Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Words and Music (1948)


In an excellent piece in Bright Lights Film Journal, Alan Vanneman asks if Words and Music is "An Unsung Masterpiece?" The short answer is no. What it may be, however, is the ultimate drug for musical purists, those souls who genuinely do not care about plot, dialogue or any other kind of connective tissue in a musical, but instead jump from number to number. When the numbers are from Rodgers and Hart, this has its definite advantages. Along with the Gershwins, this is the team whose songs always stop the Siren in her tracks. There were others equally as fine--Porter, Berlin, Kern, oh yes--but none to surpass.




The usual knock on Words and Music involves the phrase "sanitized biopic." Why yes, the movie does neglect to mention that Lorenz Hart, tormented genius, was tormented in part because he was gay. But it isn't as though gay themes were cropping up in a number of other movies that year, and Hart alone got his subplot scrubbed. Here's the Hart biographical stuff that does make it into the movie: his alcoholism, his unreliability, his self-hatred, his feelings of ugliness, his shortness (he's played by Mickey Rooney) and his doomed attempt to get a Broadway chanteuse to marry him. All true. Even an episode toward the end, where a drunken Rooney reels around the rainy streets of Manhattan after one final opening night and catches his death, amazingly happened in a very similar way. (Although the Siren hopes that Hart did not finally collapse in front of a store selling elevator shoes, as poor Rooney is made to do here.)




Compare this total score for accuracy to Song of Scheherazade, where the filmmakers got two things right: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was Russian, and he composed "Scheherazade."

As for the airbrushed gay theme--the Siren thinks there are signals for the hep, as much as could be under Joe Breen's watchful eye. Check out Hart's overly dependent relationship with his mother (ah, shades of Christmas Holiday) and the singer's delicate references to gosh, just something about Hart that keeps her from marrying him.

Complaining that any MGM movie is sanitized is like yelling at Lassie for shedding. Of course it's sanitized, that's what MGM did. They took life and made it shinier. This is the studio that built a Hall of Mirrors set twice as big as the Versailles original. The real problem with the frame story is that Hart, even played by Puck, is a huge downer, only fleetingly portrayed as the witty life of the party that Hart's real-life friends remembered. The quiet, rather stuffy Richard Rodgers ("Boy Next Door" Tom Drake), robbed by the script of his legendary taste for chorus girls, can't sustain a role as a foil. Perhaps most composers and lyricists just aren't great subjects for biopics, unless they eventually went deaf or crazy.

But anyway, who in their right mind would watch this for the biographical drama? What you should want, and what you get, is Technicolor, great singing, and Robert Alton's choreography, supplemented with Gene Kelly's magnificent "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" , the best dancing the luscious Vera-Ellen ever got to put on film.



What's that? You prefer Cyd Charisse? She's in there too, looking lovely in "On Your Toes" and spinning like a top to "Blue Room."

The Siren loves "Where or When," sung by Lena Horne. There is a melancholy feel to most Rodgers and Hart songs that is easy to overemphasize. Many singers opt for a happy surface with a tear-stained underpinning. Here, Lena flips that, the yearning right out on top, but a certain brightness underneath.

Then notice how Judy Garland takes the complicated and rather strange lyrics to "Johnny One-Note" and renders them clear as rainwater. How much does the Siren miss enunciation...

He may not be a convincing Hart, but Mickey Rooney has some great moments, too. He was one of those triple-threat entertainers who, as Pauline Kael once said about Liza Minnelli, are electrifying when all they need to be is charming. Instead of drawing a performance out of Rooney, a good director (which Norman Taurog pretty much wasn't) had to put a visor on the camera and tone him down a bit. Rooney's Words and Music scenes go back and forth between delightful and way-too-much, but his joyful, no-frills rendition of "I'll Take Manhattan" is perfect, a summary of everything that was best about him as a musical performer. And his duet with Garland (the last they ever did together), "I Wish I Were in Love Again," is almost as good.

Then you see Rooney during Mel Torme's superb rendition of "Blue Moon," doing a depressed drunk act and still managing to mug, and you realize that even if he had magically grown several inches, he was never going to fit in with the socially conscious 1950s, not even in the artier Freed-unit musicals that lay ahead.

There are many other numbers in Words and Music, including this one




which, the Siren is happy to report, is the perfect length for going down to the kitchen and whipping up a sandwich. (It isn't just June Allyson, the Siren can't stand "Thou Swell," finding it strained and cutesy in a way that Hart usually avoided.)

Ann Sothern gets a production number ("Where's That Rainbow?") that Vanneman didn't much care for, but the Siren adores it, mostly for the dancing boys behind Ann. Robert Alton was famous for individualizing the chorus--instead of a kaleidescope of identically clad, synchronized movement, his dancers stand out one by one even while they are backing the main singer. (This biographical entry reads that characteristic as "queer," an interpretation that the Siren found fascinating, although not completely convincing.)

Which brings the Siren to her favorite number, "Mountain Greenery," with a jaw-droppingly young Perry Como and a lovely dancer named Allyn McLerie. (Twenty years later, a very different kind of dancing would cause McLerie to bug out in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?) The lyrics are almost goofy, but the dancers and Como put it across with such utter, fetching sincerity that the Siren is charmed every time. To me, the dancers and singers twirling around to "down with noise and clutter, up with milk and butter " are, like the rest of Words and Music, just so utterly MGM, another step on the road to the perfection of The Band Wagon and Singin' in the Rain.

97 comments:

X. Trapnel said...

Siren, glad to have you back and in top form!

Random thoughts: There is no perfection (only Allah is perfect). Singing in the Rain and Bandwagon are obviously superior films but a Rogers and Hart (or Kern or Gershwin or Porter or, yes, Warren) score clobbers them musically.

Song of Scheherazde--takaya byesmylitsa! I recall JP Aumont prancing/dancing while cracking a whip. Rimsky in fact was a very staid, proper, professorial sort.

Favorite Rogers and Hart: Spring is Here, I Could Write a Book, It Never Entered My Mind, I Wish I Were in Love Again (amazing lyrics), Dancing on the Ceiling, and on unto infinity.

I've never seen Words and Music and I'm wondering whether R & H's Jewishness was airbrushed as well (this is MGM after all).

Campaspe said...

Airbrushed, their Jewishness? No way. It was thrown overboard. Like I said, you do get a bat-squeak of a hint as to Hart's "real problem", but there is not a single reference to anybody being anything other than WASP city in this movie, unless you count that Hart's mother has an accent of some sort.

I totally love Song of Scheherezade, talk about a crazy biopic. I wrote a brief bit about it here.

http://selfstyledsiren.blogspot.com/2005/11/cast-first-stone.html

Anagramsci said...

yup--this is a great film to watch, even if it isn't a great film...

I particularly love the instrumental use of "Ship Without a Sail" during one of Rooney's lowest moments, the amazing Vera-Ellen (so nice to see her looking well-nourished)/Gene Kelly Slaughter, Lena and Como's rendition of "Blue Room" (sung to Cyd Charisse, I believe)... I also like the June Allyson (although not nearly as much as her number in Girl Crazy!), but I know she rubs a lot of folks the wrong way...

in general, I appreciate all of the forties biopics for what they can and do deliver--as you say, why bother being annoyed by inaccuracies and lackluster plots?

Personally, I could watch Till The Clouds Roll By once a month and never tire of it. Yes, every minute that Dorothy Patrick is on screen (as Kern's wife) is insanely boring, but Jeroome is my favourite of the big Great American Songbook composers, and the movie treats his music well, providing fantastic moments with Garland, Dinah Shore, Van Johnson & Lucille Bremer, Allyson, and an excellent mini-production of Showboat with Horne getting her only chance to play Julie Laverne

I like the equally whitewashed Night and Day too, and I would actually argue that Warners' Rhapsody in Blue, even though it doesn't tell George Gershwin's story, actually delivers the goods musically AND dramatically--I think it IS a great film

Dave

Campaspe said...

I love Till the Clouds By as well, and it includes the unjustly forgotten Lucille Bremer, and All The Things You Are, god how I love that song. I like a lot of these merrily-we-roll-through-the-songbook biopics. Ziegfeld Follies has the marvelous "Limehouse Blues," with Bremer and Astaire. That's one of my favorite big production numbers.

Anagramsci said...

"Limehouse Blues" is great!

Bremer truly does deserve more attention--which she might get if Warners ever releases a DVD of Yolanda and the Thief! (I finally downloaded an avi of it last year, and I couldn't believe how great it is--it might even be my favourite Freed unit film)

X. Trapnel said...

All the Things You Are! My favorite song when it isn't I Get Along Without You Very Well. Actually Hoagy Carmichael's pre-Hollywood jazz years would make a damn good movie, but who could do that voice?

Campaspe said...

X., even though it isn't a biopic, I have always mentally shelved Blue Skies alongside these films, as a one-song-after-another sort of compendium. Although I don't like Bing's rendition of the title song.

Anagramsci, the way to my heart is to praise Yolanda and the Thief. Seriously. Ask anyone around here.

Anagramsci said...

cool--perhaps a massive put Yolanda on DVD campaign is in order?

it really deserves the best!

also--while people are on the subject of biopics that are not really biopics--I wanted to say a good word for Alexander's Ragtime Band, with Tyrone Power in the "Irving Berlin" role and Alice Faye doing an awesome job on a bunch of IB classics (and some strange and wonderful support from the young Ethel Merman)

X. Trapnel said...

I don't like Crosby's rendition of ANYTHING. I recently bought a Carmichael compilation in which he mucks up "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" (yes, I know he introduced it). Sinatra and Astaire divide the world between them. There is no third.

Some time ago I saw a vanity press ad for an item on The Stars and Their Children which promised to relate "everything from the gentle fairy tales Harpo Marx invented for his adopted children to the spiked belt Bing Crosby used to beat his sons." Not that I would let that affect my opinion of Der Bingle's singing...

Campaspe said...

Alexander's Ragtime Band definitely fits in this weird pseudo-genre, and actually it's no more fictitious than any of the other ones we've discussed. Even as a kid I noticed when the leads didn't age. Wonder why there are so many song-collection movies with Berlin music, was it because he was so prolific? Did he love getting royalties no matter what kind of story they were using his songs for?

Campaspe said...

I guess no one can say whether Crosby was actually abusive any more than there can be final word on the truth of Mommie Dearest, but when two out of four children from your first marriage commit suicide and a third sinks into alcoholism it's safe to say your parenting skills needed some work. In a lower-key way than Christina, Gary Crosby's book has also done irretrievable damage to an old image. I have always found der Bingle a bit creepy but now that I think about it, I did like him more as a kid, before all the dirt came out. I just always wanted Hope or Astaire to get the girl.

There have been some very well-reviewed books recently about Crosby as a trailblazing American singer, and I should take a look.

X. Trapnel said...

I think Crosby's "reassuring" quality comes to seem mildly authoritarian as we mature. He seems to put a damper on eveyone's fun.

Anagramsci said...

re: Berlin--I think he must have! Although I just read that he assumed control of Alexander's Ragtime Band personally, which might explain why it's so good (but NOT why the characters don't age!)

re: Crosby--I enjoy Bing's persona (especially in a small gem like 1938's Sing, You Sinners), although it's a lot easier to understand, these days, how he managed to come up with the darkness that pours out of him in The Country Girl... as a rule, I try not to find out any more than I have to about my favourite stars (especially if they were Republicans!)

DavidEhrenstein said...

My boyfriend Bill and I wrote, but never managed to get published, a long piece of Bremer a number of years back. She as very talented but the story was she was -- as Ann Miller so delicately put it -- "Arthur Freed's pussy."

Freed was nuts about her and wanted to make her bigger than Garland. But Yolanda and the Thiefbombed and sunk her career. It wasn't her fault at all. No one could have put that piece of "South American" insanity over. So her contract was sold and she ended up at PRC in Edgar G. Ulmer And Alvah Bessie's masterful Ruthless -- where she gives an eyepopping performance as Sidney Greenstreet's faithless wife. Finally she did The Adventures of Casanova with Arturo de Cordova. It was shot in Mexico and during the shoot she met the son of country's Vice President. He proposed, she accepted and together they created the resort haven of Cabo San Lucas.

After the marriage rans its course she returend to the states, and settled in La Jolla about which Raymond Chandler so emmorably quipped "where old people go to live with their parents."

According to no less an eminence than Lucille Ball, Bremer got a bad rap re Freed. Yes he wanted her but "Lucille was a good girl."
Acouple of years before she passed away she turned up at a slaeute Debbie Reynolds and Ruta Lee were having for Donald O'Connor. All surviving Metro eminences were there and very glad to see Lucille.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Re Lorenz Hart, my friend Larry Marmostein is writing THE definitive biography. So maybe someone will option it for a movie provided they can find a short gay man who really act.

Mickey Rooney certainly had the right height but he's one of human history's most flamboyant heterosexuals.

Lorenz Hart's near-look-alike brother Teddy appears memorably in Arthur Penn's unjustly neglected Mickey One.

Lou Lumenick said...

"Words and Music'' was the final chapter in Como's short, strange movie career career, which otherwise consisted of three Carmen Miranda movies at Fox (Lewis Seiler's "If I'm Lucky,'' a threadbare remake of the Dick Powell musical "Thanks A Million,'' where Perry runs for governor, is most the interesting of the trio, all in the recent Miranda box set). Perry was signed with enormous fanfare by MGM, which tried to build him up as a friendly rival to Frank Sinatra (they issued a photo layout of Perry, a former barber, giving Frank a haircut on the set of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game''). Legend has is that Perry's MGM career ended prematurely when he interpolated the F word into his performance of "Happy Birthday'' at a party for Louis B. Mayer. Which might explain why Perry's lovely rendition of R & H's "Lover'' ended up on the cutting room floor. Only the orchestral portion remained in the movie, but there's a reconstruction of the whole thing on the DVD.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's my favorite Rodher and hart song sung by my favorite singer, to absolute perfection.

Campaspe said...

David, when I was researching this piece I kept coming across complaints that there had never been the bio that Hart deserved -- according to the articles and things around the web, one biographer didn't grasp the lyrics very well, the other improbably insisted that somehow Hart's sexuality got corrupted by his procurer. So I am very, very glad to hear that will be rectified.

I only wish your Bremer piece were available online! So wait -- was she or wasn't she shtupping Freed? She was certainly very bombshell-y for a dancer, an amazing figure, and very lovely. I do love Yolanda but its fate wasn't surprising. I can't say I saw it and thought, "wow, can't believe it didn't do well!" More like I saw it and thought "wow, can't believe it got made at all." It's TRIPPY. But great all the same.

DavidEhrenstein said...

And I think we know the lyrics to this one.

X. Trapnel said...

Anagramsci,

In Rhapsody in Blue, Papa Gershwin(on his deathbed) tells George that he's losing his hair but Robert Alda's triangle hairline is quite undiminished.

Kevin Deany said...

Speaking of composer biopics, how about those 20th Century Fox entries for relatively unknown talents like Paul Dresser ("My Gal Sal" and Ernest Ball ("Irish Eyes are Smiling") that are loaded with new songs by Fox staff composers?

All the big numbers in "My Gal Sal" like "On the Gay White Way" and "Me and My Fella and a Big Umbrella" were writeen by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger. Dresser's own "On the Banks of the Wabash" is presented almost as a throwaway, as is the title song.

The big musical number at the end of "Irish Eyes are Smiling" is "Bessie in a Bustle" is by James Monaco and Mack Gordon. It's a terrific number, but not Ball.

I've always thought it odd that movies about composers would feature new songs, and not selections from the composer's catalogs.

DavidEhrenstein said...

After a lot of careful thought I really doubt that Arthur nailed Lucille. Lord knows he wanted to. Another firned of mine recalls interviewing Freed a number of years back and when Lucille's name came up steam started to come out of Mrs. Freed's ears.

Luiclle never got the respect she deserved. Fred Astaire called her "that girl from Pasadena," even though she worked so well with him in their two big numbers in Ziegfeld Follies. I suspect he didn't enjoy making Yolanda much at all, though the "Coffe Time" number is teriffic.

X. Trapnel said...

Must check IMDB to see if Brother Theodore appears in My Gal Sal. Theodore Dreiser and Victor Mature as siblings. Hooray for Hollywood!

Anagramsci said...

I'd love to see that Bremer piece too David (I like her in everything I've seen--even that Boetticher noir that Kino released a few years ago)!

And that new bio of Hart sounds excellent too--the one I got from my university library some years ago really left a everything to be desired...

Siren--no question about it, Yolanda was doomed from the start, but I would have expected it to have attracted at least as much of a cult as The Pirate (which I like, but not nearly as much as Y&tT) has...

really interesting stuff on the Fox bios Kevin--I saw both of them as a kid, and never suspected that many of the songs were ersatz!

Karen said...

Oh, this is a great post, Siren, mostly because I agree with it entirely. What other criterion does it really need to meet?

The first time I ever heard the song "Mountain Greenery" was when Rob and Laura Petrie were singing it at one of their many show-biz house parties out in New Rochelle, and I found it perfectly infectious. Seriously: "beans could get no keener reception in a beanery"--how do lyrics get any more fun than that? (Not least because I always thought it was "Beans could get no keenery, 'ceptin in a beanery" which I think I may actually prefer slightly.)

I have always and will always prefer Rodgers and Hart to Rodgers and Hammerstein, regardless of the latter's invention of modern American musical theater (these days, that's not such a compliment). So, yes, any show chock full o' Rodgers and Hart numbers is jake with me. Especially when one of them is the hauntingly lovely "Where or When."

Mickey Rooney is one of those actors I find problematic--I know he was insanely talented but so few movies kept him on a tight enough tether. He's always being allowed to go off on some painful specialty-number tangent in which he clearly finds himself vastly more entertaining than I do. (There's one--is it in Babes on Broadway?--where Rooney launches into an endless mock sports commentary while waiting in a producer's anteroom that makes me want to stab myself in the ear with an icepick.) But watching him sink, drunken, to the sidewalk in the rain really is quite moving, and I think they DO signal the homosexuality very subtly, and a lot more successfully than in, say, Night and Day.

Campaspe said...

Lou, ordinarily I don't give much credence to old legends about somebody doing something to offend LB but now that you mention it, Como IS treated rather badly in W&M. The "Mountain Greenery" number starts with the camera "in the balcony", so far away it's practically in another zip code, and Como singing just like Crosby and it takes so long for you to get anywhere near his face that for a minute or two I thought it WAS Bing. This is not the way you treat an up-and-coming star, methinks. Como doesn't exactly ignite the screen but who knows if he was being given a chance?

Karen said...

So maybe someone will option it for a movie provided they can find a short gay man who really act.

Nathan Lane?

I'll cast my vote for Alexander's Ragtime Band, too, by the way. And--did I miss the mention?--for the best composer biopic of all, Yankee Doodle Dandy.

I want to see the Bremer piece, too, David!

Campaspe said...

Kevin, I think you are on to a whole different genre, the bizarre "Gay 90s" vogue that persisted all the way through the 1940s. There's some overlap with the songwriter bios you mention but I always think of Cover Girl and Mother Wore Tights and Hello Frisco Hello and half of Doris Day's output (witness David's lovely link, and to think I never liked Jumbo much) etc.

Karen, yes, I agree with all you say about Rooney. You can see it also in the Andy Hardy movies; he is better in the earlier ones where he had less leeway to try and steal everything but Ma Hardy's lace curtains. I do think he's very good in The Human Comedy under Clarence Brown's direction, and I also think he's the definitive Puck. Never seen another Puck that could touch him, young as he was. Garland sometimes played off him perfectly, and at other times seemed to push him to new heights of scene-grabbiness. Did you ever see Quicksand? He was surprisingly good in that one too.

Campaspe said...

David, is it just me, or was Fred Astaire not very chivalrous toward a lot of his partners? Seems to have had a bad attitude toward so many of them--his perfectionism made him difficult.

That's hilarious about Mrs. Freed. Reminds me of the woman in one Grace Kelly bio (can't remember her name) who, when Spada called her up, snapped "Don't ask me to say anything nice about Grace Kelly. She had an affair with my best friend's husband [Ray Milland]. And all the time wearing those WHITE GLOVES!"

Anagramsci said...

Quicksand is an almost perfect film--it literally is Andy Hardy Goes Noir

must rewatch and write about that one

and Rooney is awesome in The Human Comedy too, no doubt about it

X. Trapnel said...

Karen,

Glad to see I'm not the only one who likes "Mountain Greenery":

While you love your lover, let /
Blue skies be your coverlet.

Terrific!

Karen said...

I actually like very early Rooney quite a lot; he's great fun as, say, Ann Sothern's little brother in Blind Date, and the Siren is absolutely correct that he's the definitive Puck. I've never enjoyed another even half so much. But give him a specialty number and the chance to mug for the camera, and I run for the exits.

I do like him very much in Quicksand and I'm pretty sure I remember him kindly as the drummer in The Strip, but he rather squanders that goodwill a decade later in Breakfast at Tiffany's...

X. Trapnel said...

But what a strange film The Human Comedy is! 1. The train singalong (louder! LOUDER!!); 2. "There are the Swedes, and there are the Armenians, and those are the Irish..." (No Jews; this is MGM after all); 3. Van Johnson's eerie friend. I will say, though, that the sequence with Mitchum, his pals, and the girls is lovely and haunting.

Campaspe said...

I also like Rooney better than Tracy in Boys Town. But Karen, now I am circling back to your Hart casting and wow, Nathan Lane might be perfect. He's hilarious but he's got something pitch-black going on underneath all the wit that would suit the tormented Hart very well.

Yojimboen said...

There is a third, X.T - his name is Mel Torme. I'll grant Francis Albert has the tone and the sex, but Mr. Torme has the timing. I own probably every Sinatra recording ever made, but when it comes down to technique, precision and clarity of message - it's Mel. Listen to any of these and give me an argument.

While in a contrary mood, my fave MGM biopic will always be Deep In My Heart - with Jose Ferrer as Ziggy Romberg. To this day I do NOT know how Cyd Charisse got away with that costume. Wow. Just wow.

Campaspe said...

Yojimboen, Torme's Blue Moon really does stop the movie cold, even with Rooney doing too much when the camera is on him. It's such a beautiful, beautiful rendition of the song.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Nathan Lane would be a perfect Lary Hart but doing the role would undoubtedly be personal hell for him as so many of his problems mirror Hart's -- specifically drinking and feeling himself woefully unattractive (as compared to your average gym bunny.)

He's had quite a tumultuous personal history. He and Victor Garber were a couple WAY back in the day and were the first perfomers cast as the Mizner Brothers in the first (workshop) version of the Sondheim musical now known as Road Show.

I shall never forget seeing him live in stage in Terence McNally's The Lisbon Traviata where he played the world's most obsessive opera queen. Absolute acting genius. And this was at the Mark Taper Forum before a very straight middle-aged audience. They LOVED him. In fact in the last part he's heard in a message left on an answering amchine. At the sound of his voice the entire audience cooed

Now THAT'S a star. Had them in the palm of his hand and he wasn't even on stage at the time!

Yojimboen said...

P.S. By an odd coincidence, Movies 'Til Dawn has a piece on Cyd's rather astonishing costume.

Eminently readable.

X. Trapnel said...

You wanna ahgument, Yojimboen? Well I'm fum New Joisey an' if you doan want yuh face messt up you bettuh stay away fum Hoboken! Sinatra rules!

Seriously, though, Torme was a essentially a jazz singer and I agree a great technician and unique voice, but I think Sinatra was a great, the greatest, dramatist of the lyric with an incredible range of emotional shading. You might say the difference between them is (roughly) like the difference between Anita O'Day and Billie Holliday.

Thanks for the tip on La Cyd's costume! A Google image search is imminent.

I disagree with Anagramsci on the merits of Rhapsody in Blue. "Ira, these headaches..." Gevalt. Really, it's a hopeless genre.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Fred Astaire from all accounts was kind of a snob. He liked certain people quite a lot -- like Barrie Chase. His relationship with Ginger Rodgers was never less than professional, but nothing more than that. After al she was a bigger star than he was at the time -- doing far more films as his took forever to make. I think their run together couldn't have been better for each of them. But he wanted (and needed) different partners to develop his work. Lucille was exceptionally elegant in the "Limehouse Blues" and "This Heart of Mine" numbers in Ziegfeld Follies.

And so, needless to say, was Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagon
and Silk Stockings.

Campaspe said...

David, if Lane was doing Victor Garber he was doing better than all right no matter HOW he feels about his looks. Garber is very sexy, always has been. I would have loved to see Lane in The Lisbon Traviata. Yep, he's an old-time star all right.

Yojimboen, I had seen that post on Cyd and her costume! Deep in My Heart doesn't do much for me but her dance number with Palmer Cortlandt (can't remember his real name) is the closest classic-era Hollywood ever came to sex on screen.

X Trapnel, I didn't much like Rhapsody in Blue either, except for Oscar Levant who makes me happy just showing up. But such is my worship for George Gershwin that probably nobody could have played him to my satisfaction.

X. Trapnel said...

Siren,

I just finished reading Howard Pollock's superb--no make that definitive--biography of Gershwin; still an amazing story. There were rumors way back that R. DeNiro might play him; an interesting thought, but no more than that. I like to think that Oscar Levant tried to exercise some damage control in making R in B (and who could possibly play HIM!?)

Anagramsci said...

aw--poor Rhapsody in Blue!

I agree that it fails completely as a biography--but I like the way they (and Robert Alda) at least went for the gusto in dramatizing the problems that often accompany creative effort--it really feels like they're telling a composer's story--much more so than Yankee Doodle Dandy, which is really fun, and a great bio of a performer, but never really does much to convince you that Cagney/Cohan is writing the stuff he's slinging at you.

and Levant really does make a fine contribution!

still, I can see why people might be annoyed by it all

Yojimboen said...

James Mitchell by name, Madame, a superb modern dancer (he also played 'dream Curly' in Oklahoma! - I had no idea he was a soap star until recently.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Victor's a Babe! No two ways about it. Sondheim recenty recalled his audition for Sweeney Todd (Victor originated the role of Anthony the Sailor) and practically swooning over how great he was.

One other interesting note about Words and Music -- Tom Drake was gay.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Chabrol once cited Mickey Rooney in Boys Town as his favorite film performance because "I love hysterical actors!"

X. Trapnel said...

By the way, Levant wrote gorgeous bit of imitation Gershwin for the sailboat scene in Nothing Sacred. A wonderful compilation of pseudo-Gershwin could include that, the "Symphony" from City for Conquest and Franz Waxman's music for The Philadelphia Story.

Lou Lumenick said...

Any biopic with Oscar Levant can't be all bad. There was actually scripts written for "Rhapsody in Blue'' by Clifford Odets and Levant that weren't used, and non-biographical pieces of them turn up uncredited in "Humoresque.'' Warners announced another Gershwin biopic starring Dustin Hoffman in the early '70s wasn't made. This was around the same time that Arthur Freed was trying to get an Irving Berlin biopic starring Frank Sinatra off the ground at MGM. Sinatra decided to do "Dirty Harry'' instead, then he decided to temporarily retire.

Campaspe said...

I'm not sure I see Sinatra as Berlin -- not nearly nebbishy or endearing enough to play Berlin's public persona, though I don't know much about what Berlin was like offstage. Hoffman as Gershwin has possibilities, or had since the one thing you need for an actor to play Gershwin is, alas, youth. I don't know, biopics are such a moribund genre in so many ways and I would far rather never see a Gershwin pic than have them tart up his songs with a bunch of whirling-dervish camera work or whatever.

Yojimboen, it amounts to a mental block with me and Mitchell. I still remember the jolt I got when I realized Palmer was also Cyd's sulky Svengali in The Band Wagon. He was very good on All My Children, brought the part some great campy wit.

David, that Chabrol line is great although the funny thing is that for Rooney, Boys Town is relatively restrained!

Anagramsci, Rhapsody had it moments but I kept thinking Gershwin must have been more fun than he seemed to be in the movie.

XT, my favorite rhinestone-Gershwin score is Alfred Newman's for How to Marry a Millionaire.

Karen said...

David, many thanks both for the Lane-Garber dish (kudos to Nathan, indeed; Garber is GORGEOUS) and for that wonderful description of The Lisbon Traviata. Lane really is classic Broadway, like so few others are today (maybe...Kristen Chenoweth? Faith Prince and Bernadette Peters, in their day?).

I wondered if playing Hart might not be tough for Lane because it would take him back to such a dark place in gay men's history, but your reasons for it being painful are far more compelling. Still, I'd love to see him try it.

About Gershwin: Scorsese was thinking of doing a Gershwin biopic at one time. I know this because I was working for Simon Schama back in 1999 when he became friends with Scorsese, and he said that MS had asked him whom he would cast as Gershwin, so Simon asked me. I suggested John Turturro, simply on physical grounds. But then I never heard anything further about it.

Incidentally, a story about Simon, movies, and me that I imagine the Sirenites will appreciate....Simon is a HUGE movie fan (classic, new, foreign, domestic, you name it) and he and I used to have great conversations about film. Once, while driving together up to his house in Westchester, I learned that not only had he never seen The Women, he'd never even heard of it. Over dinner that night, he turned to his wife and said, "Ginny, have you ever heard of a film called The Women?" When she said she hadn't, he replied, "Well, neither had I, and you should have seen the LOOK Karen gave me!!"

The coda to this is that I was telling that story to a good friend a few weeks later and, after I got to the punchline, she sighed and said, "Yeah, I know that look...."

X. Trapnel said...

Newman used the same music for Where the Sidewalk Ends and maybe two or three other films. It was originally an independent work called Street Scene.

Hoffman even when young was too whiney, nebbishy, and short to play Gershwin, by all accounts a man of incredible dynamism, presence, and charm.

Campaspe said...

XT, Hoffman didn't have the panache, it's true, but in his heyday he did have a measure of sex appeal that I would want in any man who dared essay Gershwin (and that's why I would rule out Turturro, excellent actor though he is).

Karen, how awesome that you know Schama, whose books I really admire. "I know that look"--priceless. My friends know that look too. Hmmm, Scorsese and Gershwin--must as I admire Scorsese, I'm not feeling it, probably because I disliked New York, New York. Wonder if Woody Allen ever thought of trying a movie about Gershwin? Gershwin amounts to a featured player in a lot of Allen movies.

My favorite Gershwin anecdote was one that someone told in a documentary. He was catnip to the ladies but they all came second to the music, as one lady found out at a big Broadway party one night. George had a pretty girl in his lap, and then someone asked him to play his latest song. He sprang up to make for the piano--but was so eager he forgot his companion, who fell to the floor in a heap.

I can't come up with a modern actor who could play that and make it funny and emblematic of the man's obsessive genius, rather than just boorish...

Yojimboen said...

"Gershwin amounts to a featured player in a lot of Allen movies..."? (Beautifully put.)
I'll go further: He played the goddamn LEAD in Manhattan! ;D

Campaspe said...

Y., I agree re: Manhattan and what's more, Woody himself might agree, too.

X. Trapnel said...

I'll go further and say that Manhattan was a parasite sucking blood from Gershwin's music. Perhaps Woody Allen could do a biopic about Arthur, the Zeppo of the Gershwin clan (there was no Gummo, alas.)

Campaspe said...

Ahem. I love Manhattan, all right? *scowls at XT*

X. Trapnel said...

(shrinks into to a small pyramid of smoking ashes...)

Yojimboen said...

"Ahem. I love Manhattan, all right? *scowls at XT*"

As do I chère Madame!

(Go ahead, smack 'im, I'll be over here holding your coat.)

Seriously, I'll watch Manhattan until it melts in the projector. Not solely because Mariel H. was every dirty old (or young) man's fantasy - nubility on a stick(!) - but also because it's up there with the greatest romances ever put on celluloid.

Nonethless, I am torn of late. X.T made the point the other day that somebody has to stop Woody (before he makes another Scoop or Cassandra's Dream? Or anything, XT?)

Sadly, the more Scarlett Johansson movies he makes the harder it becomes to defend Manhattan, Annie Hall or Zelig, but defend them I will, and if you and Voltaire disagree and insist on your right to your opinion, well... I'll scowl at you too.

Manhattan's final message: "You have to have a little faith in people..." is nowhere near as sexy and satisfying as Wilder/Diamond, but I'll take it over "Shut Up and Deal" anytime.

Campaspe said...

Well, Scarlett has had the pleasant effect of making me realize I was way, way too hard on Mia back in the day. I should even give "Alice" another chance, I think. At the time that movie had me ready to double over and shriek at the sound of Mia's voice, a la Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange.

Mr. C will even defend most recent Allen, however, having that very French "love the director, love his late period" thing. And I am old enough to remember in the 1980s, a period most people now regard as Allen's apogee, when every film was greeted with hand-wringing over why he wasn't doing pure farcical comedy anymore. Maybe Mr C will turn out to be right. The French are right about Albert Lewin, after all, and The Barefoot Contessa and the list goes on...

X. Trapnel said...

All right, all right! I plead for clemency! (nice girl, Clemency).

Ok, I'll concede WA has his moments of comic genius (ok, lots of them) and I think Annie Hall is a masterpiece, and yes, I liked Manhattan when I first saw it (tho I remember grinding my mandibles at that line about Cezanne's "incredible" kumquats and persimens or whatever. Maybe I'm projecting backwards in light of recent disasters.

Can I gather my ashes?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Alain Resnais made a TV movie about Gershwin. I've never seen it but from what I understand it was a documentary using stills, cls and the like.

Paul Schrader wrote a Gershwin biopic script for Scorsese but Marty didn't care for it as written and wanted something looser. They never got around to rehashing it. At this stage I doubt it will ever get made. Geshwin's is a great art but an awkward life -- with no third act.

DavidEhrenstein said...

"I can't come up with a modern actor who could play that and make it funny and emblematic of the man's obsessive genius, rather than just boorish..."

Sounds like a job for Ryan Gosling.

Vanwall said...

Jeez, I miss a half-day here and find M. X has been "carboneezay" by a smokin' Siren-glance; the entire relevant history, background and foreground to all their films, sexual preferences, and what they had for breakfast while humming the Andorran national anthem has been already annotated and dissected for most of the musical stars, writers, & composers in H'wood and B'way, and Woody Allen has risen, fell to below sea level, risen again, and is dog paddlin' with Scarlett - to say nothing of the short and long of that significant cocksman and puckish Velvet jockey, M. Rooney, who wielded a mean whip for more years than any of us can ever compete with. Sure glad I wasn't looking to add anything, I'da been hard put to shoehorn anything new in, and this is only Tuesday!

X. Trapnel said...

David's point about "no third act" is agood one, so perhaps something more limited, say a film about the writng and production of Porgy and Bess (a better subject all around than that Cradle Will Rock business of several seasons back). Todd Duncan (the first Porgy) told some fascinating stories about traveling to the South (1930s, recall) with Gershwin to hear the authentic music of the opera's locale. There were so many cultural tensions in the reception of Porgy and Bess at the time that would make for good drama, not least the snobbery directed against Gershwin by cultural arbiters

Campaspe said...

Vanwall, LOL! I decided to go ahead and write about this one because I did like it a lot and figured there was a lot to discuss, plus it is nice to write about a movie that's widely screened and available for once.

David, I haven't seen Ryan Gosling in anything but one hears good things. He's young enough, for now.

I think XT may be on to something with Porgy and Bess; the making of the Preminger movie would be an interesting subject as well. It would take some major nerve, though, to tackle all that baggage at once.

Yojimboen said...

For most of the day I’ve been trying to recall a fairly bitchy revue of Words and Music; I just remembered and found it. Clive Hirschhorn in “The Hollywood Musical”:
“Mickey Rooney starred as Lorenz Hart… [and gave] basically a hammy and superficial performance as broad as Rooney was short. About Tom Drake as Rodgers, the less said the better.” Miaow.

Campaspe said...

OUCH. Poor Mickey, what a low blow (oh wait...never mind). Drake was a cipher here but that was the way the part was written. I didn't know he was gay in real life but he barely interacted with Janet Leigh, who was so very beautiful in the late 1940s. And he had a gentle romantic rapport with Garland in Meet Me in St Louis, so he was capable of showing romance when there was romance to be shown.

Yojimboen said...

Joni on in the background and up comes "I Wish I Were in Love Again": (from Words and Music)

"When love congeals
It soon reveals
The faint aroma
Of performing seals
The double-crossing
Of a pair of heels
I wish I were in love again..."

Damn! What's NOT to love about Larry Hart?

X. Trapnel said...

What remains a mystery is how Rogers sounds like a completely different composer when he was working with Hammerstein (tho I think there's a strain of the old style in "Out of My Dreams," the best tune (I think) from Oklahoma.) By contrast, Kern always sounds like Kern no matter who's the lyricist.

Karen said...

Yes, X., that's the question indeed. Maybe the inspiration of "the faint aroma of performing seals" produces different melodies than "I'm as corny as Kansas in August"? (Seriously: can you imagine Hart coming up with a line like that? Or even knowing where Kansas was?)

X. Trapnel said...

Right you are, Karen, but look what "you are the angel glow that lights a star / the dearest things I know / are what you are" got out of Kern. I like Oklahoma as much as anyone. The impersonal pomposity of "Some Enchanted Evening" was still to come. The mystery deepens...

gmoke said...

Odd that nobody's mentioned "My Funny Valentine" as a favorite Rodgers and Hart song.

As for Gershwin, I think another good movie could be made about his relationship with such people as James P. Johnson who taught him stride and was the composer of "The Charleston." That mix of Jewish Broadway and Harlem Renaissance could be very interesting today.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

Sometimes reading through all these comments can become too much for my tired, Gladys Cooper-ish eyes.

I will add, though, that two items in my personal credo are: 1) as surely as the sun rises in the east, Rodgers & Hart is to be preferred to Rodgers & Hammerstein; and 2) "Yolanda and the Thief" is to be loved.

One of the examples of the Structuring Lack (what is Lacan's proper phrase, anyway) in "Words and Music," for me at least, was that scene where everyone leaves the party except Mickey Rooney -- and Mel Torme, who sings "Blue Moon" to him. Positively romantic!

As long as we're talking Torme ... while my respect and attention belong to Frank Sinatra, a large portion of my heart belongs to Mel Torme (prior to 1970, please). Do check out his rendition of "Mountain Greenery" on the "Mel Torme at the Red Hill" album, as well as -- an album that was a Road To Damascus for me -- "Mel Torme and the Marty Paich Dek-tette," which includes "Lady and the Tramp" (prior to FS's version), "I Like To Recognize The Tune," and "Sing For Your Supper."

As far as Doris Day singing Rodgers & Hart is concerned ... "My Romance" is super, but I'll take the Day/Andre Previn version of "Nobody's Heart" on virtually all occasions. (Both were visible, when last checked, on YouTube.)

And has anyone *else* heard the rumour that Hugh Martin wrote "Thwe Boy Next Door" in tribute to Tom Drake?

X. Trapnel said...

With Rogers and Hart it's (speaking of Simon Schama) an embarrassment of riches. And so much buried treasure! Two of my favorite "unknowns" are "Quiet Night" and "I Must Love You."

The ideal Gershwin movie would also have him playing tennis with Arnold Schoenberg. (Difficult Arnold didn't get into Rhapsody in Blue; though I recall Oscar Levant pointing to a gaunt apparition and saying, "Look! There's Rachmaninoff!"

Yojimboen said...

Mrs HWV - How delightful to find another aficionada of Mr. Torme's redoubtable talents.

Though I adore almost everything he ever sang, I have a special regard for Mountain Greenery; I think it's the first song I made point of learning, word for word.

Re the Tom Drake question, I don't think I've ever heard that Hugh Martin wrote The Boy Next Door for Tom Drake; but it's unlikely, since it was Ralph Blane who wrote the lyrics for the song.

Pete Lawson said...

Good Lord, what a stanza that is, Yojimboen!

As for the change in Rodgers’ music, Karen, my understanding is that he tended to write the music before the lyrics in the Hart period, whereas Hammerstein would present him with the completed lyrics to put to music. As such, from Oklahoma onwards, he was hemmed in by a set, regular meter to write to, rather than able to make up his own, possibly more interesting one. I’m not saying that entirely explains such a huge stylistic shift, but I expect it has something to do with it. I still love a lot of the Hammerstein era stuff though, especially Carousel.

Excellent post, Siren, and a wonderful batch of comments, as always. I agree heartily with more or less everything said here, save for the Bing bashing.

Karen said...

Pete Lawson, many thanks for that insight into Rodgers' change in process! That does seem like it would have a great effect on the kinds of melodies he might write.

The Siren gets the best and smartest commenters--coming here is like taking a graduate seminar...

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

"How much does the Siren miss enunciation..."

This is perhaps the most irritating aspect to present day films. Two hours of gratuitous sex and violence, or even (gasp) bad hair, are nothing at all in comparision to sloppy diction. I don't know if it started with Brando. Let's find somebody to blame and kick them hard.

operator_99 said...

Here is what I know - ask any good lounge pianist to play "All the Things You Are" and he/she will be your friend for life. If you want to test their ability, request "Here's That Rainy Day." Ah-the days when melody was held in high regard. And a good melody carries its own rhythm.

DavidEhrenstein said...

OVer at Dennis Cooper's Serge Gainsbourg tribute yu can find a clip of Serge playing "All The Things You Are."

High Martin writing "The Boy Next Door" for Tom Drake sounds about rate. These days Martin (who must be 500 years old by now) has become a "Born Again" and put matters of the flesh behind him.

I can no longer find the clip of Matt Damon singing "My Funny Valnetine" (in the style of Chet Baker) from The Talented Mr. Ripley.

The other indelible intepreter of that Rodgers and Hart classic is of course Nico.

DavidEhrenstein said...

As for Mel Torme, he's a featured player in my favorite musical Good News (1947) where he gets to do the reprises of "Lucky in Love" and "The Best Things in Life Are Free."

DavidEhrenstein said...

Rodgers is quite chameleon-like when it comes to his lyricist collaborators.

Interesting his one solo effort (both music and lyrics) No Strings might well be described as a seance in which he revives the spirit of Lorenz Hart.

Campaspe said...

Pete, my apologies for the Bing non-love. I am trying to work on more appreciation for him as a singer because I know he's an important figure. In movies, though, he's a hard pill for me to swallow a lot of times.

Operator_99, I will remember that! My usual piano-bar request is "Laura", just because it always seems like the perfect whisper-along-the-keyboard piano-bar song.

Gmoke, Valentine isn't a song I dislike, like Thou Swell, but XT's list at the top of comments pretty much encompasses my favorites too. I think My Funny Valentine has to be done superbly or it shouldn't be done at all. I don't know how to explain it, but it's a song that isn't very forgiving of lousy interpretations.

Vanwall said...

Ah, Chet Baker - there's a voice to love. Unequalled, and unaproachable.

Campaspe said...

Jacqueline, I am not sure we should blame Brando. It's sort of like the Billy Wilder remark, to the effect that "Just because Samuel Goldwyn is a shit doesn't mean that being a shit makes you Sam Goldwyn." In other words, Brando combined his lack of diction with a once-in-a-century talent, too many others are just mush-mouthed. It really strikes you, watching an old movie and listening to the diction actors used to have--quite a difference. Even some who were mocked for their supposed accents, like Susan Hayward and Barbara Stanwyck, were more well-spoken than most modern actors.

David, thanks so much for the Gainsbourg link--what a treasure trove, even the infamous video of him burning a 500-franc note. Now there was a man who really, really knew how to be transgressive.

Bob Westal said...

I'm way late on all this, but a few random thoughts. I echo the call for Ryan Gosling as Gershwin. I missed his last big role, but in "The Believer" he was astonishingly good and proved that he was one Mormon who could play Jewish at the drop of hat.

Re: "My Funny Valentine" versions. I'm not sure he'd make the grade with the stone traditionalists, but I'm forced by habit to mention that Elvis Costello has recorded at least two lovely versions, one accompanied only by himself on guitar (back when he could barely play) and another that's harder to fine with only Steve Nieve on piano. I'm not saying he's Ella or Frank, but he does pretty well with it both times. He also gets points for having the guts to record that first version in 1978 or so, when stuff like that simply wasn't done by "punk rockers."

Re: Words and Music -- I'm with the Siren on this in terms of the nonsense of attacking it for being such a whitewash; but it's a terrible shame that they couldn't figure out a way to induce any sort of real dramatic tension or conflict. "The Jolson Story" -- the ultimate lying biopic -- had a brilliant solution to this problem -- steal from a previously successful story and then claim it as reality!

Oh, and Campuspe, I won't tell my June Alyson-worshipping mother all those awful things you say about her. Actually, I don't hate her (though the kind of movies she was usually in...not so much my thing), and I really still kind of like "Thou Swell." Fond memories, perhaps, of seeing it for the first time as 12 year-old in "That's Entertainment."

Karen said...

Bob Westal, I'm glad you brought up Elvis Costello's "Valentine," because you saved me from risking excoriation by mentioning it myself. I will, however, align myself in support of that 1978 version, which I've always found quite moving. I love unexpected covers like that--like The Beatles covering "Til There Was You" on Meet the Beatles.

Oh, and this line of yours "steal from a previously successful story and then claim it as reality" made me laugh, because that's an inherent quality of hagiographies: borrow qualities of sanctity from popular vitae and apply 'em to your guy!

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

Here's Stephen Sondheim on "All The Things You Are," as quoted from the notes that he wrote for an album of Paul Weston arrangements:
"This ballad is so beautiful that it survived a disastrous flop show" -- i.e. 1939's VERY WARM FOR MAY -- "to become a standard. There is hardly a pop singer who at one time or another has not recorded this song. The music is unusual in that within a steady circle of fifths, a climax is made by the sudden introduction of parallel tritones in the melody and the bass."

One other, non-"Strings" example of Rodgers writing his own words that I kinda like is "Something Good" for the SOUND OF MUSIC movie. Not at all my favorite Rodgers score, but ...

Buttermilk Sky said...

Yes, why didn't Allyn Ann McLerie have a bigger career? She was still charming in the 1970s in occasional appearances on "WKRP In Cincinnati," as the wife of Mr. Carlson (Gordon Jump). And somewhere in the middle she was Amy (as in "Once In Love With") in "Where's Charlie?" on Broadway. And that's my contribution from the great warehouse of trivia I use for a brain.

It's not just "Song of Rimsky-Korsakov," I've never seen a classical biopic that wasn't completely idiotic and that includes the overrated "Amadeus." I have to admit I never saw Richard Tauber a Schubert.

X. Trapnel said...

Ken Russell's composer biopics are a phenomenon unto themselves. Whatever you think of them (or him), Russell really knows and understands music. Nevertheless, The Music Lovers (Tchaikovsky), Mahler, Lisztomania should be buried with along with toxic waste. British music brings out his best. He did excellent, though quirky semi-documentaries on Elgar and Vaughan Williams. Best of the lot is A Song of Summer about Delius, truly memorable and probably Russell's finest film of any kind.

Hollywood films on real/fictional composers or music in general have a way of breeding impossibly inane dialogue. A few samples:

From Humoresque: "Martinis; an acquired, like Ravel." (ferchrissakes, who doesn't like Ravel!)

From A Song to Remember (Chopin): "Discontinue that so-called polonaise nonsense!"
and
"If he goes on this concert tour it will literally and actually kill him!"

and the gem of my collection:
(from A Woman's Face): "Do you like music? Symphonies? Concertos?" "Some symphonies, most concertos."
From A woman

Vanwall said...

Allyn Ann McLerie - I can't think of her as anything other than the The Crazy Woman in "Jeremiah Johnson", regardless of what I'm watching her in. I half expect her to start running around talking hysterically every time.

Bob Westal said...

Karen -- I never quite realized how great a song "'Till There Was You" was until I heard the Beatles version of it. I think it's the best version of that song yet -- in a lot of ways Paul McCartney was more mature musically back then than he is now. (Probably because he knew John would rib him mercilessly out if he wasn't.)

DavidEhrenstein said...

No Strings was Edie Sedgwick's favorite musical. She used to get up on tables in restaurants and sing "Loads of Love."

Speaking of "catalogue musicals" Here are June Allyson and the sadly neglected Ray MacDonald doing my favorite song in the whole wide world.

maladroit said...

"I like to think that Oscar Levant tried to exercise some damage control in making R in B (and who could possibly play HIM!?)"


Lewis Back? I've always seen him as a latter-day Levant.

Schaz said...

I haven't seen this movie but I had to follow the "Slaughter..." link. Vera-Ellen and Gene Kelly, two of my favorite dancers? Of course!

Then was shocked that I didn't enjoy it. They had to dance the steps they're given, but such stylized awkwardness and ugly lines...I'll confess, through the whole number, in the back of my head Danny Kaye was singing "Instead of dance, they're doing choreography!"

Preston Neal Jones said...

How wonderful to discover your Blog, your lovely piece about WORDS AND MUSIC, and the fascinating comments it inspired. Just a few tidbits, if I may:

Lewis Black as Oscar Levant? With the right script, an intriguing notion. As for Lorenz Hart, I think it's a pity Danny DeVito never got that role when he was still young enough to play it.

The Alfred Newman theme heard in HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE was the one he originally wrote for STREET SCENE. (It's heard in almost every Fox noir film of the Forties.)

I can understand considering the Freed/Brown tunes from SINGIN' IN THE RAIN as a notch below the Gershwins, Kern, Porter, etc. -- but Dietz and Schwartz were right up there with the best of them. One doesn't hear Freed/Brown songs much nowadays, but Dietz and Schwartz standards live on -- and a lot of them can be heard in THE BAND WAGON.

Fred Astaire not gallant about his partners? Time and again, he has side-stepped the opportunity to disparage any of them, and he has praised quite a few of them in public and in print. Did he really say that "Pasadena" crack about Miss Bremer? Is there a source for that quote?

Oh well, keep up the great work. I look forward to reading more of your essays.

VP81955 said...

The first time I ever heard the song "Mountain Greenery" was when Rob and Laura Petrie were singing it at one of their many show-biz house parties out in New Rochelle, and I found it perfectly infectious. Seriously: "beans could get no keener reception in a beanery"--how do lyrics get any more fun than that? (Not least because I always thought it was "Beans could get no keenery, 'ceptin in a beanery" which I think I may actually prefer slightly.)

I always thought it was the latter, too, though my source for such confusion was hearing it on the Crosby album "Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings," the lone album he made for Verve and his foray into Sinatra "Songs For Swingin' Lovers"-style turf. He handles this and the other 11 tracks quite well. And for the person who said he doesn't get Bing, listen to some of his material from the early '30s, before he became rather suburbanized -- his "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?", sung with incredible conviction, is unquestionably the definitive version of that Depression anthem, and listen to him do "Dinah" with the Mills Brothers. The latter shows why Crosby was a huge favorite in the black community in the 1930s.

Caught some of "Words And Music" the other day, including Como singing and Charisse dancing on "Blue Room." Purely as a singer, Perry in the 1940s was as sublime a balladeer as Sinatra (even if his film career hadn't ended so abruptly, I'm not sure Como could have amounted to much as an actor); listen to compilations of his work from this era for proof. The difference between them was that when the pop music landscape changed in the early 1950s, with Mitch Miller and his largely banal arrangements coming to the forefront, Sinatra rebelled (winding up at Capitol for such impudence, to the benefit of both artist and label) while Como went along with the flow. He could still excel with good material, but not much of it came his way.