Another Month of Old Movies
January 31, 2006

The Affairs of Dobie Gillis — I think this kind of light entertainment movie — a 1953 75-minute trifle about a goofy, girl-crazy college student — was replaced by the television sitcom. (And I’m talking about the form and genre, not just that this particular film did inspire the later sitcom starring Dwayne Hickman and Bob Denver.) Bobby Van, the title character, is very likeable, and Debbie Reynolds does the innocent teen love object perfectly. I didn’t realize the best friend was played by Bob Fosse until the first musical number, at which point it was immediately obvious. Better than I expected, even if I’m supposed to believe that being sent to live in New York is a punishment.

That's Entertainment!
That’s Entertainment!
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That’s Entertainment! — A paean to MGM’s glorious musicals. The part that affects me most now, though, is seeing how rundown the astounding MGM backlot was in 1974, when the big name stars introduce the clips. I’ve seen a lot more of the numbers in their original films, so perhaps they’re more familiar to me. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is still amazing, even if the story is much too silly.

(A frequent online argument some years ago went “why would you care who publishes your comics? you don’t go see movies because they’re put out by particular studios, do you?” Not now, no, but then… an MGM musical or a Warner Bros. gangster noir or even an American International teen flick was a brand. Just as an Oni graphic novel is today.)

Westward the Women — Robert Taylor, one of my favorites in 30s movies, is the rugged trail boss in this 1951 Western. He’s responsible for taking a wagon train of mail-order brides 2000 miles to California. Surprisingly interesting, although I don’t usually care much for the genre, and I hated the French love interest. When she first showed up, I thought she was putting on a bad accent as part of a plan, but she kept talking that way. Still, it’s a disturbingly frank portrayal of the risks the settlers faced.

The Band Wagon
The Band Wagon
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The Band Wagon — I just happened to turn on the TV at the right time and this classic musical was on. I’m not a big fan of the show-stopping modern ballet that was the popular style in the early 50s, but there are some great numbers with Fred Astaire, Nanette Fabray, and family favorite Oscar Levant, including “That’s Entertainment”.

Funny Face — One of my favorite musicals. Audrey Hepburn is a bookstore clerk and reluctant fashion model, Fred Astaire is her photographer, and they sing Gershwin tunes in Paris. The clothes and images (many by Richard Avedon) are just beautiful, from a time when there really was one fashion look a season, and the well-dressed woman matched it.

(Trivia: In the film, the model at the beginning isn’t smart enough for the look they want, as demonstrated by her reading a comic book on her down time. According to IMDB, the role was played by a real-life top model of the time, Dovima, who really did like comics.)

Funny Face
Funny Face
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Easy to Wed — A mid-40s remake of Libeled Lady that adds boring musical numbers and loses the appeal of the original. Van Johnson doesn’t have near the roguish charm of William Powell, and Esther Williams is ok but blander than Myrna Loy. Lucille Ball is more shrill than Jean Harlow and lacks the sexual chemistry that complicates the original movie, although Keenan Wynn makes more sense in the editor role than Spencer Tracy did.

I did find it interesting seeing the small substitutions: duck hunting here instead of fly fishing, a steam box instead of a hair perming machine, and the mambo fad shown in the songs and dialogue.

Between Two Worlds — A shipful of passengers in 1944 don’t know that they’re dead and sailing to judgment. Just the right movie for a melancholy fall evening. Understated in dealing with the big issues but with a definite sense of morality and point of view.

2 Responses  
Lea writes:  

Between Two Worlds sounds awesome. Thanks for sharing, because now I want to see it, and I’ve never heard of it!

Johanna writes:  

That’s the best part about Turner Classic Movies for me — sampling things because the title or a premise catches your eye, and discovering some real gems. Glad you found the writeup helpful — I hope to continue the column at the end of this month.


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