Movies postsThursday February 05, 2015
Valentine's Day Movie: The More the Merrier (1943)
Back in the MSNBC days I wrote a piece on the Hollywood kiss, and included classic kissing scenes split into various categories: the desperate kiss (lovers kept apart, then not), the kiss in the rain, the manhandle, the woman takes charge, the wow kiss (the kiss that changes the trajectory of the story).
If I were writing it today I would include this one from George Stevens' “The More the Merrier” starring Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur. It's a combination of wow kiss (Connie changes her mind about Joe) and a manhandle kiss (that takes its sweet time):
My path to the movie: Mark Harris' book, “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War” —> which led to the documentary “George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey” by George Stevens, Jr. —> which included the above scene from “The More the Merrier” —> which I rented from Netflix.
Watch it with someone you can't keep your hands off of.
Publicists had trouble coming up with a good poster for “The More the Merrier,” a romantic comedy set during D.C. in wartime, when the girl-guy ratio was 8 to 1. It was director George Stevens' last film before he went to war and filmed the liberation of both Paris and Dachau; he never made a light romantic comedy again.
Anita Ekberg (1931-2015)
I was born three years after “La Dolce Vita,” so my first memory of any Anita Ekberg reference was in SCTV's seminal skit, “Play It Again, Bob,” a takeoff of Woody Allen's “Play It Again, Sam,” in which an “Annie Hall”-era Woody (Rick Moranis) tries to write a movie script for his idol Bob Hope (Dave Thomas):
At around the four-minute mark they talk leading ladies. Hope suggests Joey Heaterton and Woody counters with Diane Keaton:
Hope: That stringbean that was in your movie? ... I need a girl with a build. If I'm gonna fall in love it's gotta be realistic.
Woody: Realistic? I mean, that's exactly what I'm going for. I don't want to mug or go to broad with this thing.
Hope: Well, what's wrong with Anita Ekberg. At least she's .. [cups his hands in front of his chest]. You know.
Woody: What's with the hands? You want an actress with arthritis?
I must've said that last line a thousand times in high school and college.
Eventually I saw “La Dolce Vita” and went “Ohhhhhhh.”
Anita Ekberg in the Trevi Fountain.
Did she do much else? Did I ever see her in anything else? IMDb's ratings of her films have “La Dolce” at 8.1 followed by “Boccaccio '70” (she plays a billboard come to life to taunt a prudish “public decency” crusader) at 7.2. Everything else is below 7.0. More than half are below 6.0.
That “billboard come to life” thing is pretty much it, isn't it? She was often cast as a woman so beautiful and zaftig, so perfectly fitting a certain standard of sexuality, as to be comic.
The New York Times has a nice obit:
Fellini cast Ms. Ekberg in “La Dolce Vita” as a hedonistic American actress visiting Rome. A single moonlit scene — in which she wades into the Trevi Fountain in a strapless evening gown, turns her face ecstatically to the fountain’s waterfall and seductively calls Marcello Mastroianni’s character to join her — established her place in cinema history.
On the Boat to America with Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel
My Christmas present to myself this year was “Chaplin's Mutual Comedies: 1916-1917,” which includes both DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as (the clincher), a 63-minute doc, “The Birth of the Tramp,” about his early years.
The restoration on these films is wonderful, the shots of America at the turn of the century amazing. Hats everywhere. But it's all crystal clear.
America, turn of the last century, when being filmed was a new thing.
I saw some of the Mutual comedies at the Grand Illusion theater in Seattle the week the Iraq War started, and absolutely loved them. I remember it being an oasis. Nearly 100-year-old Charlie was a kind of sanity for me in insane times.
In that 63-minute doc, it's mentioned that when Chaplin came over to America in the fall of 1910 as the principal player of Fred Karno's troupe of actors, one of the other actors accompanying him, his understudy, was a kid named Stan Jefferson. Who became Stan Laurel. What are the odds? I guess Karno knew—or knew how to develop—talent.
Chaplin (framed by life preserver) and Laurel (same row, left) on the boat to America.
Laurel and Chaplin (center) in America in 1910, about to get in on the ground floor of a new business.
The Lesser Trends of 2014 Movies
A “million” in the title can cost millions at the box office: “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” “Million Dollar Arm”
Can a brother get a copyright to make a movie about a brother? Hendrix estate refuses to give rights to Hendrix songs for “Jimi: All Is By My Side”; King’s speeches sold to Spielberg, rewritten for “Selma”
In “Jimi,” Benjamin couldn't play Hendrix's songs; in “Selma” Oyelowo couldn't say King's words.
For when you need a lesbian friend to talk you through your abortion: Gaby Hoffman in “Obvious Child” and “Wild”
Old craggy guys to the rescue! Liam Neeson, Denzel Washington
No, older, craggier: Godzilla
God’s not dead at the box office! “Noah” ($101 million), “Heaven is For Real” ($91), “God’s Not Dead” ($60), “Son of God” ($59)
Except when He is: “When the Game Stands Tall” ($30), “Left Behind” ($14), “The Identical” ($2.8), “Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas” ($2.7), “God the Father” ($113k), “Christian Mingle” ($25K) and “The Principle” ($17K)
Let’s dumb down the supersmart: “The Theory of Everything,” “The Imitation Game”
Unless they’re cartoons: “Mr. Peabody & Sherman”
Turing, Hawking, Peabody.
If this is an arbitrarily divided dystopia, you must be our teenage heroine: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1,” “Divergent”
So who played a prostitute this year?
- Chloë Grace Moretz (“The Equalizer”)
- Scarlett Johanssson (“Under the Skin”)
- Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Eva Green (“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”)
How did the world nearly end?
- God (“Noah”)
- Scientists (“Snowpiercer”)
- Aliens (“Edge of Tomorrow”)
- Giant moths (“Godzilla”)
- Crops (“Interstellar”)
- Lockdown and the military-industrial complex (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”)
- James Franco (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”)
Arthouse genre flicks are still very much with us: “Under the Skin” (alien invasion), “Only Lovers Left Alive” (vampires) “The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears” (Italian horror)
And the children shall lead: Ellar Coltrane in “Boyhood,” Jaeden Lieberher in “St. Vincent,” Noah Wiseman in “The Babadook”
How did the world end? Pick your poison.
The Best Movies of their Lives?
“Five Came Back” by Mark Harris focuses on the activities of five Hollywood directors before, during and immediately after World War II. Basically what they did during the war, daddy.
Here are the first movies each made after the war, and how many Oscars each was nominated for:
- Frank Capra: “It's a Wonderful Life” (5)
- John Ford: “My Darling Clementine” (0)
- John Huston: “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” (4)
- George Stevens: “I Remember Mama” (5)
- William Wyler: “The Best Years of Our Lives” (8)
It would be tough to find five more beloved movies than those.
Of the five, only “I Remember Mama” isn't watched much anymore; or maybe it's just I who haven't watched it. Otherwise, you have: 1) the great postwar movie; 2) one of the great westerns; 3) one of the great tales of greed; and 4) the most popular Christmas story Hollywood has ever produced. Astonishing. Each man came home and told the tale he needed to tell.
Returning from war in “The Best Years of Our Lives.”