Sunday, March 11, 2007

Two minor movies

Over the last couple of days I’ve sat and watched a couple of DVDs I bought recently: old movies, of course, since they’re what I tend to look out for in the bargain bins. The first, which I watched with my younger son, was A Night in Casablanca, one of the Marx Brothers' last outings together. As Leonard Maltin says, it’s not classic Marx Brothers, but it still has some very funny sequences, and certainly my son (who enjoys these old movies too) and I had several laugh-out-loud patches, particularly in the wardrobe scene, where the baddies are desperately trying to pack their trunks and the Marx Bros are just as speedily unpacking them.
It almost has a story, too. In fact, for several scenes at the beginning there is no sign of the Marx Bros, and a ‘plot’ takes over. Once the brothers get into action, though, the plot goes pretty much out the window, as you’d expect. I enjoyed it, and would happily watch it again – though it’s the sort of movie you need to see with other like-minded people.
Naturally there is a Harpo playing the harp sequence, and a Chico playing the piano sequence - both of them superb, though neither of them in the least different to the same moments in all the other Marx Bros movies. And there's one of those marvellous word-play scenes, where Harpo is trying to get a message across to Chico, and mostly uses puns to do so. These are well worth watching.

The second movie again, Take Me Out to the BallGame had almost no plot – but then it was a musical, so what would you expect? Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra star, one the skinny rake, and the other the short-stop. The thing quite often takes off on its own stars, and the final song ignores any idea that there was reality in the story and sums it all up with some nice in-jokes about Fred Astaire and the like.
It survives because of its energy, which is considerable. Sinatra dances with almost as much élan as Kelly, and sings much better. Esther Williams proves she could do a lot more than swim (in fact she barely swims in it at all, thank goodness), and Betty Garrett takes up the usual role of the other woman in the quartet: for no good reason as far as the plot is concerned, but what the heck. She has energy to burn, and her song with Sinatra when she’s chasing him over the bleachers (the piece revolves around a baseball team) is full on. The songs aren’t up to much, unfortunately – there isn’t a well-known song in it, in fact –and the big dance routine is a real hotch-potch, but…it’s still watchable.

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