It was a fine Fourth, thanks. Everyone got together, meat was eaten, things were blown up, and all the kids had sparklers. They’re too old for sparklers, you think. They’re too old for those things you throw on the ground and explode. But they’re not - at least not when they all get together in the same place where they’ve been doing this every Fourth as long as they can remember.
There were more explosions around the neighborhood than I’ve heard in years. Lots of Wisconsin-grade booms. One of the neighbors came over for a drink, then we went over to another neighbor’s house where there was a fellow I hadn’t seen in 15 years or more. Actor, now working on the Woody Harrelson movie they’re shooting in town; was the son of an actor who played a news anchor on the local news for decades, and was really the best because he was an actor.
You know you’ve been in a place for a long time when the last TV anchor icon who retired was the guy who replaced the TV anchor icon you remember best. The new gut was always the new guy, even after 10 years.
Anyway: he told a story of seeing Metropolis a few years ago in town, one of those New Final Complete No We Mean It This Time versions, and there was an elderly lady in the row ahead who seemed physically transported and moved by what she was seeing. He asked her afterwards if many films affected her thus, and she explained, no: the cinematographer on that movie, he was her father. She lived in Minneapolis now.
That would be Karl Freund, and here’s something I didn’t know: Freund moved to America and invented the 3-camera sitcom set-up for “I Love Lucy.” I love that.
Today is full of “Things I learned,” as you’ll soon find out.
Let's fling ourselves into an Internet whirlpool. Shorty version: someone new this, but there aren't enough links to make it clear. This might help.
As the RMS Titanic sank into the freezing Atlantic Ocean in 1912, Edith Rosenbaum was among the lucky ones — she made an escape on a lifeboat filled with children. The children were frightened and needed comfort, something to take their attention away from the death they were witnessing as the colossal ship descended into the dark water. On that night, on that raft, Rosenbaum calmed her fellow survivors with a musical toy pig. Now, more than 100 years later, you can hear that same song from that same toy pig in The Telegraph video embedded below.
Except I can’t. Every time I go to the page and click on the link, I get an ad for Terminator Genesys. And by “ad” I mean “damned near a feature film,” since it’s minutes long - MINUTES! - and it cannot be skipped. It cannot be reasoned with, it cannot be fast-forwarded. It plays. That’s all it does.
Why did I decide to bring this matter to you? Well, it has to do with “Around the World in 80 Days.” The soundtrack came up on one of the channels I listen to here and there - satellite, internet, iTunes, Spotify, does it matter? It does, but that’s another story. It’s the “Entry into Paris.” I sat right up, because, well, I’d heard this before.
And perhaps, so have you. Twenty-three seconds:
Around the World in 80 Days.
If that seems familiar, it’s because it’s right from a lovely, famous, and characteristically inventive work by G. Gershwin. A little ditty about an American in that selfsame city. Ta da:
An American in Paris.
Here’s where things get odd. It seemed possible, if unlikely, that Victor would extract that one little riff and build the soundtrack around it without crediting Gershwin. And then I realized something that had never occurred to me after decades of listening to that piece. Gershwin was quoting something.
Of course! The opening is the American walking around, hearing the honks of traffic; stands to reason there’d be a melody spilling out of a cafe.
It took just a few minutes to pin it down, thanks to a Kennedy Center program note. “Actually, not all the themes are original. Helping to establish the atmosphere early on is a brief but emphatic citation of the tune known as La Maxixe.”
Or La Sorella, depending. Charles Borel-Clerc is credited with the Maxixe, but here’s what the YouTube page for an Arthur Fiedler version says:
Charles Borel-Clerc (pen name of French composer Charles Clerc) (1879-1959) composed this piece from melodies developed by Ramón Estellés from the notes of a score by Carlos Gomes, with the melody of the pasodoble 'La Giralda' by Eduardo López Juarranz that he heard when he was in Spain in 1905.
From Clerk to Estelles to Gomes to Lopez - it needed one more name to cement its fame, and that one name was simply . . . MAYOL. The google translation of this French site about the song added another detail:
After "Come, Poupoule!", And "Hands of women," here are probably the greatest success Mayol. The lyrics of this song - daring for its time (finally ...) - make us smile today. - "The Maxixe" remains however, almost a hundred years after its creation, the most famous song of the Belle Époque, the one we still hums when you think of French Cancan, the Moulin Rouge, the Toulouse-Lautrec posters; one that symbolizes in the soundtracks of Hollywood films of the Gay Paree Mistinguett and Maurice Chevalier. - It is however only Mayol, was sung by him and it remains forever in the minds of those who experienced Mayol, a song written for Mayol.
No one recognized it when they fixed the mechanism, which meant no one thought: hey, Gershwin.
As for Mistinguett: for a while the world’s “highest-paid female entertainer,” a chanteuse eulogized by none less than Cocteau. She made one movie, and it gives you a look at Paris between the wars. 1936. She was sixty.
A new above-the-fold feature for the next two weeks of summer:
I had no idea refrigerators could be so infinitely customizable. An ad in a mid-60s LIFE mag showed all the wonderful combinations and the appropriate attire one would adopt to blend in. How many of these were sold, I've no idea - but it must have been one hell of a nightmare for the distribution chain.
Let your fridge match your special dishes that you never use, but put up behind glass so everyone can look at them and say "Is that Delft? It is? I always wondered."
Imagine the grief you'd get if you put a Delft in a Hacienda-style kitchen. But no one did. No one was that stupid.
Yes, yes, it's Black & White world - but it begins with one bloody splash of color.
One of the first of the big-bug movies, and unquestionably the best. A staple of the 70s late-night weekend scare-fests, tI think it may have been the first Creature Feature I saw. Grown-ups probably rolled their eyes, but in my demographic this was as good as it got.
Begins, as we know, with the young girl walking through the desert . . .
I don't think I ever noticed this, though.
Classic build-up. We only see the aftermath of destruction. A busted-up trailer, a ransacked store, a dead old guy in the basement:
Jeez, whoever did it got ink everywhere. Below: Our hero is on the right; James Whitmore, who seems a bit out of place in the role at first because you just think of other roles. But he brings a certain gruff intelligence to the role. The other fellow you'll know if you were aware in the 60s and 70s.
Voice of a thousand commercials, too.
I'll let you name him in the comments. NO CHEATING.
They're looking around because there's a strange sound. And oh crap.
It's a model. With strings. But in an era of stop-motion creatures inserted with special effects, it's more believable.
Light 'em up, Jimmy:
That's Edmund Gwenn, who was 77 when he did this, and possessed all the charms he usually brought to the screen, with a certain Man of Science reserve. Yes yes mankind might be doomed, and things were urgent, but there was Science to do as well.
Well, things go bad quickly, so it's time to alert the people with that newfangled mass medium, seen here in a restaurant, up on the shelf:
Teens react with varying degrees of teenness. L to R: This is going to spoil my date with Bobby; I do believe the term for ants is Formicidae; this will make an excellent short story for my literary quarterly; what I'm sorry I was listening what's happening here
Of all the people you wouldn't expect to see in this movie . . .
. . . Spock probably comes at the top of the list. Fascinating.
But that's not why I'm doing this today - besides the fact that it's summer, and that's Monster time.
It's this, the staple of the time:
The Lovely Female Scientist. The men are respectful, but when she’s out of earshot, it’s whoa-nellie va va va room talk. This character often folds, shrieks, collapses into the hero’s arms, but they start out strong. And lovely:
So far, that's not the case. She's all business. But the genre requires her to insist on going along for a dangerous mission, and while the main hero will balk because, well, she’s a dame and oughtn’t be put in danger, he’s usually overruled by an older authority figure - her father, in this case.
Once they’re down in the hive they run into more giant ants, and she never flinches. This is fascinating.When they interrogate a man who’s seen the ants and thinks they’re UFOs, she’s all business:
When it’s time to inform the Authorities, she IS the authority:
As this isn’t a recap or a review, I’ll spare you a recap of the final assault on the nest, the brilliant claustrophobic fight, the horrible end to one of the characters - which was the era’s equivalent of Dallas getting it so early in “Alien,” I think. Just wanted to note how they treated the Lady Scientist in those bad old archaic days of 1954.
She never falters, never runs, never shrieks, never faints, and never kisses the hero. It’s a smart piece of SF all the way, and while the creatures may look shaggy and unconvincing today, they weren’t stop-motion models added to the movie with SFX trickery, and that may have worked to its advantage. I’ve seen it half a dozen times, and this still gave me a chill:
Even though it seems an odd work for the little girl to use. It’s like screaming THOSE!
I didn't think much ofThem! (1954) when I read the script. I just knew that [my character] was a scientist, and I was hoping that somewhere along the line there would be some romance or love interest. But
Gordon Douglas didn't want to refer to any kind of romance whatsoever. It was totally devoid of any interplay with anybody. The ants were supposed to be the star.