Imagining the expression on the faces of the theater’s owners and architects.
It’s a movie:
Guy Trilby is a 40-year old who finds a loophole in the rules of the National Quill Spelling Bee and decides to cause trouble by hijacking the competition. Contest officials, outraged parents, and overly ambitious 8th graders are no match for Guy, as he ruthlessly crushes their dreams of victory and fame.
We're not supposed to root for him, I gather, but rather enjoy the struggle bretween his nastiness and the stupidity of other people. I'm sure it has its merits but the subject has no interest. Even if it's on Netflix and it's that or one of the 200 documentaries recomended to me because I watched "Greatest Mysteries: Hitler's Toothbrush" at 2:17 AM when I was paying the price for not committing to a movie. Because it was late, man. You start a movie now you're up all night. So you chip away at this and that and before you know it, well, it's 2:35 AM, and while you certainly know a bit more about the Sphinx than you did before, what are the chances you'll remember it tomorrow?
Well, at least you’ll remember that there was a controversy about who built it, and the old theory about Thutmose or Rambose or Akhanankhan II (563 - 548 First Early Dynasty) or whoever it was supposed to be, well, it was wrong, because the documentary showed how it was the work of Rhomboid III, who was the son of Ahchoomun, and we know that based on the tomb carvings that show a man offering a bird to Anubis. Case closed!
Before you go to bed you check wikipedia, and the theory is not accepted. You’re confused: it seemed completely convincing. Especially that part about the layer of rock. See, there was a thin layer of sandstone that weathered poorly, and by seeing where it was used, and when, they determined that Rhomboid III - who built the now-lost Incredibly Small Pyramid to serve as the tomb of his pet beetle - used the same stone to build a causeway that would be flooded once a year on the Equinox. But wikipedia says scholars still think it was Thutmose.
Disappointed, you go to bed. And the next day you open the laptop and wonder why it’s on a page about the Sphinx.
An unremarkable weekend. Running in place: no advance in the temps. Snow hard and cruel and mocking; filthy and sharp with ice. I can’t point to a single accomplishment beyond the usual duties, and while I enjoyed myself, it doesn’t seem enough. I know the reason, I think. I hate this week in advance. I will sleepwalk through it and wander along and tick off the days and when the end comes on Friday - well, there are years when you’re walking up Main Street in Disney World for spring break, and there are years where you’re housesitting someone else’s dog and staying home, because -
Not yet. That’s for Friday.
The good news: I have a fortnight to polish the novel, and that is what I will be doing. Yes: one more pass. Has to be done, just to clean up the continuity make sure it’s not a towering stack of krep.
Do you know what novel revision is like? Imagine a movie where the main character has to revisit one day over and over again, and his day consists of watching “Groundhog Day” three times. That. You may think: the Bleat will suffer. Yes and no. While the top of the fold may tend toward the scant, in my idle hours I labor on the stuff under the ad. I know nothing when I start and by the time I’m done I learn. This week, for example: : the Movie that supposedly sunk a great comedian’s film career; a diminished 1960s convenience store chain; the extraordinary mansion built by a Starch Baron; the continual hallucinations of Richard Rich’s impossible existence; the unbelievable apocalyptic conclusion to the Rocketman saga, with the tale of a lost film from 1933; the invention of Mixed Fruit; how some pioneers stole a County Seat designation and may have cursed their town, with additional notes on a forgotten man whose rusted name hangs over a street in Nebraska; the lure of the endless Midnight Vegas Buffet, and topping it all off: a wartime magazine ad that may have featured a man who would go on to write a movie that starred Steve McGarrett’s greatest foe.
Hope you like it. Let's start!
At the intersection of 1940s special effects and the height of the popular cliche of heaven being populated by people in gowns in the clouds, we have a celestial conductor:
And the orchestra of the heavens:
It’s large ensemble.
Among the horn players:
Yes, it’s this: one of the most famous and perennially derided “bombs” of a great comedian’s career.
Who did the deriding? Benny himself. His writers oversold how poorly it did; apparently it made its money back, but there was comedy to be extracted from making a running joke of its lukewarm perception. Benny’s an angel in the most Streamlined Moderne heaven you can imagine, and the sets and FX are remarkable:
Ordinary trumpet player gets called up to the head office for a promotion; he has to handle something on one of the minor planets. His boss can't recall which one; summons a globe from the ceiling above, which floats down.
1945, this is:
You're wondering: he's going to help an urchin? Humble a pompous rich man? Help a good girl find love?
Not quite. He's supposed to blow the horn that will signal the destruction of the earth. The end of humanity is a minor job they fob off on a guy from the back of the orchestra.
he planet hasn’t done very well, and has ignored all the warnings (earthquakes, floods), so it’s slated for destruction by one of the upper-management types who runs the heavens. He’s supposed to blow the notes at midnight atop a hotel, but misses his cue when he assists a suicidal cigarette girl.
Just so we’re up to speed here: he’s been sent to destroy the world, and is thwarted by a suicidal woman.
It’s a comedy!
The suicide scene is played as a thrill-comedy with lots of comely-gam action -
But it has neither thrills or comedy. . The movie’s all over the place - fish-out-of-water, skullduggery with fallen agents, romantic confusion, everyone chasing after the trumpet to keep him from bringing on the apocalypse, and a zany slapstick ending. There’s northing great about it. Benny was miscast, some say; he’s not playing Benny, and besides, Jack played the violin. On imdb someone suggested that maybe a movie about the end of the world, with constant references to humanity’s last day, may not have been something audiences were inclined to enjoy in 1945.
Well. The parts may be less than overwhelming, the pacing peculiar, the plotting a bit on the rambling side, but in the end you think well of it: there’s just something decent and genial about it. And it looks marvelous.
A few notes on the cast: there's a bratty kid who has temporary possession of the holy trumpet, and he's wearing the cliched hat with the points:
There's a scene at "Cliffside Amusement Park," which is probably Palisades Park. In the background, a bas relief by a
The end takes place atop a skyscraper, and involves people swinging back and forth at great height. Cue the Hotel Room Drunk (uncredited) who see sit all and blames it on the hooch:
This would have made audiences smile, because Jack Norton did this and little else. IMDB:
Pencil-mustachioed character actor in Hollywood films of the '30s and '40s, cast perennially as a reeling, incoherent, comic drunk, often clad in evening clothes and satin high hat. In an effort to make his characterizations convincing, he often followed drunks and watched their movements closely in order to copy them. In real life, he was a total abstainer from alcohol.
His real name was Mortimer Naughton. The Foster Brooks of his time.
The love interest was Alexis Smith, and this is the type of 40s archetype that makes some fellows stamp the ground, wolf-whistle, and have their heart shoot out of their chest and rubber-band back and forth.
Number me amongst them. IMDB notes that she was promoted as "The Dynamite Girl" for a while, but never had a spectacular career.
One more thing. By the way: some say that Franz Waxman may have written most of the score, but the slapstick scene at the end was scored by Carl Stalling of Looney Tunes fame. I’d say . . . yes.
Do you hear it? He’s using the ghost of Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse” theme here, suggesting it without using it at all.
I can't say it's great. I can't say I regretted a moment watching it, and if you're a fan of 40s culture at all, it's indispensible: we can't just look at the hits. It's the misfires that count too - and when the misfires still amuse, well, yes. It's worth it.