Friday, April 20, 2012

Will You Gabby Me?

Werth: Wuzzup, Wise?  

Wise: Oh, hi, Werth.  Just give me a minute; I'm feeling kind of queasy.  

Werth: Lose a fight with a Doritos Locos Taco?

Wise: No, I just got back from an afternoon in the park and was horrified to witness some dude proposing to his song.  

Werth: Was the girl Zooey Deschanel?  

Wise: Hardly.  She was an earnest, non-profit type in desperate need of a VO5 Hot Oil treatment.  And he looked like a branch bank assistant manager who spends all his vacations at Disneyland.  

Werth: Love is in the air.  It must have something to do with Jason Segel's new flick The Five Year Engagement.

Wise: It certainly does get me thinking about great films featuring couples hoping to get hitched.  Like The Harvey Girls (1946) starring Judy Garland as Susan Bradley, an Ohio gal with such a longing for adventure that she answers an ad in a lonely hearts column and gets engaged to a dreamboat from the Wild West whom she's never met.  The only problem is that her rodeo Romeo turns out to be a marble mouthed dummy played by Chill Wills.  

Werth: She might have had better luck using Grindr.

Wise: It turns out that all the letters Judy exchanged with her beau were ghost written by saloon owner Ned Trent (John Hodiak).  She breaks the engagement and goes to work at the brand new Fred Harvey Restaurant in town—part of a chain of restaurants that followed the railroads out west and exerted a huge influence on civilizing the cowboys and merchandizing the Native Americans.

Of course, this influx of manners and good food doesn't sit well with the corrupt local judge or the lead dance hall girl, Em (a delightful Angela Lansbury in spangles, a corset and a lot of green eye shadow), who want the cowboys to keep drinking and carousing instead of cleaning up and marrying the lady waitresses at the Harvey House.  

Werth: I'd do a lot for a good plate of meatloaf, but I'd never give up Angela Lansbury.  

Wise: The film was originally conceived as a traditional western starring Lana Turner and Clark Gable—  

Werth: So it wasn't the first time Judy got Lana's sloppy seconds.  

Wise: But MGM's legendary musical producer Arthur Freed was convinced that the story would make a perfect vehicle for Judy (also so he could shoehorn his mistress Lucille Bremer into Yolanda and the Thief opposite Fred Astaire which was the picture Judy wanted to make).  Mostly Freed was right.  
Judy is marvelous in the film, especially her showstopping rendition of the Harry Warren/Johnny Mercer hit "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Sante Fe."  Less successful was her chemistry with Hodiak, making their on-screen romance something of a bust, but she does have a few magical moments with her Wizard of Oz co-star Ray Bolger.  Still, with a cast that includes Cyd Charisse, Marjorie Main and Virginia O'Brien, it's hard not to fall in love with this singing saddles confection.  

Werth: Western engagements are nice, but I prefer my engagement flicks hard-boiled. The betrothal in film-noir classic Laura (1944) ends on a bit of a sour note, with the lucky, young bride-to-be found shot dead in her apartment.

Wise: Well, that's one less tacky bachelorette party the world has to endure.

Werth: Dashing detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) learns through his investigation that stunning, smart corpse Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) was engaged to low-life playboy Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price). 

Wise: Engaged to The Abominable Dr. Phibes? Maybe it's all for the best that she's dead.

Werth: But were they really engaged? Poison-pen man-about-town Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) reveals to McPherson in a series of flashbacks that Laura hadn't decided to marry Shelby yet, and that Laura's rich, spinster aunt Ann Treadwell (the eternally delicious Judith Anderson) would rather be the the one carrying the bouquet down the aisle with Shelby. 
Complicating matters is the fact that McPherson during the course of his investigation has fallen in love with the victim, spending hours hanging out with her well-lit portrait over the fireplace and drinking her whiskey.

Wise: I do that sometimes with my picture of Margaret Hamilton.

Werth: As convoluted as it all sounds, one of the most famous cinematic twists happens about half-way through and turns the whole movie upside down, making any further discussion of the plot a guaranteed spoiler.  
While many speak of Laura as a typical noir, to be fair, it doesn't have the gritty nature that many other crime flicks of the era have. Director Otto Preminger skillfully built the mystery and suspense with refined wit and sophistication instead of dingy bars and dark alleys. The characters of Laura are a well-heeled crew who kill as much with bon mots as they do .38 specials. 
Standing at the top of this stylish pack is Lydecker. Webb's performance as the acid-tongued critic is joyously arch and earned him an Academy Award nomination. His police interview from a bathtub is the epitome of cheek, and if you ask me, totally gay.

Wise: And who wouldn't ask you?

Werth: With two of the best-looking leads and a bevy of the era's best character actors, Laura is an engagement no one should miss.

Wise: Speaking of engagements, how's about you and me head to the park and marry a pair of those Doritos Loco Tacos?

Werth: As long as the honeymoon's over in time for next week's Film Gab.

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