Friday, February 22, 2013

Just Another Tomato and the Death of Intelligence in Film

I really missed my wife as she made what should be our last preparatory trip back to Shamrock and Thistle Farm in anticipation of our move back to Arkansas from our exile to the great white north. I had some packing to do, some furniture staging, and puppy occupying to do. I also cleaned the oven. That was fun. These things I did in spurts and  in the interim I watched several movies I had DVRd. The Black Legion with Humphrey Bogart which will be the subject of a future post I am sure. The Matlese Falcon, again! One of my all time favorites and then a little known gem called A Song is Born.

The film, was one of those remakes Hollywood does, using the same script from a previous attempt, but with a different cast. The original starred Gregory Peck but did not do very well, as Mr. Peck was improperly cast in my opinion. This version, made just two years after the original, starred Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo along with several well known musicians at the time - The Rumba Kings and Tommy - Dorsey (Jimmy's older brother), Dizzy Gillespie, and others. The plot may seem a little far fetched but not like Bruce Willis walking the wings of an F18 in Die Hard 4. Far Fetched in that it involved the mafia, a group of bachelor's (one widower) writing the definitive music encyclopedia, and the mobster's girl friend played by Mayo.

Patt doesn't like Danny Kaye movies. He's just too frenetic and the frenzy becomes overbearing. I too, find him tiresome in most of his movies. However, in A Song is Born, he is much more subdued. The introduction to the film on Turner Classic Movies told the story of how Mr. Kaye had recently gone through a bitter divorce with his wife, had originally tried to opt out of making the film but contractual obligations with the studio required him to go through with it. I could see it, upon watching it this 20th or 30th time that he did appear sad. It was also the only film he made wherein he did not have a musical number or a long rambling frenzied attempt at comedy. No, the star of this film is the music. Jazz. And our story begins as two handy men, famous jazz musicians at the time, tried to explain to this group of stodgy encyclopedists, a brand of "modern" music they had not included in their publication. Jazz, scat, rebop, and many other monikers this free style "jam session" mix of blues, big band, and even classical music consisted.

It is at this point, the uncharacteristically sedate, Professor Frisbee (Kaye) decides to leave the sequestered mansion where the group's research is taking place, to hit all the night spots featuring this new form of music. In one such night club he sees Virgina Mayo belting out a bluesy number accompanied by a big band. The kind of scene that has now become cliche in any number of film noir spoofs. After the set, Frisbee approaches the starlet in her dressing room and asks for her assistance in completing the Jazz section of their encyclopedia. She refuses until much later when she learns the DA is after her gangster boyfriend and they want to talk to her as a primary witness. Mayo, at around 2 in the morning, shows up at the mansion and offers her assistance to the research.

Of course Mayo, sends the house into a tizzy, a group of old stodgy bachelors (one widower) and an old housekeeper at first, do not know what to think, and insist that she leave. In the following scenes Mayo convinces everyone except Frisbee that she should stay because their research is just that important and she wants to be a part of it.

The professors attempt to convince Frisbee she should stay.

"Without research like ours we would still think the earth was flat or the tomato was a poisonous fruit, Professor Frisbee!"
 Here, Mayo's character, Honey Swanson, chimes in as she is climbing the stairs.

"That's right boys. Think of me as just another Tomato..."

The group of men are dumbfounded as she turns from them and wiggles up the steps to her room.

Eventually, Swanson and Frisbee find themselves alone in the library where most of the jam sessions and recording take place. Honey is trying to convince Frisbee to let her stay a while longer, even though her part of the research is done.

Honey teaches Frisbee a Jazz colloquiallism, that he will need to know for the encyclopedia.

"Do you know what yum, yum is?" she asks.

Frisbee shakes his head. "When something's really hot. You know the jam is really smokin', well that's yum,yum."

She walks up to Frisbee, puts her arms around his neck and gives him a little kiss on the lips.

"That's Yum."

Another little peck on the lips.

"And that's yum."

And then a big ole slobberknocking kiss.

"And that's Yum...Yum"

Later on in the film, in one of his few attempts at goofy comedy, Kaye asks Mayo, "Can you Yum Yum me again?"

It was films like this and others, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, White Heat, that caused my boyhood crush on Virginia Mayo. But I think what I enjoy most about these old films and what I miss most about our modern versions of film, is the dialogue. The art of innuendo, the playful banter, the sarcastic wit of Bogart's Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, or Rick from Casablanca, are all gone. Dialogue now days is reduced to cute or foul one liners punctuated by explosions, blood squirts, and tire squeals.

Where are the dialogues in our movies? Where are Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole in A Lion in Winter? Bogart and Bacall in To Have or Have Not and the Big Sleep? They are, in some respects, hidden in films one would not suspect of having intelligence about them. The gifted writers and teh gifted actors that bring the words to life.

Like Nick Frost and Simon Pegg's collaborations, Joss Whedon, Wes Anderson.

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