Thursday, April 30, 2009

I can see what's good, tell me the rest...

My Little Chickadee is the perfect film to see Mae West playing Mae West. It's also the first film in which I've seen Mae West at all, but she was well represented throughout my childhood in icons ranging from Betty Boop to Jessica Rabbit. I'd always taken those to be caricatures -- greatly exaggerated portrayals of Mae's most famous habits. I was actually surprised at the feeling of déjà vu that I got upon seeing Mae speak those first lines from inside her carriage. I had definitely seen this somewhere before.

Of course, as close as the cartoons I grew up with came to the real thing, nobody can do Mae West like Mae West. The slinky walk, the batting eyelashes, the smokey delivery of each and every line... The actress definitely overshadowed the character, but I can't say I didn't find her fascinating to watch anyway. I tend to be drawn to larger-than-life performers, so I can easily see myself becoming a big fan of Mae.

I found it a bit funny that after the film, Robert Osbourne said Mae West had been angry because she'd been overshadowed by her co-star and co-writer, W.C. Fields. Don't get me wrong, Fields' performance was stellar (and quite a bit more dynamic than Mae's), but my eyes were on her the whole time.

Mae West's Mae West-ness aside, I really enjoyed this movie. The script was witty, although not all of the jokes hold up in the present day. Still, it was a fun film that pitted two great performers against each other. Regardless of what they thought of each other when the cameras weren't rolling, the way they shone together was timeless.

What a charmer!

Monday, April 27, 2009

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

I finally did it. After years of hearing about this movie, after being dragged to the Von Trapp tourist trap house on a family vacation, after never having had even the slightest desire to see this film, I finally broke down and watched The Sound Of Music.

This is the part where I'm supposed to renounce my prior disdain for the movie and admit I just didn't know what I was missing, isn't it? Sorry, kids, but the best I can do on that front is just to say that it wasn't as bad as I had been bracing myself for.

The main problem I had was Saint Maria. She was just too good to be true -- and this was even after I'd just watched "Practically Perfect" Mary Poppins. It wasn't Maria herself, or Julie Andrews' portrayal, that I had a problem with; what bothered me most was the way that other characters talked about her, particularly the other nuns. "How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?" Really? I hate it when characters' flaws are excused or benevolently tolerated for no reason. Even in a children's story, I think it just makes that character feel flat.

The story itself felt like it should have been two different movies. First there's a would-be nun acting as governess to a widower's children; she gains the children's trust and falls in love with her employer, and there are a few mentions of the political climate strewn about here and there. They live happily ever after until someone decides the movie was too short, so hold on a second -- there's Nazis! Maybe it was because I'd expected the main plot to be about the family's escape from occupied Austria, but the entire ending felt tacked-on to me.

Maybe if I'd grown up with this movie, I would have liked it better. I did enjoy parts of it, but it isn't a film I'd actively seek out to watch again.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Jane says to Michael, "I know of a man with a wooden leg named Smith." And Michael says, "Really? What's the name of his other leg?"

On Easter Sunday, I woke up to two things: A chocolate bunny, and Mary Poppins. The latter I watched twice over the course of the day, so I feel extra prepared for this post.

Of course, watching Disney movies as one of the grown-ups is an entirely different experience. When I was little, I had no idea what the woman's suffrage movement was, and I had never seen someone trying to make a living by performing on the street. I accepted these, and the myriad other aspects of the film that didn't match up with my middle-class American upbringing, without much thought. Odd how its those same details, the ones I'd always just skipped over as a child, that most hold my interest now.

The most poignant scene in the film by far is Mr. Banks' late walk through the deserted London streets on his way to being fired. It was never something I paid attention to as a kid -- after all, where was the Mary Poppins magic or animation? -- but I now find it riveting. Here's a man who is just starting, with the help of Bert, to realize how screwed up his priorities are. His entire worldview is in the process of being shaken, and before he has the chance to get his bearings, the one thing he's valued most is about to be pulled out from under him. To the credit of David Tomlinson, the audience can see the confusion in Banks' face when he pauses at the place where Michael had wanted to feed the birds. It's clear that he's still not quite sure what it all means.

I really liked that the parents -- particularly Mr. Banks -- were such an integral part of the story, to the point of having side plots of their own. It's a more interesting alternative to the static or absent parents in many Disney films.

One thing that hasn't changed about my perception of this movie is the "Step In Time" number. It's always been one of my favorite choreographed sequences in film. As I was watching on Sunday morning, I started reading some of the trivia on IMDB, and I saw that they had to film this scene twice because of a scratch on the original film. I tried to find more information on this number, but my Google-fu is failing me today. I did find a clip, at least.

Can you imagine having to nail this twice?