Archive for September, 2011

by Hilary Hulsey

Acknowledging history and its mistakes is important, but reaching beyond the stereotypes of racism, sexism, and religion can easily be achieved when good outweighs evil in the majestic onscreen musical of the Broadway hit, Cabin in the Sky (1943).

In late 1940, Russian-American composer, Vernon Duke, introduced his greatest Broadway achievement to date at the Martin Beck theatre. Cabin in the Sky featured an all-black cast (including Ethel Waters and Rex Ingram, who would later appear in the onscreen version) and the production ran 156 shows, ending in early 1941. Duke supplied new standards to the songbook and its success onstage made the production a prime choice for screen adaptation.

Who better to direct a broadway show than someone who pulls from background and experience? Vincente Minnelli’s directing debut embodies his ability to use the camera as a tool to create a masterpiece rather than a device to record a specific instance to appropriate a paycheck. Most films in Minnelli’s career requiring transition and adaption sustain the original production and add Hollywood flare without disappointing. (more…)


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Cap from stunning "The Mill and the Cross" which probes art masterpiece

by Sam Juliano

It’s official.  The fall season is now upon us, Halloween decorations are displaying,  and the baseball playoffs are looming.  It’s a time for football fans to fully immerse themselves, and for the Big Apple’s film buffs to avail themselves of one of the most celebrated of all annual film festivals.  For opera and classical music fans it’s a time to again be ravishing by some of the world’s most distinguished orchestras and ensembles.  And for movie fans across the globe it’s prestige time, when the year’s potential treasures are trotted put for award consideration.  In short it’s the time of the year that we all live for.

That extraordinary, incomparable blogger from the midwest continues to weave her magic here on the site’s sideboards.  “Dee Dee” as she is affectionately known in these parts has fueled the everyday musical countdown posts with spectacular embellishment, displaying foreign posters, delightful background information, and indellible film clips each and every night as the this remarkable venture incles nearer to the half way point.  Sure, she’s a vital part of Wonders in the Dark’s fraternity for pratically the full three-year run of the site’s existence, but her singular contributions continue to raise the bar, and move anyone with a sense of appreciation and dedication.   The comment and page view totals for the countdown have not only exceeded expectations, but have broken site records.  Just this past week, John Greco’s sensational review of A Hard Day’s Night has attracted about 140 comments as of this writing, and several others have brought in amazing totals.  Many thanks to all the readers who have checked out the quality postings, and to those who have taken the time to enter comments.  A special thank you to the Three Amigos, Judy Geater, Pat Perry and Jonathan Warner, who have been there each and every day with their special blend of knowledge, excitement and passion.  For Judy and Pat, it’s an extension of their ballot involvement and own post writings, not to mention some loving anecdotes from this past experiences in the form from both a vocational and cultural perspective.  For Jon, it’s a labor of love, and futher expression of his peerless insights and effervescent personality.  A comment from any and all of these three for any writer is really an incomparable treat. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1931 88m) DVD1

Just like a melody

p/d  Ernst Lubitsch  w  Ernest Vajda, Ernst Lubitsch, Samson Raphaelson  operetta  “A Waltz Dream” by Leopold Jacobson, Felix Doermann  ph  George J.Folsey  ed  Merrill White  m  Oscar Straus, Clifford Grey  md  Adolph Deutsch  art  Hans Dreier  cos  Travis Banton

Maurice Chevalier (Lieutenant Niki), Miriam Hopkins (Princess Anna), Claudette Colbert (Franzi), Charles Ruggles (Max), George Barbier (King Adolf XV), Elizabeth Patterson (Baroness Von Schwadel), Hugh O’Connell (Orderly), Robert Strange (Adjutant Von Rockoff), Janet Reade (Lily),

It’s time to once more take a journey back to one of the favourite times and places in movie history, that carefree Vienna before the wars where biergartens and dance halls alike reverberated to the sound of Strauss waltzes (in actual fact, here the waltzes of the unrelated Oscar Straus, but it makes little difference).  Like Von Stroheim and Ophuls, Lubitsch loved that old Vienna and The Smiling Lieutenant is his greatest cinematic remembrance of those times as well as being the peak of his series of operettas of the early talkie years. 

            Like all such operettas, the plot is dispensable, focusing on a young lieutenant with an eye for the ladies who falls for a female band leader and violinist.  However, an etiquette faux pas sees him brought before the princess daughter of the visiting king of Flausenthurm, who promptly falls in love with him.  Our lieutenant thus has to choose between a marriage to a princess and the real love of his life. (more…)

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By Bob Clark

Another detour from anime this week as we look more at the animated musical, but still steer clear of the traditional route of Disney and their imitators. In any number of ways, the 1971 animated television special The Point represents something of an oddity for anybody pursuing relative obscurities and nostalgic relics of thinking-man’s cartoons. With a sketchy, watercolor-infused art style that often only makes faint attempts to connect concretely with the plot at hand or the subjects of the various musical numbers, the film has a decidedly surreal, but playful outlook uncommon for traditional fairy-tale narratives. Instead, it has much more in common with any number of the other pop-music inspired works of animation from the 70’s and 80’s (The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, Peter, Paul & Mary’s Puff the Magic Dragon), not to mention the whole abstract and expressionist tendencies in some of the more independent animated efforts from that time period in North America. Though they tend to be drowned out by the overwhelming mainstream popularity of studios like Disney and Warner Brothers, there’s long been a strong-running undercurrent of more subversive animators toiling within and without the system in the United States and especially Canada, and it’s to The Point‘s credit that it feels more like any number of the adventurous works of Canadian animation than anything from its own shores.


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by Sam Juliano

With the single resounding exception of 1965’s The Sound of Music, the films made from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s stage musicals have all shared critical disdain for a host of reasons, ranging from their style and technique to their exceeding theatricality.  In what can now be seen as one of the major ironies surrounding the musical theatre and Hollywood’s interpretation of it’s most celebrated properties, the form’s most beloved composing team have been “cinematically translated” at a level that is hardly commensurable to the rapturous music they created.  Over eight collaborations beginning with Oklahoma! in 1943 and concluding with the aforementioned The Sound of Music two decades later Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II set the bar for creating what are now regarded as timeless scores and music that is distinguished for it’s musical and homespun purity and entrancing melodic lilt.  As recently as this past year, a revival at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center of South Pacific reminded theatregoers of the beauty of their compositions and the intimacy that always made their stage work shine far brighter than the subsequent cinematic incarnations.

Of course, aside from State Fair (1945), which was written directly for the screen, and a 1957 television musical of Cinderella it was for the theatre that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s shows were originally conceived, and it was through the devices, structures and practices of the theatre that they were first brought to life.  What works within the space, confines and imagination of the stage is often compromised in another medium, where delicate chemistry is unavoidably amplified.  In the case of the film version of South Pacific, a colored filter violated the tenuous artistic balance, while in Fred Zinnemann’s Oklahoma! the cheery small-town atmosphere was turned into a Western epic, with heavy-handed Freudian underpinnings thrown into the mix for good measure.  Only Walter Lang’s 1956 The King and I escaped the prevailing wrath of the nay-sayers, much because it’s inherent pagentry benefited by the expansive screen transference, drawing as it did on the lavish sets, costumes and other studio resources. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1941 92m) DVD1/2

A lamp chop in an ashtray

p  Joe Pasternak  d  Henry Koster  w  Norman Krasna, Leo Townsend  ph  Rudolph Maté  ed  Bernard W.Burton  md  Charles Previn, Hans Salter  art  Jack Otterson

Deanna Durbin (Anne Terry), Robert Cummings (Johnny Reynolds), Charles Laughton (Jonathan Reynolds), Margaret Tallichet (Gloria Pennington), Guy Kibbee (Bishop Maxwell), Walter Catlett (Dr Harvey), Catherine Doucet (Mrs Pennington), Irving Bacon (Raven), Gus Schilling (Raven), Charles Coleman (Roberts), Clara Blandick (nurse), Sig Arno (waiter), Alexander Granach (Popalard)

There’s a scene in Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption when Tim Robbins’ Andy Dufresne locks himself in the warden’s office and plays the Mozart ‘Sull Aria’ over the loudspeaker system.  Morgan Freeman’s Red talks of how its beautiful sounds were as if “a bird beautiful bird had flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away.”  It was one of the most sublime moments in an otherwise rather schematic piece, but it only goes to illustrate that one man’s manipulation is another’s heaven. 

            Take Deanna Durbin for example.  She and her best director Henry Koster are already represented here with One Hundred Men and a Girl and there would seem to be no need to include another one of her films.  It Started With Eve is not a musical, rather a romantic comedy with musical interludes, but these are musical interludes that enter the bloodstream of the film itself.  (more…)

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by Judy Geater

Director: Stanley Donen

Producer: Arthur Freed

Music: Burton Lane

Lyrics: Alan Jay Lerner

Screenwriter: Alan Jay Lerner

Choreographers: Fred Astaire/Nick Castle

Cinematographer: Robert H Planck

Studio: MGM

Main actors: Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Peter Lawford, Sarah Churchill, Keenan Wynn


Don’t be misled by the title – though MGM probably hoped people would be. There is nothing very glitzy about this movie, not all that much pageantry, and the only “king” featured is Fred Astaire in a pasteboard crown for the opening musical number.

For the most part, the royal wedding, of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, is just a backdrop. The main story is an amusing and occasionally poignant backstager partly based on Astaire’s own early career, when he and sister Adele were famous dancing partners until she retired from the stage to marry a British aristocrat. However, the story is probably secondary to the stunning dance numbers, including the famous one where he dances up the walls and around the ceiling. Jane Powell ‘s beautiful singing voice is another definite plus to this movie.

There are a lot of cheap public domain DVDs of this movie available with badly faded Technicolor, and it is also available all over the place to watch online in a similar state. Fortunately there is also a properly restored region 1 DVD available from Warner, issued as a double set with another Astaire movie, The Belle of New York, and including numerous special features. (more…)

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