The Circus

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I just loved Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus. I’d never heard of this film, but recently saw that The Criterion Collection had just released it on DVD. In this 1928 film, The woebegone Tramp mistakenly gets caught up in a police chase for inadvertently taking a man’s wallet. The crazy chase that ensues leads to the Tramp bringing down the house as an accidental clown act at a circus.

This circus is run by a nasty, hothead Rimgmaster who continually abuses his lovely, innocent step-daughter. The Tramp soon falls for her and tries to be her savior, but she soon falls for a dapper tightrope walker.

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Throughout the film we’re treated to marvelous scenes including a chase through a house of mirrors, accidental clown acts that have the audience laughing in the aisles, a scary standoff with a lion and a death-defying tightrope scene.

According to the commentary Chaplin didn’t like this film much because it was made at a time when his life was at a low point. His wife was divorcing him for his affair with the female lead, his mother was terribly sick. a storm destroyed most of his set and the tabloids where having a heyday gossiping about Chaplin’s personal life.

Nonetheless, The Circus is hilarious and often poignant. It entertains from start to finish. I’d say it deserves a place beside any of Chaplin’s classics from The Kid to City Lights.

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The Music Man

The Goodman Theater offers solid brass band entertainment in Mary Zimmerman’s production of The Music Man. One of the top American musicals in my book The Music Man tells the story of con man Prof. Harold Hill comes to small town Iowa to cheat the townsfolk of their hard earned cash by promising them their boys will avoid the evils of the pool hall, a veritable den of inequity, if they just entrust them to him. For the price of instruments, sheet music, and uniforms, Prof. Hill will soon have these children’s virtue in place and they’ll be able to play beautiful music to boot.

The town’s mayor, who owns the new pool hall and the spinster librarian, Marian are among the most skeptical. Hill aims to win them over, though it won’t be easy. Marian won’t be the first skeptical lady his charm has won over.

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With a full orchestra, solid dancing and tunes like “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Trouble,” “Good Night My Someone” and “Till There Was You” The Music Man knocks it out of the park.

The Chicago Tribune’s reviewer thought the show’s star couple lacked chemistry. Perhaps they weren’t the most electric couple in musical theater, but they did a good job and with these songs, the colorful costumes, creative set, and familiar story, this production won me over.

The theater was quite full and some shows have already sold out. I urge you not to miss this summer’s The Music Man.

Leave it to Psmith

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I just finished another hilarious audio book narrated by Jonathon Cecil. Wodehouse’s Leave it to Psmith is a complicated frolic involving Freddie, a rich foolish young man, who tries to get his uncle out of a fix and to get a hefty sum so he can get enough money to buy into a booking scheme. If he only could become a bookie, he can marry his dream girl. All he needs is 1000 pounds. His uncle would help but his parsimonious aunt keeps a careful eye on all the family finances.

Eureka!

Freddie will get someone to steal his aunt’s insured necklace, hand it off to the uncle who’ll in turn submit a claim for the necklace, sell off the real one and give some money to Freddie, some to his needy niece and have some freedom for himself.

Who will take on this ridiculous endeavor?

Enter Psmith. A gentleman who’s fled a dull job for his uncle and has advertised to take on any work. Soon Psmith is posing as an erudite poet and entering the uncle’s country home to figure out how to get the necklace.

The story is great fun and wonderfully read by Cecil.

High Society

Starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holme and featuring Louis Armstrong and his band, High Society (1956) follows in the footsteps of the 1940 Philadelphia Story. Here socialite cum snob Tracy Lord (Kelly) is about to marry the straight laced George. Her baby sister protests and puts in many a good word for Tracy’s ex-husband Dexter (Crosby). Tracy’s appalled. She could never consider returning to the even-keeled, kind Dexter who betrayed her by using his musical talents for jazz rather than classical music.

Yes, she’s that snobbish.

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What style!

She’s about to marry George a drab businessman who looks good in a suit. Yet tabloid journalists played by Sinatra and Holme appear to get the scoop on this high falootin’ wedding.

What? Why?

Well, Tracy’s given the choice of either enduring the cheap coverage of her wedding or allowing the rag to publish a scintillating exposé on her father who ran away with a showgirl. Reluctantly, Tracy allows the tacky reporters in to save her mother from shame. She’s not completely selfish or clueless.

As you’d expect, Dexter still loves Tracy and Mike from the tabloid soon falls for her, while George’s buddy-duddy side gets increasingly pronounced.

With some good singing and dancing, High Society entertains. It also puzzles. Aside from her beauty, what does Tracy have going for her? Dexter was married to her and is presented as a man who’s perceptive so he would know her beyond the superficial. He’s still in love with such a snob, a snob who hates jazz because she sees it a crass. That wouldn’t matter much, except jazz is Dexter’s art. Hmm.

I was struck by Crosby’s cool guy persona and Grace Kelly’s perfect silky hair and elegant outfits.

 

 

Lucky Me

As Doris Day just passed away at the age of 97, I figured watching some of her films would be a good memorial. My library displayed their DVDs with Day and I chose Lucky Day at random.

In Lucky Me, Day plays Candy Williams an aspiring singer and dancer who’s very superstitious and won’t walk by a black cat or step on a crack. Any superstition you’ve heard of in America, she won’t test. Williams is part of a struggling troupe of performers led by Phil Silvers, who’s perfect for his part. Candy gets duped by a well-meaning composer and romantic comedy ensues.

Though Lucky Me isn’t Day’s finest film and there are no great classic songs I recognized, the film entertains. It’s a cheerful story which showcases Day’s optimistic style. It’s sure to make you smile. The supporting cast includes Nancy Walker, who I remember from the sitcom Rhoda. Walker’s dancing skill was a nice surprise and Silver was a wonderful father figure in this tale of old showbiz.

Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday

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After watching Jacques Tati’s comedic classic Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, I was surprised to find out it was made in 1956. I’d have guessed during the 1930s. The film uses little sound, but the sound  is used to maximum effect. The sublime, recurring tune keeps playing in my head. Since it’s a happy melody, that’s just fine.

Awkward and unlucky, but well-meaning and kind, Mr. Hulot goes on vacation to a seaside French town. Wherever Mr. Hulot goes, minor disaster follows upsetting the quiet card players or the well-dressed ladies. More often than not, Mr. Hulot is his own worst enemy, but the consequence is usually small–some bruises, embarrassment or car trouble. It’s cool to see an old style vacation

The film is big on gags and short on plot. The characters are nameless stereotypes, but they do make an impression and each one is bound to remind you of someone you know or love.

Mr. Hulot’s Holiday is a delight, but probably isn’t for everyone. The film is slow-paced, a trip to the old days. It’s the first Tati film I’ve seen and folks like Roger Ebert assert it’s his best. I’m glad I saw it because Tati is a master in French film, but I can’t recommend it highly because I think a lot of people want more plot, which they can get from Chaplin, Keaton or Lloyd.