Saturday, October 08, 2011

Nomadic Existence: Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)



The Siren is back at Nomad Widescreen this month with something the world probably does not need: a tribute to Breakfast at Tiffany's, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a Blu-Ray. The first part of her essay is concerned with the movie's flaws, chief among them being, it seems almost redundant to mention, Mickey Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi. The Siren deals with Yunioshi in the article, because one must, but here among her friends she'd like to offer a few more thoughts on Rooney himself.

One painful aspect of Rooney at Tiffany's is that for the broad public, it's by far his most famous role. That's a pity, because Rooney is still very much with us; he turned 91 on Sept. 23, and long may he thrive. Rooney's incredible career embraces everything from a series of silents, to the definitive screen Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, to his underrated musical work and many outings with Judy Garland, to a surprisingly varied film noir period. That last group of roles is written up here in an excellent piece at Noir City; the Siren saw The Strip this year and was struck by how good Rooney was at being depressive and dark, even in between jazz numbers. He's a consummate trooper, determined to give it his show-biz all whether he's having a heart-to-heart with Spencer Tracy in Boys Town or, in Drive a Crooked Road, he's proving Ryan Gosling isn't the only one who can drive a getaway car.

That is probably why, to this day, Rooney does not appear to understand what the big honking problem is with Mr. Yunioshi. From the actor's perspective, he was given a broadly farcical role and he played the everloving hell out of it, just like he was supposed to, and now everybody is on his case for not being Japanese (or even identifiably human, but let it go). It should also be reiterated that the director, Blake Edwards, bears the ultimate responsibility for Mr. Yunioshi. That's why, as hard as the character is to take, the Siren isn't inclined to berate Rooney for it. The Siren absolutely understands why Mr. Yunioshi pretty much ruins the movie for some viewers, whether or not they're Asian. But she herself pushes Yunioshi aside, to the same mental cubbyhole in which she puts some of Preston Sturges' African-American characters, and concentrates on the party, on the cat, and Audrey.



And so back to Breakfast:


Part of what makes a great comedy is the accretion of comic detail, and Edwards piles up the bits for us, as does the script by George Axelrod. The film’s been a touchstone for fashion lovers for decades, but chic as they are, the costumes in the movie still have comic effect, as in the absurdly large hat and Ray-Bans shrouding Hepburn’s delicate face, or (my favorite) Holly’s earplugs fitted with dangling baubles, like she’s wearing earrings to bed. The film is full of minor characters who sashay in, deliver a brilliant line or two, and depart, never to be seen again. Mag Wildwood (Dorothy Whitney), the model and aforementioned thumping bore: “You know what's gonna happen to you? I am gonna march you over to the zoo and feed you to the yak.” Sally Tomato (Alan Reed), the mob boss: “Snow flurries expected this weekend in New Orleans.” Even the Tiffany’s salesman, played by the unflappable John McGiver, looking at a Cracker Jack ring and saying with complete sincerity, “It gives one a feeling of solidarity, almost of continuity with the past. That sort of thing.” And of all the quoted and re-quoted lines in the movie, the one that sums up its appeal is delivered not by Holly Golightly, but by Martin Balsam’s O.J. Berman, playing Holly's would-be agent: “She’s a phony. But she's a real phony. You know why? Because she honestly believes all this phony junk she believes in.”

That swinging party in Holly's apartment, from Holly’s toga to Mag’s face-plant, is one of the most glorious mixtures of slapstick and sophistication ever filmed, worthy to be placed alongside other shindigs from Duck Soup, My Man Godfrey, and The Philadelphia Story. Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” theme is as good as Elmer Bernstein’s main melody from To Kill a Mockingbird for the purpose of making grown men nudge you in the theater to see if you’ve got a Kleenex in your purse.

Above all, there is Audrey Hepburn. Whether or not you care for this movie is very much dependent on whether you care for her, and I love her dearly indeed. Capote famously did not want Hepburn; he thought she was too genteel, preferring the up-front sensuality of Marilyn Monroe. He had a point. But, having admitted that it’s hard to believe Audrey Hepburn was ever Lula Mae Anybody, let’s also admit that most great stars don’t seem to have come from anywhere, except maybe the forehead of Zeus. And in every other respect, Hepburn nails the part. Her essential sweetness takes the edge off Holly’s avarice, as her face lights up at the sight of the “ninth richest man in America under 50.” Her lovely, overarticulated voice suggests a girl who’s role-playing so often she doesn’t know whether she’s “on” or “off.” Hepburn began as a dancer, and like her other good roles, Breakfast at Tiffany’s uses her ease with her body, as when she cries “Thursday? It can’t be, it’s too gruesome!” and gallops into action. One of the smartest things Edwards does is that opening, where Holly, still in last night’s evening gown, glides along the Tiffany’s windows with her coffee and bread. It’s defiantly literal, but it anchors every part of the character: her practicality and her whimsy, her materialism and her dreams.

54 comments:

Eddie Selover said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen said...

Ah, well, there's no denying that it's a glorious film, and Hepburn is the white hot star at the center of it. Perhaps it's the real emotion that pulses through it all that makes Rooney's Yunioshi so jarring. Maybe in any other film he'd merely be a mild irritant, or even as welcome as, say, Walter Catlett's hectic drunk in Mr Deeds Goes to Town. But in THIS film, Yunioshi's appearance brings the action to a screeching halt.

I have a complex reaction to Rooney. I loved him when I was younger, and I still adore him as Puck. You're not wrong about him being the ultimate trouper, and there's no denying he had a steamtrunk of talent as actor, singer, and dancer. But jeez he could be such a ham. And not just ordinary ham: self-absorbed, look-at-me, to-hell-with-the-others ham. He had routines--especially in the Garland films--that took mugging for the camera to new heights. He tends to make me feel as if I'm trapped visiting a family who are Oh So Proud of talented Junior, and so certain everyone wants to see him perform.

I'm thinking of a scene where Rooney and Garland are waiting in the antechamber of some big agent's office, and Rooney decides to do a routine where he's a radio announcer interviewing a series of celebrities, all of whom he renders via impressions. It's sheer agony.

But as Puck, in Boys Town, as the little brother in everything from Hide-Out to Reckless, as neighborhood toughs in Manhattan Melodrama or Little Lord Fauntleroy or, yes, in his noir work, I like him fine. He's magnificent in Ah, Wilderness! and I don't mind him much as Andy Hardy, usually.

I guess he's like the little girl who had a little curl: when he's good, he's very, very good--and when he's bad, he's horrid.

MikeT said...

I'm deeply envious. I wrote my own post on this deeply fine, if flawed (yes, that's you, Mickey!) film, but didn't manage to convey anywhere near close to its allure as you did. I can only tip my hat to you!

barrylane said...

In itemizing Rooney's truly great performances, the nuance, warmth and subtlety of The Human Comedy should not go unnoticed.

The Siren said...

Barry, you are SO right. Rooney *makes* that movie and yes, it's a performance full of all kinds of nuance.

The Siren said...

(Note: I'll be back later -- off to pick pumpkins.)

DavidEhrenstein said...

Back in the late 80's my boyfriend Bill worked in the library of the Marlborough School here in L.A. A relatively exclusive enclave for young ladies of good family (John Lithgow's daughers went there) it proved to be a weather vane for what "those kids were up to." Chief among them was Zoe Kazan who when questioned about her grandfather (still with us at the time) said "Yes I know he's famous but to be he's just a cranky old man who doesn't hear so well."

Anyhoo all the girls were BESOTTED with Audrey Hepburn -- especially Breakfast at Tiffany's. While it was thought that all the girls of their generation longed to be Madonna, these budding goddesses wanted nothing less that big hats, long gloves and cocktails at 5. I wrote a piece aboput it for "Los Angeles magazine" in which I dubbed Hepburn "The Elvis of Style."

Peter Nellhaus said...

One worthy Rooney performance is Quicksand. It was also fun to see him appear game enough to be totally in make-up for Babe: Pig in the City.

On a side note, I recently read George Axelrod's early 50s thriller, Blackmailer, which has a character that appears to have been modeled after Capote, and a party that has some resemblance to the party in the film. The effect on me was as Axelrod had been predestined to write the screenplay for Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Hope you and the kids had fun in the pumpkin patch.

rcocean said...

I'd hate to think that "Andy Hardy" is so forgotten that an almost Cameo role in BAT is "his most famous role". But you may be right.

His 'Yunioshi' never bothered me. I don't see any malice in it.

Rooney did a lot of good work in TV. Just saw him in a great dramatic role on the on "The Fugitive."

Odd that Montgomery Clift and Mickey were the same age.

gobsmackedprotean said...

Mickey Rooney has long been pilloried for his performance in BAT as Mr. Yunioshi, and for good reason. He reminds one of a drunken driver who insists on commandeering the car from the one sane driver, crash it into a tree, and then hold everyone captive for hours telling them what a terrific experience it was. (Wasn't it? Ah, come on, admit it ... You loved it.) That said, I used Yunioshi in one of my short stories (Borrowed Light), and certainly benefited from his excesses. That the Cult of Holly exists no doubt has something to do with her willing her life toward beauty against all odds -- the many men who grapple her -- the Mafia connections who ruin with their limelight her faultless complexion -- her transient existence summed up by the no-name Cat ... (Who won an Cat Academy Award for his powerful performance) ... and her pathetic attempts to become Mrs. Somebody in Argentina -- which mime her own personal battles vis-a-vis the MR. NOBODY's in her life, not to mention the cancer that ultimately killed her. All this makes Audrey/Holly the perfect iconic heroine. Whatever her imperfections, all is forgiven when a woman can joke about mixing up a knitting pattern with the blueprints for a ranch house, while decorating her Upper East Side flat with an enormous bull's head. George Peppard (who married lookalike Elizabeth Ashley) never got over her, neither did Albert Finney, and neither will we. She is simply too too divine darling ... Puisqu'il n'y aura jamais des autres comme elle !

DavidEhrenstein said...

Axelrod is a writer of enormous importance. The Seven Year Itch put him on the map -- though Billy Wilder's rendition softened Axelrod's harder edged play. Tashlin took only tht title for his film version of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter Axelrod's play (which I saw live on stage, lucky me) Axlerod's play was a version of Faust with Andrew Breitbart's father-in-law as he who sells his soul to the Devil, Walter Matthau as a very suave and urban Mephitopholes, and Jayne Mansfied as a modern Marguerite. There was no character called Rock Hunter in the play. Axerod's most famous screenplay is of course The Manchurian Candidate He wrote and directed Lord Love Duck (See my Tuesday Weld Day for clips from it -- and clips of George)
and the barely-known The Secret Life of An American Wife a striking example of "Filmed Theater" re-titled from Axelrod's preferred (and much more a propos) The Connecticut Look) My favorite Axelrod title is that of one of his last novels "Where Am I Now When I Really Need Me?"

There is no one remotely like him today.

gobsmackedprotean said...

Axelrod vaguely defined my adolescence somehow ... Between his films and books (there were a few lying around), I considered him an auteur, though I could not have really known that much about him. I did attempt to write a George Axelrod-style Bildungsroman when I was 13 or so, but it was crap. Probably I was impressed by seeing his name attached to almost every film I saw during that time, and no doubt the strange anti-euphony of his name had an effect. Breakfast at Tiffany's certainly a major credit. There was the 50th anniversary for BAT at Lincoln Center not too far back w/Julie Andrews in attendance; Vanity Fair described many Hollyites in attendance -- carrying the proverbial cigarette holders, and attempting Audrey's distinctive hauteur, at once innocent and phony. Something about several generations of xeroxes quite puts me off though ...

Patrick Wahl said...

I haven't always been a fan of this movie but it's grown on me to the point where I find it pretty entertaining. I still find the scene at Tiffany's too much on the cutesy side, and in some ways I don't feel Audrey Hepburn isn't quite right for the part(she herself didn't think she was right for the part), but it wouldn't be as good a movie with anyone else in the role either, if that makes some sense. I guess I mean her strengths outweigh those few things that are a mismatch for the role.

I never gave any thought to the Rooney role until I saw Dragon: The Bruce Lee story, then you see Lee's reaction to Rooney, and I thought yeah, that could be kind of offensive. I'd say that was more true at the time of the release.

(sometimes google just sucks)

Damian Arlyn said...

Personally, I first knew Rooney as the old jockey in BLACK STALLION, but that's nether here nor there.

Nice write-up, Siren. I did my own piece on BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY"S 50th over at Ed Copeland's blog ("A Real Phony"), but I really just spent most of it talking about Audrey. I think I like yours better.

Vanwall said...

He done good in a coupla horsey films, but it must be hard to trim the wick in that bright candle for any subtlety, but when it's done, he's very much more human than cartoon. He had a helluvan eye for dames, tho.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's that Ultra-Iconic opening scene

This was the New York of my childhood (the 1950's) That whole area of Fifth Ave was my personal playground.

Yojimboen said...

Attached, the real phoney, aka: the real Holly Golightly: Carol Grace Marcus Saroyan Saroyan (she married William Saroyan twice) Matthau - as in Walter.

Capote freely admitted the widow Matthau was the foundation for Holly G. Though it was rumored at one time Carol attempted to collect some royalties from Capote, none were forthcoming.

The reason Carol gave for Marrying Saroyan twice was she couldn’t believe how bad it was the first time and wanted to be sure. The reason she gave for marrying Walter Matthau was that she simply loved to fuck him.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Under her real name, carol Grace, she plays a pivotal role in Elaine May's maudit masterpiece Mikey and Nicky as the girlfriend the two visit and argue with.

I interviewed her a goodly number of years back when a book on Chalin came out. Oona was her lifelong best fired.

"Did you meet in college?" I naively queried.

"Oh we didn't go to college, dear. We went to marriage"

Oona was the inspiration for the story "For Esme With Love and Squalor" by a writer Carol referred toas "Little Jerry Salinger." In her view he was a real pain, and oona diud well to drop him in favor of Chaplin.

Carol and oona figure in Truman Capote's infamous "La Cote Basque" -- the story designed to be a chapter of the unfinished (barely started actually) Answered Prayers. It's publication reated such a ruskus that Babe Paley refused to speak with Truman ever again and he descended (rather rapidly) into a haze of drugs and alcohol.

Andy -- a fan since childhood -- never lost faith in truman, and encouraged him to write. He said he'd publish anything he wanted in "Interview" -- and he did. He also gave him a tape recorder to help out -- and thus "Handcarved Coffins" was semi-written.

As Thackeray says at the close of Barry Lyndon "They are all equal now."

gobsmackedprotean said...

Sometimes I wonder what use my life experiences have been put to when I spend my days blogging about a girl and her cat, and a crackerjack ring ... But I have to say, it is film-making genius the way Edwards works the last scene in BAT, in the rain (filmed on the lot), with Audrey giving it away to a stray ginger cat, and struggling writer. Can you imagine such sentiment today -- with those dissonant minor chords of Mancini's, and the jazzy recombination leading into the lush chorus? Viewers would be all: 'Ewww... A crackerjack ring? Stray cat? Has it been wormed? And her hair is wet! Kissing with a wet cat between you & a guy with 50 bucks in his pocket? Be in touch after your first million!' Which I suppose is what Capote lampooned in Holly -- and became himself. BTW, I think Oona O'Neill Chaplin (according to Carol Matthau's bio 'Porcupines') was also considered a model for Golightly, an honor they fought over, and which Matthau won by sheer dint of her eccentric longevity. Oona left the US with Charlie to live in Switzerland with all the other shat-out geniuses. And that area, an old playground, is now prime Upper East Side real estate fetching multi-millions ...

Karen said...

No denying Rooney is sublime in The Human Comedy, a film I didn't see until a couple of years back. When he lets himself go in the role, he's tough to beat. When he puts on the ham, he's tough to bear.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Mickey Rooney was -- for a considerable number of years -- the biggest star in the entire world.

See Girl Crazy to find out why.

Noel Vera said...

I'm Asian and no, Rooney, while not a great performance, doesn't ruin it for me (unlike Heston in Touch of Evil, who I believe helps make that movie). It's troubling, yes, but it's of its time, is a spot of poor judgement in an otherwise masterfully wrought film.

What struck me about that final scene was the simplicity--alley, rain, cat, girl, Mancini. Edwards had balls, trying to pull that one off, even then. Works on me.

gmoke said...

I wonder if Blake Edwards redeemed himself or dug a bigger hole with Cato, so ably played by Burt Kwouk, whose role grew and grew with each new Pink Panther film.

Noel Vera said...

Not quite redeemed himself, but didn't dig a deeper hole. I'd say.

The Pink Panther movies are underrated, I think; they were broad, they were commercial, but they were also sustained pieces of slapstick, expertly paced and wonderfully inventive.

Dave said...

I agree with you that one's enjoyment/tolerance of BAT is directly proportional to one's feelings about Hepburn, but I'm that rare audience member who just doesn't get her appeal. (I also don't get Monroe or Doris Day, either [sorry, David E.], but that's another matter.) She's not bad in "Funny Face," but that one has way too much Kay Thompson and the age difference between her and Astaire is creepy.

So, given my complete distaste for Edwards and my feelings about Hepburn, this is a picture that has always been a non-starter for me.

DavidEhrenstein said...

NEVER ENOUGH KAY THOMPSON!

DavidEhrenstein said...

a fortiori

Karen said...

Ah, David, yes, I know that Rooney was the biggest star in the entire world. I don't need to watch anything to understand why. I'm simply saying that sometimes he needed to be reined in.

I'd point to a film like Babes on Broadway, where in, say, the "Hoedown" number you see both his raw talent and his inability to relinquish the camera.

That film also includes examples of his impressions of other performers, which he always dialed up to 11. I'm pretty sure it's the one where he does the impromptu "radio" performance while waiting in Fay Bainter's office.

Me, I find him unwatchable in it. But it doesn't keep me from appreciating him elsewhere.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Yes he's best in small does, Karen. But his performing power cannot be denied

The Siren said...

Totally with David E. on Kay Thompson; never enough. She gets one of my favorite lines of all time in Funny Face: "You're in the fashion world. We're cold, artificial and without sentiment. How can you be in love?" And she gave us Eloise. For me, she can do no wrong.

Although I do take Dave's point, and the contrarian in me rather likes encountering someone who doesn't get Audrey, as sometimes she seems like a universal taste. Keeps things interesting.

Karen, I'm also more in David E's camp about Mickey although I certainly see your point, and Rooney's mugging in that Hoedown number is pretty grim. It's a part where he's playing a show-biz scene-stealer so it's weirdly in character, but it's hard when someone is work so damn hard to charm you not to fold your arms and enact the Face of Stone.

I notice nobody's posting the blackface finale from Babes on Broadway, assuming it's on Youtube. Me, I can't look. Never could. Full-body cringe. Hey, does anybody know if Judy Garland lived long enough to get asked about that number's, er, implications?

Yojimboen said...

Full-body cringe at Babes on Broadway black-face? Then you’d better avoid this one like la peste - the cringe it will engender will reverberate through your offspring to embarrass your progeny generations hence.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The only erformer whose blackface I approve of is Eddie Cantor

Harry K. said...

Mr Ehrenstein, sir, agreed sir. I've always thought that the Eddie Cantor films have a much more complex relationship to blackface than other movies that use that particular, ahem, mode of expression. The interesting thing to me, looking over them recently, is that the only 'African American' character to perform the stereotypes is Eddie Cantor in black face. Watching Harold Nicholas in Kid Millions, despite appearing as a message boy, delivering a performance without shtick when just a scene later Cantor goes through the whole stepin fetchit routine I've always found interesting.

The Siren said...

Yojimboen, don't do that! it will EAT MY SOUL! Gotta love the Youtube commenter indignantly beginning "You're missing the point. Blackface was not meant to be racist or mean." I don't know how the comment ends because that's as far as I read...

David and Harry, I never thought about that but it's true, Cantor in blackface is watchable and I never once stopped to analyze why. Is it just his Eddie Cantor-ness? There's got to be something he does that makes it less ghastly.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Cantor uses blakcface as a mask alone. He does't "act like a negro" when croked-up

Par example

Harry K. said...

Well, not to steal something from youtube's resident wit, but I think that it has something to do with Cantor being neither racist nor mean. Often the racist banter lasts for about thirty seconds of screen time, and is pretty damn innocuous. In, again, Kid Millions, it's actually confined to, I swear to god, 'That's no lady, that's my wife.' And then he'd break into song, where the only thing that indicated that this was a blackface performance was the blackface itself. Eddie performed the same songs with the same style without a reference to whether it was cork or no cork.

I mean, I remember Raymond De Felitta posting a youtube clip, which I'm sure many here have seen, a while ago of what was supposed to be a performance by Cantor at the Ziegfeld Club, where he seemed to be performing in blackface without even realizing it. There was Cantor on stage in full regalia speaking in his normal voice and cracking jokes about being Jewish.

My point with all this is I think, at least by the time he was being filmed, Eddie Cantor seemed to realize the ridiculousness of blackface, never even trying to pretend that it was a representation of anything.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here are Fayard and Harold in Kid Milions with Eddie Cantor Sadly YouTube has been forced to take the music track down. But as you can see it's quite a teriffic bit with the boys "besting" Eddie at every turn.

I got to know Fayard in his later years. Lovely man. He named Harold after his favoiret Star -- Harold Lloyd.

He was so excited when the abby was born cause it meant he;d be able to do his act with a partner.

Harry K. said...

Of course, the most interesting thing about the clip that Mr. Ehrenstein posted is that, though Whoopee! has the traditional Cantor ambiguity with regards to blackface, I would recommend anyone who cares about Native American rights and lacks a strong stomach to turn away from this particular gem.

Karen said...

David, I love that bit with Cantor and the Nicholas Brothers! I've been searching for it for ages--it keeps getting taken down from YouTube.

Cantor's consistent deference to the brothers' obvious superiority is what makes it. It's like he's saying, "Isn't a white man in black face ridiculous? Aren't we fundamentally less talented than actual black people?" And somehow that does lessen the sting a little.

Unlike the loathsome Al Jolson "Goin' to Heaven on a Mule," where, as I've ranted elsewhere and often, he hides behind his Jewishness (literally, in the case of the Forvert's front page) as a sly and slimy joke.

DavidEhrenstein said...

here the boys are at their spiffiest in the epochal "Chatanooga Choo-Choo" number form Sun Valley Serenade. M Their dancing partner is Dorothy Dandridge -- to whom Harold was at one time married.

The Siren said...

Harry and David, I think you've nailed it. Cantor's blackface is unmarred by an attempt to evoke the oh-so funny ways of those too-too comical black folks. (Although I suppose you could make a case that late-period blackface is really about early-period blackface--but then I start to get a headache.) He's Eddie Cantor, who happens to be wearing blackface.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Everyone in the business knew how great the Nicholas brothers were. Gene Kelly lept at the opportunity to dance with them in The Pirate. They had plenty of time to rehease because, as Fayard said to me "Miss Garland was. . . .frequently indisposed."

Harry K. said...

In the Chattanooga Choo Choo clip, towards the very end, when they're throwing their arms out wide, fingers extended, anyone else feel like the Nicholas Brothers were nodding to Fred Astaire?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Oh yeah they loved Fred Astaire.

The Siren said...

Confession: Nothing, but NOTHING David Ehrenstein ever posts about any of his encounters with Hollywood royalty turns me as pea-green with jealousy as being reminded that he knew the Nicholas Brothers. Visited Harold in the Motion Picture Home, even, if I recall. God they were amazing. (Don't suppose Harold ever talked about Dorothy Dandridge?)

I know, however, that David truly loves me and would never bring them up just to make me gnash my teeth... WOULD you, David?

The Siren said...

BTW, since this thread is meandering anyways, Karen: forgot to mention that I cured my Jolson allergy with a dose of Hallelujah, I'm a Bum. Liked him in that. I know, you're no more surprised than I.

Yojimboen said...

Karen - a comment dated 09-01-09:

Over at Chez Sirene a few months back, Wonderbar and Jolson were taken to task for the outrageous climax - among other things. But for me the crowning atrocity of taste happened ten years later at the same studio (Warners, such is progress), where in the Dennis Morgan/Ann Sheridan vehicle Shine On Harvest Moon, the Four Step Brothers - one of black America's best tap-dance teams, were forced to perform in.... <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jgEhvZA4LU”>whiteface</a>.
[about 6:30 in]

Yojimboen

Yojimboen said...

Try that again:

whiteface.

Karen said...

Oh, bloody hell, Yojimboen. That literally made me feel ill.

I confess I wasn't familiar with the Four Step Brothers (at least, by name) until recently, when TCM aired a delicious 1933 short film called Barber Shop Blues, about a barber who wins the sweepstakes, and uses his take to build a palace of a barber shop. You can see the Brothers doing their thing here.

Speaking of Astaire, by the way, I recently stumbled across this photo in my Tumblr feed and was struck by how visibly more graceful Fred was than Rita. Which isn't a slam on Rita; just a stone tribute to Fred.

Yojimboen said...

No argument here, Karen.
Here’s the whole dance:

DavidEhrenstein said...

No they never talked about Dorothy Dandridge. That was a Great Sadness in their lives.

Fayard BTW was a Ba'Hai. They don't believ inconventional mourning. Consequently the night Harold died Fayard had an engagement to dance here in L.A. -- and he kept it. I was there and I saw him. Two aritficial hips and yet the man could still dance like no one else.

DavidEhrenstein said...

My portraits of Fayard

Dave said...

For my money, any amount of Kay Thompson is too much Kay Thompson, but we must agree to disagree.

I was not a fan of Cantor's until I saw "Whoopee" and realized what he was like on stage. Now I love the guy and can't get enough of him. (I especially appreciate Stephen DeRosa's Cantor on "Boardwalk Empire." He doesn't quite have the physicality, but the voice and attitude are dead on.)

As for the "Shine on Harvest Moon" clip; it is a little creepy, but I see it as a clever way to get around the Southern censors (and any movie with both Jack Carson and Ann Sheridan is not to be dismissed.)

And, yes, Cantor in blackface is still just Cantor, but I'd like to nominate Laurel and Hardy's blackface in "Pardon Us" as the least offensive in film history. There are actual plot reasons for the disguise, and Babe Hardy's vocal is so sweet and non-condescending that it works (for me, anyway). (I only wish that the clip was available; not just the soundtrack.)

Most bizarre blackface? The Marx Brothers in "Go West." Groucho is blackface loses his mustache and eyebrows and suddenly becomes Julius.

gmoke said...

There was a PBS documentary on the history of American black entertainment where Pigmeat Markham is quoted as being downcast that he could no longer perform in blackface. He felt he could do more with the cork on than without it.

Cantor may have been a constitutionally gentle and considerate gentleman. My grandfather was a street orator in the Lower East Side back in the day. Sometimes the Tammany Hall guys would pay kids to heckle and throw things at him. Cantor was one of those kids. Sometime decades after those days, Cantor apologized in person for his youthful indiscretions to my grandfather.