Weekly classic movie discussion (TCM Essentials)

Discussion in 'Movies' started by Eric Peterson, Sep 12, 2005.

  1. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

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    I have thought for sometime that it would be interesting to choose one classic movie per week and have an open discussion, but was never sure how to tackle it. Last night, I caught part of "The Band Wagon", and it immediately struck me to center the discussion around TCM's weekly series "The Essentials"

    It matters not whether you watch the film on DVD, or on live broadcast, or any other means that you choose, but it would be ideal, if everyone who participates has seen the film recently, and personally I will do my best to view each film during the week that it is featured.

    I suggest that the discussion begin every Monday and each week, the discussion will roll over to the next film on the schedule.

    TCM Essentials airs at 8PM EST on Saturday and 6 PM EST on Sunday of each week, and is currently hosted by Peter Bogdanovich.

    The upcoming schedule is as follows:

    09/10-09/11 - "The Band Wagon"
    09/17-09/18 - "Out of the Past"
    09/24-09/25 - "Miracle of Morgan's Creek"
    10/01-10/02 - "Grand Illusion"
    10/08-10/09 - "To Have and Have Not"
    10/15-10/16 - "Swing Time"
    10/22-10/23 - "Aresenic & Old Lace"
    10/29-10/30 - "North By Northwest"
    11/12-11/13 - "They Were Expendable"
    11/19-11/20 - "The Lady Eve"
    11/26-11/27 - "The Big Sleep"
    12/03-12/04 - "Vertigo"
    12/10-12/11 - "The Third Man"
    12/17-12/18 - "White Heat"
    12/19-12/20 - "The Shop Around the Corner"
    12/31-01/01 - "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"
    01/07-01/08 - "The Awful Truth"
    01/14-01/15 - "Some Came Running"
    01/21-01/22 - "Fort Apache"
    01/28-01/29 - "The Merry Widow"
     
  2. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

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    I'll start the discussion with this past weekends movie "The Band Wagon"

    I first saw this film about 4 months ago after the DVD was released, and previously only had a vague familiarity with the film. Musicals have never been one of my favorite genres and to be honest, I have only seen about ten all told, but this is very near the top of that list.

    Pound for pound this film, had some of the most enjoyable musical numbers that I have ever seen with my favorite being "Triplets". Mix that in with the other numbers including "That's Entertainment" & "Dancing in the Dark", and you have a first class musical.

    Another point that I feel is necessary is the flow of the film. I have always found musicals to be rather disjointed. Either the drama is tacked on as an excuse to get to the next number or that the numbers are actually used to advance the story (Something that I have a strong aversion to). This film didn't fail in either of these aspects and I found it entrancing from beginning to end.

    The set design and color choices were mesmerizing as was my most recent discovery - Cyd Charisse!! WOW! She may be my new favorite 50s movie star. Again I say WOW!

    All of these elements interwined make this film, not only a great musical, but a great film!

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  3. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    Good idea, Eric. I'm up for it.

    Well, I've seen a lot more than ten musicals, and The Band Wagon is undoubtedly one of the absolute best of them! The numbers are all brilliantly staged, and ideally suited to the talents of the performers. Cyd Charisse was undoubtedly the best dancer among all of Fred Astaire's leading ladies, although Ginger Rogers was obviously a better actress (and a great dancer herself). Cyd's acting starts off a little clunky in The Band Wagon, but it gets better along the way, and her "bonding" scenes with Fred are all very good. Of course, about 5 seconds of any dance number she's in renders any questions about her acting to pretty secondary status.

    The backstage comedy and drama of the Comden & Green script is just about the equal of the affectionate Hollywood satire they did for Singin' in the Rain, especially Jack Buchanan as the do-it-all theater king. The Girl Hunt sequence is a terrific variation on the potboiler/crime thriller genre that was so popular around that time.

    Eric, it's interesting to see that you don't like it in musicals when "the numbers are actually used to advance the story," since this is often seen as the highest level that musicals can reach (when it's done well, of course). Namely, having the characters sing and/or dance something that doesn't/wouldn't work as well with regular dialogue, or whatever else. The Band Wagon has one of the best examples of this with "Dancing in the Dark," as Cyd and Fred's characters not only overcome their anxieties about being different sorts of dancers, but they also start falling in love, all with that sublime dance number. It's almost the perfect example of a musical number that enhances the characters, and the story, in a way that no other combination of dialogue or script situation could have topped.
     
  4. george kaplan

    george kaplan Executive Producer

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    I'll participate as I can.

    I'll admit it's been a while since I saw the Band Wagon, but overall, it didn't work for me. It did have some very nice musical numbers that if montaged together is something I'd watch. But the backstage drama was just too soapoperaish for my taste, and the music not good enough to make up for it.

    Besides, if I'm recalling correctly, this is more of a dance film, than a musical, and typically the ones where the dance is more important than the music are not as strong IMO.
     
  5. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

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    You make some interesting points Haggai. I think that my primary objection to musical numbers furthering the story is more in relation to numbers that are more operatic in style (See West Side Story - This film makes me wretch!). You're right about "Dancing in the Dark" forwarding the story, but I look at it as more of an exclamation point to a plotline that was already started through a traditional dialogue scene.

    I agree completely about Cyd's acting chops, but as you already stated "WHO CARES!"[​IMG]
     
  6. Kirk Tsai

    Kirk Tsai Screenwriter

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    I'm not so sure. Eleanor Powell in The Broadway Melody of 1940 is probably right up there. Charisse being more elegant, Powell more athletic.

    The beginning of the Girl Hunt number is one of my favorite Astaire sequences. The rhythm of the choreography is perfectly matched with the music. There's also that little raising gun gesture that Astaire does when Charisse climbs next to him, very suggestive. When I first saw the movie, I thought the Jack Buchanan character was too over the top, but after I've heard another say that the character can be seen as a parody of Orson Welles, that made me enjoy the film even more.
     
  7. Marc Fedderman

    Marc Fedderman Second Unit

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    I too watched this on DVD shortly after its release. It's one of my all-time favorite musicals and my second favorite Minnelli film, after Meet Me in St. Louis.

    Highlights include the song and dance numbers "That's Entertainment," "A Shine on Your Shoes (more dance than song, but the choreography and chemistry are brilliant)," and "Triplets (I watched this particular sequence 5 or 6 times; very clever.)"

    As Haggai mentioned, this is one of the exceedingly rare musicals where the songs actually advance the plot and are seamlessly blended into the narrative.

    Another interesting angle to consider is the autobiographical nature of the film. While not quite roman à clef, there are several reel-life manifestations of Astaire's real-life, namely his return to prominence after a layoff/retirement and his concern that Cyd Charisse might be to tall for him to dance with.

    I was particularly impressed with the work of Jack Buchanan, as the pompous but lovable director. Fred Astaire is always great (or at least engaging), but he didn't have to carry this film. From the songs to the choreography to a sensible plot, I think this one of the finest examples of the genre.
     
  8. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    Ah, ok, I figured that's probably the sort of thing you meant. Well, when we get to Swing Time, get ready for a couple of truly great "integrated" song and dance numbers. I'm getting ahead of myself, of course, but the last big number in that movie is so emotionally powerful that it almost overwhelms the light and breezy plot that surrounds it throughout the rest of the film.

    Marc, I don't think there's all that much plot integration with the numbers in The Band Wagon (not that I intend that as a comment one way or another on how good the movie is). By Myself is kind of integrated, and so is That's Entertainment, in a way, as it establishes that Tony and Jeffrey will be able to work together on some level. Dancing in the Dark was of course already mentioned, but aside from those two or three numbers, most of the other ones are vaudeville/revue style performance pieces. Certainly the whole Girl Hunt sequence is of the latter type, plus Triplets and everything else in the show they end up putting on.
     
  9. Marc Fedderman

    Marc Fedderman Second Unit

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    OK, that's fair, but aren't all of the numbers used in the show montage integrated (at least to a lesser extent), because the film is about the creation and execution of said show? I don't think I ever considered one of the numbers a distraction from the narrative. This is in contrast to the ballet longueur in An American in Paris or even the extended "new kid in town" sequence (which I happen to like) in Singin' In the Rain (which I happen to love). Another way of putting this is that I don't think of The Band Wagon as a group of song and dance routines strung together masquerading as a film, as is often the case with lesser musicals.
     
  10. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    Right, Marc, Band Wagon is all quite seamless, and the numbers do feel appropriate where they are for the story, even when they're not exactly tied in to the characters. Another way of putting it would be that "integrated" numbers are somehow specific to their moment in the story, while with non-integrated ones, the filmmakers could have plugged some other type of number in that slot if they had wanted to.

    Naturally, there's no hard and fast rule for what makes a good musical number or not. "Triplets" isn't exactly integrated, since they could have taken any other old number from those Dietz/Schwartz review shows and plugged it in there, without changing the story. But, of course, it's a brilliantly funny number that works fantastically in the exact way they did it.

    And sometimes there are songs that are possibly *too* integrated, in a sense. I watched The Barkleys of Broadway (also a Comden & Green script) recently, from the Astaire/Rogers collection, and there's one number with Fred, Ginger, and Oscar Levant walking from the train station to a country house where they're spending the weekend. They do a song about how nice it is as they walk, complete with jokes about the hypochondria of Oscar's character. But in the overall scheme of things, there wasn't really a need to have any number at all at that point in the movie. So that integrated number turned out to be extraneous (overall, I did like the movie a lot).
     
  11. Marc Fedderman

    Marc Fedderman Second Unit

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    I can't wait to get to The Barkleys of Broadway, which I've never seen, as well as the rest of my Astaire/Rogers set.
     
  12. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

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    I have seen "Swing Time", and it didn't do much for me, but I'm looking forward to re-visiting it, and see if I react differently this time. Musicals are something that I have to be in the mood for, and I might not have been at the time.

    Actually, there's only one film on the list so far that I haven't seen, and that's "They Were Expendable"
     
  13. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    Now that I think about it, with Grand Illusion coming up...I flipped past it the last time they showed it on TCM, and I was stunned by how terrible it looked. I haven't seen it in a few years, so I pulled out the Criterion disc to make sure I wasn't mis-remembering what that looked like, and the disc did indeed look a million times better than TCM's print.
     
  14. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

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    I updated the schedule through January.

    All told, there are only three films that I've never seen. "They Were Expendable", "Some Came Running", & "The Merry Widow". I'm looking forward to experiencing all three.[​IMG]
     
  15. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

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    "Out of the Past"

    I watched this film on DVD earlier this year when the WB Film Noir boxset was released. That viewing marked by second time through this film, so I didn't watch the entire thing this weekend, but I did catch about an hour of it. I caught enough to remind that for some reason this film doesn't work for me.

    "Out of the Past" certainly contains all of the crucial elements of a great noir (shadows, two-timing women, un-redeemable characters, and memorable quotes), yet for some reason this film does not capture my attention fully. Personally, it think it's an issue of pacing, as the film seems very slow. Normally, that's not a problem for me,since I like a lot of languid films, but this one just doesn't cut it for me.

    I love the lines "Baby, I don't care", "He couldn't find a prayer in the bible", and several others, yet it's not enough to catapult this film to the great noir list for me.

    I'll put "Double Indemnity", "Touch of Evil", "Sunset Boulevard", "This Gun For Hire", "The Maltese Falcon", and many others higher on my list of favorite noirs.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  16. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    Out of the Past and Double Indemnity are my favorite classic noirs. The three principles in Out of the Past (Mitchum, Greer, and Douglas) are some of my favorite characters in any movie. The present-time good-girl framing aspect of the plot isn't particularly great, but I do love the ending with the young deaf/mute kid at the gas station.

    Glenn Erickson's review speaks well to what I love about the movie. I also like this part where he talks about being confused by sub-par projection quality on old prints:


    I just saw This Gun For Hire for the first time a few days ago. I enjoyed it, but I didn't think it was particularly great. Eric, have you seen Pickup on South Street? It shares several plot elements with This Gun, but I liked it a lot more.
     
  17. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

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    Yes, and I enjoyed it immensely. I forget to list that one. I also enjoyed "Thieve's Highway" tremendously.

    Anything with Richard Widmark get's my thumbs up. I think that he is the quintessential noir actor.
     
  18. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    Yeah, Widmark's great. But for me, nothing beats Mitchum in Out of the Past.
     
  19. seanOhara

    seanOhara Supporting Actor

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    The thing I like about Mitchum's Jeff Bailey is he may be a chump, but he's a smart one. Nobody gets the drop on him during the film, unlike Philip Marlowe who gets knocked out so often he should sound like Moose Molloy. In the end Bailey's done in as much by fate as the actions of his enemies.

    But my favorite character in the film is Joe Stephanos. On the surface he's a fairly standard hench-goon, but scenes like the one where he comes back from killing Eels gives him more humanity than is typical for noir thugs.

    And does the final scene with the car driving off remind anyone of Bud and Lynn leaving town at the end of L.A. Confidential?
     
  20. george kaplan

    george kaplan Executive Producer

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    I think that not only is Out of the Past a great film noir, it's a fairly prototypical film noir (as is Double Indemnity). Everything about this film does work for me. The acting is great, the dialogue is great, the femme fatale is great, the story is great. Definitely one of the great classic film noirs. Right up there with Double Indemnity, The Killers, This Gun for Hire, The Maltese Falcon, etc.

    As to Pickup on South Street - that film is too little noir, and too much communist paranoia. [​IMG]
     

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