Friday, February 4, 2011


Werth: Hi, Wise.

Wise: Hi, Werth.  

Werth: So, the Superbowl is this Sunday.  Are you excited for the big day?  

Wise: You bet I am.  

Werth: Wh-what?  Is Martha Stewart performing in the halftime show?

Wise: No.  I’m not a football fan- just a fan of any event that requires a lunchmeat platter and some kind of melted cheese—pizza, nachos, cheese fries—it’s the perfect day to forget your waistline and remember why you have that complicated relationship with Velveeta and carbs. 

Werth: So will you be watching the game or just the buffet?

Wise: I prefer to spend my Superbowl Sunday a bit more quietly, curled up on the sofa watching 1936’s Pigskin Parade with Judy Garland in her first feature-length film.  

Werth: Only you could bring together the two disparate worlds of football and Judy Garland. 

Wise: Pigskin stars Stuart Erwin, Patsy Kelly and Jack Haley,  while Judy received ninth billing below the title.  She was only fourteen when she made the movie and had been under contract to MGM for years, but no matter how much the top brass at Metro respected her enormous voice, they had no idea what to do with her.  So when Fox asked to borrow her to play the kid sister to the hillbilly who turns out to be the football team’s only chance to win the big game against Yale, they let her go.  

Werth: And Judy scores a touchdown!  

Wise: Metaphorically, yes.  She leaves the gridiron to the boys, but she does belt out a few fun numbers like “The Texas Tornado,” “The Balboa,” and “It’s Love I’m After.”  It’s interesting to watch her performance because even though her talent is obvious, it is a bit uncontrolled—she’s awkward and she hasn’t yet figured out how to sing along convincingly to her pre-recorded tracks—but throughout we see glimpses of the wit and passion that would combine with the MGM grooming process to make her one of most enduring movie stars of all time.  

Werth: But she’s kind of stuck in the Kansas hayseed role.  

Wise: She is.  David Butler, the director, was largely responsible for creating Shirley Temple’s success, and you can see that he’s making an attempt to mold Judy into that same image.  All her costumes have enormous bows and dots and patterns, and her sleeves are puffed so big, it looks like she might float away—all in an effort to make her look younger and her talent seem more precocious.  She looks ridiculous to modern viewers, but the kid sister routine was the first step in creating the Garland legend.  And Judy’s not the only diamond in this rough. Pre-bombshell Betty Grable is a cute co-ed who throws off a lot of sparks, although it would take a few more years for her to ignite into a full fledged star.

Werth: You may like your football with peppy, adolescent musical numbers thrown in, but I prefer football movies that are crammed full of all the testosterone that God intended them to have.

Wise: This I gotta hear.

Werth: I’m talkin’ about Flash—ah-ahhh! He’ll save everyone of us!

Wise: Flash as in Flash Gordon?

Werth: Yes! In the 1980 re-imagining of the classic comic book and movie serial, Flash Gordon is a quarterback for the New York Jets who, along with tour guide Dale Arden and nutso scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov, travels to the planet Mongo to battle the Emperor Ming and save the Earth from being destroyed by such climactic calamities as “fiery hail.”

Wise: I’m not sensing as much testosterone as I am plain, run-of-the-mill geekiness.

Werth: Come on, Wise! Flash Gordon is an action-packed sci-fi extravaganza with laser battles, a whip fight on a spike-covered disc, football combat, and of course, there’s the seductive, gap-toothed Italian beauty Ornella Muti playing nympho Princess Aura. What red-blooded male could resist her half-time show?

Wise: Perhaps. But that still doesn’t explain why you like it.

Werth: The costumes and the sets! Danilo Donati took the art deco sensibility of the original comic books and expanded on it, creating sets and costumes that are outlandishly stylish—as if there was a world where all the interiors and clothing were designed by Grace Jones... with a bedazzler.

Wise: It all makes sense now.

Werth: And of course the acting is spectacularly campy! Max von Sydow makes Ming the Merciless a blase Noel Coward character who wears giant Asian bathrobes and never seems to be very excited no matter how many people he’s torturing or killing. Brian Blessed takes massive bites out of the scenery with his leering Prince Vultan. And big, blond dumbbell Sam J. Jones just has to take off his shirt or wear tight drawers to fulfill his contract. Not to mention a pre-Bond Timothy Dalton in tailored, woven, placemat tunics.

Wise: I think you lost the red-blooded males.

Werth: I’ll get them back with the all-Queen soundtrack that rocks with memorable bass drum and guitar licks that would drive any air guitar warrior into a thrashing frenzy.

Wise: So this year, it sounds like we’re less interested in whether the Steelers or the Packers win, but who comes out in a Judy vs. Flash scrimmage.

Werth: Hard to say, but I predict our Superbowl Sunday will go into camp overtime.

Wise: See you in the Film Gab locker room!

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