Friday, July 06, 2007

Anytime Annie: Role Model

Emma of All About My Movies called this Blogathon for The Performance That Changed My Life. Right there--"changed my life"--seems the Siren should be delving into something deep and meaningful. "Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront showed me the possibilities of a new style of acting!" "Audrey Hepburn in The Nun's Story showed me the agony of spiritual struggle!" "Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice broke my heart!"

But the Siren can't lie to Emma. The performance that really did change my life wasn't deep and wasn't even a star turn, though certainly it was meaningful to me. It was Ginger Rogers as Anytime Annie in 42nd Street. I saw this movie as a kid, probably chopped up on TBS, source of many of my cinematic touchstone viewings. I must have been well under 10, too young to catch a single double-entendre. Still, Ginger fascinated me. That tart tongue, that supreme self-confidence, the way she took any obstacle from the Depression to a catty costar and rolled right over it. I love almost all of Ginger's early tough-tootsie characters, but 42nd Street was the first one I saw and it holds a special place for me. (I am happy to note that it recently charmed Siren favorite Tonio Kruger as well.) Over the years I saw the movie again and again, and here are the lessons it carried for me:

1. People used to dress a lot better, especially starlets. The Siren defies you to look at any modern-day picture and tell her she is wrong. For a time in the 1930s Ginger had one of the best figures in Hollywood. She loved clothes and she wore each ensemble with dash. Which leads into

2. With the right attitude, even an odd outfit can be carried off. When Anytime Annie enters, she is wearing tweeds and a monocle.

And, in the modern parlance, she rocks them.

3. Bad girls have more fun. Does this even need elaboration? Here's how Annie is introduced:

Andy Lee: Not Anytime Annie? Say, who could forget 'er? She only said "No" once, and then she didn't hear the question!

And here we have Ruby Keeler, as insipid ingenue Peggy Sawyer:

Chorine: You, uh, looking for somebody - or just shopping around?
Peggy: Could you tell me where I'll find the gentleman in charge?
Chorine: First door to your left, dearie!

Which woman would you like to hang out with?

4. Dealing with male lechery? Mock it. The Siren read one reviewer who was so offended by the scene in which the chorus girls have to show off their legs to the producers and director that he compared it--unfavorably--to a scene in Takeshi Miike's Ichi the Killer where a prostitute gets her nipples sliced off. The Siren suggests, politely (because she is a little afraid of this guy) that he is missing an important element of the scene. That would be Ginger and Una Merkel (as Lorraine), rolling their eyes as soon as the director moves down the line, not taking any of it seriously for a minute. You know they are thinking it beats stenography, which at the time also attracted a fair share of wolves (check out Joan Crawford dealing with Wallace Beery in Grand Hotel). In Showgirls, Elizabeth Berkley and the others stand around tremulously, like Irish setters on point, waiting for that magic bit of male approval. Ginger and Una know they're attractive, they know they will make it through, and they also know the men are drips. Which brings us to

5. See an opportunity for a wisecrack? Grab it.

Marsh: Address?
Chorine: Park Avenue.
Annie: And is her homework tough!

Lorraine: ...I always said she was a nice girl. And she's so good to her mother.
Annie: She sure is. Do you know that she makes forty-five dollars a week and sends her mother a hundred of it?

Annie: [to chorus girl] It must have been hard on your mother, not having any children.

Music director: Get some feeling into it, willya?
Annie: Whaddya want me to do, bite my nails?

6. What's going on at the margins is often more interesting than the main event. Ginger and Una in their upper berth, sarcastically commenting on the newlyweds, are the best part of "Shuffle Off to Buffalo":

Matrimony is baloney
She'll be wanting alimony in a year or so
Still they go and shuffle, shuffle off to Buffalo.
When she knows as much as we know
She'll be on her way to Reno
While he still has dough
She'll give him the shuffle, when they get back from Buffalo.

7. Sisterhood is beautiful. Watch as Annie and Lorraine adopt Peggy, for no apparent reason, and Lorraine holds up three fingers to indicate they need three parts:

Annie: (to Peggy) Stick with us girl, and you'll come in on the tide.

Later, when cast in the lead due to a fortuitous relationship with porky "angel" Guy Kibbee, Annie gives up the part because Peggy supposedly has a better chance of saving the show. Here we have the movie's most glaring logical flaw, though. The Siren cannot look at Keeler without thinking of lines in a much-later show-business satire: "She can't act, she can't sing, she can't dance. A triple threat." Keeler wasn't a patch on Rogers, and something about the former Ms. McMath's face in this scene shows she knows it.


8. Men are wonderful, but they aren't necessities. Annie, sending Kibbee out to walk her Pekingese and rushing back onstage, showed the Siren that there are plenty of different ways to a happy ending.


Wow, Emma's blogathon was an absolute roaring success. The Siren is including all the links in her post, because ALL of the links are so well worth reading. Get a long cool glass of something and settle in front of the screen. The final roundup:

Kendra at Jake Weird on Michael Caine in Sleuth
Catherine from The Mixed Up Files of Catherine on Bette Davis in All About Eve
Adam from All Things Film on James Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life.
Anna at Verging Writer on Sally Field in Norma Rae.
DL at Cellar Door on Samantha Morton in Morvern Callar.
Sen at Les montreurs d'images on Robert Redford in All the President's Men.
Becci at The Sacred Ramblings of Becci on Emmy Rossum in The Day After Tomorrow.
Marius at Blog by Cosmo Marius on Marco Hofschneider in Europa Europa.
Dave over at Victim of the Time on Jodhi May in The Last of the Mohicans .
Kayleigh at Shiny Happy Blog on Audrey Tautou in Amélie.
Vertigo's Psycho from And Your Little Blog, Too on Shani Wallis in Oliver!.
RC at Strange Culture on Stéphane Audran in Babette's Feast.
Beautiful.Adam at DVDPanache on Joseph Cotten in The Third Man.
Rant1229 from The 400 Obscure Passions of the 8½ Personas on Erland Josephson in The Sacrifice.
Nathaniel R from the Film Experience on Marni Nixon in West Side Story.
Mr. Movie Geek at Movies to Movie Geek No Kamikakushi on Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Adam Carson Keller from Crumb by Crumb picks Geena Davis in Thelma and Louise.
Jose at The pathetically normal, pop culture obsessed, life of Jose on Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire.
StinkyLulu goes for Anne Meara in Fame.
Piper from Lazy Eye Theatre on Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York.
Luke at The Musings of a Movie Maestro on Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge!.
Lylee from Lylee's Blog on Jane Powell in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
Cal from Shake Well Before Use on Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men.
As Cool as a Fruitstand on Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation.
Erich Kuersten from acidemic-film on Jon Voight in Runaway Train.
Cinefille from For Cinephiles by a Cinefille goes for Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen.
Bob Turnbull from Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind looks at the entire cast of Network.
Damian at Windmills of My Mind on Liam Neeson in Schindler's List.
Arden at Cinephilia picks Mark Ruffalo in You Can Count on Me.
Midento from when i look deep in your eyes selects Ninón Sevilla in Aventurera.
Glenn Dunks from Stale Popcorn on Drew Barrymore in Scream.
Peter Nellhaus from Coffee Coffee and More Coffee on Sean Connery in From Russia With Love.
Kimberly from Cinebeats on Barbara Shelley in Dracula: Prince of Darkness.
Chris from Drunken On Celluloid on Robert de Niro in Raging Bull.


Emma said...

You rock so hard! I glumly admit that I haven't seen the said performance (though I did love her work in The Gay Divorcee, Top Hat and Kitty Foyle), but I must say, any film which teaches the pros of sisterhood and how men aren't everything sounds just dandy.

I really love your entry, and the choice. Thank you so much for participating!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Agree (and still laughing) with Annie as a role model. She and Lorraine had the best lines of the movie. If you have to go through the Great Depression, these are the girls to hang out with. They'll bring you in on the tide.

The Siren said...

Emma, they toned her character down a wee bit for the Astaire pictures, but she always did have a lot of sass. Some non-musicals I love her in: Star of Midnight, Fifth Avenue Girl, Stage Door and the just-rediscovered Rafter Romance.

Jacqueline, she is also a treat in the Gold Diggers movies, although in 1933 she is more competitive (and is the only one who winds up mate-less at the end). You are right, Ginger, Joan, Una, Aline ... all those ladies would have known how to get through on their wits. Looking at Ruby you know SHE is the one who would have needed a sugar daddy.

Exiled in NJ said...

Roxie Hart is even better in some ways, and makes you realize that there is nothing new under the sun.

The Siren said...

Exiled, when I saw Roxie Hart it did not make much of an impression. I should re-view. I do remember she was brunette in that one.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Too bad you can't come to Denver next week. I'll think of you when I attend the double feature of, get ready, Gold Diggers of 1933 with Guy Maddin's Brand Upon the Brain.

Anna said...

Great entry, I can't believe that guy was so incensed by the "misogyny" of 42nd Street - for God's sake, did he completely miss that the joke was really on the men? I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop with that review, surely it must have been a joke.

There was that great Anita Loos quote:
“I'm furious about the women's liberationists. They keep getting up on soapboxes and proclaiming that women are brighter than men. That's true, but it should be kept very quiet or it ruins the whole racket.”

There was a time when people had a sense of humour...once

I might give that theme a go for a post as well, you did a really good job!

The Siren said...

Peter, we have relatives in Denver so while I will be missing that inspired double feature, a visit from la famille Campaspe is by no means out of the question in future.

Anna, while I obviously disagreed with the gentleman's review (down near the bottom, he even admits he doesn't like 1930s movies), in a sense it delighted me because his reaction was so strong. I get weary of people complaining that old movies are boring, and having him dig up and re-bury Busby Berkeley was refreshing. Hence the link. I think Tonio Kruger's reaction is a lot closer to mine. Needless to say I would love to read any post you want to make on this subject. I do remember that Loos quote, such a witty writer. I have all three of her Hollywood memoirs and I treasure them.

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

Thanks for posting about this blog-a-thon Siren! I would have missed it without you and I enjoyed spending my Sat. night revisiting one of my favorite Hammer films so I could write up my contribution.

It's 11:30pm in California, so hopefully I'm not too late. ;D

I love Ginger Rogers but I've never seen all of 42nd Street (I know, shameful!) and obviously I need to.

Anna said...

ANNA #2, here -

Hilarious post - very well done. Great analysis of the leg inspection scene.

The Siren said...

Kim, I loved the Hammer post. I am happy to see, since we "met" over a disagreement on Hostel Part 2, that our tastes are so simpatico in many ways. I know that Hammer film, probably watched it late one night during my single days. I had a studio apartment in Chelsea and used to indulge myself on dateless weekends by staying up past my bedtime with a glass of wine and an old horror movie, usually on AMC. I still think that is the best way to see those movies.

Anna #2, many thanks! I was glad the critic I linked forced me to really think about why the "legs" scene never bothered me, because it was worth analyzing, I think.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Ginger could do just about anything onscreen well- can you think of another star who went toe-to-toe with both Astaire (literally, in many instances) and Katharine Hepburn with equal aplomb? Somehow, I just don't see Spencer Tracy pulling off that feathered number Rogers wears during "Cheek to Cheek" with Roger's style and grace.

Thanks for a very entertaining writeup on one of the greats.

Catherine said...

I haven't seen the performance in question, but that was a fun post to read in a novel way. Yup.

The Siren said...

V's P- I am taking this opportunity to tell you that "And Your Little Blog, Too" now tops my long list of "Blog Names I Wish to Hell I Had Thought of First." Absolutely inspired.

Thanks Catherine! For anyone reading these comments who has not seen Catherine's post on Bette Davis in All About Eve, please do so. It is so well-written and informative.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

I've seen a few others use the "Little Blog" moniker (yes, I am egotistical enough to occasionally Google search my blog name), but I swear I thought it up on my own, while visions of Margaret "It Ain't Easy Bein' Green" Hamilton danced in my head.

Anyway, "Self-Styled Siren" sounds good to me- I don't have the allure, sophistication, or fashion sense to bring it off, though. Fortunately for all of us, you do.

The Siren said...

Ah, but on the Internet, we are all chic. :D

Tonio Kruger said...

Thanks for the mention, Campaspe.

I loved this post, and despite having a greater affection for Ruby Keeler than you obviously did, I must admit that many of the scenes you mentioned in this post are among my favorite scenes in the movie.

I guess it's not exactly a major injustice that Ms. Rogers went out to have a more successful career than Ms. Keeler.

The Siren said...

Thanks! I always feel guilty running down Ruby because by most accounts she was an extremely sweet person, not a mean bone in her body. But on screen she is usually barely tolerable to me. Ginger had very lively comic timing, especially at the beginning. The Derelict over at Stuff of Dreams reminded me of Vivacious Lady and Bachelor Mother as well. Oh my yes, I do love Ginger!

goatdog said...

I have to chime in on the Ruby Keeler defense team, even though I admit that my defense is weak. Sure, she couldn't act very well, couldn't sing very well, and couldn't even dance very well (watch her watching her feet all the time), but she was so gosh darn sweet and lovable, like an animated porcelain figurine that you're just compelled to protect and love.

When I showed this recently at my theater, one of the regulars said that one of its biggest flaws was that Keeler was so sexless that there's no tension in her scenes. The film's attempts to make it look like George Brent (I almost called him George Raft--now THAT would have been an interesting casting choice) might take advantage of her are so silly, because, well, look at her: how could anyone do her harm? And of course she ends up with Dick Powell, not exactly a paragon of virility (despite the hearty lustiness of the "Young and Healthy" number). I concede the point--she's not sexy--but I still like her.

Unknown said...

I probably missed something. But I didn't see "Letter to Three Wives" in that list.

Buttermilk Sky said...

"Looking at Ruby, you know SHE is the one who would have needed a sugar daddy." Well, her career petered out around the time she was divorced from Al Jolson, so I always assumed Warner Brothers had to employ her to get him.

Erich Kuersten said...

I'm real late to this post but here's my input just the same.

I agree on Keeler's "dancing" but the obnoxiously chipper positivism of her and Powell was never, I think, aimed at us - the hip cineastes - it works as a) a foil to the more hip and pre-code knowingness of Ginger and Co, and it appeases the studio heads and Christians who want their leads to be "idolizable" and a good example to the kids.

Cinema is full of other examples of this, for example WEST SIDE STORY, FLASH GORDON, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS... anything made be... (shudders) Cameron Crowe... the insufferable couples in any Marx Bros. or W.C. Fields film...

Without the goody-two-shoes types to play off against, may have been the reasoning, the comedy doesn't have half the bite - When Billy Wilder came along he kind of broke that mold, but what would he have done without a mold to break?

Juliette. said...

Goodness gracious, that was terrific. Just seeing the phrase "Anytime Annie: Role Model" made me smile.