Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Red State Stars

Werth: Happy Friday, Wise!

Wise: Happy Friday, Werth! I trust you survived this week with your chipper-ness intact.

Werth: I did—but with so much focus on Republicans in the media, I got a little antsy.

Wise: Now, now, Werth. Republicans can be a great source of entertainment—and some of them were even great movie stars. Long before she became a pal of high-powered Republicans, or the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana (1974) and Czechoslovakia (1989), but after she had abandoned the frilly dresses and sausage curls, Shirley Temple tried to make a career of being a teenage movie star. 

Werth:  This is the second time you've talked about late-career Shirley Temple.  

Wise: It's a fascinating period as she attempts to transform from Depression-era icon of spirited pluck and into a more complicated image of a young woman whose desire to do right is sometimes torpedoed by her overblown romantic fantasies.  

Werth: The Good Ship Lollipop could have used a torpedo...  

Wise: In The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947) Temple stars as seventeen-year-old Susan Turner who unceremoniously discards her boyfriend after playboy/artist Richard Nugent (Cary Grant) delivers a lecture at her school.  Her sudden infatuation is so intense that her older sister and guardian Margaret (Myna Loy playing a dour, smalltown judge with a bit of a wink) forces Grant to pose as Temple's boyfriend until she gets over the crush.  This leads to some fantastic comedy as Grant gamely delivers nonsensical teenage patois, makes a mad dash in a sack race, and suffers the kind of indignities that only an actor with his unflappable charm could endure.  

Werth: He doesn't tapdance on a stairway with her, does he?

Wise: Screenwriter Sidney Sheldon captures and caricatures the pretensions of each character—including fine comedic work from Harry Davenport, Rudy Vallee and Ray Collins—and won an Oscar for best screenplay.  His script is both funny and savvy and features the kind of cross-talking gymnastics that Grant specialized in during these screwball comedies.  
But it is Temple herself who has the biggest heart and gives the biggest performance in this movie—she is sly, witty, vulnerable and endearing—and it's a shame there aren't more examples of her skills playing a young adult.  

Werth: My favorite Hollywood Republican never had sausage curls, but he was definitely a beefcake. William Holden considered himself a moderate Republican, but was not very politically active, unless you count his stint as best man at Ronald Reagan's wedding to Nancy Davis in 1952 (back when Reagan was still a Democrat.)

Wise: Also before the Republicans abandoned the country club for NASCAR. 

Werth: Holden made a career out of playing leading men who had brains as well as looks, and his turn as journalist Paul Verrall in Born Yesterday (1950) is no exception. Paul is hired by scrap metal magnate cum gangster Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford) to smarten up his ex-chorus girl fiancée (pronounced "fee-an-see") Billie (Judy Holliday) so she won't embarrass Harry while he wines, dines and bribes Washington, DC, congressmen and their wives.

Wise: Now, of course, the obvious path for dim-witted dames afflicted by malapropisms is running for President. 

Werth: Paul wants to write a story on how crooked Harry is, so a civics lesson for Billie is the perfect chance for him to get in close. Following the bible of romantic comedies, Paul and Billie fall in love, but the unique element is how Billie is transformed—not by love—but by knowledge. She goes from being comfortable with being stupid as long as she gets a coupla' mink coats designed by Jean Louis, to a woman who wants a better life for herself and for her country... but who still wears Jean Louis.

Wise: These days you'd be stupid to want mink coats—unless you enjoy having paint thrown at you.

Werth: Directed by George Cukor and based on the successful Garson Kanin stageplay, Born Yesterday has its moments of "too cute" as Billie learns about democracy walking with Paul through quaint '50's DC locations, but the performances of the three leads more than make up for it. Holden is so effortlessly charming on camera that it is impossible not to fall head over heels in love with him—even when he's wearing glasses. 
Broderick Crawford gets the right balance of doofus and menace to make Harry the comic villain that we like less than we hate. And Holliday puts in an Oscar-winning performance as Billie (she beat both Bette Davis for All About Eve and Gloria Swanson for Sunset Boulevard). Following-up her performance in the role on Broadway, she chirps and squawks her way through the film with comic precision and sensitivity—creating a woman that transcends the typical dumb, blonde, mob moll stereotype. 

Wise: See. Didn't I tell you that Republicans could be entertaining?

Werth: At least when they're on the silver screen. Tune in next week when we discuss Michelle Bachman in The Goodbye Girl.

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