Weekly Mishmash: May 23-29
Bananarama – Collectables Classics. Bananarama was one of those ’80s groups that I’ve always enjoyed, but not enough to buy their albums back when they were popular. Collectibles Classics is the trio’s first four albums — Deep Sea Skiving, Bananarama, True Confessions and Wow! — packaged with a tacky cardboard sleeve. All of these albums have their share of glossy filler, but I enjoyed hearing them back to back and tracking the evolution of Siobahn Fahey, Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward from shaggy, overall clad popsters to full-on dance divas. Sure, the ladies sing indistinctly with no harmony whatsoever, but they did write much of their own material and have a certain spunky charm that’s not easy to resist. One often thinks of them in terms of “fun” stuff like “Venus,” and yet I’m surprised at how dark a lot of their songs were. Take “A Trick of the Night” from True Confessions, for example, a tale of a boy prostitute with glossy yet hard hitting production straight outta Miami Vice. The tune is typical of the professional Tony Swain and Steve Jolley-produced material from LPs #2 and #3, but the lighthearted, d.i.y. inspired Deep Sea Skiving is the most purely enjoyable they ever got. I also have a soft spot for the fizzy, Stock Aitken Waterman produced Wow! Even if the album is heavy on brain dead beats which got better served in concise single-length remixes, I pretty much worship at the S.A.W. throne and this is a good one. Surprisingly enough, Bananarama is still going strong with Dallin and Woodward working in a more club-oriented mode as a duo. Girl power at its finest!
For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943). This is a film that is practically dripping with prestige: Hemingway adaptation, top-rank stars, opulent production. No wonder that it is a crashing bore as well. Though it does have a few great moments (the climactic battle and chase), mostly the film is ponderous and talky, never letting you forget that fact over the course of nearly three butt numbing hours. As an American everyman aiding a band of Spanish freedom fighters, Gary Cooper is pretty much the same as in every other film he’s done. Ingrid Bergman delivers an uncharacteristically hysterical performance as Cooper’s clingy love interest. Both are terribly miscast, although I can’t say the same of the generally fine supporting actors — highlighted by the indomitable Spaniard played by Katina Paxinou (who nabbed an Oscar for her work, then disappeared from sight). Mostly taking place high in the Spanish mountains, the filmmakers gave this film a sense of heightened reality with dramatic lighting and fake looking sets offset by more straightforward outdoor scenes. Totally schizo, in other words, but very indicative of this film’s lack of focus.
Meet the Mayor (1932). This scrappy b-movie served as a vehicle for vaudeville actor Frank Fay, and an interesting little diversion on our 50 public domain comedies DVD set. Prior to viewing this, the only thing I knew about Fay was that he was Barbra Stanwyck’s first husband and he treated her badly when it became apparent that she had the goods he lacked to become a movie star. Whatever douchebag-like behavior Fay had privately isn’t evident in this film (originally released as A Fool’s Advice), in which he plays a simple elevator operator who helps invent a recording device that he uses to dethrone the corrupt mayor of his town. Fay generally comes across as a second rate Will Rogers type, genial but lacking in magnetism. The film is pretty typical early talkie stuff, somewhat leaden but watchable with a few familiar faces in support. Nat Pendleton plays a menacing heavy (big surprise) and Franklin Pangborn is on hand essaying his patented Flustered Hotel Clerk.
Sally, Irene and Mary (1938). This was our week of having free previews of a bunch of satellite stations, including the Fox Movie Channel (which DirecTV cruelly upgraded to the “bunch of movie channels we don’t want” tier a few years back). This fluffy musical was the only thing I recorded from them, mostly because it’s otherwise unavailable. This was a remake of the old silent-era story of three girls pursuing show biz careers in the big, bad city. Despite the title, it mostly revolves around Alice Faye’s Sally, with Joan Davis’ Irene as able comic relief and Margery Weaver’s Mary merely serving as pretty wallpaper. Radio star Fred Allen, underutilized Jimmy Durante and a young Tony Martin round out the cast. Standard stuff overall, I’d say, and yet musicals from this period can always be counted on to have at least one amazing number. In this case it’s the tinkly “Minuet In Jazz” performed by Raymond Scott’s Quintette with dozens of chorus girls dressed in shiny 18th century-inspired garb. I so wished it was on YouTube, but unfortunately you’ll have to tune in the Fox Movie Channel to check it out.