Bobby Connolly | Moonlight and Pretzels | A Trip Thru a Hollywood Studio | Ready, Willing and Able | Expensive Husbands | The Patient in Room 18
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Bobby Connolly was both a choreographer and a director. This article will examine films to which he contributed in either role. Connolly is mainly a choreographer. He created the dances for around 25 movies, mainly in the 1930's, the best known today being Flirtation Walk (1934) and The Wizard of Oz (1939).
"Dusty Shoes" has powerful singing, by the great vocalist Alexander Gray. The lyrics by Yip Harburg show Harburg's ability to include left wing commentary in his songs: the same team of composer Jay Gorney and Harburg did the more famous Depression anthem, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?".
The lyrics also include the rainbow imagery that runs through Harburg's work. My favorite Harburg song is "I've Got a Rainbow Working for Me", from his musical about a painter, Darling of the Day (1968). And Harburg's most famous work is "Over the Rainbow".
Bobby Connolly's appearance is especially nice. He is in the background, while the piano player is in the foreground. Along the left side of the screen are the dancing chorus girls, all lined up in a row. Eventually the chorines one by one move to the foreground, make a sharp right turn, and parade directly across the screen. Each gets a close-up in the camera as they pass by. It is a very nice bit of business. Connolly loved to move his characters along elaborate paths. His most famous musical number today is "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" from The Wizard of Oz (1939). The right turn also recalls the many rectilinear paths in the set for his mystery film, The Patient in Room 18 (1938). The number shows a commendable modesty. Connolly stays in the background, while each chorus girl gets the publicity of the close-up, something that would thrill her friends, as well as possibly boost her career with any casting directors who might be in the audience. Connolly typically treated his choruses as groups of individuals. Many get brief close-ups during his numbers, singing a line or two of a song, or having a little bit of business. He did not think of his chorus as just an abstract unit.
Ready, Willing and Able (1937) is a musical directed by Ray Enright, with choreography by Connolly.
The opening number is sung and danced by his two heroes, played by Lee Dixon and Ross Alexander. They are clad in suits and ties above the waist, but just in their underwear below - their pants are in hock at the tailor's! This recalls the opening of The Patient in Room 18 (1938), with Patrick Knowles sleep walking through the city streets in his robe and pajamas, while everyone around him is fully dressed. Both scenes serve as introductions to Connolly's heroes.
The big finale is set to the film's best, and best remembered song, "Too Marvelous for Words". It is sung and danced in part on a giant typewriter, a figure of style that has never been forgotten. Federico Fellini, no less, recreated this scene in his Intervista (1987). It shows Connolly's feel for the fantastic, something that will return in The Wizard of Oz. Before the typewriter, we see a scene set in a musical comedy version of a business office. Such musical transforms of the business world will also show up in "The Merry Old Land of Oz".
Both films contain women who are either in a position of money, or power or both. In both works, the women are pursued by a lot of attractive young men. Two or more rival males are sometimes pursuing the same woman. The men in the films tend to be very well dressed, in good suits or uniforms. The men are quite flirtatious, often with a comic, let's have fun attitude towards romance. They are often trying to jolly along a much more serious woman. It is hard to tell if these characters represent a personal vision of the director, or whether they are escapist fare for woman members of the audience to fantasize about being rich, powerful and pursued by many suitors. Perhaps a little of both.
This was also the debut year for Gordon Oliver, who plays the polo player. Oliver made an astonishing 13 films during 1937, illustrating how the old studio system kept its players working. Both this film and The Patient in Room 18 are loaded with young male, movie star wannabes. Oddly enough, "established star" Patric Knowles here is younger than either of these newcomers, being only 26. He had only been in movies four years himself at this time, mainly in Britain.
Shoup follows a certain iconography with the men's clothes. Joslyn's suits get darker and more authoritative as the film progresses. He starts out at the racetrack in a very light colored suit, almost white. When next seen, he is a medium color suit that is a little more official looking. Finally, he is in a dark pinstripe suit for much of his final scenes. This is extremely business like. During the scene with the reporters, he is wearing the darkest colored suit of any of the men, giving him the status of an authority figure within the scene.
Patric Knowles' clothes also show a progression. He too becomes more and more respectable throughout the film. The early scenes of the film have him dressed as a servant, in a waiter's costume. When first appearing in his military uniform, his uniform is mainly covered by an authentic but unappealing military cloak that makes him look slightly absurd. Next, on his wedding night, we see him in his spectacular officer's uniform. This makes him look duded up to the max. But it is also not a costume that represents real American manhood. Next, Shoup has him in formal wear, first a formal daytime morning coat, then white tie and tails. The morning clothes too look absurd, but the white tie and tails are excellent. For the first time, Knowles is wearing clothes that are worn in real life by American men. White tie and tails are not common, mainly being used by the well to do, but they are still authentic garb of real men. Finally, at the end of the picture, Knowles is in good suits, like Joslyn's. He is dressed like an American businessman. These clothes suggest that he is suitable marriage material.
The order of Knowles' clothes is slightly different from that employed by countless Hollywood musicals. Usually musical characters start out in awful clothes that suggest dire poverty. By the mid-point of the picture, they are in good business suits. Then, as their success and prosperity increases, they are in tuxedos. Finally, at the end of the picture and the height of their success, they are in white tie and tails. This order suggests that the characters are more and more prosperous. It also suggests that they are more and more involved with romance, the evening wear at the end suggesting romantic passion. In Expensive Husbands, Shoup has reversed the progression slightly to have the hero move into suits at the end. This is because it emphasizes the hero's conversion from a gigolo to a proper hard working, successful American male.
Lance O'Leary's big sleep walking sequence reminds one of Connolly's "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" number soon to come in The Wizard of Oz. It begins with a sleepwalking Lance putting on his bed room slippers, just like Dorothy putting on the ruby slippers. Larry is dressed in loud pajamas, and soon moves to the street, where everyone is in suits. He follows a long path down the apartment and into the street, just as Dorothy follows the yellow brick road. Everywhere he goes he collects a crowd of people following him. Like the munchkins who follow Dorothy, this crowd laughs, chats animatedly to itself, and comments excitedly on everything the protagonist does.
Both films employ steep overhead camera angles, showing the protagonist in front of the shot, and a crowd of following people behind him. The 45 degree or more overhead angle allows us to see every member of the crowd as an individual. Each person in the crowd is well characterized, and a lively individual cameo.
The script also underscores its structural functions here, by some clever approaches. One sequence ends in the middle of a character's sentence; the camera suddenly cuts away. We have already learned what we need to know about motives here - why wait for anything more, the script seems to be saying. It is an effect whose import is easily understood by an audience, yet which is pleasantly avant-garde in its approach.
The Patient in Room 18 (1938) is a whodunit, not a film noir. It was shot two years before the faintest stirrings of noir emerged in 1940. Its characters are good natured, romantic and upbeat, and have little relationship to the obsessed figures of noir. The whole tone of the film is completely different from the doom-laden feel of noir.
Despite this, the film has visual stylistic features that anticipate film noir to come. These include:
The venetian blind cinematography is especially beautiful. It occurs not only at night, but also during daytime sequences featuring bright sunlight. One outstanding daytime shot depicts Uncle Frank Warren (Edward McWade) in his hospital bed. A large triangle of light is formed on the wall over him, formed out of slanting bars of light and shade. Strongly contrasting with this large triangle on the right of the shot are verticals on the left, formed by the window, its curtains, and his standing nephew Jim (John Ridgely). The blinds cast striped light all over both the curtains and the nephew's elegant black suit. The whole effect is striking and visually pleasing. It reminds one of John Alton's phrase, "painting with light". This is one of the prettiest shots in a film loaded with the creative use of light. The striped light in the triangle, and the striped light on the suit and curtains, seem to echo and balance each other on two sides of the image.
Connolly and Wilbur feel free to shoot anywhere along this corridor, and from any direction. They show all parts of the corridor from both directions. This means that the camera will sometimes point in one direction along a corridor, and sometimes another. This adds visual excitement to the scenes. The directors are like Fritz Lang, in that they try to exploit the architecture to create as many different views of the set as possible. Like Lang, they try never to stage any two shots in the same way, always trying to find some fresh angle or approach to film each new scene. This gives as much visual variety to the film as possible. It also helps create a surprising variety of mood and tone for various scenes, each of which have their own visual perspectives in the corridor and rooms, and their own individual style of lighting. Connolly's dance numbers in The Wizard of Oz are also staged on giant, unified sets.
The corridor is built in the form of a large T. It is really two corridors, which run perpendicularly to each other. They meet at the nurse's station, an open rectangular area which is the central location of both the corridor and the movie. At one far wall of the bar of the T are a pair of glass doors leading to the outside, used as an entrance by Sarah Keate during the big rain storm sequence. At the other far end is a staircase; the corridor continues past it, terminating in a wall with a door leading to Dr. Harker's apartment (Edward Raquello in a good performance). Along the top or outer wall of the T is an X-ray room with an opaque glass door flanked by two opaque glass windows; under the right hand window is a bench. Next to the right of the bench are two swinging glass doors, leading to the main entrance to the hospital; beyond this is the staircase. Along the opposite, inner wall of the bar of the T are a number of features. Starting at the far end of the corridor, the one containing Dr. Harker's door, we come to two doors; the second one leads to the basement staircase and the power switch. Next comes a corridor parallel to the bar of the T, we never get more than a glimpse of this corridor. Next comes what seems to be a small room walled off by opaque glass; immediately following it is the nurse's station. Next comes the main stem of the T, forming a corridor; there is just a blank wall on the other side, leading shortly to the wall containing the exterior exit to the hospital.
The stem of the T is also full of rooms. Along the left hand side, looking down from the join of the T near the nurse's station, are the opaque glass doors and flanking opaque windows of the "Laboratory Pharmacy", we frequently see the inside of this room. Deeper along the left hand side is room #16, out of which Dr. Balman (Charles Trowbridge) emerges in one scene. Along the right of the T stem corridor are four doors. The nearest to the join of the T is the nurse's room, a kind of lounge; followed by three patient's rooms that play a major role in the film, #13; a room we never see beyond its door; and finally #18. The T stem corridor ends in another perpendicular corridor, with a big clock on the wall; we never see down this corridor.
The main entrance is itself a set, with a lobby and its own corridor with an admitting room. There are two tall plants near the admitting room entrance. Although one can see this corridor from the T set through the glass doors, the directors never stage a scene where someone goes through the entrance, through the doors, and into the main hospital. Lance O'Leary enters through this lobby and goes to the admitting room near the start of the movie. There is also a brief shot during the murder sequence showing the wall with plants and sinister shadows on it. This set is perpendicular to the bar of the T, and in the opposite direction from the stem of the T. Perhaps the set should instead be considered as a giant X or cross.