave and forgot about the film’s budget being overshot by $665,000, and the studio quickly became cognizant of their intelligent investment.

Summary

In 1927, the year of the world’s first “talkie”, famed silent actors Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are everyone’s favorite silent screen pair. The shrewish Lamont, however, believes their romance is true offscreen as well. Aided by his carefree friend and piano accompanist, Cosmo Brown (O’Connor), Lockwood tries nearly in vain to dodge her amorous advances. Things take a chaotic turn with the release of The Jazz Singer, which has the public screaming for talkies. In addition, Don falls for Kathy Selden (Reynolds), a chorus girl and aspiring actress, who is seemingly the first woman to resist his suavity. With the wild popularity of sound pictures still on the rise, it’s decided that the new Lockwood/Lamont picture will be a talkie. However, Lina’s incredibly screechy voice (which, as one reviewer put it, mere words cannot describe) is obviously a problem. In a stroke of genius, Kathy is brought in to secretly dub Lina’s speaking and singing voice. Simultaneously, of course, Kathy and Don fall very much in love. Thus, Don must make a decision: keep up appearances and thereby keep an audience, or reveal the real star of the show?

Information

Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly;

Written by Arthur Freed (song by which the story was suggested), Nacio Herb Brown (song by which the story was suggested), Betty Comden (story and screenplay), and Adolph Green (story and screenplay);

Starring Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood, Debbie Reynolds as Kathy Selden, Donald O’Connor as Cosmo Brown, Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont, and Millard Mitchell as R.F. Simpson (with cameos by Rita Moreno and Cyd Charisse);

Produced by Arthur Freed (producer), and Roger Edens (associate producer);

Music by Lennie Hayton.

Facts

If I had written this three weeks ago (like I was supposed to), you would’ve been able to see my good friend, Brittany Wright, in the role of Kathy Selden in her high school’s production of Singin’ in the Rain.

Gene Kelly insulted Reynolds by saying she couldn’t dance. Fred Astaire, who was hanging around the studio, allegedly found her crying and helped her with her dancing.

Working days sometimes stretched to 19 hours.

While in the film it’s almost assumed that Kathy and Don are around the same age, this was not at all true in reality. Debbie Reynolds was 19 years old, while Gene Kelly was 39.

The original negative of the film was destroyed in a fire.

The role of Lina Lamont was originally intended for Judy Holliday. However, that idea was vetoed after Holliday hit it big in Born Yesterday (1950). Somewhat ironically, the part eventually went to Jean Hagen, who was Holliday’s understudy in the Broadway version of Born Yesterday.

Believe it or not, only two songs (“Moses Supposes” and “Make ‘Em Laugh”) were written especially for the film. The writers of the latter song, Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, admitted that they nearly stole the tune from Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown”, from the Gene Kelly comedy, The Pirate (1948).

Speaking of “Make ‘Em Laugh”… Gene Kelly asked O’Connor to resurrect a trick he used as a young dancer: running up a wall and completing a somersault. This silly, inane number was so physically taxing that O’Connor, who smoked four packs of cigarettes a day at the time, went to bed (or was hospitalized, depending on the source) for nearly a week after its completion, suffering from exhaustion and severe carpet burns. Infuriatingly, the initial footage was destroyed in an accident. So, after a brief rest, O’Connor (being the epitome of “true performer”) did the very difficult number all over again.

The rain in the title number was a mixture of water and milk (to help it show better on camera). Tragically, it caused Kelly’s wool suit to shrink.

While the film makes a central point of the idea that Kathy’s voice is dubbed over Lina Lamont’s, what is not told is that, ironically, in some of these songs – notably “Would You” and “You Are My Lucky Star” – Debbie Reynolds is actually dubbed by Betty Noyes. However, Reynolds’ own singing voice can be heard on the outtake footage of “Lucky Star” as performed next to the giant billboard of Gene Kelly.

When performing the title number, Gene Kelly had a 103-degree fever. Dancing in the rain probably didn’t help that.

-luke

Happy Birthday, James Stewart!

He'd be turning 102 today.

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite actors! He was born in Indiana in 1908, and sadly passed away in 1997.

Lists really don’t matter, but this is pretty impressive nonetheless: he was voted the #9 Greatest Movie Star of All Time by Premiere magazine and was named #3 on The 50 Greatest Screen Legends Actor list by the American Film Institute. He hosted the Academy Awards twice (in 1946, alongside Bob Hope, and in 1958, alongside David Niven, Jack Lemmon, Rosalind Russell, Bob Hope, and “Donald Duck”), and was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1985. At this event he was given a humongous standing ovation, which ultimately made the show run long. Steven Spielberg, who was in attendance, said that he was humbled to even be in the same room as Stewart.

He starred in such legendary films as Vivacious Lady (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Destry Rides Again (1939), The Philadelphia Story (for which he won an Oscar, 1940), Call Northside 777 (1948), The Glenn Miller Story (1954), and, of course, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

He also was the leading man in many of Hitchcock’s greatest films, such as Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and Vertigo (1958).

He also starred in Consequence, one of my all-time favorite Suspense! radio episodes.

All in all, he was a great entertainer that should be remembered for decades to come. Happy Birthday, Mr. Stewart, and rest in peace.

-luke

Published in: on May 20, 2010 at 10:10 am  Comments (1)  

Happy Birthday, Frank Capra!

Today is the birthday of legendary director Frank Capra (1897-1991)! He brought us unforgettable films such as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (the one with Gary Cooper, not Adam Sandler), Arsenic and Old Lace, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It Happened One Night, and the immortal It’s a Wonderful Life. Just wanted to say thanks, Mr. Capra, and rest in peace.

It Happened One Night (1934)

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Published in: on May 18, 2010 at 12:51 pm  Leave a Comment