Showtime with Bob Fosse

DATELINE: Anti-Chorus Line! 

Young Bob Fosse in 1953.

There would be no moonwalking Michael Jackson without Bob Fosse’s choreography pioneering the way back in the 1950s.

Fosse went from dance/ taskmaster to director of movies, producing musicals like All That Jazz, Cabaret, and Sweet Charity, that contained thematic drama and ideas far beyond those of mortal danseurs.

The documentary film of his life seems to feature many British dancers and young ballerinas who likely weren’t born during Fosse’s heyday. One prima ballerina also lists herself as a quantum physicist in the credits. Oi vey.

Fosse danced at a young age, and by 13 was professionally dancing in a strip joint with older women. Today someone would be under arrest. However it affected him, we can see likely in movies like Sweet Charity, about prostitutes and dancers.

There is considerable talk that Fosse wanted to be another Fred Astaire, but his hairline was an issue, as were his looks. That problem also dogged Astaire, but he thrived. Fosse may well have been a poor actor, but his electric dances in Kiss Me Kateand Damn Yankeeswon him accolades—and his third wife, Gwen Verdon.

Time is also devoted to his idiosyncratic use of hands and hips in dances. And, like Mike Nichols, he came to film directing late in life, age 41 and learned on the job. Of course, he was on movie sets since the early 1950s, observing.

By the time he made Cabaret, Fosse was a drug-addled, alcoholic womanizer with a deplorable attitude. Today he’d be in jail with Harvey Weinstein, but in the early 1970s, they gave him an Oscar, Emmy, and Tony, all in the same year.

It did not improve him, or stop him from having three heart attacks.

Fosse tried to show a dancer’s life in All That Jazzwith an ugly counterpoint to the more joyous A Chorus Line,by James Kirkwood, made almost contemporaneously. Showtime dancers might have different opinions to the two parallel worlds. It may be revealing how few people (none) who knew him participate in this documentary.

His final film was a non-musical about an abusive murderer of his wife, based on the true story of Dorothy Stratton. It was called Star 80.  His last act was directing Chicago on stage, but he died in 1987 and never made it his crowning achievement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Between Two Worlds: Fantasy Ship to Heaven & Hell

DATELINE: Netherworld for Ossurworld?

betwixt & between

Betwixt & Between!

When Warner Brothers decided to make a World War II movie about the afterlife, they went back to the 1920s and took a Sutton Vane play as their vehicle, updating it.

Gathering together a back-lot cast of marvelous character actors and a couple of bigger stars of the studio, they fairly much put ten people on a mysterious, foggy super-liner going to both heaven and hell, which are the same place.

Ten people end up being the only ones aboard, including two suicides.

John Garfield and Paul Henreid were the drawing cards, with Faye Emerson and Eleanor Parker as the ladies. The film was entitled Between Two Worlds.

However, it was the supporting cast that seemed heavenly:  Edmund Gwenn as an obsequious ship steward (the only crew member on board) and the notorious Examiner at the end of the journey, in his standard white linen suit, Sydney Greenstreet. He is a hard judge for sure at the end of one’s life.

The story quickly sets up a death that no one remembers, and then a one-class byplay of rich and poor in the same main salon, eating and drinking together and coming to realize they are not bound for the United States after all.

Henreid is a suicide who recognizes his mortality before the others. They are meant to learn the fate slowly,  in their  own time and way. However, hot head  John Garfield makes short work of that notion.

The final judgment and reckoning are apt and harsh. You cannot buy your way out, and it’s too late for anything but a just reward, or punishment. This is one of those Warner Brothers movies to savor from the mid-1940s. It is a timeless tale of eternal damnation that would surprise Faust.

 

 

 

 

Devilish Fun with Charles Coburn

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

 Devilish fun

A cheesy porn film with a similar title has done a grave disservice to a chestnut movie way ahead of its time.

The Devil and Miss Jones would be called dramedy decades later, but it is a charming romantic comedy film of 1941. It is too often confused with the notorious The Devil in Miss Jones. What a shame.

We were stunned by the pairing of crotchety old Charles Coburn as a billionaire without a conscience and a shoe salesgirl in the form of Jean Arthur. It seems the department store chain is having union organizers burning the owner in effigy. Coburn, a recluse with billions, is offended and decides to go undercover to deal with the morons personally.

So many TV shows have played off the concept of an undercover boss, but this film is not a reality ripoff. It is a well-honed film from the classic period. Its politics and satiric approach are timeless.

On top of that, we were stunned in the opening credits with names like Edmund Gwenn, Spring Byington, William Demarest, Robert Cummings, and S.Z. Sakall. It is a who’s who of brilliant character actors from the great studio era.

The opening and the closing scenes make the entire film worth the viewing.

The film even uses some of the Citizen Kane set, thanks to genius set designer William Cameron Menzies. And, Sam Wood directs comedy deftly. Heretofore, we associated him with social dramas that extracted stunning performances out of child actors.

In the final analysis the movie is not revolutionary or one of the great films, but it is something special despite its hoary sexism toward women. Yet, star Jean Arthur has spunk and is clearly engineering the road to independent women in business.