Friday, August 19, 2011

Gabbing in the Rain!

Werth: Hi, Wise.

Wise: Hi, Werth. What's with the long puss?

Werth: I feel like we let our readers down last weekend.

Wise: We didn't mention Joan Crawford enough in the weekly post?

Werth: No. I just didn't realize how rainy the entire weekend was going to be. We could have dug into our "For a Rainy Day" movie vault. And now this weekend is going to be sunny.

Wise: I say we open the vault! It's got to be raining somewhere.

Werth: Yay!—'cause I watched the perfect rainy day movie last weekend—1986's Little Shop of Horrors. Frank Oz's off-Broadway to screen adaptation isn't just a great rainy day movie because it starts off with a thunderstorm, but it also combines two of the best rainy day film genres—horror and musicals.

Wise: Isn't that also why you like Marie's Crisis so much? 

Werth: Rick Moranis stars as nerdy Seymour Krelborn who is a self-confirmed "slob" working at a failing florist shop run by the gruff Mr. Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia). When Seymour brings in an exotic-looking, bulbous flower he found, miraculously, business picks up. He is soon getting lots of attention from the press, Mr. Mushnik, and comely store assistant, Audrey (Ellen Greene). But the rapidly growing celebrity plant begins to show its true colors and if Seymour wants to keep his new-found fame, fortune and arm-candy, he'll need to feed his plant much more than mulch.

Wise: There's a manure joke hiding in there somewhere...

Werth: The entire production is a fun '50's musical fantasy that reveres rather than lampoons the campy drive-in horror genre. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman received the first of many Oscar noms for their rollicking and soulful songs that elevate these stock characters (and a plant) to a higher performance level.  Greene is luminous as the fragile, stupid Audrey who dates a sadist but dreams of moving to someplace fancy, "not like Levittown." 
Steve Martin is hysterical as the aforementioned sadistic dentist and in a small scene with a masochistic dental patient (Bill Murray) both actors bring a classic SNL quality to the proceedings.

Wise: They're just two wild and crazy guys. 

Werth: And amazingly enough, the alien plant Audrey II (fashioned and operated by former members of Jim Henson's crew) grimaces, leers and chews his way into our hearts in a startlingly "human" fashion. Even though the original off-Broadway ending was changed to suit the less-theatre-y movie audience, Little Shop will leave you singing "Suddenly Seymour" no matter what the weather is doing.  

Wise: My favorite rainy day movie is Singing in the Rain (1952).  

Werth: Appropriately enough.  

Wise: One of the greatest movie musicals of all time, Singing in the Rain throbs with the top talent producer Arthur Freed could muster at the greatest of all the movie musical factories, MGM.  
Gene Kelly stars as Don Lockwood, a silent film star at the top of his game, whose career is suddenly threatened by the advent of sound.  With his hardscrabble beginnings as a Vaudeville song and dance man, Don seems to have the wherewithal to survive the transition from silents to talkies, although his beautiful but dim co-star Lina Lamont (in a hilarious and high-pitched performance from Jean Hagen) might not be so lucky.  
Along the way Don falls for scrappy, but sensitive chorus girl Kathy Selden, played by Debbie Reynolds in her star-making role.  

Werth: Long before she was a broad or a collector of Hollywood memorabilia.  

Wise: Like a lot of the big budget musicals of the time, Singing in the Rain is a portmanteau of greatest hits—in this case, the legendary Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrangled a script from the most memorable collaborations of producer Freed and composer Nacio Herb Brown.  Despite this patchwork past, the film plays as a seamless work of art, mostly because of the exuberant performances of the entire cast.  Gene Kelly—

Werth: Who was probably second only to Mickey Rooney in scenery chewing.  

Wise: —and uses that brashness to flesh out his role while Debbie Reynold's own hunger to be a star makes her Kathy all the more believable.  But it's not just the stars who make the film, it's all the character parts too: Mallard Mitchell's dour studio head, Cyd Charisse as Don's dance partner, and Madge Blake's delightful burlesque of Luella Parsons.  
Best of all, however, is Donald O'Connor's as Cosmo Brown, Don's former dance partner and current studio chum.  While technically a second banana role, O'Connor shines in the both the comedic and dramatic bits, but most spectacularly in the dance numbers where his head-spinning gymnastics provides the perfect compliment to Kelly's aggressive and athletic style.  

Werth: Sounds like we have our next rainy weekend already planned.  

Wise: I never need an excuse to indulge in a little musical film festival.  

Werth: Remember to bring your rain boots and check in next week for more film forecasts from Film Gab.  

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