the yanks are comin'!

I haven't done musicals in a while. You'd think with Josh gone it would be a twenty-four hour Gene Kelly extravaganza at my house. You'd be wrong. I have no explanation.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Here's the deal: Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell are showgirls go on a cruise to Europe where they get into mischief because of boys. Marilyn never met a rich man she didn't like, and Jane likes the charming and destitute kind. If she's into that, she should try dating a bass player. Jane spends the whole trip trying to keep Marilyn away from an old man who apparently owns half of South Africa (and therefore diamond mines). I wonder if it would have worked better if Jane had sat her down and explained the bloody impact made by the diamond mining industry. Nah.

I saw this movie before, a long time ago when I discovered that the Caldwell County Public Library had a video section. I didn't retain much from it. I found most of it pretty forgettable. Whether or not you know it, you may already be familiar with a scene from this movie. Madonna's video for "Material Girl" is a very obvious homage to a scene where Marilyn sings "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend," a song that was also featured in Moulin Rouge.

This movie is sort of feminist. But it's not really high-minded feminism, because it's about women who want to eliminate double standards by being allowed to behave as badly as men without being chastised. Marilyn defends her gold-digging by saying that men are allowed to go after pretty girls and no one accuses them of being shallow. So if she goes after a man with a lot of assets in exchange for her own special kind, what's the problem? Well, okay, that's one way to look at it. But shouldn't we just all be less shallow? Don't mind me. I'm not pretty enough to be shallow.

As an aside, this movie was based on a novel by Anita Loos, which I would much like to read if I can ever procure a copy. She had a very successful writing career when not so many women were in that field. According to Wikipedia, she wrote Gentlemen Prefer Blondes after seeing H.L. Mencken, noted smart guy who should know better, flip his lid over a buxom blonde. The Jane Russell character, she based on herself, surprise, surprise.

Singing and Dancing: Neither Jane nor Marilyn have great voices in the traditional sense. But that's why they're in this movie and not The Sound of Music; if they were dressed as nuns, you wouldn't even be able to see their bosoms! They both can sing and dance well enough, but that's not what gets them their roles. It sort of goes along with the movie's whole point: being really hot is useful. It can get you men and movie roles, and why shouldn't it?

There is a scene where Jane is singing while she walks through a room of men in tiny shorts doing dances that look like exercises. They were playing the U.S. men's Olympic team, who apparently do a lot of jazz hands. Maybe it was just a different time or maybe I'm being narrow, but I was struck by the fact that if any modern movie had that much man-flesh in it, it would labelled homo-erotic. Perhaps it was just more feminism: and here's a little something for the ladies.

Here is "Bye Bye Baby." I suppose I should have posted "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend," but I like this song better. When I worked at a restaurant in college, this song was on one of the CDs we played. I think it was Dean Martin's version. Anyway, one day a customer told me that this song was on repeat. Indeed, they were right. We had been listening to this one song for a couple of hours and hadn't even noticed because we were so used to hearing it over and over throughout the day. That story has no point, but I can't hear this song without retelling it. Sorry the quality is out of sync. If they did lip-sync, I promise it wasn't that obvious in the movie.

Will I Make Josh Watch It: No. I doubt I could get him to even watch the whole Madonna video.

Yankee Doodle Dandy
You would think that after watching an entire musical, I would know whether or not James Cagney can actually sing. Well, I don't. Because for most of the movie, he didn't so much sing as talk out the words. Which could be a directorial decision, or it could be an indication that Cagney sang about as well as Roseanne Barr (there's a reference from way back for you old-timers out there). But if it was the latter, why didn't they just cast someone who could, you know, sing?

This movie was a bio-pic about George M. Cohan, who wrote flag-waving songs like "Yankee Doodle Boy," "You're a Grand Ole Flag," and "Over There." You might say he was limited in his scope, and yet he is considered the father of American musical comedy. I personally would like to thank Mr. Cohan for his own contributions, which led to hundreds of movies that I might enjoy and write about. My boyfriend would probably rather that George had been an accountant. The movie had snippets of Cohan's musicals, which were mostly just songs very, very loosely connected by action. Seriously, they made Oklahoma! look plot-driven. I suppose as the genre has developed, writers have paid more attention to those annoying bits between the dancing.

Aside from starting up a whole new genre, Cohan also received the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the first artist to do so. It was given to him for contributions to morale during the first World War, and indeed there are lots of scenes of soldiers singing his songs. I like that we honor people like that, because it also acknowledges the importance of art itself.

Singing and Dancing: Like I said, Cagney didn't do much singing, though his dancing was much more impressive than I was expecting. But as a credit to Mr. Cohan, the songs were pretty good. Many of them were familiar to me, since I sang them in a fifth-grade concert. I wasn't all that familiar with "Over There," because when I'd heard it, it had been "Underwear." But I think it was my favorite. It made me feel all warm and patriotic inside when the soldiers marched and sang that the Yanks were comin'. America! Heck Yeah!

There is a scene where Cohan makes fun of Franklin Roosevelt. We have seen this before, back in Babes in Arms. It continues to fascinate me. I don't get the jokes, of course, because the everyman's perspective of FDR in the 30s is different from how he is seen now. I shouldn't be surprised. We make fun of the president now, so it's natural that people did it before, too. It's just...weird. I suppose it's the lack of hindsight in it. They're poking fun at what seems like minutiae to us, because that's the sort of daily thing that was in the papers for them. Meanwhile, I'm thinking they should show a little more respect. I suppose a hundred years from now, someone will be shocked to see a clip of Jay Leno making fun of the first black president's opening day pitch.

Here's a cute clip of Cagney like you might not have seen him before.

Also, if you're interested, you can see "Over There" on YouTube, but I can't embed it. THE YANKS ARE COMIN'!

Will I Make Josh Watch It: No. I think he might be disappointed to see Cagney dancing.

State Fair
State Fair, like Flower Drum Song, is one of those Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals that doesn't get a lot of play. Earlier, we determined that the reason for Flower Drum Song's obscurity was because modern eyes would view it as racist. State Fair is not racist, unless you would consider it racist to have the whole cast be lily white. No, it's just not very good. The best scene in the whole film is a pickle judging contest. Really.

Okay, fine, the movie isn't bad. I made it all the way through and I even was interested to see how it was going to turn out. I've seen a lot of movies where I would have been happy if the main characters had died, just so the thing would be over. I didn't want these people to die, they seemed like nice folks. The whole plot revolves around this little Iowa farm family going to the annual state fair. The dad has a prize pig, the mom has some blue ribbon pickles, and the teenage kids find romance. The romances are sort of...illicit, at least for 1945. I wasn't really sure where the movie was going with it. For a while I thought the tagline of the movie might be "What happens at the State Fair stays at the State Fair."

Singing and Dancing: You know, there wasn't that much dancing at all. The song that everyone always remembers is "It Might as Well Be Spring," which left me underwhelmed. I mean, it's pretty, but it's hard not to laugh at it. Here's this young girl, leaning languidly out the window, drowsily singing about how she's as jumpy on a puppet on a string. She didn't look jumpy, nor did she look as restless as a willow in a windstorm. I think the real gem was "All I Owe Ioway," a tribute to Iowa sung by some of the performers at the fair. It makes you wonder if they have a song for every state. It's a good song with clever wordplay. And I know you're wondering, so I'll just tell you: there is spelling in that song. Because Oscar Hammerstein just can't write a song about a state without spelling.

Unfortunately, no one else seems to agree with me, and "All I Owe Ioway" is not available online, except for some home videos of high school plays doing it. So fine, here's that stupid spring song. Just try not to laugh at her singing about being jumpy.

Will I Make Josh Watch It: No. I told him there was a song called "It's a Grand Night for Singing" and he groaned.

No comments: