Review: Some Like It Hot

March 24, 2012

This month we’ll look at one of the best comedy films of all time. “Some Like it Hot” was released in 1959. The screenplay is by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on the French film “Fanfare d’Amour.” It’s set in 1929, the age of prohibition and pre-Depression millionaires.

Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play two jazz musicians with almost supernaturally bad luck. They start the film working in a speakeasy run by the infamous gangster Spats Columbo. The speakeasy is raided, and they finally get another job 100 miles away. When they go to borrow a car, there’s Spats Columbo again, gunning down a rival gang in Valentine’s Day massacre style. They flee to the same seaside resort in Florida where you guessed it, Spats Columbo is headed for an annual gangsters convention.

Of course the movie isn’t really about gangsters, it’s about gender and roleplaying and romance. There are three distinct parts to the film, the Chicago segment, the train, and the Florida segment. While the Chicago scenes have a lot of action and funny lines, they basically exist to set up the rest of the movie, where Jerry and Joe are forced to disguise themselves as women and leave town with an all-girl band. The scenes in the train are probably the funniest in the film, where our friends attempt to blend in with the girls, and both are sorely tempted by Sugar Cane, the band’s vocalist.

So much has been made of Marilyn Monroe’s temperament and unprofessionalism during the filming, but it’s usually not mentioned that she was pregnant at the time. Reportedly, she needed 47 takes to get one of her lines right. The line was, “It’s me, Sugar.” Supposedly Tony Curtis joked with the crew that kissing Marilyn “was like kissing Hitler,” a joke that spread like wildfire. Curtis denied ever saying it, but admits in his biography that he did. Either way, Marilyn’s behavior led to a lot of tension on the set. Still, I think her screen performance is great. Her sleeper car scene with Lemmon is wonderful, and doesn’t rely on a lot of close ups to cover for flubbed lines.

Casting Marilyn for this role was brilliant. In many ways, Sugar is Marilyn, from her sneak drinking to her many failed relationships. The scene where she talks about her fear of being thrown off the train if she’s caught drinking again has such a ring of truth to it. It’s said Marilyn was not invited to the wrap party at the end of filming.

Tony Curtis had many of his lines dubbed because he had trouble keeping his voice at a believable pitch while playing “Josephine.” His Cary Grant impersonation is good, but I never really understood the point of it. But, Joe is not really a very likable character. He steals Beinstock’s eyeglasses and suitcase, steals Osgood’s flowers, threatens a little kid on the beach, and impersonates a millionaire so he can get a hot date with Sugar. He supposedly redeems himself in the end by giving Sugar a diamond bracelet, as long as you are willing to forget that he swiped the bracelet too. However, he does have one of the greatest lines of the film: “It’s not how long you wait, it’s who you’re waiting for.”

The third segment of the film, set in Florida resort, are where the romances and comedy really start cooking. Joe and Jerry often appear in a combination of genders, for example the scene with Joe in a bathtub wearing a wig and pretending to be Josephine, while fully dressed as a man under the soap suds. Or Jerry “forgetting” to remove his high heels while impersonating a bellhop. Joe E. Brown appears as a Osgood Fielding III, a lovable millionaire smitten by Jerry, and their courtship leads to some really funny and touching scenes. The closing line “Nobody’s perfect,” spoken by Osgood, is simultaneously hilarious and very romantic.

An unforgettable line, but there are so many other great scenes in this part of the film. There’s George Raft, sending up old gangster cliches like flipping a coin repeatedly, or picking up a grapefruit half as if to squash it in the face of one of his henchmen. There’s Jerry playing on the beach in a girl’s swimsuit. There’s the horny little bellhop who promises Joe, “Never mind leaving your door open, I’ve got a pass key!” There’s Joe and Jerry climbing down the side of the hotel in drag, carrying the bass. There’s the totally over-the-top scene with a hitman with a tommygun popping out of a birthday cake to wipe out the South Side gangsters. There’s the tango with Osgood and Jerry. There’s Joe kissing Sugar while he’s dressed in drag. Marilyn’s facial expression changes so many times in that sequence, as she puts together the pieces of the puzzle.

My favorite lines:

Waiter: Sorry sir we only serve coffee.
Mulligan: Coffee?
Waiter: Scotch coffee, Canadian coffee, sourmash coffee.
Mulligan: Scotch! Make it a demitasse, soda on the side.

Joe: Jerry boy, why do you have to paint everything so black? Suppose you got hit by a truck? Suppose the stock market crashes? Suppose Mary Pickford divorces Douglas Fairbanks? Suppose the Dodgers leave Brooklyn?

Jerry: I feel like everybody’s staring at me!
Joe: With those legs? Are you crazy?

Sugar: I come from this musical family. My mother is a piano teacher, my father was a conductor.
Joe: Where did he conduct?
Sugar: On the Baltimore-and-Ohio.

Osgood: Which of these instruments do you play?
Jerry: Bull fiddle!
Osgood: Fascinating! Do you use a bow or just pluck it?
Jerry: Most of the time, I slap it.
Osgood: You must be quite a girl.
Jerry: Want to bet?

Sweet Sue: Every girl in my band is a virtuoso, and I intend to keep it that way.

Sugar: What a beautiful fish!
Joe: I caught him off Cape Hatteras.
Sugar: What is it?
Joe: It’s … a member of the herring family.
Sugar: A herring? Isn’t it amazing how they get those big fish into those little glass jars?
Joe: They shrink when they’re marinated.

Joe: What happened?
Jerry: I’m engaged!
Joe: Congratulations, who’s the lucky girl?
Jerry: I am.

Nutcracker & the King of Rats

December 24, 2011

I hope you’ve all been lucky enough to have seen the Nutcracker ballet at least once. It’s an evening filled with Christmas magic. A little girl named Clara is given the gift of a nutcracker doll by her eccentric godfather Drosselmeier. The nutcracker comes to life, battles a pack of mice, transforms into a prince and brings Clara to a magic land of dancing toys, flowers and the sugarplum fairy. The ballet was created by two giants of the ballet world, choreographer Marius Petipa and composer Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky. It was first performed at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1892.

But if you’ve ever wondered how the prince got turned into a nutcracker doll in the first place, or why the King of Mice is his enemy, or if you want to know more about the mysterious Drosselmeier, you must go back to 1816 and E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original story “Nutcracker and the King of Mice.” Here you will learn that the little girl is not named Clara. She is Marie, and her nutcracker doll is not a gift from Drosselmeier. Drosselmeier’s gift is an intricate clockwork castle filled with tiny dancing dolls — which fascinate Marie and her brother Fritz for a short while, then they wander off to play with their new toys. Marie discovers the nutcracker doll, which is apparently a gift from her father, although he says it is a gift from the Christ Child. Drosselmeier is stung by the children’s lack of interest in his castle, and derides the nutcracker as “an ugly little fellow.” Marie’s response is: “Who knows, godpapa, if you were to be dressed the same as my darling Nutcracker, and had on the same shining boots — who knows whether you mightn’t look almost as handsome as he does?”

Clearly this is not the same Drosselmeier we see in the ballet. Onstage, Drosselmeier appears almost omnipotent, sometimes controlling the very movements of the other characters. In the story, there are many things he cannot do, although he does seem to know everything about everyone. There are many parallels between Drosselmeier and the author Hoffmann. Hoffmann, it is said, built a toy castle as a gift for some children when he was living in Berlin. Hoffmann had held posts in the municipal bureaucracies of several cities, while Drosselmeier is a former “Court Clockmaker and Archivist” for the king of Nuremberg. Drosselmeier was banished from Nuremberg, and Hoffmann was forced to leave Warsaw after refusing to sign a loyalty oath to the French after Napoleon took the city.

You probably recall that the Nutcracker is injured by Marie’s brother Fritz, who forces him to crack too many hard nuts. You probably don’t know that Marie is also injured that night. She stays up playing with her toys after the rest of the family has gone to sleep. Suddenly the clock is straining to strike midnight. But a mysterious figure is crouching over the clock, muffling the chimes and uttering a curious rhyme about protecting the Mouse King’s ears. The mysterious figure turns out to be Drosselmeier.

Suddenly the room is invaded by swarms of mice. When the seven-headed Mouse King appears, Marie is so startled she puts her elbow through the glass door of the toy cupboard. The Nutcracker comes to life, commanding Fritz’s soldier toys to repel the mouse army. But the soldiers are outnumbered and many toys are killed. The Nutcracker is about to be captured by the Mouse King when Marie throws her shoe, then passes out on the floor.

It takes a full week for Marie to recover from her injury. In that time, Drosselmeier repairs the Nutcracker’s jaw and tells Marie the “Story of the Hard Nut,” which explains how the Nutcracker came to be. (It is interesting that after Drosselmeier fixes the Nutcracker, his sword is nowhere to be found, leaving the Nutcracker vulnerable to future attacks from the Mouse King. Whether this is another subtle clue that Drosselmeier is on the side of the Mouse King, I will leave for you to decide.)

Briefly, the Story of the Hard Nut is about the feud between the royal family of Nuremberg and Dame Mouserink, the mother of the Mouse King. Mouserink casts a spell on the Princess Pirlipat, turning her into a creature that resembles a nutcracker doll. The king turns to his Court Clockmaker and Arcanist, Christian Elias Drosselmeier, who searches the world for a way to break the spell. Drosselmeier discovers that if the Princess eats a certain fabled nut named Crackatook, after the nut has been broken by the teeth of a young man, she will be restored to her normal state. Above all the young man cannot stumble after cracking the nut. Drosselmeier finds the nut Crackatook in his cousin’s toy shop, and his nephew is given the task of cracking the nut. The king promises the hand of his daughter and his kingdom if Drosselmeier’s nephew can break the spell. The lad successfully cracks the nut and cures the Princess, but stumbles over Dame Mouserink at the last moment, crushing her to death. The nephew is suddenly transformed into the Nutcracker. The Princess is repulsed by his appearance and the king reneges on his promise. Mouserink vows that her son will avenge her death, and the Mouse King becomes the sworn enemy of the Nutcracker. The Nutcracker can only return to normal if he destroys the King of the Mice, and wins the love of a woman in spite of his deformity.

Unfortunately for Marie, the Mouse King is not vanquished in his first encounter, and begins to blackmail her. First he demands all her Christmas candy, then Marie’s collection of figurines made of sugar. Marie lets him take these treasured toys and candy in exchange for the Nutcracker’s safety, but the Nutcracker is savagely bitten and the Mouse King returns with more demands. Astonishingly the Mouse King now wants all Marie’s picture books, and her dresses and laces. Marie realizes the folly of appeasement and asks her brother to provide Nutcracker with a new sword.

The next night the Nutcracker appears in Marie’s room, and presents her with the Mouse King’s seven crowns. He has defeated his enemy, and asks her to accompany him to his kingdom, Toyland.

How do they get to Toyland? By climbing up the sleeve of her father’s fur coat. When Marie looks out through the collar of the coat, she is in Candy Mead, a small meadow outside the capitol city. The Nutcracker brings her through various towns and villages on the outskirts of Toyland. Everywhere he is greeted as the prince. I was a bit disappointed to see no mention of the characters Marzipan, Mother Ginger or the Sugarplum Fairy. After a ride across a lake of rose scented water in a craft pulled by swans, Marie enters a great marzipan castle and meets Nutcracker’s sisters, who prepare a feast for them. During the preparations, a fog arises and Marie awakens in her bed.

Only after the visit to Toyland does Marie declare her love for Nutcracker. Moments later, Drosselmeier is introducing Marie to his nephew, who proposes marriage to her. She agrees, and they become king and queen of Toyland.

The story does leave some unanswered questions. How did the nephew, a toymaker’s son, become prince, and then king of Toyland? How did Marie’s father come upon the Nutcracker and decide to give him as a Christmas gift? But the biggest questions center around Drosselmeier. Why is he not more supportive of his nephew? The Nutcracker becomes bitter and resentful at the mention of his uncle’s name. Drosselmeier is sometimes kind to the Nutcracker, as when he repairs his broken jaw, and other times gives him no help at all, even appearing to side with the Mouse King.

In the final scene of the story, where Drosselmeier introduces Marie to his nephew, his behavior is very kind and there appears to be no tension between them. While this is open to interpretation, I do not see Drosselmeier as an inherently sinister character. His nephew had to be the one to slay the Mouse King, if he was to regain his human form. Drosselmeier could not do this for him. His attempt to cover the chiming clock may have merely been an attempt to bring about a confrontation between the Mouse King and the Nutcracker. (But there is that issue of the missing sword …)

Although today this story is his most famous work, E.T.A. Hoffmann did not consider “Nutcracker and the King of Mice” to be a successful story, stating that it would have been better to either have written a children’s story or a symbolic narrative for adults, not both. Interestingly this is very close to what Drosselmeier says when his clockwork castle is ignored. “After all, an ingenious piece of mechanism like this is not a matter for children, who don’t understand it.” But the story is a coming-of-age tale, about a girl who loves her toys and dolls, who must make sacrifices, and grows to become a woman who loves and marries. The great success of the Nutcracker ballet proves that children DO understand it, and its message is also greatly appreciated by adults.

I hope everyone gets a chance to see the Nutcracker ballet this Christmas season, and please seek out and read Hoffmann’s story as well. It really will provide more depth to the ballet. You can find it in a collection of his stories titled “The Best Tales of Hoffmann” and there is also a version illustrated by Maurice Sendak (who wrote Where The Wild Things Are).

Giselle, or The Wilis

October 29, 2011

A horrifying tale for Halloween!

Giselle is a happy dancing peasant girl. Nothing in the first half of her story will prepare you for what happens in the second half! Ballerinas consider the role of Giselle to be the most challenging of all the major ballets, because Giselle goes through such a dramatic change.

The first act of the ballet is pretty interesting. There is a love triangle, with a creepy peasant guy named Hilarion, who Giselle spurns because, well, he’s creepy and his name is Hilarion.

Anyway, Giselle falls deeply in love with a handsome mysterious stranger. And the two new lovers do much happy dancing together. Then a royal entourage passes through Giselle’s little village. Giselle and her mama offer them hospitality, and Giselle gets to meet the royal lady who is engaged to marry the Count.

Then, as so often happens in love triangles, the story starts to turn sinister. Creepy Hilarion discovers an unpleasant secret about the handsome stranger. Breaking into the stranger’s cabin, Hilarion finds a sword– a royal sword! The handsome stranger– he is actually the Count! This is a secret that’s too good to keep, so Hilarion makes sure that Giselle finds this sword as well.

And so Giselle discovers that the handsome stranger that she fell in love with is engaged to marry another woman. She goes mad, running through the village with her lover’s sword, in an erratic wild dance that is probably the most disturbing part of the entire ballet.

The happy peasant girl completely vanishes, what’s left is a raving madwoman. Her grief has robbed her of her senses. She waves the sword around wildly, and suddenly gripped in a fit of passion, stabs herself to death.

This was in 1841. 119 years later, Alfred Hitchcock would be called a genius for killing off Janet Leigh in the early scenes of his movie Psycho.

But never mind about that. It is time for the curtain to rise on act two.

Giselle stands in front of her grave.

She is a ghost. Sort of.

She meets a ghostly queen. The Queen of the Wilis. A Wili is an evil female spirit. In life, they were young women who died before their wedding night. They dress in full white gowns like brides, with tiny wings on their backs and a wreath of white flowers in their hair. They kill people, usually men, but it doesn’t really matter to them. They were betrayed in life and they take revenge in the afterlife.

It is a Wili’s job to linger at the shores of a lake, waiting for a weary traveler to pass by. They surround him and they dance him to death, leaving him to drown at the bottom of the lake.

Giselle is a ghost. But she’s not just any kind of ghost. She wears a full white gown like a bride, and tiny wings on her back, and a wreath of white flowers in her hair.

And she has a job, and she’s expected to do it, for the rest of eternity.

A weary traveler is walking down the road. A creepy peasant guy with a goofy name. Yes, it’s Hilarion. Giselle watches as a horde of the Wilis surround him and destroy him.

There is a kind of ghastly justice to this, and personally I can’t feel anything other than enjoyment to see creepy old Hilarion get what’s coming to him. But then, what’s this? Another traveler on the road appears.

The Count has come to lay flowers on Giselle’s grave.

There is a dawning realization here. Why would the Count think twice about a  peasant he had a little fling with? Why isn’t he back in his castle, or off chasing another girl?

There is only one answer of course, and it’s true love. It’s too bad his fate is sealed. And so of course, is Giselle’s. She has a job to do. She has been betrayed, and it is her job to take revenge. Now and forever.

The Wilis then swarm around the Count, ready for another kill. Giselle should be the one to deliver the killing blow.

But she refuses. Giselle defends the Count and forgives him.

Her love transcends all, and triumphs over fate. The Count escapes the Wilis with his life. Giselle escapes them too. She melts away, away to wherever it is the dead go off to.



October 23, 2011

The wise woman walks down the road to me. She is holding a fruit in her hand. “Most people are oranges,” she says. “Orange on the outside, orange on the inside. What you see is what you get. They are quite tasty and sweet of course, but God didn’t want a world of oranges.” She hands me a plum. “You, my precious one, are a plum. Dark purple on the outside like a king, and filled with blonde juiciness inside, like a fragile princess. Hold up your head and be proud. A plum that dreams of being an orange is not nearly as sweet.”

Strut that *ss!

October 21, 2011

Okay, sorry, but this post was inevitable. It is conceivable that some of you haven’t seen this video, and I have no right to deprive you of its contents. The year is 1995, and somewhere in Huntsville, a random guy shows up and starts arguing with a TV reporter:

I think he’s angry about not having a car. But that can’t be it, because he’s all ready to walk to a town 38 miles away. Why don’t you walk to Gunnerville? What’s he’s really angry about is, other people aren’t tired! In fact they have so much energy they strut their ass! And, um, apparently, that’s a chauvinistic pig attitude that Clinton’s got. Either that, or the guy is just not coloring with all 64 crayons.

Then, the brilliant Gregory Brothers turned this crazy rant into a surprisingly catchy song:

What next? The Disney version of course:

A comment about comments

October 21, 2011

I used to get a lot more comments here but now the comments box has been “improved,” making it look like you need to log-in or give me your email address just to say something. Let me explain, I’ve had this blog for years and I’ve never collected anyone’s email addy. If you want to say something here, just say it! Unless it’s awful, I won’t delete it.

Here’s a brief tutorial on commenting. (Yes, I admit it’s ridiculous to need to do this, but here we go.) This is what you’ll see when you click the comment link:

Boeing cockpit much? Yeah. Kind of looks like you’re creating your own blog, huh? Okay, always remember this little secret: you need to learn what to ignore.

Yup, just like dealing with a talkative three year old, or a government bureaucrat. I colored over the parts to ignore with my little pink crayon. Observe:

And you know what? You don’t even have to use your real name.

I know people are naturally shy about some of the topics I cover, but I also know that there are visitors here, a bunch every day, so if you want to jump in and say something, just know I’ve done all I can to make that happen. Hugs.

Swishy pantybutt

October 18, 2011

What we have here is a forced feminization audio I wrote several years back for a phone domme named Bree who worked at sissy school. (If you dislike forced femme, you don’t have to listen. This is only for fans of the “genre.”)

I lost track of Bree in recent years, but if I manage to locate her again, I will link this post to her blog or wherever she might be.

I wrote a bunch of these audios and some of them turned out pretty good. I think this is one of the best, because of Bree’s sweet voice and her obvious enthusiasm for teasing sissies.

Click the photo to listen:


October 18, 2011

Okay, one more of these, a funny little tune which has nothing to do with the rest of the musical. The Princess Jeanette’s icy “Thank you,” cracks me up every time I watch this. (It’s true, Maurice Chevalier’s character’s name is “Maurice” and Jeanette MacDonald plays “Jeanette.” Now that’s good casting.)

Isn’t It Romantic?

October 17, 2011

(continued from yesterday’s post)

The theme of music being a bit like a living creature is repeated in a later part of Love Me Tonight, when Maurice sings a liitle tune that quickly spreads all over Paris and throughout the countryside. Watch for the songwriter in the middle, he truly believes he has “written” it! There are some brilliant rhymes in here, like energetic/poetic, custom/trust him … and Maurice’s idea of a romantic scene is hilariously chauvinistic. The song culminates in the first appearance of the leading lady, the operatic Jeanette MacDonald.

The tailor in this film is sort of an inspiration for my character Gaston at LiL. I can see Gaston watching this musical over and over, thinking that he’s quite a bit like Maurice.

Love Me Tonight

October 16, 2011

The opening sequence to one of my favorite (and the most underrated) film musical of the 1930’s. Love Me Tonight starts out with a brilliant opening sequence of Paris awakening, and it just keeps getting better from there, with music from the incomparable Richard Rogers and lyrics from the ingenious Lorenz Hart, wonderful performances from Maurice Chevallier and Jeanette MacDonald and funny quips from the great Myrna Loy and Charles Ruggles.

The opening sequence finds music in the simple noises of everyday city life. Enjoy!