Friday, June 7, 2013

Music Gone Movies Double Birthday!

 Werth: Howdy, Wise!  

Wise: Shhhh!  Not now, Werth.  I'm trying to work on my juggling.  

Werth: Auditioning for the Broadway revival of Pippin?

Wise: I'm trying to become a multi-hypenate.  Right now, I think of myself as a baker-blogger and I'm hoping to add another accomplishment to the mix.  All the big stars are doing it: Susan Sarandon, actress-activist-ping-pong-perveyor; Angelina Jolie, actress-ambassador-gossip-rag-staple; John Hamm, actor-comedian-trouser-enhancer

Werth: And today's birthday boys show how much you can do with more than one talent. Both Dean Martin and Prince made their names as musicians before Hollywood came a-callin'. Martin went from Italian love songs to various Martin and Lewis comedies, to Some Came Running (1958) to Ocean's Eleven (1960)

Wise: And Prince's Purple Rain (1984) made the diminutive popstar a matinee idol... for at least two movies.

Werth: One of the biggest radio to movie stars would have to be Ol' Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. Starting with musical roles in Anchors Aweigh (1945) and On The Town (1949) Sinatra cannily worked his crooner persona onto the silver screen. But after multiple hits, he tried to become more than just a song and dance man and segue into a leading dramatic actor in From Here to Eternity (1953). In 1954, Sinatra starred in the low-budget thriller, Suddenly. It was not the doobie-doobie-doo character the audience was familiar with.

Wise: Swinging tunes for homicidal lovers. 

Werth: Suddenly takes part in the small, California town of Suddenly, where nothing ever happens. Sheriff Todd Shaw (Sterling Hayden) keeps after war-widow Ellen Benson (Nancy Gates) for a more serious relationship while Ellen is busy trying to make her chippy son, Pidge (Kim Charney) realize that guns killed his dad, so he ought to shut-up about getting a cap-gun.

Wise: Sounds like the grim beginnings of A Christmas Story (1983). 

Werth: Ellen's conflict with guns manifests itself when Johnny Baron (Sinatra) and a couple of goons take Ellen, the Sheriff, Pidge and Ellen's father-in-law (old-timer James Gleason) hostage and commandeer the Benson house. The living room is the perfect spot for a killshot, and the President is secretly coming into town on the five o'clock train. 
Sinatra was known for being a bit of an unlikeable hero, and that persona would work well for him in From Here to Eternity, Guys and Dolls (1955) and The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), but in Suddenly, Sinatra takes a chance and plays a character who is without any sympathy. Johnny Baron is looney tunes, and no matter how many times Sinatra flashes his smile, it only makes the character less likable, and scarier. It's a great acting choice.

Wise: And reminds me of another great Sinatra performance

Werth: The rest of Suddenly looks like a TV movie. Noir enthusiasts would say it's grainy. I say it's cheap, and other than Sinatra, the performances are uniformly 1950's Americana. But the plot has some fun turns and without spoiling the ending, I can say, who knew TV repairmen were so useful in thwarting Presidential assassinations?

Wise: Labyrinth (1986) stars another music to movie star David Bowie as Jareth the King of the Goblins who kidnaps the baby brother of Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) after she wishes the cherub would disappear.  Despite the seductive gifts Jareth offers her, Sarah is determined to retrieve her brother and sets off to find the baby at the center of the titular labyrinth that surrounds Jareth's castle.  To further impede her progress, Jareth sends the ill-tempered Hoggle (a puppet voiced by Brian Henson) 
to lay a series of traps, but Sarah's kindness and determination to find her brother gradually wins Hoggle over and her joins her quest along with a series of other odd and endearing creatures she meets along the way.  Eventually, Sarah must confront Jareth one-on-one in order to realize her power and save the day.  

Werth: After the scene in the Farting Bog, I think Gas-Ex is the only thing to save the day.

Wise: The film emerged from a collaboration between Jim Henson and Brian Froud, after their previous project The Dark Crystal (1982) fell short of expectations.  Labyrinth was designed to have more humor and be more relatable than Crystal, and went through several screenwriters penning multiple drafts before Henson and Stroud found the plot and tone they were looking for.  
Bowie's involvement also necessitated some major changes to the movie; originally Jareth had been conceived as a more elusive figure, but with Bowie on board, the role expanded to allow the singer to perform several numbers as well as becoming both more antagonistic and more alluring to Sarah.  

Werth: And include crystal ball juggling.

Wise: The film was a failure at the box office, but like many oddball kids' films of the era, has grown into something of a cult hit.  It's not hard to see why the film wasn't warmly received during its initial release: audiences expecting the zany warmth of Henson's Muppets must have been deeply confused by Labyrinth's black humor and the squirm-inducing seductions performed by the adult Bowie on the adolescent Connelly.  
Fans of Bowie must have been equally confused by the dilution of the musical chameleon's charisma by the overwhelming supporting cast of puppets.  Still, there are many pleasures to the film—even its weirdness is something of a recommendation—making it definitely worth a second look.  

Werth: I'm going to turn on Bowie's Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust album.

Wise: Whatever you listen to, tune in next week for more sounds and sights for Film Gab.

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