Friday, March 8, 2013

We're Off to Gab the Wizard

Werth: Howdy, Wise.  It looks like you're all ready for the opening of Oz The Great and Powerful.  

Wise: I sure am.  I've got my 3-D glasses, my official Glinda wand, my James Franco doll, and even a bucket in case the whole thing turns my stomach.  

Werth: But where are your Ruby Slippers?

Wise: Well, as the endless barrage of puff pieces in the press will tell you, the Ruby Slippers belong to Warner Bros., the current owner of MGM's The Wizard of Oz, and won't turn up in Sam Raimi's film which is supposed to be based on ideas culled from L. Frank Baum's original 14 Oz books.  But rabid Oz fans needn't fret if they're looking for direct ties to the Judy Garland movie because the talented artisans who worked at Metro Goldwyn Mayer left traces of their handiwork all over scores of great films.  
Not only can you see Margaret O'Brien carrying Dorothy's basket in Little Women (1949), Janet Gaynor decked out in Glinda's gown in San Francisco (1936), you can also check out what looks suspiciously like Dorothy's front door in a gangster's apartment in Another Thin Man (1939).

Werth: Not only did props, costumes and set pieces from The Wizard of Oz make their way into other movies, the director Victor Fleming can be found directing oodles of other classic films. In fact, 1939 was a good year for Fleming as he directed both The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind and even won the Best Director prize for the latter. But Fleming was a successful director years before he went to the merry old land of Oz. 
When he directed the show business comedy Bombshell in 1933, he was already one of Hollywood's top directors. Teamed again with his Red Dust (1932) leading lady Jean Harlow, Fleming opens Bombshell with a whirlwind montage of Lola Burns: movie star, fashion icon, tabloid cutie and perfume purveyor.

Wise: This was long before most celebrity fragrances stank

Werth: It's actually kind of amazing how topical this 80 year old movie is. Lola feels trapped by her stardom which includes mobs of autograph seeking fans, stalkers, opportunistic salesmen, and a family of money-hungry vultures—led by her tippling, buttinsky father Pops, played by the Wizard himself, Frank Morgan.

Wise: He didn't spend all his leisure time driving around a Technicolor horse. 

Werth: And the man who gives her the most grief is the studio's press agent Space "Bud" Hanlon (Lee Tracy) who places made-up, salacious news stories about Lola on the front page every chance he gets. Of course this doesn't stop the two of them from getting a yen for each other.  Bombshell is like a loud, shouting roller coaster ride. 
The dialogue is lightning quick with the insults and one-liners flying at a rat-a-tat pace. Frankly, by the time Lola attmepts to escape Hollywood by running away to a desert resort, the audience feels like it needs to join her for a well-earned rest. But Bombshell is a heck of a lot of fun, and even though she isn't as comically smooth as she was in Red Dust or Dinner at Eight (1933), watching Harlow is always a treat. That platinum mop of hair and her wise-cracking, luminous face light up the screen in a way that few stars can.

Wise: Stars who light up the silver screen are blessed with luck, talent as well as an army of off-screen artists who are able to create that Hollywood glow.  And perhaps no one had as large and as lasting and impact on the way Hollywood looked as Sydney Guilaroff, the legendary hair stylist to the stars.  Discovered by Claudette Colbert and championed by Joan Crawford, Guilaroff became the chief stylist at MGM and worked his magic in over a thousand films.  
He designed signature looks for Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story (1940), Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot (1959), for Liza Minnelli in New York, New York (1976), and had a huge impact on The Wizard of Oz by creating Judy Garland's iconic braids. 

Werth: He also kept Joan Crawford company when she won the Oscar for Mildred Pierce... in her sickbed.
Wise: Guilaroff not only made certain that stars looked good, he also helped them create their characters for the screen, and some of his most interesting work resulted when he re-teamed with Garland in Easter Parade (1948).  The film follows Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) who is unceremoniously dumped by his dance partner Nadine Hale (Ann Miller) when she is offered a solo in the Ziegfeld Follies.  Furious, Don resolves to transform the next women he meets into a replacement for Nadine.  
When that woman turns out to be a very unlikely Hannah Brown (Garland), he at first tries to re-do her in Nadine's glamorous image before realizing Hannah's true worth both on- and off-stage, and eventually the two fall in love, all set to Irving Berlin's magical score.  

Werth: Judy and Ann starred in lots of projects together, including an episode of Hollywood Hoarder.

Wise: Easter Parade presented a series of challenges to Guilaroff who had to design styles that not only reflected the film's 1912 setting but also Hannah's gradual evolution from frumpy chorus girl to star.  Garland begins the picture with tightly wound curls, then switches to an imitation of Miller's slicked and elegant coif, before her hair gradually becomes softer and more natural for the finale.  
Along the way she famously dons a short, ratty wig as she and Astaire perform the film's most famous number, "A Couple of Swells," costumed as tramps.  It's subtle work, but it's also a reminder of all the myriad talents that go into making a picture great. 

Werth: If the box office buzz is any indication, the myriad of talents who worked on Oz The Great and Powerful, will have cause to celebrate.

Wise: We'll celebrate next week with another installment of Film Gab!  

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