Sunday, April 27, 2008

Never Date a Movie Just Once

This first appeared on April 27, 2008

You haven’t lived until you’ve read The Great Gatsby, they told me. In junior college, I lived. It was captivating. Many years later, the thrill was gone.

Many years later, too, listening to tapes of old Jack Benny radio programs makes me wonder why we laughed our heads off on Sunday afternoons. That funny?

Our reaction to a show depends a lot on our attitudes and life experiences at the time. When I first saw "I Love Lucy" at a neighbor’s house in the early ‘50s, THAT was the event of the week. THE funniest show anywhere. Today? Usually I strain to feel amply amused. It’s the going back that sort of charms me.

Comedy may be the hardest thing to create; harder still to stand up through time. Ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd are as funny now as they were then. So is Gale Gordon of "Our Miss Brooks." He could make it on any planet with the windy blast of his umbrage alone.

Never date a movie just once. Go back and you might belatedly fall in love — or curse whatever it was that took you for a ride in the first place.

There’s something about the dreadfully mediocre Ring of Fear that is finally getting to me. Yes, me, who recently called it Ring of Drek. Now, I’m settling into its oddball story and atmosphere. A little of Clyde Beatty’s natural charm, those okay circus acts, the pensive background music and that mad spurned man bent on wrecking the marriage of the women he lusts after and tearing down the show. And the big riotous laugh it gives us when we hear a tiger going after him for dinner in a box car.

For years, I carped about Wuthering Heights as being insufferably dull. I saw it recently, and was totally absorbed. How stupid was I? Once I gushed over Jimmy Stewart in Harvey. Saw the film a few years later and found it so cloyingly cute, I had to turn it off and escape into a reality show. Blame it on my mood?

A few rare movies never let me down, like my favorite movie musical, Bandwagon, or Hitchcock’s The Birds — an utterly brilliant evocation of the natural world turning upside down against the human race and leaving a huge Question Mark on a scorched horizon. Niagara Falls is a moody film in which Marilyn Monroe turns in a terrific performance that makes me believe she can actually act. How novel.

My estimation goes up and down. Only luke warm for Dinner at Eight one sit; red hot for the same flick a couple of years later.

And I’m so high on two recent discoveries — 1934's Midnight and 1939's Murder in the Private Car, I wonder what I’d think if ever I go back.

So, it’s about time I make another date with the Great Gatsby. I long for the infatuation I felt when first I encountered F. Scot Fitzgerald. And I need to make a personal pledge, when next it appears, to commit four or five hours of my life in front of Gone With the Wind. Many years ago, I waded through the bloated thing in a movie house. Blame it on downtown Oakland. Blame it on something in the wind I drank that day.

[photos, from above: Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights; Gale Gordon; Ring of Fear; Midnight.



B.E.Trumble said...

Ring of Fear has been a frequent topic for discussion lately here on Culpepper & Merriweather. Trey Key the owner of the show thinks it's an awful movie, but with generally better circus scens than Greatest Show On Earth, BJ, the concessions boss like the scene of the loading and unloading of train, and notes that it was filmed in Phoenix, long time winterquarters for this show. (Beatty wintered his show in Deming, NM.) I watched the film several days ago thinking that at least I'd like Beatty's act -- which I only very vaguely remember from the early 1960's when I was five or six and saw it a couple times when he was still alive and touring. I didn't. What I did like was Mickey Spillane. Now I suppose I should watch John Wayne's other circus movie.


Visited Kelly Miller last night in Mt Vernon, IL. Business apparently is holding up for KM, much as it is for Culpepper. If only diesel prices would level off a bit we could all start to breath easier.

henry edgar said...

ben - i have mixed feelings about ring of fear, but try circus world at your own risk. there's very little to recommend in it. the circus seems to be more of a wild west show. rita hayworth does deliver a very touching, subtle performance even though she was already battling alzheimers and they had to keep cutting her dialogue during the shoot.

john herriott said...

During the holidays each year our family and whoever sit down and watch "Showboat" and cry. Kathryn Grayson is wonderful. Ava Gardner is so enchantingly beautiful. Howard Keel is perfect and Joe E> Brown is just perfect, plus the Champions and supporting cast. A great showbiz. movie. We will be watching it again come Dec. ONLY MAKE BELIEVE.

I have "LIMELIGHT". Another great Showbiz. movie and like to watch it. Chaplin is great and ballarina fabulous dancer and actress. The theme from Limelight is my favorite song.

And of course the great Jimmy Durante, who is at his best in "JUMBO" What great music. I am not a Doris Day fan.

Showbiz David said...

Yes, Jumbo has those great songs of Rodgers and Hart. A Holiday fovorite of mine, which I sometimes watch twice each December, is Holiday Inn. Wonderful Irving Berlin songs!

henry edgar said...

johnny -- thanks for reminding me that i needed to buy a copy of show boat (i found one on e-bay for $.01) you are right, it's a great movie. kathryn grayson was never better, marge and gower were awesome and it's one of the best performances ava gardner ever turned in. her "can't Help loving that Man" and "Bill" are haunting.

i've never seen limelight, but it's now on my list of films to watch. and i've loved "jumbo" since it was first released. i love trying to figure out whether it's anna may or sidney or hattie on screen at different times (i don't do a good job with it; i was never around elephants that much, except setting up photo ops with anna may) i thought doris day was better than i expected -- but i often wonder what it would have been like with debbie reynolds, who was first choice. (just thinking about her mugging with jimmy durante and martha raye makes me laugh) and she would certainly be believeable as the "chip off the old block" daughter of durante.