Category Archives: From One Take to Another

Remakes or different takes on a property

man

From One Take to Another: The Man Who Knew Too Much

Gabby: Steve Knauts and I talk over Hitchcock again, but this, it’s time a double bill! We go into The Man who knew too much, both the 1934 and the 1956 versions.

Steve: Hitchcock first made The Man Who Knew Too Much in the 30s, when he was still living in England. The he remade it in the 50s, after he had lived in America for about 15 years. The first iteration is classic British wit and understatement, while the second is American bombast. Also, the differences in the central couples (English in the first, American in the second) are fascinating. There are of course many similarities between the two, but the changes made are quite telling.

Both “Man”s are classics in their own way. When you re-watch them, watch for how the relationship between husband and wife is portrayed. In the American version, the tension between Stewart and Day is palpable. The British couple just seem more relaxed and comfortable with each other.

I have to say, the remake doesn’t get as much respect as Hitch’s other 50’s films, such as Rear Window, Vertigo, and North by Northwest. But he made some pretty bold choices in this film…

From now on I’ll refer to the films as “original” and “remake”. The original film packs in a lot considering it’s not even an hour and a half long! That includes a location change from Switzerland to London, a kidnapping, an assassination attempt, and a shoot-out. I wish more films were this efficient with their time. I recently watched Spectre, and the whole running time of our 1934 film here could fit neatly inside the last act of that bloated manwhoknewtoomuchfilm.

In addition to Hitch’s direction, I think this film’s best asset is Peter Lorre. He manages to make Abbot both weasel like and charming, threatening and pathetic. Lorre had already made waves in 1931 with Fritz Lang’s M, so Hitch had to know he had something special in the European actor. Lorre had been living in Germany when Hitler came to power, and fled to Paris and then London in 1933. He didn’t know English when he made Hitch’s film, so he had to learn his lines phonetically.

Gabby: The original definitely manages to packs a lot of punches for the time it has, especially considering how limited the sound technology, the camera movement and budget must have been. Peter Lorre is always a gem it seems. M is just one of the best performances. And he is so interesting whenever I see him. There is a great little BFI book about M, which I recommend.

Steve: There are two moments that leap out in my memory when I think of Lorre as Abbot. One is when he allows a brief reunion between Lawrence and his daughter. He then commands for the girl to be again taken away, and as the girl cries for her father. Hitch cuts to an unusual close-up of Lorre, whose face clearly shows discomfort and distaste for such brutality. The second moment is during the shoot-out, when the lone woman of the assassin’s crew is killed. Abbot is clearly shaken by her death, and this little moment again humanizes his character.

As far as negatives, I was disappointed that we did not get to see much of Leslie Banks and Edna Best as a couple.17_04 They are separated by one means or another for much of the film, although the teasing between them in the opening act is delightful. Banks is the epitome of British drollness, and the ease this couple have with each other is charming (it stands in marked contrast to the almost constant low thrum of tension between Doris Day and James Stewart in the remake).

Gabby: I too really would have loved more of Banks and Best as a couple. They really are so great together. It adds more personality to the film when they are together.

I do see what you mean about Day and Stewart. His character is always dismissing her accurate perceptions, it is very odd I think for him not even to share a little of his wife’s ideas. Decade or not I think they seem much more distant as a couple. Maybe that actually works for the movie though. It makes them joining forces perhaps more complex and tensional.

Steve: Another negative is that, as efficient as this movie is at moving things along, I feel a sag when we see Lawrence and his befuddled buddy try to suss out clues by investigating the dentist. Much of this is played for laughs, and it does tend to suck the tension out of the story. Ones Lawrence is captured by the gang, however, the focus switches to the wife and things get rolling again.

The Albert Hall sequence is a winner in both films, but in the original I was amazed at a long panning shot where we start on Jill sitting in the theatre. Man_Who_Knew_Too_Much_CurrentThe camera pans to her right and up, revealing the “empty” box where the assassin waits. Then without a cut the shot pans back to Jill, who turns and looks to her left. The camera follows her gaze, and we see the policeman standing just a few feet away – to intervene if she makes a move. Then, cut to Jill looking at the pin from her daughter (given to her by the assassin as a reminder to keep quiet). I would watch this whole film just to see that one moment again.

Another interesting tidbit – it turns out that Hitchcock specially commissioned composer Arthur Benjamin to write the “Storm Cloud Cantata” for the film. I had always thought it was a pre-existing piece of music. The final line sung by the chorus just before the clash of cymbals is “Finding release!” Very sly, considering the incredible tension Hitch builds in the sequence.

Gabby: Jill really gets a chance to be a hero there, and2217_011036 her character is made much more dynamic by that one action than we get in many films with the hopeless mother roles. She is just not going to stand for any nonsense. She will protect her child no matter what. It makes that character so real. Especially when we see her face as she does it and after. The expressions are really telling and human. Great bit of acting there from Edna Best. A silent movie technique no doubt.

Steven: It is great for how Jill’s shooting prowess comes into play. I love how she doesn’t waste time asking for permission from anyone – she just grabs the rifle and takes the shot.

Gabby: The original Albert Hall sequence is a great technical achievement, as you mention, but I really do love the one in the remake! I think he had learned a lot of lessons by this point, and knew exactly how to use this location to the optimum effect.

Talking of locations, the remake has some very uncomfortable casual racism, which sadly was probably quite prevalent in this era. Thisprotectedimage is brought to attention on the bus with Hank using terms like ‘The dark continent’ and not understanding it due to it being so sunny in Africa.

Steven: I always thought that “the dark continent” was a reference to Africa being mysterious, but in retrospect I can certainly see that phrase being uttered with racist connotations.

Gabby: When talking of the way in which characters speak, in terms of how the actors use their voices in the original, there are some very clipped accents there. But the way they use their voices is to ensure clarity and that speaks volumes of the early sound era of wanting to sound sophisticated (‘Round tones!’). What do you think of the way the actors speak in the original? Their accents, the way they speak and how their performances fair in terms of dealing with the new addition of performing dialogue? It is an interesting though about their Englishness too when comparing it to the whole hearted American feel of combining Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day. Casting those two in the leads there is definitely saying something about America and suburban life, and trying to place the target audience, at the time, in the middle of this thrilling, yet dangerous, exploit.

Steve: Indeed – you can’t get much more middle American than Doris Day and Jimmy Stewart. However, Stewart offers more than just good old fashioned Americana. His roles for Hitchcock showed a keen ability to project masculine neuroses. Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant each did 4 films for Hitch. I’ve heard it said (I wish I could remember where) that Grant played the hero that Hitch wished he could be, while Stewart played the hero Hitch knew he was. Thus, Stewart’s characters typically have some major flaw (such as the emotional coldness in Rear Window’s Jeff, and the obsessiveness of Vertigo’s Scotty). For the remake, Stewart gives a compelling portrayal of an overly patronizing and controlling man. I should emphasize that Stewart still makes Ben McKenna a sympathetic figure, but neither Stewart nor Hitch shy away from the more problematic aspects of his character.

For me, the most disturbing moment in the remake The-Man-Who-Knew-Too-Much-1956-7229_1is when Ben deliberately drugs Jo with sedatives before telling her about Hank’s abduction. On the surface, Ben is playing on the notion that Jo, being a woman, is overly emotional and illogical – thus his repeated dismissals of her earlier suspicions about Louis Bernard. However, the way Stewart plays the scene shows that it is really more about Ben’s inability to deal with his wife honestly. Ben knows he is doing something reprehensible, which is why we hear him ask for forgiveness.

Doris Day is also terrific as Jo McKenna. It’s telling that her character has a “masculine” name; this is no shrinking violet. I mentioned before that Hitch makes some bold choices in the remake. One of the boldest is the scene at the beginning where Hank accidentally tears the veil off of the Muslim woman on the bus. The woman is required to “conceal” herself, her identity, to all but her husband. Later we learn that Jo is a famous singing star, who gave up her career in order to marry Ben and be the dutiful doctor’s wife. Thus, like the Muslim woman Jo is required to “conceal” her true identity for the sake of another role. When Jo belts out “Que, Sera, Sera” in the finale, she is triumphantly reasserting her true self.

Now, Jo McKenna is not perfect, either. Earlier in the film she relies on another stereotypical “woman’s” tactic – manipulation. We see her subtly wind up Ben when they spot Bernard at the same restaurant, after he cancelled their earlier plans. Once she gets Ben close to confronting Bernard, she then chastises him for losing his temper and telling him to settle down; “He gets so worked up over the littlest things!”

It’s one of the movie’s many ironies that the Draytons appear so much more in synch with each other than the McKennas, yet in reality they are the principle players in the assassination plot!

Gabby: There is a definite masculine neurosis at play here. With the idea of Day’s character giving up singing and being in a small town. He does not want to move for her to continue her career. Even though he could continue his, he would probably be as respected. She wants to return to the stage, as does her fans, but he is insecure and selfish. And that is a really good point about Stewart and Grant. I think a lot of us want to be like Cary Grant. That drugging is incredibly disturbing, indeed. The hysteria shrug of well she is a mother, as you say, seals the nasty undertone of just how terrible that is. Every time they have a disagreement or she does something he can’t handle, 81qMvxhWjhL._SL1425_like have emotions, he has the power to do that. In effect, he does that with her career and her intuition. He is a very problematic character. I really like that at play when he mistakenly goes to find the person Ambrose Chapel scene. All those stuffed animals surrounding him. Something that also came up when we talked about Psycho. He being pushed into corners and mistaken. I think he is no better really than that stuffed tiger. He has a one track mind and will do just about anything to get his son, but also in proving to be right, in being the hero. Even though he has been so closed off and brutish in a way that lead him to this in the first place. If he had listened to his wife maybe this wouldn’t have happened.

I agree about her being allowed to become her true self by the end. It is only when they start to work together they are able to save Hank. When she is allowed to have her identity back and also when Ben starts to see the fact his wife is smart, strong, capable and he can use her help. They unite in the search for their son. This is one of the biggest differences with the original, where that couple is already strong together.

Yes, she is certainly no saint either. It really has some big problems as a film too. As we mentioned, its racial ideas are beyond unsettling. Whereas, the original has not got those problems, I don’t think. But the remake does have the advantage of having colour. The colour really works beautifully for the locations. Not to mention the editing, score, a more advanced director and technology.0193

On a side note, am I wrong in wanting a film about the Draytons?

Steven: There are some interesting parallels are made between the McKennas and the Draytons. The men act in what they think is a calmer, more rational manner, yet their rationality leads them to commit some fairly heinous acts (Ben drugging his wife, Mr. Drayton facilitating the murder of Hank). The women are more openly emotional, but also more compassionate and ultimately more insightful (it’s Jo who realizes Ambrose Chapel is a place, not a person; Mrs. Drayton realizes she cannot allow Hank to be killed).

I’d also like to point out the minor but wonderful performance by Mogens Wieth as the ambassador who turns out to be behind the assassination plot. He is loaded with snark, and his dressing down of Mr. Drayton is delicious (“You English intellectuals will be the death of us all”). His comment to Jo is also wonderfully ironic (“Madam, you have saved the life of the one person in our country who is truly irreplaceable”).

Gabby: In terms of putting these films next to each other, I am still conflicted with the fact I find the remake more thrilling. It is a great suspense. TOXIE-600x830It does at least show that the characters are flawed. Even with those problems we mention. The original though is still a great watch also.

Steve: I really love both of these films, but I’m with you – the remake is better. The original is a supremely entertaining and fast-moving thriller. But the remake is deeper, richer, and ultimately more rewarding.

annie

From One Take to Another: Annie

Jon Rutledge and I recently saw the latest 2014 version of Annie, so we decided to have a look back at the different film adaptations of the musical.
Jon, we have just both seen three different takes on Annie, what are your opening thoughts?

Jon: Between the three we have very different intentions of each movie. The 1977 Broadway musical stands as the model with the 1982 as the Benchmark version. The 1999 one is a made for TV event for the Disney channel and is really a nostalgic romp through the songs that people love and the 2014 is the re imagining for modern time.

Gabby: The original is a great musical with such enjoyable performances, especially with the legendary Carol Burnett as Ms Hanningan. The second was like it was a school production on fast forward. It seems only to exist to do the musical numbers, which aren’t good. Apart from when Audra is singing. Thank God she is in it. I was hoping it be in the same spirit as the Whitney Houston produced Roger’s and Hammerstien’s Cinderella. That is so much fun with a talented cast having the best time. Whereas, here I don’t even buy Alan Cumming is liking singing Easy Street.I think the modern one I am still processing what my overall opinion is. They made some casting errors that I think really worked against it even though I love Wallis and Fox, those two are actually my favourite Annie/Warbucks of the three

Do you have much history with the original movie?

Jon: History? Well funny you should say that. I was talking with my wife about our Annie project and she and I were reminiscing about the 1982 version. We remember when there was a national casting call to find the perfect girl to play Annie. annie1My wife so desperately wanted to try out but never got the courage to tell her parents that she wanted to. I remember the casting as well and thought it was cool they were opening this up to the nation rather than just pulling some talent from the hot spots for the film industry. So when it came out I went to see it and it was my first introduction to Annie. I never knew the “original” original version of Annie in a comic strip or either of the radio plays or Broadway productions.

Gabby: It was my first introduction as well, I have had it on so many times whilst I was growing up and then again with my younger sister discovering it. Why do you think the era they chose suits the film and does this bring any of the themes to the surface?

Jon: That time in American history was during the great depression. So the comic strip had a lot of messages about political commentary and the play focused on the inspirational aspects of looking toward a better day, that things right now are bad, nevertheless this will not be forever. It’s an out of the darkness there is hope kind of a story. And that time period is an excellent backdrop of that because it was a very dark time.

Gabby:  The Great Depression does reflect that sense of loss that those young orphans have gone through. So many people believed in the American dream that was proving to be blossoming in the boom years of the 20s. Yet with the Wall Street Crash, the American dream kind of broke down with so many people losing everything they had built up. I think that is something that informs Carol Burnett’s performance. She has turned to alcohol and does actually start seeing her errors. Also the character of Rooster is a good example of how many people turned to crime during that time. On a different note, it does make the film age gracefully, as well as still looking pretty wonderful.

Jon: If we take a look at the different Rooster’s, there wasn’t really a anniegroup1Rooster in the 2014 version, so we have Tim Curry vs Allan Cumming. You said it before that Mr. Cumming felt like a participant in the event and not really a driving force. Mr. Curry hands down my favorite Rooster. He seems to just ooze psychopathic evil. You know he will kill Annie. Whereas, Mr. Cumming does give the finger across the throat means death hand motion, nevertheless I get the feeling he is play acting at being tough.

Gabby: Easy Street is one of my favourite group numbers from a movie musical. Tim Curry, Bernadette Peters and Carol Burnett are all amazing and have known each other forever. They just have a blast with being deliciously evil together. I saw a behind the scenes of that recording, it was so much fun. I really would like to sing of Easy Street with those three.

Bernadette Peters and Tim Curry show how you get into a small role, just go for it! Cumming, however, is just not credible. I hate to say this but I disliked Kristin Chenoweth in this, her role was quite grating. Turning towards a different musical number, what do you make of the Tomorrow sequence in the first Annie?

Jon: Before I go to the Tomorrow renditions I just had to pitch in here and say that Kristin Chenoweth’s role was completely throw away. There was absolutely no need for the character. She did so little and was then kicked out of the plan? Also, how are a pair of sun glasses and a hat were going to convince Grace Farrell that she has never seen Miss Hannigan beforannie1999e? Are we to believe she is going to look at her when she is playing Annie’s mom and go: “You look like Miss Hannigan…? No, wait my mistake Miss Hannigan doesn’t wear a hat.” That made no sense to me.

Now Tomorrow had a different feeling through all of the films. In the 1982 it was that political and socially uplifting song that goes back to telling people that the Depression is hard, yet they should not give up hope that it will get better. In the 1999 version it was pitifully used to pull at our heart strings. It was completely used to make us feel bad about the Orphan sitting in snow starving with a dog in her lap. In 2014 they did it early on, showing Annie pulling herself up because she has yet again gotten no word on her parents. It’s interesting the differences, same song different uses.

Gabby: I do like the newer Annie use of Tomorrow. Do I dare call the song a tiny bit annoying when sung by a child? I always thought that until I heard Idina Menzel sing it on Youtube and I changed my mind. It is such a beautiful song. I got to hear it at her concert at The Royal Albert Hall which is one of the most stunning things my ears have got to listen to. I think when you actually get someone who understands the lyrics and feels them, as well as have a one of the best voices, it makes you appreciate the message that lies in it. Here is a recording from her concert which is available on DVD and CD called Barefoot and the Symphony with most of it being conducted by the late, wonderful Marvin Hamlisch.

Jon: That was spectacular. Really good. I think I understand your annoyance with the song from a child’s point of view. The themes are so grown up about not giving up when things are rough and you have to hold on for another day. When sung by a child I can see where you may think that it is a pep talk and not as soulful. Out of all of them I think the 2014 version comes close to capturing that feeling.idinannie

Gabby: I am such a Fanzel so I love it when I hear that kind of reaction to a performance of hers. She is a puzzle to me. She looks and sounds like she was carved by angels.

Jon: Excuse me I have to watch it again.

Gabby: Me too… She can literally sing anything.

Jon: I would listen to her sing the phone directory.

Gabby: Amen, my heart has now melted. The fact is once you hear this version no other version is ever going to quite be on par. Amazing.

Jon: This is now the benchmark all others get measured against. That does lead to an interesting point though, should we hold other performers to the same standard or should we measure them on their own merits? Is it fair to penalize others for not making it against the standard she set?

Gabby: No absolutely, I try not to avoid having that version in my head when I hear a different one because it isn’t fair. Talking of comparisons though, what are your thoughts on each Miss Hannigan?

My favourite is definitely Carol Burnett. I am not sure anniecarolthe other two can even be considered for that. It isn’t their fault entirely, nonetheless it feels so put on and empty. I feel like Kathy Bates was trying too hard to be like Carol. I even started expecting line imitations.

Jon: Carol Burnett is absolutely the winner in this category. On the other hand, when you look at the other two they had different roles, the characters were different. We almost can’t judge them on the same scale. Cameron Diaz’s version was more soulful and resolved that what she was doing wasn’t right so she chose to make it right and told Mr. Stacks. Kathy Bates played it up for absurdity because it was such a compressed production I thought she didn’t have time to be subtle and develop the character. We almost can’t judge them on the same scale because the roles were so different.

Gabby: There are ways of doing that role and making your own. Imagine if she was truly terrifying like Ms Trunchbull from Matilda? Or played like a classic movie actress such as Bette Davis or Joan Crawford. Then again Burnett’s take on Norma Desmond might rule that out. My bestie came up with the great alternative for Cameron Diaz in our recasting of the newest one, which was Bette Midler.

Jon: Bette Midler does have the chops for the role. She could pull it off. The 2014 cast was overall younger so I don’t know if she would have fit in with the age of the cast. When I think of singing actresses Diaz and Bates are not high on that list. I think we run into the same problem comparing Warbucks to Stacks. They are the same archetype but different characters. I am going to say that Jamie Foxx is my favorite only because his version had a lot more spirit. Albert Finney was more emotional but seemed out of touch with reality. I guess if you are mega rich you may be. Who was your favourite and why?

Gabby: My favourite is Jamie Foxx too. I really like him and in this he feels very sincere where we can see what Annie has brought to his life. anniefoxxYou don’t get that with Victor Garber unfortunately. I do think Albert Finney is incredibly charming though and I always smile when he dances

Jon: “Did I just do a commercial?” I love his performance but you are spot on with Mr. Foxx’s connection. Victor Garber suffers from the same time problem. The 1999 version was really a showcase of Annie more than a production.

Gabby: On a very different side note, there is an Annie sequel. The trailer looks like the film was invited to torture prisoners.

To give a little information on it, Annie: A Royal Adventure was a 1995 TV sequel to Annie (1982). The movie has no songs apart from a reprise of “Tomorrow”. Annie, her friends Molly, Hannah, her dog Sandy, and her wealthy father Oliver Warbucks take a trip to England where Oliver Warbucks is going to be knighted by the King. When she is there she bumps into Joan Collins, an evil noblewoman, who plans to blow up Buckingham Palace so she can claim the throne and become Queen. So it is up to Annie to stop her…

Jon: Wow, I don’t know what to think. Blink, blink… Blink, blink. Moving back to the 1982 version, do you think that Punjab and The Asp are racist?

Gabby: Not to take away anything from the actor who plays Punjab, as he seems very talented, but the fact he is the wrong ethnicity does make it slightly awkward. Nevertheless Annie is so accepting of everyone that maybe this wasn’t intentionally there to ridicule anyone.

Jon: Not intentionally but what we found accepting in 1985 is entirely different today. I did feel a bit uneasy.

Gabby: Me too. It was unsettling, especially as I think that is the only representation of a minority I think. Weird considering the time it was set in, after an influx of immigrants in New York. What do you think of the other ways New York played into the 82 film as well as the New York of the 2014 film? Also what do you think of the orphans in the different films?

Jon: New York in the original was extremely white there were only Punjab and The Asp as flavor. They were a carryover from the comic strip. It seems that in New York at that time the population was primarily white. The diversity in the New York in the 2014 version looks like a realistic blend of gender and color for today. When I look back at the movie with my 2014 eyes it seems disproportionate but as the census data shows they painted an accurate picture of life back then.

The orphans that surround Annie are always in support of her. annie1999kidsThere are the same ones: the rough hardened one that has a jaded outlook on life, the one that is the smallest and most enamored with Annie’s dream of finding a family. All of them are really good at the Hard Knock Life scenes. My wife and I giggle when the one orphan exclaims “Oh my Goodness, oh my goodness!” adorable.

Gabby: So many are of them are incredibly adorable.  I think the harder one is heartbreaking in a way as life has given her so many knocks. That’s really interesting about the population. What about the different portrayals of Annie and what about her allows so many children to connect with her hopes and dreams?

Jon: I think that kids are drawn to her optimism and her hope. She has had a hard life but she keeps hoping for a better tomorrow. It’s that never give up spirit that kids and adults find appealing. I guess she is the Pollyanna of the 80s generation.

Gabby: I agree I think she has a remarkable quality to pick herself up and keep a smile on her face. One element I want to ask you about is Grace. What do you think of that character and the romance that develops with Mr Warbucks/Stacks

Jon: Grace is a mother figure that Annie needs and she is the catalyst for the relationship to grow. You can see the affection building for Annie and Grace from the start of each rendition of this story. It’s Annie who notices the underlying affection between Mr Warbucks and Grace. Annie is driving the connection because of her dream of having a mother and a father. Not saying the connection isn’t there between them but Annie maximizes it.

Gabby: That has now lead to me thinking of The Fosters, the TV show, which looks at the lives of kids who have been through Foster care and also life partners, a two female parent family, who take on two more foster kids as well as the three in their house, including two they once fostered and now adopted. The new foster kids came from a really terrible foster family and the young boy is so happy that he has found a home where he feels loved and safe. I think Annie gets that straight away from Grace. Even when they first meet they have a connection. This helps Annie to have the confidence to connect with Warbucks. I also think young people can see more sometimes, like you say she is able to maximize it because she is separate from the social rules and embarrassments we learn as we age, so she can bluntly say ‘Hey look she/he’s pretty great and you like them, go for it.

Jon: You are right, Annie doesn’t have many social filters. She is free to say what she sees. I never thought about the connection between Grace and Annie as one that empowers her. Warbucks is a very intimidating figure and Annie was willing to give up after he originally turned her down. The way she accepted it was heart breaking like she was used to being rejected.

Gabby: That’s a perfect example. She might put on a brave face, but moments like “Maybe” let us see how vulnerable she is as well as being used to those moments of rejection although we get to see that she does grow in confidence, which is very annieoppendearing. What about your favourite musical numbers in the films, what are they and why?

Jon: I am kind of liking “Opportunity” from the 2014 one, it really sticks with me and is so powerful. Next on the list is Easy Street 1982 version because of the beat of the song and how well it’s performed. Then it would have to be “I think I’m going to like it here” 2014 because it feels more realistic instead of the army of servants doing a huge musical number also, “Little Girls” from the original because Carol is wonderful. Then, of course, is “Tomorrow” in all three of the versions of the films.

Gabby: Opportunity is one for me too. It really got a bit dusty in the cinema as that performance was heart melting. Boy is that 2014 version of ‘I think I’m going to like it Here’ catchy! From the original it is Easy Street and Little Girls (which is my absolute favourite). Never fully dressed without a smile is charming in both versions. anniemovies2Then there is perhaps one of my favourite scenes in all three versions which us ‘Let’s go to the Movies’. Sigh it gets to me as a film lover and will always strike a chord. Especially when you see Garbo’s gorgeous face and the three of them totally lost in the story in that stunning building. For me, that really highlights why we will revisit this film time and time again.

baby

From One Take to Another: Bringing up Baby and What’s up Doc?

Steve Knauts and I both have a huge love for Screwball comedy so we decided to have a discussion focusing in on two of our favourites: Bringing up Baby and What’s up Doc? Steve, let’s kick things off with Baby, what was your first impression of it and how has that changed since your most recent viewing?

Steve: I remember seeing Cary Grant as only the suave, sophisticated hero from films like North by Northwest. It was very different seeing him as an introverted scientist. In my most recent viewing I saw that Grant’s character David really doesn’t like his life very much at film’s start. His fiancée has made it very clear that this is to be a sexless relationship and marriage, which David is NOT happy with – although at this point he’s too whipped to say anything about it. Even though it’s easy to read the movie as Susan constantly getting the better of hapless David, I actually think he gets more assertive as the film goes on. He pretty much has to, even just to keep up with Susan. What’s great is that he realizes he WANTS to. Susan’s craziness has brought him to life and saved him from a “dead” life. I think David actually likes Susan from the start in spite of himself. There’s the classic line towards the beginning: “I must admit in quiet moments I’m strangely drawn to you, but well, there haven’t been any quiet moments.” Susan also takes advantage of the stereotypical male role of “saving” the woman in order to get David to her apartment. David could just tell her to take a flying leap, but there’s a reason he heads right over there – even when he has the supposed key to his happiness (the famed intercostal clavicle) right in his hands.

Gabby: The ideal conservative home is being almost forced upon him. He has a career and a wife. He should pay his dues and carry on with his commitments. But then along comes Susan, who is a hurricane in a bottle, and she manages to wake him up so he realizes that’s not all he wants out of life. I too think he likes her straight away even though he might not know it. Every now and then we need a Susan. When talking of his attraction to her what do you think attracts Susan to him? And what makes Susan and David such a fantastic on screen couple?

Steve: I think he likes Susan’s forthrightness and her assertiveness, even though it’s usually being used to make his life more difficult.jail David is surprisingly flexible and willing to go with her on her adventures. Now of course we wouldn’t have much of a movie if he wasn’t, but Hawks and company make it a part of his personality – David has a hard time saying “No” to anyone. That helps immeasurably in Susan getting her foot in the door, as it were. A key difference between Susan and David’s cold-fish fiancée is that the fiancée IS that rigid, humorless brick wall. What also makes David and Susan perfect for each other is that they are both whip-smart. The middle section of the movie has them improvising like mad, and it’s a treat watching them try to stay one step ahead of everyone else. You know the real reason why David is attracted to Susan? It’s because she’s HAPPY. Her happiness and joy radiate out in all directions, and it’s just about irresistible.

Gabby: I just love that pace they have together it feels so natural and it is completely charming. They are both very smart in different ways, which makes an interesting combination. I think the way Susan sees the world is irresistible as well. What do you think of Katharine Hepburn as Susan?

Steve: Hepburn is perfect in that role. There’s something about her patrician, upper-class demeanor and accent that makes her just right as the madcap heiress. Even when I’m sympathetic to David’s frustration, I cannot help but like her. I’ve wondered about other actresses who might have played Susan – Myrna Loy and Claudette Colbert have both shown they can be terrific in fast-paced comedies. But I cannot imagine anyone else but Hepburn as Susan. She’s so precise in her diction and phrasing, even when what she’s saying is completely insane. Susan’s upper-class background (and Hepburn’s skill at playing it) is an integral part of her character. She’s likely grown up looking at the world as basically a big playground. Yet she doesn’t come across as arrogant, spoiled, or childish. Susan remains lovable because she really doesn’t have a mean or mendacious bone in her body. Susan in a nutshell: “That’s the man I’m going to marry. He doesn’t know it yet, but I am.”

Gabby: I couldn’t imagine anyone else as Susan either. baby01I keep giggling at that scene where they fall over and she puts the net on David’s head, she loses a shoe and she keeps bobbing up and down saying ‘I was born on the side of a hill’. The diction is brilliant for things like that. Like you said, she isn’t spoiled she just is free to be able to take that positivity into action. What do you think of the gender and sexuality in this film in regards to Hepburn and Grant? We mentioned in our last talk that this was the first film that used ‘gay’ as in homosexual. So are there any undercurrents about the film’s attitude towards masculinity and femininity?

Steve: Well, it has Susan wearing pants and David wearing a woman’s dressing gown, so I’d say most definitely. The film has lots of fun playing with male/female stereotypes (like Susan playing up the “damsel in distress” to get David over to her apartment). Susan plays up either role with ease – damsel in distress in one scene, “tough guy” criminal in a later scene. The underlying message for us the audience? They’re just roles, people.

Gabby: She does have such a great time jumping around it is almost imploring us to do the same. She has absolutely no fear of Baby, she loves him. She is unphased by anything, even a leopard appearing in her apartment.

7Steve: Speaking of that leopard, she was played by Nissa a tame female. Like Hepburn playing “scared” Susan and “tough” Susan, Nissa played both tame Baby and the ferocious circus leopard. Not surprisingly, Hepburn was not in the least afraid of Nissa on set. Grant, on the other hand, was terrified. Hepburn had fun with this by tossing a toy leopard into Grant’s dressing room in between takes. No wonder she plays Susan so well!

Gabby: I read a section of Hepburn’s auto-biography and that story is one I love telling. You beat me to it! Apparently mostly everyone was scared of the leopard but her. It was her new friend and she loved playing with it. She was a hell of a person!

Steve: I imagine it was a fun set to be on, for everyone but the director. Hawks was a bit exasperated by Hepburn and Grant, who kept cracking each other up during filming. Of all the major Hollywood directors, it’s Hawks’ view of male/female relationships that I find most refreshing. His women by and large are tough and resourceful, and his men are allowed to be vulnerable. You don’t often see John Wayne at a loss for what to do, but Angie Dickinson in Rio Bravo has him completely flummoxed.

There are some great moments of physical comedy in Baby, in addition to the verbal fireworks. Watching Susan and David walk out of the restaurant glued to each other is great – and a sign of things to come. Also this exchange: David (after seeing Baby in Susan’s bathroom): Susan, listen to me carefully. You have to get out of this apartment. Susan: But I can’t, David. I have a lease.

Gabby: So Steve (‘But my name is Howard!’, ‘I like Steve better’) how about What’s up doc? What was it like watching it again so closely with Bringing up Baby?

Steve: I’ve seen this movie about 10 times, and I think this was the first time I got close to keeping up with all the nonsense with the suitcases. Not that we’re really supposed to care, of course. Probably the biggest difference between this film and Baby is the larger role given to the fiancée, brilliantly played by Madeline Kahn. eunice1Eunice and Judy spend most of the film battling for Howard. Of course poor Eunice doesn’t have a chance, and I like how she isn’t portrayed as a straight villain. She’s genuinely sorry for Howard at the end when it appears he won’t get the grant, and I like that she gets a fella of her own. Eunice is a high-strung controlling person, and I can see how the absent-minded Howard would be drawn to her – she’ll help keep him on track. Eunice is control and order, while Judy is chaos and freedom. So I’ll ask you, Gabby – how does Judy win Howard over? And you can’t just say “Because she’s Barbra!” That’s too easy an answer.

Gabby: I think that Barbra and Madeline are the stars of the show; they really are so brilliantly funny in different ways. They deliver every line with such perfection. There is also a wonderful amount of physical comedy that had me laughing this time more than I think I have done during a film in months. Gosh I’d love to see this with an audience! I love that she is genuinely sorry for Howard as well and we do feel sorry for her when she walks in on Howard’s rocks and the criminals.

The thing about Judy is she IS Barbra. I think that she and that character are so similar. She really brought a lot of herself to that role, in the best way. babsMy question back would be how could he not be drawn to her? I could resist Judy. She is just so filled with life, passion, knowledge, humour and charm. Barbra did not get many chances to really show how amazingly smart she is on screen and this character just allows that to flourish. She knows just insanely huge amounts it is beyond me, and that’s Judy. Howard can’t quite believe all that is in her head and he is the scientist/musicologist?! She has a whole table of scholars fascinated with what she is saying. I can tell you having seen her live twice; she has that effect on people. She would make one hell of a teacher.

Steve: I think the key is Howard’s own personality. He doesn’t understand this at the beginning, but in reality he is much closer to Judy than Eunice. Like Judy, Howard blows with the wind and tends to bring chaos down upon himself without meaning to (like the misadventure with the television in his room). Howard believed Eunice was what he needed to keep his life on track, when she was actually stifling him. I don’t know about you, but I am always surprised when Howard starts playing the piano on the deserted floor. I know I shouldn’t, because he is a musicologist after all. But it seems out of character with the Howard we were introduced to. Judy knows better, of course. If you’ll pardon the corny sentiment, she brings out the music in him.

Screwball comedies originated as a response to the limitations of the Hayes Code but they also think they serve as an antidote to sappy romances. In screwball comedies the mind is at least as important as the heart. What’s Up Doc? serves as the ideal antidote to another throwback movie from a few years earlier, Love Story. That misbegotten film enshrined all the worst tendencies of tear-jerker romances. Ryan O’Neal gets to cleanse his palate with this movie. When Judy bats her eyes at him and says Love Story’s key line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” Howard gets to look her straight in the eye and say “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” I bet O’Neal relished that.

Gabby: We covered this with Baby, so now I will ask what for you make of gender in What’s up Soc? Judy’s collection of incredibly impressive studies and the way the table interact with her (what wine are you serving table 9?) are standing out to me as well as Eunice being so strongly willed and assertive. Her first response to a bunch of thugs is: ‘What are you doing with Howard’s rocks?’ She also fabulously comes out with lines like ‘I am not a Eunice Burns, I am THE Eunice Burns!’ Then there is Mrs. Van Hoskins who has no trouble in fighting back when Harry tries to use his ‘charm’ to stall her.

Steve: You’ll notice in the dinner scene that the men surrounding Judy do not seem in the least intimidated by her – they (and in particular Mr. Larrabee) are instead fascinated with her. The only man who is irritated with her is the table9obnoxious character played by Kenneth Mars. It’s also interesting that Larrabee, who was entranced by “Bernsie,” hooks up with THE Eunice at the end. The one part of What’s Up Doc? that I do not like involves Hoskins. When the hotel clerk, Fritz, suggests to Harry that he seduce her, Harry looks at the poor woman and asks, “Can’t I just kill her?” Ho, ho. And then the judge, when she tries to tell him that Hogg attempted to sexually assault her, comments, “That’s…unbelievable.” Ho, ho. I can’t stand – even in a comedy – the idea that some women “can’t” be raped because they are old or unattractive.

Gabby: I could see why those jokes could be uncomfortable with some. Harry is, however, a moron so that joke is more on him, whereas Judge Maxwell is having a nervous breakdown so I can forgive those two points. It is interesting that they aren’t intimidated as there has been a long history with that with Barbra in her early years.

Steve: About that scene with Judge Maxwell though, normally I would hate a scene like this, with people trying to explain everything that’s been going on. We really don’t care about the damn suitcases by this point – we just want to know what’s going to happen with Howard and Judy. But this scene works for 2 reasons. There’s the wonderful performance by Liam Dunn as the judge, of course. And then there’s the ultimate realization that the entire sequence is merely an epic build-up to one punch line – I won’t say it here, on the off chance there’s someone reading this who hasn’t yet seen the movie.

Gabby: Do you think it got the praise it deserves? I wish it was on British TV more as many haven’t seen it but when they do, it goes down a storm.

Steve: I do think What’s Up Doc? is properly appreciated. I recently showed it to my 2 nieces (aged 21 and 16) and they both loved it. If Doc is underrated it would probably be more because it was directed by Peter Bogdanovich, and dislike for him could spill over onto his filmography. He made some terrific films, but in the 70s he could have won awards as being the most obnoxious and narcissistic of the new generation of directors. Bogdanovich ruled the first few years of the 70s, but when he flopped with Daisy Miller, At Long Last Love, and Nickelodeon there was an army of people he had dissed who were ready to pounce. The speed with which he imploded reminds me of what happened to M. Night Shyamalan.

Gabby: How well do you think What’s up Doc? has aged?

Steve: It is a 1972 movie that for the most part still feels fresh today, just like Baby. Maybe because it’s intended as a homage to the screwball genre, costumeDoc avoids references that would date it (like scenes with hippies). Give the characters cell phones and you could release it today.

Gabby: It certainly does feel fresh, and is still so hilarious. In fact I think I might just go watch it again…

1-2

From One Take to Another: The Shop around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail

Gabby: As the Holiday season is upon us, Jon Rutledge (Fat Samurai) and I decided to have a look at The Shop around the Corner, In the Good old summertime and You’ve Got Mail.

What is your first experience with adaptations of Parfumerie by Miklós László?

Jon: My first experience with this work was the 1998 version You’ve Got Mail. It was after the movie that I learned it was a re maker of another film so I took some time to find it and watch it, I really enjoyed the original 1940 version “Shop Around the Corner” much more than the 1998 version. It was during our research for this conversation that I found out about “In the Good Old Summer Time”, which was made in 1949 staring Judy Garland. The Garland version has to me my least favorite out of the three. It felt like the story was only rewritten to give Judy Garland an excuse to sing. After re watching all three I have to say that the 1998 version is a better rendition of the story because it focuses more on the written communication between the two characters. The original showed us more of the after effect of the letters that made them fall in love with each other. Listing to the characters gave us more of an opportunity to fall in love with them.

summerGabby: I agree very much with your opinions on the Garland remake. I had watched it once years and years ago. And remember it being my least favourite in the Garland box set. When we talked about having this discussion, for some reason I remembered it as a different movie. Because a movie with Judy Garland and Buster Keaton surely is worth your time right?! What I found out is I was right when I was a young teenager, this movie is a dud. But I am glad that we can involve it in some way as I think it shows something that the other two movies got right, which was the relationship with the two protagonists. I love the way you put it with the difference between showing the communication and the reaction to it. We really get a sense of who these people are in both Shop and Mail.

In the good old summer time starts with Andrew’s voice over, this is horrible. But I have no idea who this person is. He is no character at all. In The Shop around the Corner, I think Jimmy Stewart really makes this person such a vulnerable and lovable businessman. He could be seen as cold, but we know that really he has such a big heart. He really cares for that family of his in that shop.

What do you think of that cast of characters in The Shop around the corner?

Jon: The casting is superbly done. Jimmy Stewart does a great job as the second in command of the shop but in reality he runs the shop. You are spot on about him coming off as cold, but he does truly care about the shop employees. Margaret Sullavan seems to come off as shrewish though as a lot of the animosity between the two seems to be started by her. Frank Morgan does a doddering old owner very well to wonderful comedic effect. I really like his performance because the seriousness of the sub plot of him and his wife is a stark contrast with the rest of his performance. William Tracy as the ambitions delivery boy Pepi is outstanding. He is driven and knows how to work with the system to get what he wants. I love how he takes on the role of hiring his replacement. The story is way before its time and the themes presented are timeless, I think it holds up well to time. You can still connect with the characters even in 2014. That could be because of the strong performances or the great script. I think a bit of both.

Gabby: I agree about Frank Morgan. It is almost heartbreaking to see him asking what the others are doing over Christmas. It comes as such a relief when the newest member of the team is also alone so they can enjoy Christmas together.

Lubitsch is a master director and most of his movies are perfection. One thing I always tend to love is how wonderfully well rounded his female characters are. 112But as you say, there are many times when Klara seems cruel and shrewish. I think that bed scene between her and Stewart does such a good job of finally warming her up. Margaret Sullivan really can win you over quickly there. Even if the reason she treated the way she did is, to me, a male approximation about how women think. It doesn’t ring true at all. But the film is so heartfelt you can forgive things like that in an instance.

What themes do you think particularly resonate today?

Jon: You bring up a great point the male view of what she is thinking; do you think the cast had any input to how the characters should have reacted?

Gabby: Lubitsch and Sullivan both had very charming personalities. But unfortunately she had personal problems in the 50s with Depression. I think my impression is they had respect towards the script so stuck to it. She much preferred the stage. Maybe she felt more liberty to make the character her own there; whereas if you had cast someone like Rosalind Russell you would have a very different movie. I think I would love to see that movie. Not that I don’t adore the way it is, but I think that would have been better for a remake. To change the characters more rather than do the same thing, same lines but with added songs, which is why You’ve Got Mail works. It has a different view on these characters, they are different people. It also has an advantage of the screenplay being written by the wonderful Nora Ephron and her sister Delia. I’m so glad we get to have both films, written by different perspectives. That is a much more interesting way to go about a remake.

Jon: When you do a remake of a movie there are some things you need to stick to. It’s more of a frame work. If you can tell that same story from a different point of view or in a new way absolutely do a remake. This is why I don’t care for In the Good Old Summer Time. Aside from the change in the sub plot with the store owner and the addition of a setting that was conducive to the additions of songs, it tells us nothing new. It does the same jokes in the same fashion almost beat for beat. I think it was a throw away role for Buster Keaton, who was a comedic genius and he was only in a few sight gags. He needed to be used more.

Gabby: What are some of the themes that are still resonant today and which ones do you think You’ve Got mail got right where In the good old Summertime failed?

Jon: Summertime didn’t fail per se they just didn’t bring anything new to the table. I think one of the biggest themes was the ability to get an emotionally connection without ever having to have met. Both Shop and Mail got that right.

Stewart had to be faced with and deal with the realization that the person he loved and the person he was so aggravated with at work were the same person. But Hanks had a different emotional connection with that scene. holkHe was trying to reconcile that the person he loved was also the person who he ruined. I see that as a different internal struggle Hank’s version comes from a twinge of Guilt. A story that tells about how people can connect on a personal level without ever meeting face to face is very true today. In Shop it was a Pen Pal connection through a personal ad. If you take that to the next step it was a web connection in what was then a chat room. My brother met his wife thorough a chat room. That spirit of making a deeper connection without the superficial rings true. However there were some superficial motivations in the characters. In Shop she was disappointed when Jimmy Stewart was going on and falsely describing her pen pal. She was genuinely crest fallen. Even if that same scene wasn’t played out in Mail, their discussion about it before Hanks reveals himself has a touch of how the superficial elements still play on our heart. I would say they both have superior ideals about relationships but based in the dirty reality of how humans work.

Gabby: I agree that the connection they feel through letters or email is meaningful in today’s society. The slight preoccupation with looks they have is quite true as well of today’s society. I think that their hope that he is still charming or funny or interesting to be with shows that character is a true romantic. She is hopeful their souls met and if he isn’t stereotypically good looking that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is he isn’t the person that she thought he was. One thing that struck me about In the good old Summertime is how traditional and conservative it is. Considering, as you say, it is almost beat for beat the same movie as Shop around the Corner sometimes, it comes off much more of an indoctrination to get married and have babies. That tiny bit added to the end with them getting married and then having a daughter made me so uncomfortable. It felt like they were shoving their ‘family values’ down my throat. Whereas I feel the connection that the two characters in Shop and Mail makes it feel wonderful when they do actually get together.

Jon: I completely forgot about that part of the end of Summertime. Good point. The provincial nature of that version does give the viewer something that is not needed. If they get together and stay in love forever is irrelevant it’s the fact that they had a connection that matters. Do you think they added it just to show off Liza Minnelli? If they did, what a dramatic change to the story. It really changes the overall tone of the story dramatically. What did you think about the one scene that was in all three, the “because she is (insert character name here)”? Also, in Mail, what did you think about the subtle nod to Summertime to have the person on the street walking very briskly with a violin case? Or was I just working too hard there?

Gabby:  Probably! I really love many of Judy Garland’s movies so I was surprised at the distaste in my mouth by the film finished. I think there are definite nods to Summertime and Shop in Mail, which I enjoy. I think where that scene is perfect is in Shop. It is one of my favourite moments in that movie. I also love the fmaileet walking down the steps until the phrase “I want your honest opinion” and the feet stop and walk back up the steps, which was not seen in Mail but it wasn’t needed. One of my favourite comic moments in Mail is when Kathleen figures out who Joe really is at that party. ‘That caviar is a garnish!’ Ephron was at her best in these kind of moments.

Jon: Absolutely! The walking up the steps is another one of my favourite parts as it is incredibly funny in Shop.

Gabby: What do you think about the darker elements of the stories? I think there is darkness in the characters and a history that makes them more rounded.

Jon: The subplot of Shop is of infidelity and the attempted suicide because of it. I was shocked holkat the way that they were very up front with that. They almost needed to offset the light and fun atmosphere of the main plot. It’s needed as a way to ground the characters and to make their shop workers unite under the cause of making sure they have a good holiday season of sales for the owner. There is also the desperate nature of Sullivan’s need to find love. The things Stewart told her about being an old maid were very hurtful because they struck a nerve in her. That is the real point here; the characters feel more emotions then are needed for the comedy. They have depth. That is why it feels real and it still resonates today. Humans are very complex emotional beings and that is why we connect with the characters, because they are too.

Gabby: Very well put, I agree with all of that. I think this is true as well in You’ve got Mail. What I like about it is the complex nature of how we feel about big chains. They do bring things that we like and do have character, such as giving us our individual taste in coffee drinks. However there is an essential core of love of the items that Kathleen has that is not there for Fox Books. Her relationship with her mother makes the loss of the store even more devastating.

Both films do make a good Christmas movie, which bits of the film do you think make appropriate for this time of year?

Jon: Well in Shop it’s that everyone has someone to share the holiday with. That sense of connection during this time of year. In Mail it has to be the absolute domination of the megamart cathedral that worships capitalism as it grinds it’s heal into the fallen small business owner. Too dark?

Well Mail does its share of being nostalgic for how things used to be when we were growing up and that is what a lot of people do during this season. I think this time of year we are more reflective on what has happened in the past year.

“It’s not personal its business” is how Fox deals with the issue, but it may be very personal to who you are saying that about. I love that line because it shows that what people say to themselves to lessen the impact of their actions that still has an impact on others. It helps me remember to keep others’ feelings in mind when I make choices. I guess it’s a leadership lesson that many business owners could learn from.

Gabby: Agreed. I love the way the film clearly shows business is personal, that is one of the reasons why I love that movie. It shows hephow personal comments can be and also the impact it has on us. It’s so rare to show that guilt in saying something you always wished you can say… it’s so human.

I just hope that many people find that moment of nostalgia and happiness at spending time with those around them that both of those films romanticize so beautifully.