Weekly Mishmash: August 17-23
Crime of Passion (1957). This late-period Barbara Stanwyck melodrama looked like a tawdry treat when it popped up on her TCM Summer Under The Stars day. The only thing it taught me, however, was that even the great Miss Stanwyck can act awful in an awful movie. In the film’s first half hour, her character goes through enough transformations to make Sybil envious: first, she’s a plucky reporter, then she meets L.A. cop Sterling Hayden and becomes his subservient wife. As the movie progresses, she morphs again into a conniving and heartless woman in a series of actions that sets the plot in motion. As it is, the story is not very compelling and the fact that Stanwyck is screechy and unappealing throughout doesn’t add much to the film’s enjoyment. With junk like this, no wonder she would leave movies behind shortly thereafter.
I Was Stalin’s Bodyguard (1989). A dull and artsy documentary intersperses 1930s Russia footage with new interviews of Josef Stalin’s last living bodyguard. The kind of thing your local PBS outlet might have as a time killer at three a.m. One of Christopher’s rentals — and although he’s made some good choices (like Nightfall from last week), this alas was not one of them.
My Favorite Things — John Coltrane. I like my jazz sweet, melodic and not too noodly, so when this classic popped up on Amazon’s download service for only a dollar it was a perfect choice. I was only familiar with the title track before, but the other three selections are in the same vein; good background music for the next time I’m busy doing a manga book design project.
1939: The Lost World of the Fair by David Gelertner. I actually bought the hardcover edition of this book as a gift for C. when it first came out in 1995. Yes, it’s taken me thirteen years but I finally got around to reading it. Now that I’m done, I can see why it took so long since Christopher warned me that the book wasn’t very good. Gelertner’s central idea is solid — presenting the 1939 New York Worlds Fair as both a straightforward history and an impressionistic, novelized view from a “typical” visitor — but unfortunately it fails to succeed on either point. Gelertner’s main problem is that he digresses too much, and as a result the book often gets bogged down with his Grampa Simpson-like diatribes over how much more favorably he perceives the America of 1939 versus contemporary times. The diary portions, detailing the memories of a woman who got engaged to her boyfriend at the Fair, go so far afield that at times I wanted to scream “I don’t care!” This lady goes on and on about her conflicted inner feelings with nothing of substance about the Fair itself. It’s very symbolic of this frustrating book — guess I’ll have to keep waiting until this fascinating subject gets the comprehensive book it deserves.
The Raw and the Cooked — Fine Young Cannibals and The ABBA Generation — The A*Teens. Speaking of the ’30s, wasn’t it Noel Coward who wrote something about the power of cheap music? I got these two CDs for a buck fifty each at a thrift store where the proceeds benefit local animal shelters. That princely sum was about how much I’d pay for them, but both are enjoyable nonetheless. I remember digging The Raw and the Cooked in college before the damn CD got stolen just a few years later. This one was big stuff in 1989, producing two #1 hits and an Album of the Year Grammy nom, but in the years since it’s somewhat fallen out of favor. A shame, really, because the album mixes various styles stunningly well and doesn’t have a single bad track. The only thing about FYC I didn’t like was Roland Gift’s limited voice, but he has a quirky charm that elevates the material. The A*Teens was one of a gazillion turn of the Millennium Teen Pop acts which currently clog thrift bins, but I love ABBA’s music and the Eurodisco Hi-NRG treatment they get on this CD is too cheesily irresistible. Plus, the version I got was the limited Target edition with an extra megamix and two videos. Yeah, I know you’re jealous.
Red Garters (1954). An unusual musical parody of Westerns starring Rosemary Clooney and some super stylized indoor sets. This was fun at times, slow going at others, buoyed by Jack Carson and a bunch of bouncy yet forgettable songs. Clooney is fetching when she breaks the fourth wall during her vocal numbers, but she’s not a good enough actress to carry a film (even with a better than average supporting cast). In the end, I’d recommend this only for hardcore fans of weird, genre-bending ’50s flicks.
Thank God It’s Friday (1978). My expectations for this mirrorballed bomb were at a basement level, so it came as a pleasant surprise that I enjoyed this comedy for what it was (a modest, Car Wash-y period piece, basically). The film follows a diverse group of people as they convene for one evening at L.A.’s hottest disco. It’s Robert Altman in polyester and gold chains, only with a groan-inducing script and acting that ranges from decent to abysmal. Donna Summer’s meek wannabe singer takes the stage with “The Last Dance” at the film’s climax, but the scene is actually kinda blah. It’s cool seeing then-unknown actors like Debra Winger and Jeff Goldblum working beneath their talents, but probably the best thing about the movie is its delirious soundtrack (a unique collaboration between the Casablanca and Motown labels). I really gotta find that album somewhere.