Vincente Minnelli | Subjects | Structure and Story Telling | Visual Style | Themes | The Wizard of Oz | Ideas from Alexis Quinn
Films: Artists and Models | Panama Hattie | Cabin in the Sky | I Dood It | The Heavenly Body | Meet Me in St. Louis | Ziegfeld Follies | The Clock | Yolanda and the Thief | Undercurrent | Till the Clouds Roll By | The Pirate | The Bribe | Madame Bovary | Father of the Bride | Father's Little Dividend | An American in Paris | Lovely to Look At | The Bad and the Beautiful | Mademoiselle | The Band Wagon | The Long, Long Trailer | Brigadoon | The Cobweb | Kismet | Lust for Life | Tea and Sympathy | Designing Woman | The Seventh Sin | Gigi | The Reluctant Debutante | Some Came Running | Home from the Hill | Bells Are Ringing | The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse | Two Weeks in Another Town | The Courtship of Eddie's Father | Goodbye Charlie | The Sandpiper | On a Clear Day You Can See Forever | A Matter of Time
Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors) | Mathematics and Visual Style | Color in the Arts
Mark Griffin is the author of the book A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli. His blog is here. This book's vivid account of the young Minnelli's work in the arts and on stage will especially fascinate Minnelli-lovers.
Stephen Harvey's Directed by Vincente Minnelli (1989) is a highly informative production history of Minnelli's films.
Please mail your comments to me at email@example.com. You can also download a free E-book of my mystery stories in EPUB or Kindle format.
Minnelli was a great admirer of the film director Max Ophuls. He called Ophuls his "spiritual leader" as a filmmaker.
Linked with these destructive gender role codes is the role of parents. They are always trying to coerce their children in Minnelli films. This is usually seen as a purely negative experience.
Another related theme: the negative impact of "kept" people. In addition to Gigi, where this is the central theme of the story, there is the heroine sold into marriage to benefit her greedy uncle and aunt in The Pirate, the mistreated mistress and child in Home from the Hill, and the painter's destructive relationship with his patron in An American in Paris.
Minnelli's images often overflow with complexity. This symbolizes characters who are connected with life, ideas and artistic creativity. So do the very rich, dazzling colors. These scenes are like dreams. They also represent an uncensored, urn-Puritanical life: a life whose color and energy has not been damped down or restricted.
Artists like Gene Kelly in An American in Paris and Elizabeth Taylor in The Sandpiper live in spaces filled with every sort of object, image and device. This represent their rich, full creative and mental life.
By contrast, Eva Marie Saint in The Sandpiper is often in large empty rooms full of unoccupied space. This symbolizes the opposite, that her life and mind are barren of ideas. Her drab-colored clothes also express this.
Eventually, when she reconciles with Burton at the end, she at last moves outdoors. This makes her at last part of the light of day: a new openness to truth and authentic experience in her life.
The way Oscar Levant is playing all the instruments in his day-dream in An American in Paris, represents his connections as an artist to many kinds of experience. These connections are all encompassing: hence his many instruments.
Minnelli is fascinated by contrasts between day and night. The sudden changes of light, in the ballet scene in An American in Paris at the fountain, depict a fantastic alternation of day and night, done with a swiftness only possible in the imagination. The fountain also symbolizes the "fountain of creativity" this artist character is connected to.
The hero goes up the stairs to join the heroine in An American in Paris; she goes down to join him.
Green dresses are associated with vitality. They are a positive image.
According to Stephen Harvey's book Directed by Vincente Minnelli (1989), Minnelli came up with the basic idea of this number - but did not create the version in the film, and disliked what had been done with his ideas.
One can relate the ideas behind the number, to Minnelli's later work. "Public Melody Number 1" anticipates a bit the ballet in The Band Wagon:
Crowds follow the characters through the streets. This anticipates a little bit, the Maurice Utrillo section of the ballet in An American in Paris, where the soldiers move down the Paris streets.
Panama Hattie, in its non-Minnelli sections, has got to be one of the most low brow musicals ever to come out of Hollywood. It has relentless dumb dialogue, a song celebrating getting drunk, "(Did I Get Stinkin') at the Savoy", and mugging by Red Skelton that makes the Three Stooges look like Olivier. Minnelli's dance numbers are the only part of the film with any interest. Several of the musical numbers involve the singers just standing there and singing - it is hard to see any Minnelli contribution to them. A few numbers involve full scale dancing, and are more interesting. The numbers are also important, because they form a historic record of such talented black performers as Lena Horne and the Berry Brothers.
Hattie from Panama. This opening number has the singers in blindingly white tropical suits and dresses, with black accents. Such starkly white and black clothes are hardly uncommon in black-and-white musicals. Still, they anticipate the "white and black clothes" that will later run through Minnelli's color films. The men in the chorus line resemble some of the male chorus boys to come in Minnelli, all dressed alike.
Berry Me Not. The Berry Brothers' first number continues the white-and-black clothes. The Brothers do a virtuosic dance with canes. The whole sequence is shot with just two complex camera movements. The first movement closes in on one of the brothers, moves down to a close shot of his legs, and then pulls back to a long shot of the dancers again. A remarkable shot, especially for the way it seems to move down to the legs and back out in some unified complex pattern. The Brothers wind up with an athletic leap that anticipates Gene Kelly and The Pirate.
Good Neighbors. Relatively more ordinary dancing, but genial. The three sailors trying to pick up women suggest The Clock, and the dancing servicemen in the ballet in An American in Paris.
The floor they dance on is tiled in a complex pattern, anticipating the complex floors that will later show up in Minnelli. Minnelli moves up with the crane, to get an elevated angle, showing dancers and floor, for the climax of the dance. The dancers form two concentric equilateral triangles: three men in the middle and revolving, three women outside.
The number includes perhaps the first of Minnelli's fountains - a relatively small one.
The Sping. Dynamic song-and-dance number, with Lena Horne and the Berry Brothers, that anticipates the Caribbean feel of The Pirate.
A drummer is on a moveable platform, that travels back and forth across the dance floor. This anticipates the Kinetic Art that will run through later Minnelli.
When the three Berry Brothers enter, they too sometimes form triangles during the dance. Some of the triangles are equilateral; others are more irregular. Other times, they are in a row. The dance can get as geometric as the finale of "Good Neighbors". This is the film's most intricately patterned dance.
Minnelli's other early films, Panama Hattie and I Dood It, are mainly notable for interpolated sequences starring black performers. These sequences are islands of quality, in otherwise forgettable movies. By contrast, Cabin in the Sky succeeds throughout.
Cabin in the Sky is also Minnelli's first film of religion-based fantasy. This is a genre to which Minnelli would return throughout his career. Many of Minnelli's realistic, non-fantasy films, will also include the Christian imagery prevalent in Cabin in the Sky.
The hero of Cabin in the Sky rises from laziness, to become a steady worker. He performs manual labor at a warehouse. Theron in Home from the Hill gives up a life of luxury, to perform manual labor at a similar warehouse. The two characters start out in radically different classes - but both build new lives that are surprisingly similar.
Both films deal with adultery, and the pain it causes.
The wife in Cabin in the Sky falsely accuses her husband, when she catches him in a misleading compromising position. Such a false accusation by a wife will return in Designing Woman. A false accusation by a father, will lead to the protagonist's death in Home from the Hill.
The fight has Domino attacking the hero with his legs. This is a bit like the use of dancers' kicks as weapons used by Astaire in The Band Wagon ballet.
The artificial looking staircase ascending to Heaven at the end of Cabin in the Sky, anticipates the stylized red fire escape in The Band Wagon ballet.
A trumpeter plays a role in both films.
The devils wear robes full of geometric patterns, during the "idea" sequence. We see diamonds, checkerboards and wavy lines: all patterns that run through Minnelli as a whole.
The hammock contains a pillow: a circle divided into many different pie-shaped sections.
The delected bathtub scene, has a checkerboard floor in the background. As is often the case in Minnelli, this is a female space (Lena Horne is taking a bath).
The heroine's movement through a crowd of people towards the saloon, while the camera moves with her, is a key kind of staging that recur in later Minnelli. This is one of the best shots in the movie. It anticipates the great finale of Some Came Running, and its numerous camera movements. And like that finale, it ends with a character tragically getting shot.
This scene, which has the wife looking for her husband after he disappears from church, anticipates the more elaborate hunts for missing persons in later Minnelli.
It also anticipates the numerous Minnelli women who get under male hypnotic control. Such women usually rebel - and at the finale Georgia Brown also shakes off the devil and his ways.
The hero also gets into a favorite Minnelli costume for men: white tie and tails.
Ethel Waters' gown and headdress, during the late saloon sequence, is an early example of metallic clothes in Minnelli.
The artificial Magnolia tree, from which Georgia gets her flower, will return in the stage set in I Dood It.
Against all this must be set the largely positive racial portrayals of most of the film. It was a major step up in 1943 Hollywood, to have a film featuring blacks in richly developed lead roles.
I'm not sure what to conclude about all of this. Cabin in the Sky is clearly designed to be a pro-black film. Are the film's sometimes stereotyped characters simply a minor flaw? Or are they a serious problem, enough to condemn the film?
I lean towards an approach that tries to recognize this film's many positive accomplishments - but which does not try to obscure its failings. On the whole, I think the film's positives greatly outweigh its negatives.
Unfortunately, there is only a little of Minnelli's trademark style in I Dood It. The crane shot showing row after row of the orchestra at the end of the early number "One O'Clock Stomp" is good. And the rope dance to "So Long Sarah Jane" is skillful.
There is perhaps a serious side to all of this. The heroine (Elizabeth Taylor) of Father's Little Dividend will adamantly refuse sedation during childbirth. She wants to be aware and understand everything. And several Minnelli films have heroines rebelling against hypnotic control.
All in all, the nasty nature of the story goes a long way towards explaining why I Dood It is such an unlikable movie experience.
The social climbing forms the long central section of I Dood It. It is the weakest part of the picture. Before and after it, there is better material:
At one point, Powell is surrounded by three cowboys with lariats, who stand in a triangle. This recalls the triangles in the dances in Panama Hattie.
The finale has six dancers in a circle, with Powell rotating around them outside. Such concentric circles recall the finale of "Good Neighbors" in Panama Hattie.
The start has singer Bob Eberly performing the song, in cowboy gear. Eberly was at one time a well known singer in real life. His brief song here and at the start of the "Star Eyes" number are one of his few appearances on film. Eberly wears one of the most elaborate sets of chaps on film. They are of black leather, and both stick out on the sides in front, and wind around his legs in back. Minnelli gives us views of both during Eberly's entrance.
The section is basically a straightforward performance piece. It lacks either dancing, or the heavy stylization that would allow Minnelli to create extremes of visual style. So one should not oversell it.
Minnelli treats the members of the troupe as individuals. Each one comes across as their own personality. In this, the section recalls crowd and party scenes in Minnelli, with each extra getting their own characterization. Hazel Scott, too, comes across as a vivid personality, just through her performance on the piano.
Minnelli gets his hero into a uniform: here a Union Cavalry officer. Several shots emphasize his tall boots.
The Heavenly Body is not a very good movie. And it is hard to see much of Minnelli's personal style in it. One suspects that Minnelli simply did his best, to do a professional job, without making it much of a personal project.
The observatory set is gorgeous - but wouldn't that have been designed and built long before Minnelli's involvement?
Similarly, The Heavenly Body deals with a Minnelli subject: proposed adultery. The would-be adulterous wife might be another Minnelli character consumed by foolish fantasies. And it takes place in a comfortable, upper middle class domestic milieu, that also appears in later Minnelli comedies. Once again, though, such aspects would have been long set before Minnelli's arrival.
The most personal plot development is the ending. Minnelli films often climax with frantic searches for a missing person. In The Heavenly Body, husband William Powell flees from home after a spat, and wife Hedy Lamarr spends the finale tracking him down.
Other possible Minnelli subjects in the film's finale:
Minnelli's films show an interest in all sorts of telephone and sound communication technology. By contrast, the central technology of The Heavenly Body, the telescope, does not quite fit into such patterns. There is "long distance communication" in a telescope, but it is visual technology, not sound equipment.
Some images draw on color harmonies, among many objects on screen.
Red and White. Towards the end of her phone conversation, there is a medium close-up of Rose (Lucille Bremer), showing her in the corner against the wall paper. The red leaves that run through the wall paper, the wine in the decanter, the frame of the picture, and the lace in Rose's blouse and her belt, are all in similar colors of dark scarlet red. The effect is quite strong and over powering. The red areas make beautiful geometric patterns, against the off-white of the rest of the wall paper, and the white of Rose's blouse.
Red. When Esther (Judy Garland) and John (Tom Drake) put out the lights, the camera is at a high angle, showing the chandeliers, looking down at the rooms. The red pattern on the living room rug becomes conspicuous here. It recalls the red wall paper in the dining room. Similarly, during "Under the Bamboo Tree", the film shows us the red wall paper in the dining room again, forming a contrast to the living room framing it on either side.
Minnelli's fondness for "small bright red objects" is also found in Meet Me in St. Louis, a fondness he shares with the Japanese director Ozu. The ketchup in the kitchen, and the bright red fez hat worn by Grandpa, are examples.
Meet Me in St. Louis is full of liquid red food: the soup, the cooking ketchup, even the milk in a red pitcher. The corned beef is also red. It is paired with another Minnelli standard, green food: cabbage. There is also a plate of green celery, eaten by the father. Earlier, we saw Lon bring the celery home in a bag.
White and Green. The early scenes of Esther singing first "The Boy Next Door", then "Meet Me in St. Louis", show harmonies based in white and green. The green is provided by vegetation. The most amazing shot is the close-up of Esther and Rose singing "Meet Me in St. Louis". They are framed against green curtains on the window; green ivy twirls around the bust on the piano, and a green plant is hanging in the pot on the window. The three shades of green are all different, yet all three work together in a color harmony. The different geometric patterns of the green objects, especially the looped, arching green curtains, also contribute a fascinating geometric design. The close postures of the two sisters, with Esther's hands on Rose's shoulder, is echoed by the twin bust on the piano. This is one of the most exquisite shots in the picture.
The women's costumes in the World's Fair finale are white, with touches of green.
Black and white clothes. Two nuns in the finale are in black and white, a combination that will later be prominent in Minnelli. The nuns form a brief burst of Christian imagery in the finale: something that will recur with greater emphasis in later Minnelli films. Earlier, the family said grace.
Red and Green. Another color harmony shows the father outdoors, coming home from work. The shot is framed by green vegetation, that also contains pinkish-red flowers. The combination of the green and red is beautiful. Both red and green are motifs throughout much of the picture, especially prominent in the settings. By contrast, the women in the film often wear shades of blue, purple and lavender, while the men are often in gray suits.
The Christmas scenes show Esther in a red dress, and Rose in green. This is the first bright red dress for a Minnelli heroine. Later, Esther in her red dress, will dance behind the red-and-green Christmas tree: another red-and-green shot. The party as a whole, however, is in a broad mix of colors, not just red-and-green.
Green and Purple. A shot of Rose and her mother, finds them in green and purple dresses. The green-and-purple color scheme will run through Minnelli. This is just a single shot, in a scene whose other shots show other colors. Later in Minnelli, most color schemes engulf an entire scene or scene section.
Blue and Orange. A shot of Esther and Rose and their dressing mirror, before the party, is an another favorite Minnelli scheme: blue-and-orange. A later scene with the sisters in the same room, is also in blue-and-orange.
Red and Blue. When Esther dances briefly to "Meet Me in St. Louis", she is wearing a blue and red cape. Charles Walters' choreography seems designed in part to show off the red and blue, with as much variety of rhythm and display as possible. Alternating bright red and blue are well-known to create "Op Art" type effects, creating a pulsating contrast.
Brown. Brown suits in Minnelli are often worn by sinister characters who say wrong or objectionable things. Warren is in a brown suit, when he fails to propose to Rose over the telephone. John is also in brown, when Esther (falsely) thinks he has hurt Tootie.
Many shots in Meet Me in St. Louis draw on the tall windows in the house for their composition. These windows are huge, with tall and fairly wide panels. They tend to repeat: there will be several such windows side by side, making repeating, regular patterns. Three such shots in the film are especially well done:
The bathroom window is circular, divided into pie-shaped sections.
Other circular forms run through the picture, especially men's hats. Also plates and soup bowls, the ketchup kettle, the cake, the white chair, and the opening barrels on the beer truck. There are also quarter circles on the front door. The balustrades at the World's Fair are curved.
Grandpa's fez is a truncated cone. Full cones will run through Minnelli.
The mirror in the dining room is roughly elliptical. It is horizontal. There is also a vertical elliptical mirror in the living room, a vertical elliptical window to the right of the front door, and a vertical elliptical window in the phone booth door.
Esther and Rose's mirror is partway between a rectangle and a curving shape.
There is a checkerboard floor, around the Christmas tree where Esther dances. Such floors often have import in Minnelli: this one is linked to the near magical reappearance of John.
There are modified diamond patterns, on the windows in Tootie's bedroom. Such diamonds in Minnelli are often in places under male control. But these windows first frame Tootie and Esther, then the father - they are linked to both genders. There are similar diamond windows in the parlor, seen when Rose and Esther sing "Meet Me in St. Louis".
There is a clock with an octagonal frame and circular dial.
The sinister house of Mr. Braukoff is mainly flat, unlike the heroines'. One wonders if the flatness contributes to this effect. The house does have a number of curving windows, with give it a mixed straight-and-curved pattern. Further complications: some windows show yellow light, others orange, perhaps because they are hidden by shades. Together with the blue shadows of the house wall, the house has a three-color design.
The lights of the Fair go on. While the Fair does not move, its lights recall the Kinetic Art objects in Minnelli that are full of flashing light.
The World's Fair finale has a fountain, a recurring image in Minnelli. Colored lights shine on it.
The pass-through window into the dining room is opened by the cook, to listen to Rose's phone call.
Katie has wash on lines in the winter scene.
Grandpa dances with a towel to "Meet Me in St. Louis", one of many Minnelli characters who dance with strips of cloth.
Tootie throws flour at Halloween: one of many tossed objects in Minnelli. The boys on the beer truck at the start are tossing something too.
The kids use a sled, at the start of the Winter section.
Esther sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" to a toy with dancing figurines. These anticipate similar toys in Gigi.
Some of the kids at Halloween are wearing face paint: something that recurs in Minnelli.
A second long take occurs during the preparations for singing "Under the Bamboo Tree", and continues during the recitative that precedes the main melody. This too has intricate staging. Brother Lon is in the early part of the shot, then exits, stage left. Later, when the camera has moved back to the left, he is discovered sitting near the entrance to the dining hall.
Other Minnelli films also show participatory decision-making:
The debate at the end of Meet Me in St. Louis pits a patriarchal father against women. And Meet Me in St. Louis is full of feminist issues, as discussed in detail below. But the advocacy of participatory decision making in Meet Me in St. Louis is not confined to including women, although that is a very important part. The father in the long distance phone scene is upset that he was not let into the secret about the phone call: justifiably so. He reminds the others that he is part of the family too, and should be included in decision making.
Today environmentalists are paying renewed attention to the possibilities of public transportation. They are promoting light rail and other innovative technologies. "The Trolley Song" could be a wonderful anthem celebrating such approaches. It has renewed relevance during the crisis of Global Warming.
The lyrics of "The Trolley Song" emphasize the technology of the trolley. The lyrics also have an ecstatic quality, something fully brought out by the glorious images, with their rich color and joyous camera movements.
The long distance phone call shows an early era in phone technology. A similar look at early phones is in Gigi. Minnelli films are full of looks at long distance sound and radio communication: see the checklist at the start of this book.
Meet Me in St. Louis takes place in the United States in 1903-1904. It deals with a society even more sexist than that of 1944 America. In many ways, it shows "traditional" restrictions on women in a "pure" or concentrated state. In this society, only men have jobs and college education. They are in complete financial control of everyone else: women, children, and old people, all of whom are dependent on them for survival. The men make big decisions, such as what city people will live in, and how, and small decisions too, such as when dinner will be served. It is like living in a slave state. Women's only means of support is through finding and marrying a man, and having him support her. This means that young women's major job is to try to attract a man, and have him marry her - the activity performed by the two marriage age sisters who are the leads in the film, Rose and Esther, throughout the movie. Women cannot even go anywhere except through male driven vehicles, such as the trolley and Mr. Neely's ice truck. And men control the telephone, and ration out access to conversations and communication through it.
The society shown in Meet Me in St. Louis shows in exaggerated form, gender roles that were still in force in 1944. They are more severe in the film than in the real world of 1944, but they were still powerful. By 1944, many women had access to phones, and transportation was more widespread. Also, many women were successfully performing "male" jobs, while many US men were away fighting World War II - this was the age of Rosie the Riveter.
Esther is in love from afar with "the boy next door", John Truitt. Her passion for him is both romantic and physical, the film establishes, with overwhelming yearning. A sexist society gives her few means to reach out to him. But Lon has a way. Lon and John Truitt immediately male bond, establishing a powerful relationship that works at many levels. The film idealizes this relationship. It is seen as wonderful and powerful. The two men have a similar social role, being nice young men who are on their way to college. This common role helps them bond. The two also look and dress almost entirely alike. At the party, for instance, both wear dark colored, double breasted sport coats, white trousers, and bow ties. The only difference in their spiffy clothes, otherwise almost identical in detail, is that John's coat is dark blue, while Lon's is black. (John's blue is a color often worn by women in the film, while men are often in gray.) The two men even have similar hair styles, with their hair being slightly wavy in front. This ability to wear common clothes is also a liberating male bonding tool of the two men. One suspects that Minnelli regards the relationship between these two men as a personal ideal.
The two actors who play John and Lon also look alike. Both also look much like John Kerr, who starred in Minnelli's much later film, Tea and Sympathy (1956). All three have a gentle look. They look like friendly, non-threatening men. The character played by John Kerr in Tea and Sympathy is a young man who fits naturally into the world of women, but who is rejected by the macho male types around him. This is partly similar to Lon in the current movie. Like Kerr's character, Lon has a happy existence in the world of women, and is their ally in their struggles. But Lon and John are happier than Kerr, in that they also apparently have full acceptance in the world of men. Minnelli never actually shows this acceptance on screen - both are only seen among mixed social gatherings, or among the women at Esther's home.
John recites song lyrics on the staircase, with Esther. He is one of the naive-looking young men who unexpectedly recite poetry in Minnelli.
The actor who plays Rose's boyfriend Warren Sheffield is much more macho acting and looking than Lon and John. While Minnelli is largely sympathetic to him, Warren is also not quite as nice to Rose as Lon and John are to Esther. He dates other women, and does not say much of anything significant to Rose during their telephone conversation, much to her disappointment. His presence does make it clear that Lon and John's type is not universal among men in the society.
The bonding between John and Lon allows Esther to meet John, for the first time. It is only by throwing a party, allegedly in John's honor, that Esther can invite John to her home. This party is in honor of Lon's going to Princeton - the subject of his male bonding with John. Then at the party, it is Lon who introduces John to Esther. During this introduction, it is plain that society approves of the instant relationship between John and Lon. But Esther's ability to even talk to John comes from her brother's formal introduction.
Lon has the relationship with John that Esther wants. Lon does everything he can to help her. The film shows the two relationships as equivalent and parallel.
At first Esther tries to use traditionally "feminine" wiles, to try to get John to notice her. These are only partially successful. Somewhat startlingly, it is only later in the film that Esther breaks through to John. This occurs when she forgets her traditional feminine role, and starts behaving in a traditionally "male" fashion. Esther is defending her little sister Tootie, and in her fierce emotion she starts acting and fighting like a man. It is here that John finally notices her romantically. John even compares what Esther does to his experiences in football practice. This is a strong physical interaction John has with other men. It is clearly the key towards his recognizing Esther as a physical romantic partner. Once again, the film has John's relationships on two parallel, equivalent tracks: one with other men, one with Esther. Both are clearly gratifying to John.
When John calls Esther back to help with the lights, his comic dialogue oddly resembles that in Father's Little Dividend, where the husband reminds his wife about her medication. Both scenes involve men finally getting insight in how to appeal to women, and seizing their advantage with gusto. Both scenes are funny, and also passionate. Both men become knowing, after long being clueless.
Another critical cliché about Meet Me in St. Louis says that it depicts an idealized America. In some ways this is certainly true: the peaceful life shown in the film must have seemed intensely nostalgic to war time audiences. But in other ways, the society in Meet Me in St. Louis is not ideal at all. Interpreting it in this way ignores the enormous difficulties faced by women in this world.
Sexism can seem invisible to many viewers, even though it is one of the primary subjects of a work of art. Take the Agamemnon of Aeschylus, the greatest of all Greek dramas. Society's discrimination against women is one of the two principal subjects of Agamemnon, the other being the destructiveness of war. But while Aeschylus is relentless about exploring the problems caused by women's second class status in society, this whole aspect of the play often seems invisible to many critics. It is as if it doesn't exist, and just can't been seen by them. One reason that I have gone on in such detail about gender discrimination and roles in Meet Me in St. Louis is that I wanted to make them more "visible" to viewers. These comments might seem "obvious" to anyone who watches the film. But it is clear that many people are ignoring or not seeing this aspect of the movie.
Tootie is strikingly unique. She does not immediately resemble anyone else in Minnelli.
Blake Lucas, in the book Defining Moments in Movies, links Tootie to the many artist characters in Minnelli: she is highly imaginative, always making up stories, and creating sculptures of snow people. Lucas implies she is what writers like the hero of Some Came Running might have been like as a child. This seems to me to be a good idea - although perhaps not the whole story of Tootie.
One can find an odd piece of confirmation to this: many artists in Minnelli live in rooms with tilted walls. Tootie's bedroom has the telltale "tilted wall" too!
Tootie also has an attack of hysterics involving her snow people, linking her to hysterical artists in Minnelli: Van Gogh, John Kerr in The Cobweb.
Meet Me in St. Louis is also a film about women. The grown-up sisters are looking for men. In some ways, this is distinctly transgressive: they are women looking for sex, and they don't get punished at the fade-out! In some ways, Meet Me in St. Louis is trying to tell the "whole truth" about women, in ways that lesser films elide.
I suspect that Tootie might also be a look at sides of women that many films don't show: the wild imagination, the morbid fantasies, the rowdy sense of humor. Tootie often seems surrealistic. She says things that are startling and "different".
At the Fair, Tootie recounts an exhibit about dead bodies, left over from the Galveston flood. This was a real-life event, that happened just a few years before, in 1900. In The Courtship of Eddie's Father, young Eddie confronts death, in the terrifying scene where he finds goldfish floating dead in a bowl. Tootie's account has similar imagery.
Meet Me in St. Louis has aspects of folk culture: the traditional dance performed to Skip to My Lou reflects the real-life popularity of square dancing and folk singing in the United States. The Halloween celebration also evokes traditional folk festivals.
Folk rituals, and related actions in Minnelli can be dramatic, serious, and often take place at night:
The Halloween episode in Meet Me in St. Louis is presented seemingly without much irony: it appears to be a good event, and Tootie's "accomplishment" in throwing the flour is apparently one to be celebrated, as is her public acclaim. However, later joining-the-group rituals in Minnelli get much critical perspective. The boar hunt in Home from the Hill is exciting - but we also see that it is restricted to rich, socially accepted young males, and not available to the poor and sexual outsiders such as Rafe. Similarly, while straight young men are benefitting socially from the bonfire scene in Tea and Sympathy, the queer outsider hero is undergoing social humiliation and ostracism.
There are hints of irony in Meet Me in St. Louis: Mr. Braukoff seems to be a perfectly decent man, who does not deserve to be attacked. Tootie's stories about him seem to be complete lies. Furthermore, it is not really clear that unpleasant tricks like the flour-throwing are really the right thing to do, however popular they are with kids in this society. However, such mild observations hardly add up to the sort of systematic critiques one finds in Tea and Sympathy and Home from the Hill.
Tea and Sympathy and Home from the Hill have manhood rituals, completely restricted to males. Meet Me in St. Louis has a crowd with both sexes in which everyone is in drag, and a heroine at its center.
The first version of Ziegfeld Follies ran for around three hours. It did not play well in previews, and eventually nearly half of the material was scrapped, and the film was not released until 1946. Even in its current shortened state, the various numbers are a mixed bag. They are by many different directors. The six musical numbers by Vincente Minnelli are usually considered the best parts of the picture. Some of these are outstanding, and show Minnelli and his collaborators at the top of their form.
This Heart of Mine. Dance director: Robert Alton. Design: Jack Martin Smith. This is a dance featuring Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer. It is the high point of Ziegfeld Follies. In some ways this is in the pure tradition of Fred Astaire dance numbers. It features Astaire and an expert partner, here Lucille Bremer, dancing to a song. Astaire has made many such numbers throughout his long career; this is simply one of the most beautiful and joyous of them. In addition, all aspects of the number are designed in spectacular color, making rich visual patterns on the screen. This is more Minnelli and his collaborators than Astaire. This fusion of Astaire dance and Minnelli visual style is seamless and graceful. The number has a simple plot, with Astaire playing Raffles, the society jewel thief created by E. W. Hornung.
The checkerboard floor is divided up into arcing rays, which intersect in complex geometric patterns. It is one of the most elaborate geometric images in Minnelli. Checkerboard floors are often female-run spaces in Minnelli. This dance floor is presumably owned by the Princess.
The moving sidewalk and revolving floor for the dancers are examples of Minnelli's Kinetic Art. So are the giant sculptured screens, that close and open up behind the couple. This is one of Minnelli's most spectacular Kinetic Art scenes.
The screens bear some resemblance to the entrance of Brighton Pavilion, a real-life building that shows up in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. The resemblance is discussed in more detail in the article on that film.
Both of Minnelli's favorite clothes for men, fancy military uniforms and white tie and tails, appear in "This Heart of Mine".
The opening ball is in the bright primary color red-blue-yellow that is often associated in Minnelli with rich, festive, cheerful but lowbrow people. These folks are not quite lowbrow: they are very well dressed and formal. But they do not show any depth, either.
The colors get simpler in the big dance number. The women in the chorus are in two different groups, each with their own color gowns. A similar effect will recur in the cut number "Two Faced Woman" in The Band Wagon.
The man announcing the guests has his speech doubled by a trumpet. This anticipates some of the odd vocal effects in the song "Come Back To Me" in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.
A Great Lady Has an Interview. Dance director: Charles Walters. Judy Garland spoufs a Hollywood grande dame giving an interview to the press. The interview is in the form of a song, and the gentlemen of the press form a chorus line and do much dancing. This interview is a funny parody of all things Hollywood. Plus the dancing is in Walters' most enthusiastic tradition, with an infectious liveliness that makes it a joy to watch. These are the youngest looking, least hard-boiled reporters in the history of the screen. They look like the young, non-threatening, pleasant men that run through many Minnelli pictures. They are all dressed alike, and recall the way that Lon and John in Meet Me in St. Louis dressed and looked alike. Only here, there are a dozen such men. This number is also known as "Madame Cremantante", being the subject of the next picture the actress is going to make, as sung in her interview.
I love the way Garland gives the chorus dirty looks, when they suddenly move ahead without her into fancy dance steps. This happens twice in the finale. It makes a funny spoof. It also is an example perhaps of "art being made" in Minnelli: a place where we see the inner workings of an important part of Minnelli films, choreography.
The final number anticipates musical sequences in Bells Are Ringing. The chorus shouts "Hallelujah!" after Garland's account; the chorus in "A Simple Little System" in Bells Are Ringing will actually briefly sing "The Hallelujah Chorus" by Handel, to show their enthusiasm. Both of these are also Minnelli dances, where the chorus stretches out their arms and shakes their hands.
The mock-jazziness of part of Garland's song also anticipates "I'm Going Back" in Bells Are Ringing. The word "baby" is part of the song lyrics during the jazziest part of each number. In each case the woman singer is referring to a real infant, but the treatment playfully parodies jazz love songs where women call boyfriends "Baby".
The stage light is turned, and shined on Garland. This is an example of the combined Light Art and Kinetic Art that runs through Minnelli.
The flash bulbs used by the photographers might also be seen as Light Art.
The green and blue-white "flourishes" (I don't know what else to call them) waved around by Garland while dancing, are an example of the strips of cloth that turn up in many Minnelli dances: also examples of Kinetic Art, broadly speaking.
The door handles are concentric circles. Similar door handles will appear at Dean Martin's apartment in Bells Are Ringing.
The corridor from which Garland emerges anticipates those to come in Lovely to Look At and The Band Wagon ballet. Except that it has a square top, not arched.
Traviata. Dance director: Eugene Loring. The catchy, melodic "Drinking Song" (Libiamo ne' lieti calici) from Verdi's opera La traviata (1853) is performed, accompanied by dancers who swirl around the screen. This number is highlighted by the bizarre, spectacular black and white costumes by Irene Sharaff. The dancing frequently has the costumes swirling around, making geometric patterns on the screen. It is a pleasant spectacle, with beautiful music.
In the second half, a woman comes out wearing the sort of red-and-white gown Minnelli loved. The background switches, too, to a blue-green. It almost, but not quite, becomes one of Minnelli's red-green sequences.
La traviata will be mentioned again in Bells Are Ringing. In both films it is simply called Traviata.
The Babbitt and the Bromide. A Gershwin tune featuring Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, no less. This little song satirizes bourgeois businessmen, like the father in Meet Me in St. Louis. The two men also dress alike, like the younger Lon and John.
The Heaven-set finale here anticipates the heavenly religious themes of Yolanda and the Thief. This is another example of "religious fantasy" in Minnelli.
Limehouse Blues. The sometimes impressive number unfortunately also suffers from stereotyping. Chinese people in 1900 London are associated with prostitution: not a nice image.
I'm less concerned about the way Astaire and Bremer play Chinese characters. While playing members of another race is out of fashion today in the film world, it is common in opera and Shakespeare, and without showing any prejudice. What's wrong with "Limehouse Blues" is the stereotyping, not this masquerade.
The street singers have remarkable costumes, filled with geometric patterns. These recall the geometric robes worn by the idea men in Cabin in the Sky, but they are even more complex. The costumes are also examples of the black-and-white clothes often worn in Minnelli by people associated with the arts.
The heroine enters in one of those bright yellow dresses worn by Minnelli heroines. She moves from the back of the screen to the front, in a gracefully staged progression. This anticipates the way the hero and heroine of The Band Wagon move through the crowd of dancers in Central Park, before "Dancing in the Dark".
The intricate dance steps performed by the singers form a background for principal characters in front of them: a staging that will return in later Minnelli, such as "The Midas Touch" in Bells Are Ringing. The dance steps have a folk-dance quality, recalling "Skip to My Lou" in Meet Me in St. Louis.
Minnelli films are often filled with portable phonographs. Here we have an early Victrola being wheeled through the streets on a cart.
The fans used in the dance, are perhaps examples of Kinetic Art.
The red fez in Meet Me in St. Louis returns here. Bremer is in red-and-white, like many Minnelli heroines, in the dream sequence dance. Astaire is in all-red, except for white socks to highlight his feet.
The fog will recur in many Minnelli films. This is a waterside setting (the London docks), but we do not actually see the water. Later, in the dream, there is one of Minnelli's small bridges, and a pool of water.
Beauty. The bubble bath sequence looks like nothing else. Huge clouds of colorfully tinted bubbles fill the screen.
I think The Clock is more successful in its first half, showing light hearted romance, than in the heavy dramatics of its second half. These later parts of the film take one into the hyper-dramatic, awfully intense world of Minnelli drama. They can have a nightmarish quality, like one finds in The Cobweb and Two Days in Another Town.
The frantic attempt to get the wedding underway, anticipates the even more chaotic wedding in Father of the Bride.
The clothes these mini-characters wear convey their personal experiences. This is true both for the civilians, and the people in uniform.
The scene at the Astor Hotel with the flowers is split into two long takes, each full of complex camera movements around the lobby. They are broken up by a shot of the clock which gives the film its title. The camera movements here are often linked to the thoughts of the hero, and allow us to see inside his head. When Walker is confused and thoughtful, the movements are slow and in a series of mixed directions, echoing the hero's indecision. When Walker decides to buy the flowers, the camera moves swiftly to the right across the lobby and into the florist shop, in the sort of forceful lateral track that has been heretofore absent in the sequence. Flowers are always very important in the work of Minnelli, he has them everywhere in his films, both outdoors, and as arrangements on tables in his interiors. Both the motion of Walker, and that of the numerous extras, makes up much of the content of these shots. The geometric patterns made by the paths of the extras, which stretch in every direction and speed across the lobby, are the visual core of the shot.
The subway scene has several camera movements, that follow the main characters as they battle their way through crowds. These beautiful, complex shots anticipate the finale of Some Came Running, and other Minnelli scenes showing individuals moving against crowds.
Shortly after this shot, there will be a reverse look at the restaurant, from exactly the opposite angle used in the opening moving camera shot. This shot is very beautiful. It is a fixed shot, not a moving camera one. We see several of the restaurant's diners and employees; Minnelli has arranged the shot so that each person is clearly visible, in their own little subsection of the screen. These are more of the mini-portrayals so vividly created for all of the extras in The Clock:
The bus ride closes with an episode that recalls the dinner scene in Meet Me in St. Louis. The hero cannot hear what the heroine says, so a lady on the bus repeats it. This is a little bit the like the way the heroine in Meet Me in St. Louis says she can't hear what was said on the phone, so her little sister at the table repeats it. It is not an exact parallel. But both scenes do have a whole crowd of people overhearing a romantic conversation between a man and a woman.
Prefabricated homes are discussed, as something that is coming in the future. It is suggested that they will be made out of plastic. And all look alike. The hero doesn't like the idea.
The hero wants to build houses by himself out of wood, as a carpenter. This is perhaps related, on a simpler technical level, to the engineer characters in other Minnelli films.
One of the most elaborate shots in The Clock combines long take, camera movement, and the overhead angle. This is the shot of Walker delivering milk. It starts out on a balcony, moves on down a circular staircase, and finally closes in on cats drinking milk. A shot like this definitely recalls the Ophuls tradition.
The escalators at the train station also move people. When the couple reunites after being separated by the subway, the scene is played out against escalators in the background. Once again, Minnelli musicals often have moving ramps: the moving sidewalk for the dancers in "This Heart of Mine" in Ziegfeld Follies, the moving ramp on the staircase in "Who" in Till the Clouds Roll By. The escalators give a real-life, realistic equivalent.
The Astor Hotel lobby has a fan. So do City Hall offices. These anticipate the fan in Bells Are Ringing. There are also rotating ceiling fans in the coffee shop, where the heroine breaks down after the wedding. They anticipate the ceiling fan in the hotel lobby in Some Came Running.
A man in the park tosses food for the pigeons on the sidewalk, one of the tossed items in Minnelli.
There is a moving camera sequence of the couple walking down a city residential street, before they use the subway. The long take shot is what David Bordwell calls a "walk-and-talk". In the background, there are lots of vignettes of New Yorkers doing typical activities. One woman is dusting a rug, recalling a bit all the Minnelli scenes constructed out of hanging cloths. Another man is loading bags onto a truck. While none of these is strictly speaking a Kinetic Art object, they all have an objects-in-motion quality that is related.
Similarly a man is moving a large potted palm in the Astor Hotel lobby. Later, in the Chapel, similar potted palms will be moved around.
The candle snuffer in the church, is also a movable object that changes light. It recalls the long pole used to turn off the ceiling lights in Meet Me in St. Louis.
One of the government office clocks is octagonal.
A poor couple quietly seeking inspiration, following a glamorous society wedding into a big church, recalls Sunrise (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, 1927). Both films also feature couples in a great city. The glass-walled office at the USO in The Clock, perhaps recalls the glass-walled rooms in Sunrise.
One notices some other things about the many servicemen seen in the crowd scenes that run through The Clock. They are carefully assigned to every possible branch of the service. Such equal treatment of the Army, Navy and Marines was a major concern of most Hollywood films of that era. Minnelli has made sure that every possible uniform is displayed in different parts of the film. This helps create visual variety, and ensures that many different parts of the service are represented.
Robert Walker plays one of Minnelli's gentle, non-threatening young men here. He is in the tradition of Tom Drake in Meet Me in St. Louis, and John Kerr in Tea and Sympathy. Walker specialized throughout his career in non-macho men. While some directors saw this characteristic of Walker in negative terms - Alfred Hitchcock cast Walker as a horrendously stereotyped Evil Homosexual in Strangers on a Train (1951) - Minnelli sees such a man as his hero. This is typical of the tremendous sympathy Minnelli has for such non-macho men throughout his career. Walker's hero meets fewer obstacles here than many later Minnelli heroes who do not fit into society's macho norms for men.
Walker has the advantage of his uniform here. It certifies him as a man whom society must respect, or at least accept. It also gives him a certain degree of social integration into the world around him. Later Minnelli films will often depict Minnelli's non-macho heroes as social outsiders, painfully kept outside of all social institutions. Walker's character also anticipates Frank Sinatra's returning serviceman in Some Came Running.
The servicemen throughout the film are also of a certain type. They tend to be good looking, romantic leading men types. Like most of the extras in the film, they seem refined and well mannered, in a sophisticated New York mode. Few if any are the sort of macho roughnecks one often sees in uniform in Hollywood films, such as Robert Mitchum in Edward Dmytryk's Crossfire (1947), or John Wayne in Allan Dwan's The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). These handsome men are polished to the hilt. Most are wearing dress uniforms. An unusually high percentage are young officers. These wear the high peaked stiff caps along with their spit and polish uniforms. All of these men show tremendous social assurance, plowing their way through crowds in New York City, smiling and confident. Many have doting girl friends, and they look completely successful at romance. All of these men seem more confident than Walker's character. They also out rank Walker's enlisted man, being officers.
Walker sees a young naval officer at the hotel as a role model. This young man is in the white dress uniform of the Navy, a uniform with a long association with romance in Hollywood pictures. He is played by an actor even less macho looking than Walker, Eddie Hall, a perennial bit player in Hollywood films. This young leading man is completely successful at romance, knowing exactly what to do to please his girl friend, buying her a flower for her hair. Walker will touchingly imitate this, buying a flower for Judy Garland. This is a small romantic stratagem. It reminds one of Judy Garland's attempt to become close to Tom Drake in Meet Me in St. Louis, by having him help her turn off the lights. In both cases, this small gesture leads to romantic intimacy. Minnelli is deeply sympathetic to both protagonists. There is also an element of gentle comedy, watching the protagonist perform such little stratagems in search for closeness with their beloved.
This scene also parallels other aspects of the romantic relationships in Meet Me in St. Louis. In that film, the heroine's brother first develops a male bonding relationship with the romantic hero played by Tom Drake. This male relationship is used as the model and the enabler for the male-female relationship that develops between Garland and Drake. Similarly, here Walker uses another man's behavior as a role model for his own relationship with Garland.
Its leading man is a crook, trying to con the heroine out of her money. This unsympathetic lead character makes the film less entertaining and pleasant. The leads are played by Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer. They took on similar roles in the "This Heart of Mine" episode of Ziegfeld Follies, where Astaire was society jewel thief Raffles and Bremer was the princess he was trying to rob. However, in that film Astaire was only trying to lift some jewels that the princess would hardly miss; here his swindles seem more serious. Also, he is far more personally exploitative here.
Astaire also anticipates the con-man who exploits his girlfriend (Jean Stapleton) in Bells Are Ringing.
Ames is introduced as one of three men. Minnelli sometimes introduces characters as extras, only gradually having them emerge as characters in the story. At first glance, Ames in Yolanda and the Thief might be another example. He looks perhaps like just one out of a group of three. However, Ames was a well-known, much liked character actor, and he "stands out" on his introduction because of this.
The bar has raised alcoves in back, reached by short staircases: a common architectural feature in Minnelli (they show up again in The Pirate). So does the study at the mansion, where Yolanda signs the papers. That room is overflowing with pictures on the wall, anticipating the many artist's studios in Minnelli. It also has large pillars, another Minnelli favorite.
The garden is full of green foliage and white fixtures such as statues. Green and white gardens run through Minnelli. Unlike other Minnelli gardens, this one is not on a hillside, but it does have a staircase leading down to it, anticipating the garden staircases in Kismet. (White and green also appear in the harp room, where they are combined with gold.) At the end of the film, the wedding reception in a garden adds red to the mix of green and white; the end of the garden scene in Kismet also adds red flowers to the green-white mix.
Other Minnelli imagery runs through the film: statues, fancy uniformed soldiers, candelabra, flowers. There is a car wreck, anticipating Two Weeks in Another Town. Still lifes of drinks show up on the table in the bar.
The scene with the ladies unwinding long cords in a star pattern around Astaire, echoes a similar pattern in the rope dance number that opens I Dood It.
The dancers costumed as racetrack workers and patrons anticipate the chorus boys costumed as hoods in An American in Paris. The green hunting coat of one of the men, anticipates the more traditional scarlet hunting coats at the start of the fashion show in Lovely to Look At. These men have a Regency look: their clothes seem out of an earlier era, especially the bucks watching the race. All of the men are heavily booted. Boths are regularly part of historical costumes in Minnelli, but are much rarer in contemporary clothes. These men have a "historical" look to them.
Yolanda and the Thief is rich in water machinery:
In addition to the jet of steam in the bathtub, the taxicab emits clouds of exhaust. There is also all the smoke that emerges from Ames' many arms during the dream.
The hotel bar is full of whirling ceiling fans. Its phone booth also has a folding door, like the one in The Cobweb.
Minnelli likes tossed items:
People carry and wave things:
We see an angel in the giant puppet show, at the school near the start. There is also a statue of the angel in the religious procession. Although these figures are life size, they perhaps relate to the toy figurines in other Minnelli. Minnelli's films are full of statues. But these figures of the angels play a direct role in the plot, unlike the purely decorative statues in much of Minnelli.
Vincente Minnelli's films are full of sequences in which groups of men dress alike. Here is a scene in which groups of women wear identical costumes. There are four groups of three women; each three are dressed identically. While the overall clothes each group wears is similar, each group has differently colored headdresses, dresses and stockings. The choreography builds on such identical groupings, to create lines of identically dressed groups of dancers, that mix and interweave within the ensemble's geometric patterns. Various groups of men within the dancers are similarly clad in identical costumes. The men's clothes all seem like various shades of brown and beige, while the women's have more brilliantly colored accents in the stockings and headdresses.
Eugene Loring, who did the choreography for Yolanda and the Thief, later did some dance numbers for another Latin American film, Fiesta (1947), directed by Richard Thorpe. The most important dance in Fiesta is "La Bamba", done a decade before Richie Valens made it a rock hit in the late 1950's. "La Bamba" shows male and female lines of dancers weaving in and out, just as in "Coffee Time", although it is not quite as complex as the earlier number. Intermixed with the lines are the lead dancers, Ricardo Montalban and Cyd Charisse. The pair later have a beautiful solo number. Montalban's finest moments in the film come later, however, when the young composer he plays hears his music performed for the first time on the radio. His intense expressions during this scene remind one of his great skills as a dramatic performer.
The school uniforms are that Minnelli favorite, red-and-white clothes. Although they are also worn with black hats. Later, Morgan's pajamas are also red with touches of white.
The chair on which Astaire sits in the hotel is purple and gold. In other Minnelli films, purple-and-yellow is often associated with virile men.
Undercurrent reminds one of other Vincente Minnelli films:
As in many Minnelli films, it is not at all clear what the characters should do. They are often plunged into perplexing situations without easy answers. This does not mean that they should give up. But they have to struggle and explore to figure out the right alternatives. It often takes Minnelli's characters quite a bit of screen time to figure out what is going on, and to come up with some options. The characters can tell that they need to do something, and urgently. It is clear that there is a moral imperative for action. But it takes them a while to figure out what, with the answers sometimes coming in stages. Nor do they always guess wisely. They have their director's sympathy, none the less.
Undercurrent takes place over a long period of time. This is typical of many Minnelli dramas. Such time is needed for the characters to evolve. In many Minnelli dramas, the characters are not in one single situation that extends over the whole running time of the film. Instead, they are in many constantly changing, evolving situations. They can go through many life stages. Both these charging environments and the struggle of his characters to find constructive actions take up many months or years in their lives.
Minnelli suggests such figures have a powerful effect on people's lives. Much of the conflict in Designing Woman (1957) comes not from the man and woman who marry, but from the crowds in which they've typically moved. Each has strong trouble fitting into the other's crowd. Similarly, some of the most powerful scenes in Gerd Oswald's Crime of Passion (1957) deal with new wife Barbara Stanwyck's revulsion at socializing with her policeman husband's mind-numbingly bourgeois crowd of friends.
With the social habits of today's Americans, such scenes seem like something out of an ancient past. People are much less likely to hang out with a crowd of people with whom they must fit in. Many crocodile tears have been shed recently about how bad it is that modern Americans do not hang out in groups. But such old films suggest that group living could be overwhelmingly rough.
The party also anticipates the scene in Designing Woman, where Gregory Peck meets his wife's friends right after the marriage: the same situation as in Undercurrent. Peck is just as much as fish out of water, not being able to share in his wife's world, or coverse with the guests. However Peck's situation is less serious. He has his own world of sports, in which he feels confident, compared to the wife in Undercurrent just feeling inferior. Also, Peck is very well dressed, also unlike Hepburn. Peck is not embarrassed, just out of place.
The many officers in the Washington party, recall The Clock. In both films, these are handsome men, polished to the hilt.
The interest in "long distance control" is part of a fascination in Minnelli, with radio and telephone technology. There is the radio baby monitor in Father's Little Dividend, the radio monitoring used by spies in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and the radio station in The Courtship of Eddie's Father.
Hepburn's father is a scientist. And we learn her late mother was also a great scientist, equal to her father. This feminist theme recalls the woman scientist spoofed in "A Great Lady Has An Interview" in Ziegfeld Follies.
The many airplane rides also give Undercurrent a technological feel.
Mitchum's disappearance is handled differently. His vanishing stretches out over many years of story time, and over much of the run time of the film.
The bother (Mitchum) also might be viewed as a "character who keeps turning up": like Carleton Carpenter in Father of the Bride. The brother is often only mentioned, or appears as shadows or clues. This is different, from the physical appearance of Carpenter, or the recurring curtains in The Cobweb.
The vertical lines also show up in the stable scenes. Bars are all over this barn. There are also vertical wood panels on the walls.
Minnelli films often contain pavilions, on tall thin pillars. Two such regions appear in Undercurrent. Hepburn's front porch at the start can be seen as such a pavilion. So can the ornate metal work structure, at the center of the dress shop.
Undercurrent is full of mirrors, and scenes are often staged in front of them. Mirrors are one of the main motifs in film noir, so perhaps these mirrors reflect the genre. They also recall Minnelli's other films with mirror sequences.
The chemical discussion between Hepburn and her father, has a tall glass tube of chemicals changing color, and making a bubble. It too can be considered a form of Kinetic Art. The lab equipment makes interesting geometric patterns.
The lab also has a sink and faucet. These often show up in professional locales in Minnelli, away from where we might expects them in kitchens or baths.
The elaborate gate at the country home, might also be regarded as Kinetic Art. It has two swinging doors, and a movable bolt.
The waterfall can also be viewed as Kinetic Art.
Taylor makes his first appearance in the film, when doors are opened, and he is seen in the background.
The post-wedding party is both seen and not-seen, as doors to it open and close. This too anticipates other such Minnelli stagings, such as the fund raising at Jack Buchanan's in The Band Wagon.
The characters repeatedly move down stairs, while Minnelli's camera follows them. Late in the film, the camera also follows Taylor partly up the stairs.
Hepburn is humiliated at the post-wedding party, by wearing a dress that she calls "a brown horror". The chic women at the party are in black. Similarly, in Tea and Sympathy the hero is dressed in a suit he feels is unflattering: he says "blue always makes me look like a kid". In both films, color is used to put people in a outfit that makes them look bad. And it is discussed in the dialogue.
Brown clothes in Minnelli are often associated with characters doing evil things. However, there is nothing evil about Hepburn. Her dress is merely a fashion faux pas.
It is a bit odd that Mr. Warmsley gets the ultra-sharp pinstripe suit. This is the best suit in the movie, in a style familiar from the film noir era, and one might expect at first that lead Robert Taylor would wear it. However, Taylor's clothes always make him look upper crust - consistent with his character's fantasies of being rich and powerful. The pinstripe suit is instead a symbol of business and work - not really Taylor's goals. Taylor's actual clothes made this viewer uncomfortable, as one suspects they are designed to do. They express "money" so relentlessly, that the character always seems to be shoving class privilege down other people's throat.
Look for the Silver Lining. "Look for the Silver Lining" opens with backstage scenes. These are actually better than the musical number that follows. They open with a corridor filled with that Minnelli favorite, statuary. The busts have top hats on them, a nice figure of style. They have been left behind by male visitors, who soon appear in their white tie and tails. These visitors form one of Minnelli's crowd scenes, in which each extra gets their own personality. The busts and cabinets of costumes oddly anticipate the dressmaker's salon in the ballet in The Band Wagon, with its room full of dressmaker's dummies.
The corridor is in Minnelli red, plus white. The dressing room will be one of Minnelli's mauve-pink-and white areas (like Grahame's bedroom in The Cobweb, and backstage in the finale of Designing Woman), contrasted with a green dress and yellow flowers. The pink-and-green colors will be important in Designing Woman.
Later, Minnelli will stage some excellent camera movements through the backstage corridors. One will take us down a path filled with colored lights. These do not shine bright colored light on the set, as will occur in later Minnelli movies. This camera movement is delightfully complex, through a maze of backstage flats.
While the heroine is walking to the stage, she is encouraged by working class stage hands. This anticipates the hero's encounter with numerous working class men throughout The Long, Long Trailer. The heroine is shown being transformed from a glamorous actress, to a stage version of a working class drudge, for her musical number. This recalls middle class Minnelli characters who go to work among the lower classes, such as Van Gogh in Lust for Life and Theron in Home from the Hill.
The actual song color-matches Garland's gray dress and red lipstick, with gray faucets with red handles. This is one of many sinks that run through Minnelli.
Sunny. "Sunny" opens with more colored lights. Now we have a blinking red light, like the river scene to come in The Cobweb.
"Sunny" is a circus number. The maypole with its cloth strips, recalls the cloth and ropes in other Minnelli dance numbers. The gold body paint here occurs on the elephants, unlike the humans who get face and body paint elsewhere in Minnelli.
The men are in alternating red and green coats. They wear gold pants and top hats. There are also women in gold tutus. This combines Minnelli's red-green color scheme, with gold.
There is also a man in white tie and tails. His tailcoat is a solid white, unlike the usual black tailcoats that are standard both in Minnelli, and the real-life world of men's formal wear. This anticipates the gold tailcoat in Bells Are Ringing.
"Sunny" is full of geometric patterns. It is especially built around the circular circus ring.
The rope ladder anticipates the one in the Crows Nest in The Bad and the Beautiful. Both are forms of Kinetic Architecture. Perhaps the swinging support for the aerialist also is Kinetic Art.
Who. "Who" opens on a staircase. It contains a camera movement showing people moving on the stairs: a Minnelli specialty. The staircase also contains a ramp, which propels the performers down. It is an example of the Kinetic Art that runs through Minnelli.
Judy Garland is in a bright yellow dress, like a number of other Minnelli heroines - and like them, she really stands out and looks distinct from the people around her.
There are two troups of female dancers, one in white ballet-like costumes, the other in black outfits with giant round hats. Minnelli dances sometimes include such troups in different color costumes.
The chorus boys are dressed in white tie and tails. This number contains more men in white tie and tails than any other Minnelli movie. It is virtually a dream about Minnelli's favorite costume. It is also a scene in which the men are all dressed alike, a Minnelli tradition. The men are all pursuing the heroine. The men shake their hats, the way Judy Garland is swirling the cloth she carries. Such cloths run through Minnelli dance numbers; shaking hats seem less common.
The staircase is white. We eventually see that the wall below it is mauve, making one of Minnelli's elegant mauve-and-white locales.
D'Ya Love Me. "D'Ya Love Me" was cut from the release print, but is available as an extra on some DVDs. It has two clowns in startling costumes. The costumes are in that Minnelli favorite, red-and-green. Unlike the "men in identical clothes" in other Minnelli, here the men are in similar costumes, but with reverse color schemes. Items that are red on one clown's suit, are green on the others, and vice versa. The suits sport long, feathered tails, an item that seems effete, perverse, and comic. Women often wore feathers in showgirl numbers, but men rarely do. The clowns' white face paint is both traditional for clowns, and part of Minnelli's interest in face and body paint. One definitely wonders if this number was cut because the clowns seem gay. These guys are perhaps beyond the pale of what homophobic censors and social watchdogs might have tolerated in a 1940's film. One is glad this number has survived, to show a suppressed idea of Minnelli's.
The clowns were seen in the circus procession that opens "Sunny", carrying cymbals. And "D'Ya Love Me" opens in the circus set of "Sunny". One suspects "D'Ya Love Me" was intended originally immediately to follow "Sunny".
Other Judy Garland scenes. Judy Garland appeared in a few brief non-musical scenes in Till the Clouds Roll By, as well. I have no idea if Minnelli directed these non-musical episodes. None of these scenes seem especially Minnellian - unlike the musical numbers, which are full of characteristics that recall Minnelli's other work.
Although this film is a musical, it also has strong elements of mystery. In this it resembles Undercurrent, Minnelli's sole pure mystery thriller. There is also the brief murder mystery underlying the ballet in The Band Wagon, and the little mystery element about the French Resistance leader's identity in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
The hero here takes over the persona and romantic actions of another male, pretending to be the pirate, and carrying his pirate whip. This recalls the way in which the hero of The Clock imitated another man's romantic actions in the hotel scene, and the way in which the heroine uses her brother's male bonding with another man as a model for her own romantic relationship in Meet Me in St. Louis. In both films, a gentle protagonist uses a more romantically successful male as a template for their own romance. This also gives a strange feel, as if the two men were now in a common enterprise.
The scene in which the hero hypnotizes the heroine in front of a large crowd of people, causing her to reveal unexpected feelings, will recur in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970). The women in the jewel robbery sequence in Lovely to Look At (1952) also seem mesmerized into stillness while the thief steals their gems. Such scenes of men hypnotizing women go back at least to Cecil B. De Mille's The Affairs of Anatol (1921), in which Gloria Swanson has to be rescued from a hypnotist's power by her husband Wallace Reid. However, in Minnelli's films, the women rebel during hypnosis, and reveal strong inner feelings that cause them to escape from male control. The scenes become allegories, suggesting male attempts to control women in a sexist society, and women's revolt against such control.
Gene Kelly is such a macho performer, that it is hard to think of him as anything else. He certainly gives his usual dynamic, athletic performance here. But at some level, Minnelli has cast him in the role of one of his non-macho young men, up against a code of nastier macho types. His character, as a traveling actor, is seen in the story as a non-macho male, who is up against macho males such as the murderous pirate of the title. This plays an especial role in the final confrontation in the picture.
The scene in which Kelly slides down a pole from a balcony recalls the shot in The Clock, in which Walker moves down from a balcony on a steep spiral staircase. Later, during the same "Nina" number, Kelly dances in a pavilion made up of large poles supporting a roof. Such strong vertical lines are a standard part of Minnelli's compositions. In Meet Me in St. Louis, one could see out through the windows in the home, to deep focus outdoor scenes. The two sides of the windows formed similar tall, vertical lines. In The Pirate, the poles form similar boundaries, and one can see the market square in the background in deep focus through the poles. Just as there are repeated windows in Meet Me in St. Louis, in The Pirate there are repeated poles, forming the boundaries of various deep focus regions of the market square. The poles here also recall the vertical columns on the back of the trolley car in Meet Me in St. Louis, framing the staircase to the top of the trolley.
At the Mayor's house towards the end, Minnelli will build his compositions out of strong, repeated vertical lines, balanced by some horizontals. The first room has woodwork, statuary and door panels, all brown, that create a series of powerful verticals. Together with the verticals formed by the standing Kelly (in black) and Garland (in brown), the frames are a sea of dark brown verticals, set off against the white paint of the room. The doors have horizontal lines through them, that curve, offering some balance. The second room also has many verticals, including a cast-iron railing with many small posts. It has numerous pictures on the walls, in the Minnelli manner. Several of these are in series, creating Minnelli's loved pattern of repeated, similar vertical lines. These also have horizontal lines on their bases, as do the steps in the room, the edge of the balcony, and the sofa. Eventually the steps are outlined in layers of smashed white china, creating strong horizontal stripes. The stripes go: white china fragments, black edge, orange wall, and then white china again, and so on. The many steps are as repeated in their horizontals as the other elements are repeated in their verticals.
Later, numerous members of the militia will flood this room. They are in full dress uniform. Like the well-dressed officers in The Clock, these men are wearing high stiff hats; here the four sided "czapkas" (pronounced "chop-kahs") that are a traditional part of the Lancer uniforms worn by many militia members. These Lancers form vertical lines themselves, their red and blue uniforms being hugely conspicuous. Minnelli arranges them in series, so that their straight, standing bodies form the "repeated verticals" that are a favorite Minnelli composition approach. At one point, seven of the Lancers are stretched across the screen. Many of them have their swords out, pointing them directly at Kelly; these swords are held straight out, and form the contrasting horizontals often used in Minnelli compositions. Many of these Lancers are wearing white sashes across their chests; these sashes form a series of diagonal lines in the composition, further adding to its complexity. These diagonals are repeated, as are the verticals. There is a similar, but simpler shot of Fred Astaire surrounded by a circularly arranged line of soldiers in the background, in Yolanda and the Thief.
Minnelli has a second series of troops, in different, largely white uniforms; these stand in a series on the upper region, looking down over the rail into the room. They too form a set of "repeated vertical lines". Minnelli has them stand so that nearly all the small pictures on the wall behind them, are visible in gaps between their bodies. Such wall pictures are there to help Minnelli make compositions; he does not want to obscure them now, when they help make a beautiful visual pattern. These second troops have their muskets pointed at Kelly, a second set of strong horizontal lines.
One beautiful shot has all these troops filing in, and gradually taking their places up around the room. The effect resembles that of a chorus line entering and filling out a set in a stage revue - something with which Minnelli would have been totally familiar. The principals here also gradually assume their ultimate positions. Watching this motion makes a beautiful image.
Occasionally, their are curved lines in these scenes. The curves stand out, and make accents in compositions that are otherwise constructed out of vertical and horizontal lines. Chair backs in the Mayor's house often have curved, arching tops. An overturned chair shows curved legs sticking out. A map at the top of the image is in a circular frame. The czapkas have complexly curved sides, a most unusual curved surface, and a traditional part of this unique high helmet. The front panels of the Lancers' uniforms also contain curves.
The Lancer uniforms are not all alike; the commanders of the troops have variations in their uniforms, different from their men. Later, the Governor will wear an even fancier version of the uniform. This recalls The Clock, in which great care was taken to make the film's uniforms be as varied as possible.
The brown dress worn by Judy Garland in the late scene at the Mayor's house, exactly matches the brown of the woodwork. When the Governor shows up, his clothes are in harmony with the wall behind the desk where he eventually stands and sits. Minnelli will later harmonize Frank Sinatra's uniform with the color of the walls in Some Came Running. The purple scarf that Gene Kelly wears around his waist towards the finale also finds echoes in purple trim on the sets. Another harmony: the green of the sofa at the Mayor's matches the green of the picture that Garland drops on Kelly. A shot will balance the sofa on the left with the fallen painting on the right; both will contain large glowing areas of the same unusual shade of green.
The white and green colors of some scenes on Manuela's wedding day recall the white-and-green design of Garland's "The Boy Next Door" in Meet Me in St. Louis.
Similarly, the Governor of the island admires Gene Kelly's looks in one scene. The Governor is never shown being attracted to women in the film, and one has to wonder if he is gay. If so, this is one of the most casually presented and sympathetic gay characters in traditional Hollywood films, one completely free from any stereotyping or directorial mockery.
The word "gay" is one of Minnelli's favorite words. It recurs in film after film, in which a character will state that being gay is the goal towards which they are striving. It is ambiguous: it can mean either joyful or queer.
The finale takes place at an outdoor fiesta, in a Latin American country. It also resembles the Latin American carnival in Yolanda and the Thief. All three films show vast crowds of celebrating people on the street. In both The Bribe and Some Came Running, the characters push their way through these crowds, in a suspenseful pedestrian chase.
There are a few overhead camera movements, following hero Robert Taylor through the crowd. However, the use of camera movement here is much less extensive than in Some Came Running. The camera style does not always seem especially Minnelli-like.
Great bursts of flame shoot up, from cylinders below, recalling the bursts of flame in The Pirate.
The stairway full of lights at the end, also anticipates a bit "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" in An American in Paris.
The Bribe also contains Kinetic Art. People in the crowd wave objects on sticks above their heads. These recall the finials in other Minnelli films.
The spinning wheels of fireworks are both Light Art and Kinetic Art.
The extras in The Bribe are not well-defined individuals, in the Minnelli manner. They are just crowded groups of struggling faceless people. The uniformed policemen doing crowd control, are not spiffed up to the max in fancy uniforms, also unlike most Minnelli.
Robert Z. Leonard's films have precedents for the imagery in The Bribe. The Great Ziegfeld (1936) opens with fireworks, and jets of flame that both resemble those in The Bribe. These set the stage for scenes at the Chicago World's Fair, with huge festive crowds out for a good time. Also, we should resist preconceptions that Leonard is an anonymous hack. As my article on Robert Z. Leonard documents, he is a personal filmmaker with his own subjects and, to a degree, style.
Minnelli's take on debt-fueled consumer spending in these films is remarkably relentless. He is fierce about showing its disastrous consequences. Minnelli's commentary is partly social satire, partly abnormal personal psychology of the spenders, partly a look at the dark side of financial life. While it hardly amounts to a statement on Capitalism as a whole, it still has political overtones in its critique of spending and debt run amok. It seems more frighteningly relevant than ever, after all the debt-fueled luxury spending in the 2000's and its effect on the economy.
The couple in Madame Bovary are a doctor living in the provinces, and his wife, who has nothing to do but pursue her social aspirations. The same characters will be at the center of The Cobweb. Both families have kids, and in both, the husband is shown as having a better relationship with the kids than the wife. In both films, the wife takes up relationships with men who are obviously cynical womanizers. Both wives are concerned about "their needs", while their husbands mainly work at their jobs.
The aristocratic boyfriend (Louis Jourdan) in Madame Bovary, will return as the patriarch in Home from the Hill. Both men are wealthy, promiscuous, and obsessed with hunting: we see them with their hunting dogs. Both men live in rooms filled with tributes to their own dubious lifestyle. Both men are horrifically self-centered. Their behavior leaves a lot of human wreckage behind them in both films.
Emma Bovary is one of several Minnelli characters who want to associate with rich people, and adopt their life style. Minnelli is often sympathetic with these characters as human beings, even as he condemns their activities. He clearly understands them from within, and has a certain amount of identification with them. But he also shows their behavior as leading to disaster. Minnelli is relentless about depicting bad consequences of their life goals/actions. Examples include:
While the above examples are diverse, they have common features. In most, the obsession of the characters with upper class mores has a sexual aspect. Many of these characters view sexuality through a class lens. They fantasize about sexual relations with upper class lovers. The son in Home from the Hill is trying to learn about sexuality and "becoming a man" through his rich father's tutoring.
Flaubert (James Mason) serves as narrator. And the main film unrolls as his telling the story of his novel on the witness stand. Madame Bovary is an example of a non-noir film, that thus employs tactics familiar in film noir, such as a narrator. Flaubert's narration has something of the same effect as a flashback - although it is not strictly speaking a flashback at all.
Earlier at the school, we see the heroine playing the piano in one of Minnelli's music rooms. The room contains that Minnelli favorite, a harp.
A man at the ball is also in Hussar's uniform, one of the two fanciest 19th Century military uniforms - the other being the Lancers that show up in The Pirate.
Emma's gown at the ball recalls those worn in "Traviata" in Ziegfeld Follies. All of these gowns in both films are covered by 3D sculpted nature motifs. In Madame Bovary, these are birds. The gown is also embroidered with what looks like a rose. Emma's gown is simpler and more restrained than those in "Traviata". "Traviata" suggested wild, joyous excess in its clothes. Emma's gown instead looks confining.
The courtroom has many top hats on the table. It recalls the top hats left on the statues in the dressing room in "Look for the Silver Lining" in Till the Clouds Roll By.
The dancers in Madame Bovary dance in perfect unison. When Emma is dancing with her lover, there is often another couple in the background, who are dancing in precisely the same position and same movement. This further suggests that Emma is trapped in a large machine or social mechanism. It is not joyous - it is a frightening image of being caught in the gears of a mill.
When the windows are smashed, it is a romantic tribute of sorts to the heroine. But it also has sinister undertones. The orders to smash the windows come through a hierarchical chain of command: aristocrat to upper servant to footman. This underlines the class divisions that are going to be so deadly to the heroine throughout the film. Also, the aristocrat simply sends a signal that "the lady is having trouble breathing". It is the upper servant who orders the windows to be smashed. This suggests that the effect has been rehearsed by the master and servants ahead of time, before the ball. Emma is not getting a spontaneous display of passion: rather, she is once again trapped in a complex process. Perhaps the aristocrat has done this many times, with other women he has used as lovers.
Similarly, the smashing of the windows is not really Kinetic Art, either, but rather some sort of disturbing, sinister variation on Kinetic Art. The movement of the chairs and the disintegration of the windows are "kinetic" all right. But smashing things is not art, and these are not art objects that incorporate motion.
Flames are prominent in Madame Bovary, with fireplaces and a kitchen stove. A long taper is used to light tobacco, from the fireplace.
A lighted lantern is swung at the start, to guide the doctor in the storm. This is combined Light Art and Kinetic Art.
Some sort of confetti is tossed on the bridal couple. It does not look like either rice or conventional confetti, however. One suspects Minnelli and the MGM art department researched something authentic for this scene!
Father of the Bride splits into two drastically different parts. The first part is a disturbing look at how the daughter chooses her husband, and her family's ideas on the subject. The second part is more of a farce about wedding preparations and the actual wedding - although it too has some serious overtones. However, once the wedding preparations are underway in the second part, the choice of marriage partner is now a given, and no longer discussed. All the characters become much more sympathetic: they could be any about-to-be-married couple and their family.
In both families, the husband is the sole breadwinner. The wife stays at home. While in both films the wife is supposedly running the household, much of the actual work seems to be done by a black cook (treated with dignity and in a non-stereotyped fashion, one hastens to add.) Both families move in upper middle class social circles - which seems to be the chief activity of the wife in both films. The chief social roles of men and women in these worlds are simple: men are supposed to make money; women are supposed to embody social position.
We see a series of brief portraits of the earlier suitors of the daughter in Father of the Bride. Virtually all of them look livelier as human beings, and warmer and more human as life companions, than the young businessman the daughter chooses to marry. It is hard not to conclude that the daughter has sold herself for money. She has looked over a large series of young men, found the richest one, and married him. Essentially what we see in this society is marriage as a form of prostitution. The daughter is hardly alone in these values: we see that she has learned them from her parents, and probably from the social class around her, too. Her parents agree that her fiance's financial status is the key element in his suitability as a husband. They also state that they find the fiance better than any of the other young men who were her suitors. We also see them judging their future in-laws on their financial status, and the size of their home.
Other Minnelli films, such as The Pirate, severely criticize folks who sell young women into marriage to wealthy men. Here we have the reverse situation: the daughter in Father of the Bride has complete freedom to choose any man she wishes. And she sells herself.
The above point of view is perhaps a bit harsh. An alternative reading: in a society like the one depicted in Father of the Bride, a man's worth is determined entirely by his success in business or a profession. And it is viewed as a fair test: the best men are the most successful. The fiance is thus simply the best male human being the heroine has ever met. Who can blame a woman for marrying such a man? He's simply the best choice. This point of view is perhaps closer what the characters in Father of the Bride actually think.
This "comic" portrait of a bumbling male is quite different from the fathers to come in the tragic Tea and Sympathy. The fathers in that film are frighteningly efficient. They take one look at a situation, size it up accurately, and make a non-negotiable demand on their sons to take some macho-driven course of action. The father in Father of the Bride has the same ideology as these later fathers. He is simply more bumbling in his approach.
In both films, Father of the Bride and Tea and Sympathy, most teenage males and grown men are in complete ideological accord with each other, valuing the same things. There is no generation gap or gulf. Just a macho ideology and code of practice shared by fathers and teenage sons.
The only difference between generations is a small one: teenage males are supposed to concentrate on sports; grown men on jobs and making money. This is just a division of labor, not an ideological dispute: both fathers and sons agree that these are the correct activities.
The chosen husband is first seen as being good at tennis.
When we first see the teenage son in Father of the Bride, we wonder if he is in a small way in some sort of rebellion against social norms: he is wearing an exceptionally shiny black leather jacket (not a costume one often sees in Minnelli). But soon we learn that he is rushing off to basketball practice: hardly an act of non-conformism in this society. Still, the teenager is the only one in the film not to get caught up in wedding hysteria, and who does not make the situation worse. His comic book reading is also an interesting bit of business.
Both films have knowledgeable businesswomen, who know and care a great deal about money and expenses - unlike wives, who dismiss such issues as unimportant. Tracy's secretary, like Lillian Gish to come in The Cobweb, is dressed in a severe tailored suit.
The wedding guest list becomes a subject of negotiation, like the drapes in The Cobweb. Who gets invited affects business relationships of the father, and the garden club election of the mother. As in The Cobweb, there is an emphasis on petty politicking.
Confetti is thrown indoors, and rice outside, during the wedding. The opening of the film shows the set covered with confetti, making fascinating visual patterns.
Joan Bennett's entrance on the stairs, showing off her fancy clothes for the wedding, anticipates Gloria Grahame's stairway entrance in The Cobweb, displaying her evening gown.
Elizabeth Taylor first shows her wedding gown, in a shot with a three-way mirror. Later, the brunette in the ballet will make her entrance in a three-panel mirror in the ballet in The Band Wagon. And huge mirrors will revolve at the end of the ballet in An American in Paris.
The big camera movement at the reception goes through the wall of the house, from indoors to outside.
Father's Little Dividend is far more enjoyable than the nightmarish Father of the Bride. Much of the earlier film revolves around ugly issues of money: finding a well-to-do husband, spending vast sums on an ostentatious wedding. By contrast, Father's Little Dividend deals with human issues that are nobody's fault: the difficulties of pregnancy and having a baby, and learning to get to know a baby after it is born. It is a warm, sweet film, that shows genuinely nice - but not whitewashed - people.
The climax of the quarrel (involving the baby's name) is set to classical music, played on a record player. Classical records on phonograph players return in The Cobweb, as well as Tea and Sympathy and Goodbye Charlie - although the music is not linked to fights in any of these movies. In all these later films, the records are on a portable phonograph player. But in Father's Little Dividend, the player is a more elaborate model.
Also like The Cobweb: the couple's big argument is ultimately triggered by his long hours at work. This too will be a problem with the couple in The Cobweb (Widmark, Grahame).
The doctor, an impressive (but young) authority figure with an official-looking office, anticipates Widmark's head shrink in The Cobweb. Both tell other people how they should live, and what their mental attitudes should be.
Taylor shows up asleep in Tracy's home, after disappearing. Young John Kerr will also wind up asleep in Widmark's home, after his vanishing, in The Cobweb.
The frantic search for the missing baby, anticipates the finale of The Cobweb, and its search for young Kerr. The police get involved in both searches. A search for George Hamilton will also form part of the climax of Two Weeks in Another Town.
In Father's Little Dividend, this is played for some comedy and light drama. For a heavier, but no less moving and truthful development of the same insight, one can see Rafe in Home from the Hill. He takes care of the pregnant heroine and her child with similar deep devotion. And once again, this forms the breakthrough in their lives.
Father's Little Dividend shows the newlyweds trying to get their own place to live. First, both parents propose that the couple move in with them. Joan Bennett's proposal is unusually detailed, in her dialogue: it spells out all the needed architectural changes in the house. But the in-laws' plan is even more elaborate: it contains blueprints.
Next we see work-in-progress on decorating the young couple's own home. Ladders are everywhere. Walls are still blank, awaiting pictures and decor, that will appear later in the movie. New glass doors have big labels on them reading 'GLASS'.
Most extreme: the conversation between Taylor and Tracy in her bedroom is filmed against a blank wall. This is strikingly minimalist. It is highly unusual for the decor-rich Minnelli.
The young couple's house has features of Modernism that are lacking in the "cozy" homes of their parents. Its striking carport is perhaps related to the pavilions on thin pillars that run through Minnelli.
When Tracy talks to Bennett in the car about a Hawaiian vacation, we hear Hawaiian music on the soundtrack. It is ambiguous whether this is a mental experience of Tracy's - or whether this is simply the soundtrack making a humorous commentary.
Much later, Elizabeth Taylor appears in her bedroom after the big outburst, when husband Don Taylor moves out of the way. Such revealed characters are a favorite Minnelli staging.
The baby carriage is also a movable object.
When Tracy tries to sleep in the frilly bed, it creaks and shivers so much, that it too is almost a piece of Kinetic Art. Tracy winds up tearing a curtain off the bed, so he can get some light for reading. This anticipates in a small way, the curtains being torn down in The Cobweb.
Joan Bennett's frightening drive to the hospital is played for laughs. But it anticipates the more sinister driving sequences in The Bad and the Beautiful, The Long, Long Trailer, and Two Weeks in Another Town. All such sequences, with people inside moving cars, are the darkest kinetic art scenes in Minnelli.
When the kid disappears, Tracy urges the police to use "television or a teletype" to spread the word. Throughout Father's Little Dividend, ordinary people think in terms of high technology communication. When Taylor disappears in the middle of the film, Tracy conducts the search via telephone. Such missing person sequences play a major role in Minnelli. The searches for first Taylor, then later the baby, are among the earliest such missing person plots in Minnelli films.
The in-laws also assume that everyone is comfortable with looking at and understanding blueprints. Father's Little Dividend takes place among a society where people are confident about using the latest in high technology.
Taylor's doctor also urges her to develop a relationship with her baby, modeled on that of pre-historic women. This anticipates the discussion of the primitive character of love, in The Reluctant Debutante.
But Minnelli soon shifts to eye level, horizontal camera angles. The chapel windows, behind Tracy and Bennett, have diamond lozenge shaped panes. Such diamond patterns on walls, are usually associated in Minnelli with centers of male power. The christening will be a triumph for Tracy's grandfather. It will also emphasize the minister, and his male-run church.
The christening forms another Minnelli climax, in which a religious ritual is performed: see the Extreme Unction in Madame Bovary, and the funeral service in Some Came Running. All of these are fairly public rituals, with family members or friends looking on. The service is explicitly Christian, as in many of Minnelli's films.
The diaper delivery man is in a black-and-white uniform: something that will return for many working class men in The Long, Long Trailer. (By contrast, the cabby uniform is not in black-and-white.)
The tough looking police at the station, are an example of polished looking uniforms in Minnelli. Black police uniforms will also return in The Long, Long Trailer. This scene has the middle-class Tracy confronted by a group of working class men: something that also will recur in The Long, Long Trailer.
The older son Tom Irish wears a sweater, in his second appearance. The sweater is quite geometric: it contains a big bar across his chest, and numerous fine lines making diagonals up to his shoulders. He is a college student, and his wearing a sweater anticipates the prep school roommate in Tea and Sympathy. Chest bars were sometimes found on football jerseys, so perhaps this sweater is conveying an athletic image.
Russ Tamblyn is in a leather jacket again, but a different one from Father of the Bride. The new jacket might not be as black as the one he wore in the first film: it is difficult to tell in black-and-white movies. Tamblyn in this maternity ward scene, is the only one not caught up in the frenzy over the newborn kid. This recalls his similar non-involvement with wedding hysteria in Father of the Bride.
Despite its fame, An American in Paris has problems as a film. An American in Paris is much better in its musical-number-rich second half than its first half, which deals with the sordid romantic problems of its hero. Its central romantic relationships are downbeat, with its protagonist being a jerk who accepts financial favors from women. And Gene Kelly's choreography seems second rate and tedious throughout. By contrast, many of the Vincente Minnelli visuals of the film are fascinating. The peripheral aspects of the film, the supporting players, the visual style, the instrumental numbers, are all interesting and enjoyable.
An image used throughout to convey the close ties of France and the US is that Minnelli favorite, male bonding. The French singer in the film, "Henri Baurel", bonds with a series of Americans. He is an old friend of Oscar Levant. He sings several duets with Kelly, and dances with him. He has close ties with an American impresario, who comes to his stage show, and who arranges for an American tour for him - something the singer regards as a dream come true. "You'll love the Americans" he tells Leslie Caron.
Guétary is always dressed to the teeth. Throughout the film he is dressed in a series of beautifully tailored double-breasted suits. He is a "dandy", a man who takes great pleasure in being dressed well. The film suggests that this gives great pleasure to everyone around him, too. The dandy has a long tradition in both life and art. He is clearly a figure whom Minnelli celebrates. Many of Minnelli's young men are also dandies, such as those in Meet Me in St. Louis and the reporters in Ziegfeld Follies.
In the "'S Wonderful" number, Guétary's blue-gray suit makes a color harmony with Gene Kelly's sweater. Oscar Levant's light blue clothes also are harmonized with the other men's outfits. During much of this song, Minnelli keeps his camera parallel to the building walls in the back of the image. This gives the "frieze" effect often found in Minnelli.
Guétary's high point is his stage appearance, singing Gershwin's "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise". Guétary is in full white tie and tails here. He wears a tall black top hat, and carries a black cane. This is the most dressed up outfit any man can wear. It recalls Eddie Anderson in the later sections of Cabin in the Sky, Fred Astaire's white tie and tails in the "This Heart of Mine" number in Ziegfeld Follies, Astaire and Buchanan's "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan" in The Band Wagon, Louis Jourdan in Gigi, the men to come in the finale of Lovely to Look At, and the hero's white tie and tails in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, symbolic of his love for the joyous things in life, unlike the Nazi invaders around him.
Kelly's room at the start has Kinetic Architecture features: a bed that can be raised and lowered, a bureau that swings out with a closet door, table extensions that flip up.
We soon see a bread cart in the street. Later, there is a toy monkey that climbs a stick.
Guétary is first seen in a mirror on the street, which is a circular glass within an octagonal frame.
Some of the dancers in the Beaux Arts Ball wear conical hats. Caron has stars on her dress.
Mental imagery also occurs in An American in Paris, when Oscar Levant imagines himself playing and conducting Gershwin. Such mental imagery scenes are fairly rare in the rest of Minnelli. The closest analogues are perhaps Tracy's accounts of the boyfriends in Father of the Bride, and the grandfathers in Father's Little Dividend. But those are flashbacks to or Tracy's memories of actual events, while the scenes in An American in Paris show characters' mental imaginings of actions that have never happened.
"By Strauss", the opening song in the cafe, is structured around red, blue and white. But there is also a fruit plate, with orange citrus fruit, a Minnelli favorite, and a bunch of green grapes that will return in the ravioli restaurant scene in Designing Woman. Earlier, we saw green grapes in the fruit bowl in Kelly's room, during his breakfast.
Kelly's costume has the diamond lozenge pattern often seen on men's walls in Minnelli. Other clothes are geometric as well. They remind one a bit of the geometric robes worn by the idea men in Cabin in the Sky.
Kelly sits on a balcony, where the vanes of a windmill behind him are also full of diamond shapes. These are like the "walls with diamond lozenges" elsewhere in Minnelli.
Several of the guests are dressed in costumes based on objects. A somewhat similar approach is in a non-Minnelli film, The Show of Shows (John G. Adolfi, 1929), one of the early talkie musical reviews. The big finale has Alexander Gray in top hat and tails singing "Lady Luck", while various woman dancers in costumes symbolizing card games and luck pirouette around him. Their clothes and dancing are surreal. Gray looks understandably nervous finding himself in this sort of circus, although he sings superbly and with his usual confidence.
The ballet falls into a number of sections, each of which is based on the work of a different painter.
Raoul Dufy. This part recalls the "Limehouse Blues" number of Ziegfeld Follies. The four ladies in bright red here recall the way Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer were in red in that number; and their geometric dancing style recalls the dances with fans performed by Astaire and Bremer there. The complex fountain, an elaborate set full of metal constructions, also recalls the set of "Limehouse Blues", with its strange constructions in the background. Both numbers also deal tragically with thwarted love, with the hero yearning for a woman who is beyond his reach. There are stylized looks at the typical inhabitants of a city in both works: London in "Limehouse Blues", Paris in this Dufy section. This also recalls the city portraits of New York in The Clock, and Parkman, Indiana in Some Came Running.
The way the four ladies in red use long trailing strips of cloth from their hats also recalls the surrealist dream sequence ballet in Yolanda and the Thief. In both films, the strips make paths over the hero.
The number is in red, a gray-that-approaches-blue, and white. This links it to the red-blue-and-white "By Strauss" earlier in the film.
A street vendor carries top hats on tall poles, recalling the finials in other Minnelli films.
An African dancer is in traditional dress, recalling Minnelli's emphasis on black singers and dancers elsewhere.
After the stage goes dark, spot lights swirls around. People also move lanterns. Both are in the Minnelli traditions of Light Art and Kinetic Art.
Auguste Renoir. This brief section is set against huge colorful banks of flowers being sold in Paris. It recalls the earlier number in the film, "I Got Rhythm", which was set at a florist's shop. Minnelli once again shows his love of flowers. For the first time in the ballet, Kelly and Caron are dancing happily together.
There are shallow steps in the back of the set, a Minnelli favorite.
The red flower is found against white flowers; there are also yellow, pink and orange flowers nearby.
Maurice Utrillo. Here four men in uniform show up, who male bond with Kelly. This recalls all the men in uniform in The Clock. Once again, these are leading man types, some of Minnelli's gentle, good natured young men. Such male bonding is a powerful Minnelli tradition. These men bring a sense of happiness to Kelly. The four men are in the uniforms of the four main branches of the US services: Air Force, Navy, Army and Marine Corps. Such equal treatment of the branches was a standard convention of Hollywood films, well understood and expected by audiences of that era. While the four branches get equal treatment here, the choreography pushes the Air Force and Marine towards the front. Both men are in blue, a color associated with romantic males in both Meet Me in St. Louis and Some Came Running. The Marine uniform is also a dress uniform, as in The Clock, complete with the Sergeant's stripes that seem to go so well with idealized images of the Corps. The much less glamorous Army uniform is kept in the background. It has a soft hat, identical in style to the one worn by the Army hero in The Clock, while the Air Force and Marine uniforms feature the high peaked caps worn by the officers the hero keeps encountering in The Clock.
Next, the four young men and Kelly all get outfitted in civilian clothes at a men's clothing store in Paris. The five are all dressed in similar sport coat and straw hat ensembles, that are the traditional grab of vaudeville song and dance men. We are now in the other Minnelli tradition of male bonding, the nice young men who dress alike.
Henri Rousseau. The primitive painter's work is used as a backdrop for a happy day in Paris. Both Caron and a troupe of chorines, and Kelly and the four men in song and dance man garb, dance happily here. This number recalls vaudeville dance traditions. Kelly and the young men dance around a troop of marching Frenchmen, continuing their associations with uniforms.
A giant finial is twirled around, by the man who carries it.
There is a large pavilion on thin pillars, a Minnelli motif. It is more circular than most such Minnelli pavilions.
The last part of this section, danced in the fountain among clouds of colored smoke, is one of the strangest color sequences ever put on film. It, like the rest of the ballet, was photographed by the great John Alton, and recalls the fog filled finale of Joseph H. Lewis' The Big Combo (1955), another celebrated film photographed by Alton. But while that film noir was in black and white, this ballet sequence is in color - and how! Alton does astonishing things, apparently with colored lights and filters, to make this scene full of non-naturalistic colors and lighting effects. The smoke here also recalls the fiery Pirate Number in Minnelli's The Pirate.
Vincent van Gogh?. An orange-yellow sequence at the Paris Opera. The colors here become overwhelming rich. This section, and its later reprisal, form the visually richest part of the ballet, with an overwhelming sense of color and visual spectacle. The reprise, with its huge revolving mirrors adding even more visual complexity to the spectacle, is quite astonishing. It is another example of Kinetic Art in Minnelli.
Discussions of this film all state that the colors here are influenced by Vincent van Gogh. Unfortunately, I just don't see this in the film itself. Van Gogh rarely painted such glamorous urban scenes as those found in this sequence.
Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Here we have a dark palette, reflecting that of the painter. It allows for a dance sequence with can-can dancers, a frequent subject of the artist's paintings. Gershwin's music is at its most jazz like here.
The finale is in Minnelli's most dazzling color. Each section has its own separate color scheme. Minnelli builds the whole sequence out of patterns of color, movement and geometric forms. The finale recalls abstract films, such as those of Oskar Fischinger, in its display of brilliantly colored geometric forms in movement.
The brief opening follows a procession of red coated men. Some of them are traditional English style fox hunters; the others look like waiters. The two groups have no real connection, other than both wear brilliant red coats - one of Minnelli's favorite colors. They all arrive at the salon door, and Red Skelton emerges, in white tie and tails. This is a traditional Minnelli outfit for men. The waiters hand Skelton his black top hat and cane. The doors here have the repeated long, tall, clear glass panels that we saw in the house in Meet Me in St. Louis. Two similar long tall window panels are to the right, also like the windows in the house in the earlier film. The repeated men in their red coats also form strong repeated verticals, like the standing soldiers in The Pirate. There is also that Minnelli favorite, a vertical statue. A series of steps at the base of the frame forms a contrasting series of horizontals. One could not find a more archetypal Minnelli composition.
The second part is a pure fashion show. Much of it is in a mixture of mauve, contrasted with a cool green. As often in Minnelli color schemes, this combination seems unexpected, original, but somehow just right. Minnelli has characters costumed like mauve versions of the traditional Harlequinade moving pillars and large sheets around the screen. These too are Minnelli verticals. Between the moving pillars and Minnelli's camera movements, many different compositions based on the verticals are created on the screen. The pillars are lighted from the inside. This links them to the light art and kinetic art found elsewhere in Minnelli. The repeated Harlequinade characters also form verticals in the compositions, recalling once again the soldiers in The Pirate. People throughout this section, and the rest of the finale, emerge from a series of arched doorways in the center of the wall. These arches are also a standard feature of Minnelli compositions, which often have semi-circle topped arches or chairs adding curving elements to the composition. This section concludes with a complex long take, camera movement shot, which climaxes with the introduction of Ann Miller.
Leon Bakst used the combination of blue with green in his early work for the Ballets Russes. This combination astonished audiences in 1911. Minnelli's combination of mauve (and some blue) with green here, is perhaps a homage to this Bakst tradition. The Harlequin figures also recall the employment of commedia del arte figures by the Ballets Russes. Certainly this whole fashion show derives from the Ballets Russes tradition of integrating dance, music, and brilliantly colored costumes and decor. Minnelli took this tradition, and brought it to the masses in the great ballet sequences of his films. While many people talk about bringing culture to the masses, Minnelli actually did it!
Green plant leaves are a motif throughout this section. One sees them wrapped around the pyramids of light, on the purple cloths, and forming the domino masks worn by the Harlequinade figures. Plant motifs also figure in the title number of Meet Me in St. Louis, and in various numbers of The Pirate. Minnelli likes to show long strings and vines of leaves and plants garlanded around objects: all three of these movies contain such decorations. Such garlands also recall the Ballets Russes: see Bakst's costume for Nijinsky in Afternoon of a Faun, in which he is garlanded with vines of grapes. The brilliant red of many Minnelli movies also recalls the costumes for the Ballets Russes production of The Firebird (1910), where both the heroine and the hero are garbed in clothes that are red, red, RED.
The third part changes the color schemes, to a dazzling mixture of red and green, recalling the Christmas scenes and the home in Meet Me in St. Louis. The screen is often bathed in an intense red light, an overpowering effect that will recur in the finale of Some Came Running. It also recalls the colored lights on the fountain in the ballet in An American in Paris. A float full of strange metal like constructions recalls the spiky objects framing the "Limehouse Blues" number of Ziegfeld Follies. The antlers of the animals recall the stylized trees in "This Heart of Mine" in that same movie, as well as part of the decor in the black and white ball in An American in Paris. We now see a jewel thief emerge, and one of his society lady victims, just as in "This Heart of Mine". This becomes a dance number, performed by Marge and Gower Champion, a delightful dance team of that era. Earlier in the film, their numbers had been highlights, including a dance to "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." Marge is in a slinky red dress. Unlike the jewel thief played by Fred Astaire in "This Heart of Mine", who was in white tie and tails, Gower Champion here is in a slim black burglar's outfit, somewhat like a French Apache. The couple look like something out of a mystery thriller, anticipating the Mickey Spillane ballet to come in The Band Wagon. Marge puts up far better resistance to the theft than Lucille Bremer's princess did in "This Heart of Mine". The two do a terrific dance. Its ending has a stylistic highlight, with a chase through the series of concentric arches, a superb figure of style in the dance's finale.
The color scheme changes again, as the fashion show resumes. Here we have brilliant yellows, as well as a return of the blue and mauve of the second section. The yellow recalls the opera scenes of the ballet in An American in Paris. We also see a pavilion supported on thin pillars, like the "Nina" number in The Pirate. Here, however, the pavilion is movable, and we have another combination of moving verticals and moving camera, as with the lighted pillars in the second section. Minnelli's interest in kinetic art like constructions gets full play in Lovely to Look At. One of the best camera movements has the pavilion, and the camera, moving forward and down the steps, along with a model parading under it. The pavilion and camera pauses; as the first model leaves, and a second model moves under the pavilion from the left. The figures supporting the pavilion turn, as does the new model, and the pavilion and the camera now move laterally to the right. The combination of forward camera movement followed by lateral camera movement, all within the same shot, is strangely satisfying. It seems to say something about the possibility of movement within three dimensional space that is deeply appealing.
The moveable pillars are supported by strange figures in stylized medieval armor; other armored figures are living supports for candelabra, somewhat recalling the candelabra in the "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" number in An American in Paris. Perhaps I'm missing visual cues, but it seems impossible to tell if these armored figures are male or female. They seem a rare example of genuinely androgynous figures in traditional film. The red antler bearing figures in the previous section also give no clues to their gender.
Katherine Grayson comes out and sings, in a beautiful evening gown. Its white with gold trim echoes the white candles and gold candelabra. She is joined by Howard Keel, who is also in elegant white tie and tails, an outfit that makes this macho actor look gentler and more romantic than he often does. She sings against a background of one pavilion, in which a number of women are seated. The mauve dress of one of the women echoes the mauve base of the pavilion, and the mauve-to-purple color of the upper part of the set. Another woman's black dress echoes the solid black of Keel's tailcoat. There is something especially vivid about Keel's clothes: the white of his linen and black of his tailcoat seem especially intense and tactile. Later, the camera backs up along the second pavilion, along the right of the set. In this pavilion, the women are in shades of pink, a different color emphasis from the mauve, gold, white and black of the previously seen pavilion.
Eventually, the other couples emerge too, clad in similar spectacular finery. All of these subsequent figures emerge in one complex, long take, moving camera shot, that zigs and zags across the screen. First Red Skelton, still in his tails, lifts down Ann Miller in a delightful green dress. Ann Miller's smile here is especially sweet and rich. Everyone is smiling to their utmost in this sequence, with the contrapuntal exception of Red Skelton, who is smiling but subdued. Then Marge and Gower Champion come back. After their contemporary mystery costumes earlier in the film, they too now get to partake in the traditional elegance, with Marge in a soft pink gown, and Gower elegant in white tie and tails. The repeated white tie and tails becomes a rhythmically recurring costume here. It recalls all the other men dressed alike in Minnelli pictures. The camera movement has a wonderful flowing quality, as do the motions of the characters around the set. A cut follows. Minnelli's camera swirls around a general waltz to "Lovely to Look At", and the picture comes to a spectacular end.
I just don't get The Bad and the Beautiful. It's a film I've never been able to like, and am baffled by its enthusiastic reception.
The biggest problem: showing the actual people who make movies, writers, directors and actors, as idiots who need guidance from alleged genius producers.
The negative portrayal of directors and actors is exacerbated by the casting. Barry Sullivan and Lana Turner are two of the most lifeless mannequins ever to parade in front of a camera. Neither seems to have any inner personality. They convey a sense of total talentlessness in their respective characters.
The film is often fascinating in its visual style, however. Much of it is highly inventive, in its visual techniques.
The producer comes up with the idea of scaring people by indirection and darkness, when called on to make a thriller that resembles the real life Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1942). This fine scene is played out with many changes of lighting, including turning a switch on and off, and moving a lamp. The scene's complexity is increased by the long take camera movement with which it is shot.
At the Crow's Nest lair, a moving flashlight plays light over the ceiling.
Near the preview theater, there is one of Minnelli's neon signs, for the "Onyx Bar". It is only seen briefly. Unlike many neon signs in later Minnelli, it does not blink on or off, or change.
We see a glass-walled building lit up at night, at the studio, while they are taking out the film cans for the preview. Probably it is some sort of sound stage or photographic facility, maybe like the early, greenhouse-like film stage buildings seen in A Girl's Folly (Maurice Tourneur, 1917), another behind-the-scenes look at movie making. The briefly seen building is quite beautiful. It glows with light, from its inside.
Lights going on and off in the screening room, cause the window from the projection booth to start or stop functioning as a mirror. We see the heroine's reflection appear and disappear in the window. The opening and closing window, also forms a piece of Kinetic Art. It recalls the pass-through window to the dining room in Meet Me in St. Louis.
After the wedding-film sequence, the dispersing crowd includes a technician who is holding some sort of machine that generates a small flame.
At the premiere, a moving spotlight is part of the festivities.
Flickering light flashes over the telephone, at the start of the picture.
Flickering light from a movie projector, washes over characters in a screening room.
Wild light flashes over the car, during Lana Turner's climactic car crisis. This is also a remarkable scene.
So is the heroine's Murphy bed, at her early apartment.
The studio gate at the start has two giant X's, one on each gate. They meet to form a large diamond shape.
The cabinet supporting the Oscars in Pigeon's office also has diamond lozenge patterns on it.
The hero's house has a window with lozenge patterns, to the right of his front door.
Diamond panes windows, and the shadows they cast, are a central visual motif at the Crow's Nest mansion. And once again, diamonds appear in a male-controlled area: an actor's playroom.
Some of the movable sets in Minnelli's back-stage films also suggest a 3D approach: the moving cabin set in I Dood It, and the moveable stage in The Band Wagon.
A woman costume designer is shown working with an actress (as in Designing Woman). In these scenes, the costume is modified right on the actress. The costume designer is working in three dimensions, with the costume worn exactly as it will be used in the film to come.
Walter Pigeon's array of Oscars and framed awards is also a shrine.
The party at the mansion:
The heroine's apartment is cramped and crowded. It anticipates the equally cramped mobile home in The Long, Long Trailer.
The heroine (Lana Turner) is also escorted to a gas station by her loyal agent; the husband in The Long, Long Trailer will spend much time in gas stations, to please his wife. The agent's car is also one of the open-topped convertibles that run through Minnelli.
Douglas' mansion is a frighteningly formal place. It has a formal garden, and a staircase that looks as if it were right out of the assemblage of studio staircase sets seen earlier in the picture. The entrance doors have arched tops, a familiar Minnelli shape. There is a statue head near the bar. The mansion has a patio in back, which is big but less interesting than the patios in Father's Little Dividend.
The writer has his wife giving a Symposium in another room of their home. The staging of this scene, with the Symposium sometimes revealed and sometimes concealed, anticipates the fund raising scene at Jack Buchanan's home in The Band Wagon.
The writer's home town is shown. We see a Main Street full of shops, very much like the more elaborate view of a small town we will get in Some Came Running.
Beyond this sociological pattern, it is hard to see much in common about these roles. Minnelli does not seem to be making any statements about Jews. And there are no signs of any sort of stereotypes.
Minnelli has not neglected to include what looks like the theater manager. He is a handsome young man wearing a nice tuxedo. He too looks both dignified and festive. He can be seen as another of Minnelli's "people in the arts, wearing black-and-white clothes".
The people at the preview get to vote, about what they thought of the movie. This too anticipates the democracy of The Cobweb, where the patients vote as part of self-governance.
Oddly, the hero of Father of the Bride hates spending money, while the hero of The Bad and the Beautiful sides with Carroll. The hero of The Bad and the Beautiful will eventually get in trouble with extravagance on his last picture. But he is rarely nervous about this, and The Bad and the Beautiful is mainly not a film about the horrors of debt, unlike Madame Bovary, Father of the Bride or The Long, Long Trailer.
I am used to seeing Leo G. Carroll play crisp authority figures, as in North by Northwest or The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. His two Minnelli roles, as fussy men pushing dubious ideas, seem like a change of image.
The scene also recalls the apocalyptic disasters that overtake the characters in Cabin in the Sky and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
B-Movie Westerns. The Bad and the Beautiful suggests that making B-Movie Westerns is among the least prestigious activities in Hollywood. This is probably correct - but it fails to note that Joseph H. Lewis and others sometimes made these Westerns into great works of art.
Paperback Books. Lana Turner's first movie role, links paperback novels to cheap come-ons and tawdry settings. Minnelli will soon do a larger scale satire of the best selling paperback novelist, Mickey Spillane, in The Band Wagon.
As in Goodbye Charlie, this is a story of personal transformation, one with sexual overtones.
The hero recites poetry, thus surprising and pleasing the heroine. Other young males who unexpectedly recite poetry will return in Goodbye Charlie, The Sandpiper.
The green color is echoed by green liquid foods: the green pea soup ladled out by the heroine, and the green liqueur.
The heroine wears earrings that are a chain of four linked spheres. This is an example of Minnelli's interest in geometry.
In the railway scene near the finale, we see many uniformed soldiers, like the station scenes that open The Clock. The uniforms are quite fancy, in the Minnelli tradition. These include both 19th Century style uniforms, recalling the Lancers in The Pirate, and modern-day style uniforms, like those in The Clock and An American in Paris.
Young Tommy is in a blue suit at the end. He looks very juvenile. This recalls the hero of Tea and Sympathy, who complains that his blue suit makes him look like a kid.
Unfortunately, these are embedded in a back-stage story that has unpleasant features.
Some critics have seen Buchanan's character to be a satire on Vincente Minnelli himself, with his various highbrow aspirations in American film. The red smoke that fills Buchanan's Faust sequences seems like a Minnelli signature, after The Pirate and An American in Paris, and gives a bit of credence to this idea.
Despite these problems with anti-intellectualism, a balanced view has to record that the satire on Buchanan's character only goes so far:
Unfortunately, The Band Wagon does little to show concretely why or how high-brow ideas are allegedly incompatible with musicals. First we see Buchanan adding high-brow concepts to the stage production. Then the film cuts to the public or theater pros watching the show, and reacting with displeasure. The Band Wagon doesn't usually show the reasons for their displeasure. Also, we in the audience rarely get a chance to see the finished Faust musical, and judge for ourselves. The Band Wagon thus fails to make its case, that high-brow ideas are bad in musical theater. For myself, I think it is very possible that a musical treatment of Faust might be gripping drama.
The back-stage satire in The Band Wagon is thus not a success, in my judgment. However, it is also important not to overstate its scope or significance. It is just a satirical premise that doesn't work.
The auction house at the start, resembles the jewelry store in Some Came Running.
During "That's Entertainment", Astaire and Fabray materialize as if by magic, when a prop door and frame is moved. This is right in the middle of a long take camera movement, too, which makes the stunt more virtuosic. At the end of The Cobweb, the hero's son suddenly is revealed when a door closes.
When the play first arrives in New Haven, the scenery is spread out over the stage. The numerous staircases recall the storeroom with movie staircases in The Bad and the Beautiful.
Buchanan's study has models of his stage sets. These recall the set models in The Bad and the Beautiful.
During the finale, Buchanan conducts the singers briefly: a motif that runs through Minnelli. The chorus later forms itself into a triangular wedge, with Hal (Robert Gist) in front.
The Band Wagon is full of Minnelli's beloved neon signs. There is even one for the Onyx Bar: we saw a sign with the same name in The Bad and the Beautiful.
Buchanan and Astaire's "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan" number in matching white tie and tails recall all the scenes in Minnelli in which men dress alike. As is typical of these scenes, both Buchanan and Astaire are non-macho types, and the two men are dressed to the nines.
The "men in armor" in the stage elevator comedy scene, recall the armored figures in Lovely to Look At. They also bear candelabra, as in the previous film. They are more explicitly men in The Band Wagon, rather than the androgynous figures in Lovely to Look At.
The male dancers in the ballet, are another Minnelli group of men dressed alike. They wear vests with shiny silver columns.
Astaire's dressing room at the end has an elliptical mirror. He exits from the room on one of Minnelli's spiral staircases.
The choreographer is first seen in a light brown suit. Like many other Minnelli men in brown, he is behaving sinisterly: he is looking out for his own career, and exploiting that of his talented girlfriend.
The favorite Minnelli color scheme of red-and-green appears:
"I Love Louisa" in the hotel room, has many of the characters in clothes that reflect a blue and red-orange color scheme. This pattern will recur in much of Minnelli. A bit of green is mixed in as well: it is often an accent in this scheme.
On opening night, a red-and-yellow taxi drives up. The stage door sign also mixes red-and-yellow. The scene is in the rain, like a much longer and more sinister scene in The Cobweb.
Soon we see the couple walking through the sea of dancers in the Park. This is shot in one long take. Some of the greatest camera movements in Minnelli follow characters moving through crowds. Above all, these climax in the finale of Some Came Running. This shot in The Band Wagon is different, in that the lovers move forward: in most of Minnelli, both the actors and the camera move more-or-less laterally through the crowd. And the pace here is romantically slow and stately, with a hushed, solemn feel. Whereas in most such Minnelli shots, the characters are moving as rapidly and forcefully as possible. Even here, the characters have an implacable quality of moving through the crowd.
The couple enter the main area where they will dance on level ground. But they leave it, at the end, by ascending some steps. Such sunken areas where couples dance romantically, run through Minnelli films.
As a mystery, the ballet revolves around the search for the hidden identity of a criminal figure, Mr. Big. Trying to find the identity of a celebrated but now hidden personage is a common plot approach in Minnelli's mystery films.
The ballet also has "howdunit" features, trying to explain the mechanism behind the mysterious killing.
The ballet is a parody of Mickey Spillane. Spillane had just finished the series of six Mike Hammer detective novels (1947-1952), that somewhat unexpectedly made him the top American best-selling writer. The first of several Mike Hammer movies adaptations would begin in 1953, the same year as The Band Wagon. The parody here is distinctly unfriendly. Its tone is as negative as the full-fledged assault on Mike Hammer that Robert Aldrich would soon create in the film Kiss Me Deadly (1955). The title of the spoof here is "The Girl Hunt", a phrase which lampoons the excesses and misogyny of the Hammer books. Ironically, when Spillane finally renewed the Hammer novels in 1962, it was with a novel called The Girl Hunters. This is a case of life imitating parody. In any event, Mike Hammer virtually embodies the code of mindless machismo for men that Minnelli rebelled against during his whole life. This film treats the hunting down and killing of a woman as a bizarre satire of such Spillane novels as I, The Jury (1947), which ends with just such a scene. Later, Some Came Running will end with a similar sequence, treated in all seriousness as part of its exploration of the problems faced by women and their harassers.
The murder mystery in the ballet takes a single day, from one night to the next. This is the same cycle that ran through Jules Dassin's classic mystery thriller, The Naked City (1948). The ballet here opens and closes with a look at New York City, just like The Naked City. And the narration is like the narration of that film. The killer in The Naked City was tracked down through his harmonica; a trumpet plays a role here. A fashion house plays a prominent role in both films.
The ballet perhaps influenced a later music video, that is also a ballet-parody of hard-boiled mystery fiction. This is the version of "The Peter Gunn Theme" (1986) played by The Art of Noise, and directed by Matt Forrest. This video also has stylized sets, like Minnelli's ballet.
The subway recalls The Clock, and the nightclub full of gamblers the later sections of Cabin in the Sky. The bathtub scene invokes Yolanda and the Thief. Perhaps only super-stylist Minnelli would base a murder mystery on matching a swath of a unique piece of fabric! And such a fabric recalls the brou-ha-ha over the curtain material in The Cobweb. The smoke that shows up in the murder and the second attempt in the night club resembles the smoke in dance sequences in The Pirate and An American in Paris.
Color is surreal and non-naturalistic in the ballet. Minnelli heroines frequently appear in red dresses. Cyd Charisse wears the ultimate slinky red dress here (every gal should have one!) She is also full of diamonds.
There is surrealist imagery in the ballet, too. The sign over the nightclub recalls the other kinetic art imagery in Minnelli. The dismembered body parts of the dummies recall the mutilated snowmen in Meet Me in St. Louis. The androgynous Mr. Big also is prefigured in the cross-dressing Halloween scenes in Meet Me in St. Louis.
The kicks used by Astaire to fight off hoods at the bar, return in the kicks used by dancer Jack Cole at the end of Designing Woman.
The chorus boys here are playing hoods, and are all dressed alike. They recall other Minnelli groups of men who also dress alike. Just as a non-macho group of young chorus boys played reporters in Ziegfeld Follies, here the equally gentle looking men play members of an even more traditionally hard-boiled profession, hoodlums. Their high kicks are turned into menacing gestures of attack, in a kind of visual pun.
Much of The Long, Long Trailer doesn't work very well, considered purely as comedy. The story can be more aggravating than funny. The funniest bit: when Lucy rides inside the moving trailer, and flour starts spilling everywhere. This scene is enhanced by Desi Arnaz singing opera variations outside.
In some ways, like Madame Bovary and Father of the Bride, The Long, Long Trailer is about a wife who spends at a level far above her means, getting herself or her husband into financial trouble. Certainly, the wives in all three films are addicted to a luxury product or life style. All three films offer dire warnings about materialism and the "consumer good society". However, there are differences. Unlike the heroines of the other two films, the wife in The Long, Long Trailer is not buying a status symbol, trying to impress others, or attempting to move into a higher social class. Her desire for a trailer might be foolish, but she wants it for its own sake, not for status.
Also, it is the husband's job that causes the couple to move around. Unlike the women in Meet Me in St. Louis, who are horrified when the husband wants to move for his job, the wife in The Long, Long Trailer is giving her full cooperation with this moving. Her buying a mobile home is a fairly logical response.
The Long, Long Trailer shows genuine curiosity about the external world. It takes a detailed interest in the trailer phenomenon, just as The Cobweb will explore another 1950's institution, the psychiatric clinic, Tea and Sympathy will look at both prep schools and the war on gays, and Two Weeks in Another Town will explore Cinecitta.
The husband is an engineer. People who work with technology occasionally appear in Minnelli, most importantly in Undercurrent, which also has engineer characters.
The couple first met, according to the dialogue, at the opening of a new highway. Presumably the husband had a connection to this, as an engineer. The Long, Long Trailer seems in part to be a look at a new mobile America, building super-highways in the 1950's, and putting people on the road in new mobile lifestyles.
Minnelli's show-biz sagas often show technology. We see lights back stage (Till the Clouds Roll By), a camera boom (The Bad and the Beautiful), a television rehearsal (Designing Woman), the inside of a radio station (The Courtship of Eddie's Father). There is also all the radio in the finale of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
The trailer show resembles the arcades in The Band Wagon, The Courtship of Eddie's Father. Both consist of huge interiors, filled with machines, and crowds of happy people being entertained and bemused by them. The trailer show has a band playing on the left hand side: like the dancing couples in Central Park at the start of "Dancing in the Dark" in The Band Wagon.
The wife becomes a missing person. There is some dialogue about this, at the start of the film - but we don't actually see a search. This is unlike other Minnelli films with disappearing characters - the search is usually extensive, and the climax of the film. The disappearance here, and reconciliation afterwards, are in the rain - as in The Cobweb.
The best scene in The Long, Long Trailer is the passage through the mountains. This is both funny and terrifying. It resembles the finale of Two Weeks in Another Town, with a couple having a terrifying experience in a car. And Undercurrent, with suspense on a cliff. The odd and very funny dialogue about a book and movie, resembles a bit the elliptical talk about culture in some Minnelli party scenes.
In both films, these scenes have the effect of encounters between alien worlds. There is tension: always the hope that everything will go OK, and not lead to problems. It never does. And also the working men are not caricatured. The trailer teacher is a bit of an expansive personality - but not mean or malicious. Minnelli emphasizes the class differences, by having the working class men in uniforms. And the husband is unexpectedly in his dressiest dark suit, before he meets with the tow-men at the garage - probably to underline his white collar status visually.
The wife also sees moving lights (from other vehicles) against the trailer window at night.
The shower scene has the husband squirted in the face - like the "opening soft drinks" comedy in Father of the Bride.
The Long, Long Trailer contains the tossed items frequent in Minnelli:
It includes some of Minnelli's red-green scenes:
The opening shot mixes green with purple-ish darkness and shadows. Green-and-purple is a color scheme found elsewhere in Minnelli - but here he mixes it with a red sign.
At the party in the trailer (first night at trailer park) two women are in red-and-white shirts. This is a frequent color scheme in Minnelli for women's clothes. The bar at the party is full of colorful citrus fruit.
Later, the wife shows her cooking skills, by dishing up a beautiful compote (dessert?) in two tones of red.
The relatives' house is yellow, with lots of green foliage. This is echoed by the yellow roses with green leaves. There is also a contrast with the strange neutral tone of the porch pillars. (The relatives themselves are in a different color scheme: mainly a version of the blue vs red/orange colors. This extends to the wonderful pink dress worn by Madge Blake, and the purple clothes of "poor Grace". The husband, as befitting an outsider, is in black-and-white, a third color scheme here.)
The big suspense scene in the mountains, also combines the yellow trailer with the only other touch of color, the wife's green blouse.
The trailer has a checkerboard floor: often associated with women-controlled spaces in Minnelli. The trailer is definitely the domain of the wife. The husband trips on the floor: also a common Minnelli image associated with checkerboard floors.
The pink wedding cake is a series of concentric circular stacked cylinders. This is soon echoed by the circular pink hats the women wear at the wedding: all of which also feature concentric circles. There are at least three different kinds. The bridesmaids' wear large circular "picture hats", with a raised round area at the center. And there are at least two different kinds of individual pink circular hats among the other ladies, one almost like a man's straw hat, the other with a big cicrular hole in its center. The whole effect is strikingly geometric.
When people leave the wedding reception, they exit to the lawn by a door with a circular arch on top.
The loudspeaker is cone shaped.
The pillows inside the trailer, in its first appearance at the trailer show, are full of nested squares - what would later be called an Op Art effect in the 1960's. Similar looking pillows show up on the couch of the young couple in Father's Little Dividend.
The retreat-to-the-olden-days premise lacks appeal to me. This is something that especially affects the second half of the movie. By contrast, the first half of Brigadoon is rich in song and dance, and appealingly upbeat. The first half does not stress any of the fantasy premises much. The transition to fantasy occurs almost exactly half-way through, when the hero discovers the truth in the family Bible.
Waitin' For My Dearie. This number recalls Meet Me in St. Louis, with a house of young women singing innocently of their dreams of men. It also serves as a cross-dressing scene, with one of the women dressed in a sketchy, home-made version of men's clothes, like Tootie at Halloween in Meet Me in St. Louis.
Down On McConnachy Square. This fair recalls the local color scenes in Yolanda and the Thief. Some sticks are propped up with forked rods, that recall the antlers in earlier Minnelli movies. The scene with the dyeing is fascinating, in light of Minnelli's obsession with color. It shows Minnelli imagery being created: here color.
I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean. This is the most energetic number in the picture. It is full of men dancing with other men, somewhat unusual in traditional musicals. Jimmy Thompson is a terrific singer, here and doing "Beautiful Girl" in Singin' in the Rain. What ever happened to this guy, and why didn't he become a big movie star?
First Kelly and Van Johnson learn the song from Thompson. They also learn how to sing high. Then the roles are reversed, and the Scotsmen learn tap dance from Kelly and Van Johnson. Having men learn a way of movement from other men, oddly anticipates Tea and Sympathy, where the hero learns how to walk from his roommate.
The Heather on the Hill. Although it takes place outdoors, this set recalls a Minnelli garden. As in other Minnelli garden sequences, there is a path for the characters to follow, flowers, and the colors of white, red-orange and green are prominent on their clothing.
Almost Like Being In Love. This takes place in a similar garden-like setting, with the hero still in his green shirt.
Come to Me, Bend to Me. This deleted song is on the DVD. Jimmy Thompson can't see his bride, according to local tradition, but he can sing to her unseen, masked by the house. This recalls Minnelli scenes in which women hear male voices: Georgia Brown getting infernal communications in Cabin in the Sky, Montand singing "Come Back to Me" to Streisand in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. However, both of those scenes involve a man manipulating a woman against her will, while the couple in "Come to Me, Bend to Me" both want to talk to each other. One also recalls the Crow's Nest scene in The Bad and the Beautiful, in which the hero first encounters Lana Turner as a disembodied voice from the ceiling.
The way Jimmy Thompson climbs the roof, recalls the hero exiting from his upstairs bedroom window in Tea and Sympathy. It also recalls Gene Kelly's scrambling in The Pirate.
The Wedding. This opens with a marching band, all in identical clothes - another Minnelli example of men dressing alike. The yellow costumes involve kilts: they are formal wear, but not quite uniforms in any traditional sense.
The wedding soon involves a look down a steep hill at crowds below: anticipating the staging of the manhunt in Minnelli's next film, The Cobweb.
The dancers sometimes form wheels, walking around in spokes from central points. This recalls "Good Neighbors" in Panama Hattie. Earlier, large groups of men also wheeled around the singer in "I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean".
The Sword Dance. This deleted number survives on DVD. Once again, we have men dancing with men. It begins with drumming, in a traditional military style, unlike the jazz drummers common in other Minnelli. Minnelli shows fires being lit from torches: another example of the fascination with fire that runs through his films. This is one of both the most macho and militaristic scenes in Minnelli. It seems full of tension, and anticipates the all-male ritual of "tearing off the clothes" in Tea and Sympathy, which also takes place outside at night, and with fire.
The Chase. This song is a musical version, of the sort of frantic hunt for a missing person that often forms a climax in Minnelli. It takes place at night and around water, anticipating the desperate search in Minnelli's next film, The Cobweb.
It ends with the hunter accidentally shooting the missing man - another scene in which Minnelli shows skepticism about hunting.
From This Day On. This deleted song is on the DVD. A romantic number for Kelly and Charisse, their clothes are in that Minnelli favorite, red-and-green. One of Minnelli's beloved statues is in the background. The setting is stone ruins. They look like the set for the Oedipus Rex play in The Band Wagon, which is later used to sing "That's Entertainment".
The number ends with a big clinch, in which the couple are nearly in a prone position. It oddly anticipates the picnic in Home from the Hill, which is also in red-and-green, and which includes a plaid blanket.
The torches carried as people run through "The Chase", also have elements of Light Art and Kinetic Art.
When the swords are held up in the air at the start of "The Sword Dance", most flash with light.
Brigadoon fades away into that Minnelli favorite, mist. Unlike some other Minnelli, this mist is not brightly colored.
The taffy pull at the fair is also fascinatingly Kinetic on-screen.
The bowling can also be considered as Kinetic Art.
The woman who pursues Van Johnson, has a rocking chair, in which she rocks vigorously.
In many Minnelli films, women dancers use long strips of cloth. The waving of such cloth has Kinetic Art aspects. In Brigadoon, such cloth is instead used by the men. In "The Sword Dance", the men hold out their long shawls, while they whirl around. And in "Almost Like Being In Love", Kelly waves his jacket as a hand-held prop.
The heroine has what seems to be a lace-making frame, one of many crafts that run through Brigadoon. We only see a little of it in operation.
The ale kegs in the square are cylindrical. There are large stationary ones, and a small keg tossed around while dancing "I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean".
The column in front of which people dance "I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean", is on a two-layer platform. Both layers look polygonal. The upper layer seems octagonal, with cut-off corners.
The basket Charisse carries has a shape part way between a circle and a square. It looks similar to what mathematicians call a super-ellipse. These are fascinating figures, that were introduced into the design world by the Danish polymath Piet Hein.
The bridge is sharply geometrical. It has an upper angle. Below is a circular arch, through which people pass in "The Chase".
Kelly and Charisse dance under a circular arc of an arch, in "From This Day On".
The wall outside the heroine's house has an opening surrounded by step-like architecture. Jimmy Thompson climbs up them to the roof, in the deleted number "Come to Me, Bend to Me".
The swords in "The Sword Dance" make giant X's, first held in the air, then placed on the ground.
When Charlie is first seen, he is in a yellow tunic, with pink shirt underneath, and red plaid trousers. At his wedding, he is in related clothes: a pink tunic, with yellow shirt underneath: a reverse of the colors. This is a bit like the paired clowns in "D'Ya Love Me" in Till the Clouds Roll By, who are the reverse of each other's clothes in colors. At the wedding, Charlie is now in a red plaid kilt, similar in color, but different in shape from his original trousers. His clothes seem queerer, with pink prominent and a kilt.
The clothes in "I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean" are mainly in shades of red, yellow and blue. This combination in Minnelli is often associated with cheerful, upbeat vulgarity. "I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean" is certainly festive and upbeat, but it is refined, and not at all vulgar. There is also a little orange, and one man in a green shirt.
The New York bar has orange seats, as is common in Minnelli. There are also orange and blue pictures on the walls. Men are often in light blue-grayish suits. This gives the scene a blue-and-orange color scheme, something that Minnelli would frequently use in his later films. A woman goes by with a conical orange hat, and a matching orange dress. The hero and his girlfriend are in variations on white, black and silver-gray, setting them apart from the color scheme at the bar.
The town of Brigadoon is a strict Christian community, separated from the outside world. In this, it recalls the strict religious schools in other Minnelli films.
The scenes of the characters awakening at the start, after a hundred years' sleep, recall Barbra Streisand in bed trying to sleep in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Both fantasy films were written by Alan Jay Lerner.
Both films involve the past intermixing into the present. And contrasts between characters from older Britain, with modern day New York City.
The bar sequence has the words of other characters replaced by voices from the hero's memories of Brigadoon. This anticipates a bit the more fantasy-oriented "Come Back To Me" song in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, in which the hero's voice takes over the speech of various New Yorkers, at least to the heroine's perception. It also recalls the hero's song in Maxim's in Gigi, which is heard as a voice-over, recording his thoughts as a reaction to the events around him in the restaurant.
Richard Widmark and Gloria Grahame play a couple who are married with children. Like the families in Meet Me in St. Louis and Father of the Bride, the brother's family in Some Came Running, and the family in Home from the Hill, they are affluent, and live in a big, lavish house. They seem especially close to the characters in Father of the Bride and Some Came Running, being a modern day family in a "typically American" locale. Like the families in Father of the Bride and Some Came Running, they are totally socially respectable. The houses all these families live in reflect this, being in the height of bourgeois good taste, if also ostentatious. Also like Some Came Running, the couple are troubled by inclinations towards adultery.
Just as the father in Father of the Bride and the brother in Some Came Running have secretaries, so are secretaries present at the asylum.
There are also links to Tea and Sympathy, which Minnelli would film the next year. The troubled young artist in The Cobweb is played by John Kerr, who had already appeared in Tea and Sympathy on Broadway, and who would go on to star in Minnelli's film. In both The Cobweb and Tea and Sympathy, Kerr plays a vulnerable young man, trying to cope with the difficult group life at an all-encompassing institution. In both, he has a professional-personal relationship with a male authority figure: psychiatrist Widmark in The Cobweb, the headmaster in Tea and Sympathy. And in both films, he has a much more sympathetic relationship with the authority figure's wife.
In The Cobweb, Kerr also has a sympathetic relationship with Widmark's girlfriend, nurse Lauren Bacall. And Bacall's character recalls the wife in Tea and Sympathy in another way: she lost her husband some years back, and is still mourning him. Her nurse character is called Rinehart. One wonders if this might be a homage to the real life author Mary Roberts Rinehart, who started life as a nurse, and who wrote some fiction about nurses.
Widmark's son anticipates the hero's son in The Courtship of Eddie's Father. Both are strikingly mature boys, who cope intelligently with the grown-up trauma around them.
The characters in The Cobweb are intellectual. Bacall, Kerr and the print maker are artists. Widmark's son plays chess, and his daughter plays classical piano: Weber's Invitation to the Dance. Both Bacall and Grahame listen to classical music, Bacall on one of the portable phonographs that run through Minnelli. The discussions in the asylum seem intellectual.
The patients are shown spread out all over the library during the government meetings, in separate chairs. It is a visual indication of their autonomous nature.
A number of Minnelli films show doctors pioneering with innovative treatments. In Madame Bovary, such treatment is purely medical, a new surgical procedure. But the new childbirth methods in Father's Little Dividend involve both medicine, and increased patient awareness and participation. The doctor in Father's Little Dividend wants to keep women awake and un-drugged during childbirth, and he is vociferously supported in this by his patient, mother-to-be Elizabeth Taylor. This is closer to Widmark's advocacy of patients' self-governance in The Cobweb, which is partly designed to make their psychological treatment more effective, and partly to protect the patients' dignity as human beings, and ability to understand and participate in their own lives.
Small groups which get - or do not get - to make decisions in Minnelli, include:
The patients' problems shown in The Cobweb are fairly narrow in range. Patients John Kerr and Oscar Levant seem to be suffering from bad childhoods and/or mean parents; the same was true of Lauren Bacall. Getting over this and learning to cope seems to be at the core of their treatment. This is not especially Freudian. Nor does it deal with a vast range of mental illness now facing huge segments of the population, such as depression, autism or schizophrenia.
How effective is psychological therapy, as depicted in The Cobweb? This is a tricky question, and I will argue that the film is ambiguous on this issue. One might note that well-known critics disagree: Serge Daney thought The Cobweb shows limitless enthusiasm for Freudian analysis, while Andrew Britton characterized The Cobweb as indicting "failed bourgeois analysis"! I have to respectfully disagree with both of these serious scholars.
Crucially, the main treatment seen in The Cobweb, that of suffering artist John Kerr, is explicitly characterized as a failure at the end, by lead psychiatrist Richard Widmark. However, it is unclear what causes this failure. The complex network of failed personal and professional interaction - the "cobweb" of the title - seems to be to blame. But how typical are such complex events of most real life therapy? Few patients in the real world are enmeshed in disputes over drapes. Or is the film suggesting that such events are all-too-typical of analysis in real life? It is frankly hard to say. We see a failure of treatment, but not a clear statement of how widespread such failure is in the real world. This is all ambiguous: perhaps even "evasive". The Cobweb, at least in its current cut form, just doesn't fully address the issue of whether therapy is generally successful at the clinic, or in the United States as a whole.
The art therapy offered by Lauren Bacall seems to be good for the patients. It doesn't fully cure them, but it does seem to help them. However, the film doesn't show much that is "psychological" about this treatment. It looks similar to a class that might be taken in an art school, by a regular art student who is not involved in therapy in any way.
The date between John Kerr and Susan Strasberg seems to help them, far more than any therapy.
The only unequivocally successful therapy referred to in The Cobweb, is the past therapy Lauren Bacall briefly refers to, in dialogue discussing her life. Her dialogue does indeed endorse therapy.
SPOILER. The arrangement at the clinic, with the board secretly putting Widmark in charge while making it look as if Boyer is still in charge, is also a bad idea sure to lead to problems. It is cruelly unfair to Vickie Inch (Lillian Gish) and other employees, who now do not know who their boss is, or whose directions to follow in their work. Vickie Inch has no idea at first that Widmark is in charge, and his actions understandably look to her like interference in her work. This is not Vickie Inch's fault: it is the board's fault.
Vickie Inch regards protecting her turf as more important that exploring therapy that might help the patients, and her sarcastic manners could use improvement. But actually, she acts in an honest, responsible and business-like manner throughout the entire film. Her character deserves a great deal of sympathy and respect. Vickie Inch's job involves procuring drapes and other supplies, and she is performing that job in the most cost-effective manner possible. This seems like a Good Thing to me.
Other objects in The Cobweb can also perhaps be seen as Kinetic Art:
The bay window, seen from outside the asylum, is in the shape of an incomplete, partial octagon.
The restaurant where Boyer and Grahame have dinner, is filled with circular forms: the booth, the table, the conical red lamp.
The circular breakfast nook in Widmark's kitchen makes striking compositions.
Later, Deveraux will be under a diamond-patterned bedspread in his motel room.
The clinic exterior is full of WASPy, dignified, high toned, but frighteningly upper crust looking buildings. It looks like the even WASPier prep school buildings to come, seen at the opening of Tea and Sympathy. Both sets of buildings loom up in the background, behind activities of groups of grown-ups in front.
The motel has a red-orange neon sign outside, anticipating the neon in Some Came Running. The boozy, slobby motel room recalls the low life locales seen in Some Came Running, too: and both are settings for personal indulgence. This sequence forms a contrast with the upper crust, dignified settings seen throughout the rest of The Cobweb.
The movie theater is full of happy people. They can be frighteningly boisterous, and thus scary to the phobic, shy heroine, but they look decent and kindly, too. The red chairs of the theater anticipate the screening room in Two Weeks in Another Town. And the motion of the couple outside the theater, pushing against the motion of the crowd, anticipates the finale of Some Came Running.
Both Kerr and Strasberg, and some of the movie patrons, are young people. By 1955, Hollywood had long known that the core of its audience was teenagers and folks in their early twenties. The Cobweb is an example of the non-condescending way in which studio era Hollywood tried to appeal to young viewers, with Kerr's gifted young artist a character with whom young people can identify.
The waterside setting, the bridge and the bonfire in the finale, are all Minnelli motifs.
In the hospital, we hear snatches of dialogue, from the patients. These are impassioned conversations about intellectual subjects. Minnelli clearly admires the commitment of such people to the life of the mind. But his satirizes their manners a bit, too. Such half-overheard conversations will return in the party scene in Bells Are Ringing. In both films, the conversations are picked up in the middle, and the audience does not fully understand their content.
The movie theater crowd in The Cobweb also anticipate the party in Bells Are Ringing, in that in both films a woman weaves among them, who feels like an outsider, and who is scared of everyone socially in the crowd.
The movie goers include a group of nice young men, in casual clothes. They anticipate the groups of nice young men we will see on the streets of Parkman, Indiana, in Some Came Running.
Black-and-white clothes are often associated with the arts in Minnelli. The concert-goers wear them in The Cobweb, the party guests are theater people in Bells Are Ringing, and the artist's ball in An American in Paris also features them. Artist John Kerr in The Cobweb also wears black-and-white in some scenes.
In the dining hall, when Kerr first asks Strasberg to go the movies, she is wearing a bright red dress. This makes her stand out from the crowd. It anticipates the dress in a similar shade of red, worn by the heroine at the party in Bells Are Ringing.
Once inside the car, we switch to a new color scheme: Kerr's blue shirt, red gladiolas, Grahame's mauve dress. In some ways, this is like the "blue and orange-red" color scheme, that is so important in both The Cobweb, and Minnelli's work as a whole. (The gladiolas will soon reappear in the hallway vase at Grahame and Widmark's home.)
When Oscar Levant gives bad news about the drapes to Kerr, he is in a brown sport jacket. Brown is sometimes seen as a negative color in Minnelli: the brown clothes worn by has-been Astaire on the train at the start of The Band Wagon, the brown clothes worn by Louis Jourdan, when he tries to convert the heroine of Gigi into a courtesan. Not to mention the nasty, brown-suited mob enforcers in Designing Woman and Bells Are Ringing.
The express deliveryman who delivers the curtains to Grahame, is in a brown uniform. It looks less appealing than the black-and-white workman uniforms in other Minnelli films. And the arrival of the curtains is probably bad news for everyone...
Soon they go home. The house is full of orange, with occasional accents of blue. We are now in the blue / orange color scheme, so important in many Minnelli films.
The heroine is in a yellow-orange dress, which is in complete but pleasing contrast with all the white, green and red in the garden. When she joins in with the song, the camera moves to reveal some orange colored leaves in the foreground. The orange seems to pick up and harmonize with the yellow-orange color of her dress.
During the song, the characters walk down a path in the hillside garden. The path is marked out by low white fences. It also includes pavilions, and other places of rest along the way. The following by the camera of characters walking on a staircase recalls Minnelli's idol Max Ophuls. As in Ophuls, the characters are on a predetermined path, one carefully designed for both walking and the moving camera. One difference: here the path seems to be a ramp, unlike the stepped staircases one typically meets in Ophuls.
There are several shots at the beginning, while the characters are still talking. Even here, Minnelli is sparing with cuts, preferring to follow his lovers with a moving camera, in the manner of Ophuls. When the singing actually starts, the whole rest of the sequence is shot in two long takes.
The Caliph (Vic Damone) is undercover as a commoner here, in the Arabian Nights tradition. He is one of several young men in Minnelli of position, who secretly take on new roles and alliances with social outsiders. See also brother Lon in Meet Me in St. Louis, the roommate in Tea and Sympathy, and the hero of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Vic Damone sings very well here. He was mainly known as a singer, not an actor, and made only a few films, notably Richard Thorpe's Athena (1954) and Phil Karlson's Hell to Eternity (1960). In all three, he was a supporting performer, not the star. Like most of the singers promoted by Mitch Miller, Damone had an earnest manner and clear diction: one could understand every word he sang.
Next year, Minnelli will include another hillside garden in Tea and Sympathy, one that is also largely green. The hero of that film will be an expert gardener: the same role that the Caliph here (Vic Damone) is pretending to take on. In both films, the garden is owned by the heroine, who asks the hero's advice about what to grow in the garden. In both films, the garden is a private place of refuge for the hero and heroine. They have intimate conversations there, in a protected environment. The hero enters the garden in Tea and Sympathy from above, then moves to the lower section of the garden down the hill; both characters do the same here. The title song in Gigi, and the first scene where the hero and schoolteacher walk down from the white mansion through the curving paths of the green garden to the summer house in Some Came Running, also seem close to these scenes.
A later dance number has swirling lines on its floor, like marbled paper or a knot in a wood panel. It somewhat recalls the more geometric waving lines on the floor in the "Coffee Time" number in Yolanda and the Thief. This dance is full of braziers with large flames. They recall the outdoor bonfires in other Minnelli.
There are men in fancy medieval armor, before "Not Since Ninevah". Such non-standard armor also occurs in Lovely to Look At and The Band Wagon. It is far from the standard armor worn by European knights, at least in old movies! Minnelli armor is decorative and complex. It varies from film to film, and seems utterly distinctive.
Tony Duquette did the costumes for Kismet. He reportedly also did the many tall ornamental finials and wands carried by people in the film. They do not resemble much of anything else in film history. The way they can be carried and moved around reminds one a bit of the Kinetic Art aspects of Minnelli's other films.
The procession opens with sparklers. Towards the end, the women carrying the sparklers reappear, moving in the opposite direction from the procession. The two lines of motion recall the moving sidewalk in "This Heart of Mine" from Ziegfeld Follies.
The procession also carries a canopy, over the Caliph's head. It recalls the pavilions on thin pillars in other Minnelli: only this pavilion is movable.
"Baubles, Bangles, and Beads" also has cloth screens, raised and lowered to hide the heroine as she changes costume. They recall the cloth items that forms screen-like effects in other Minnelli, such as the wash in Cabin in the Sky. She is shown numerous cloth samples by merchants, recalling the curtain samples in The Cobweb.
The market has a rotating polygonal wheel, apparently used to spin yarn. The market recalls the one in Brigadoon, with cloth production being a feature of both.
Dolores Gray is carried in a movable litter, before the start of "Not Since Ninevah". So are the three princesses. Other movable litters are seen in other sections of Kismet.
Dolores Gray tosses coins before "Not Since Ninevah". The woman dancers wear skirts with a loop of hanging bells. This recalls the bells worn by Levant and Fabray at the train station in The Band Wagon.
Painting is an art. But it is also a technological craft. Lust for Life examines painting the way other Minnelli films explore technology like trailers and phones. It also shows the sociological world of painters, the way a comedy like The Long, Long Trailer shows trailer life.
While Lust for Life is correctly called a "biographical film", its thorough grounding in a technical subject should be highlighted as well.
Lust for Life also gives fairly in-depth look at some other worlds: the mining community near the start, and the asylum at the end. Both of these worlds also have scientific or technological foundations.
In Minnelli comedies like The Long, Long Trailer, trailer life threatens to swallow the hero whole, taking over and nearly wrecking his life. In Bells Are Ringing, the heroine's job with an answering service also takes over her life and identity. This is treated as comedy in both films, but it also is shown with a great deal of detail. In Lust for Life, the hero does "go under", in a full tragic mode. Oddly enough, it his problems are not necessarily attributed to painting, per se.
The hero of The Clock has a special lighter which he gives to the heroine. In Lust for Life, Van Gogh lights Gauguin's cigarette with his pipe, in an intimate moment.
Van Gogh makes his entrance, when he is revealed behind an opening door, and some seminary students. Such revealed characters are a common Minnelli staging.
Much of the church office is in dark colors. But there are also green surfaces and red books, making this in a red-green color scheme.
The music room where the hero preaches his sermon, anticipates the music room in Tea and Sympathy where the hero meets with his roommate.
The rural setting includes the water side scenes that run through Minnelli. And a romantic picnic in the woods, as in Cabin in the Sky and Home from the Hill. Later, there seems to be an octagonal chapel glimpsed in the background - although its exact shape is hard to determine from the single view.
Van Gogh is the most frighteningly lacking of all Minnelli characters that lack social skills, and the ability to fit in with society.
He is also the character most victimized, by society's judging of potential marriage partners by their finances.
The Paris and early Arles sequences, are mainly in that favorite Minnelli color scheme, red-orange and blue. Minnelli links settings, clothes, props and paintings to this color scheme.
In Arles, we see a yellow house with green shutters.
A scene where Van Gogh and Gauguin paint outside, is in a red-green color scheme.
The candles in Van Gogh's hat, one of the most memorable images in the film, are a variation on the candelabra that run through Minnelli. They project Van Gogh as a source of light. The candles also exemplify the Light Art in Minnelli - although they are a bit different from the typical "glowing objects with inner light" often seen in Minnelli.
The woman's paint shop, where we meet Gauguin, has a checkerboard floor. Many female-run spaces in Minnelli have such floors.
Camille Pissarro speaks against a background of statues.
Van Gogh is followed in his house, by what seems to be a through-the-wall camera movement. It is a bit hard to tell - it might be a movement through a door.
The room that Van Gogh prepares for Gauguin, is also a powerful image. It is an environment with a linked series of pictures: like the proposed library with curtains that contain Kerr's art in The Cobweb. The room is beautiful: filled with Van Gogh's astonishing paintings of sunflowers, all grouped together. It is a love offering to another man.
The tube of paint squeezed by the hero in his emotional distress, can be seen as one of the kinetic art objects in Minnelli. It is one of the smallest of such kinetic objects. But it does has a moving part: the paint that comes out of the tube.
The ballet in An American in Paris recreates styles of famous artists' paintings, and has the characters moving around inside of them. But that was a bit of fantasy, as a background for a ballet. The scenes in Lust for Life are more realistic in appearance, and function as a surreal version of reality. On a more prosaic level, each season in Meet Me in St. Louis opens with a painting that comes to life.
This film is more "realistic" than most other films, in recording a major social event that was occurring, but which was taboo to mention. It echoes other such notices in Minnelli. Minnelli is often (correctly) thought of as an aesthete. Yet, Minnelli is one of the few film makers to record to ugly reality of child labor, in Lust For Life. He was one of the first in Hollywood to offer prominent roles to black people. His feminist films in Meet Me in St. Louis and The Sandpiper were ahead of their time.
Tea and Sympathy is one of the first films since Anders als die Andern §175 / Different from the Others (Paragraph 175) (Richard Oswald, 1919) to treat gay people as a politically and socially persecuted minority.
The hero of the play is a sensitive heterosexual, who through a series of unfortunate coincidences, is tagged as a possible gay by his peers. The play shows him then being unfairly attacked by the school for this. The hero of the film is different. He is genuinely female like. There is something differently gendered about him. His personality and gender identity are deeply female. The hero of the play is simply an ordinary guy who gets a wrong label put on him, something that can happen to anybody, the play suggests. The attitudes of everyone else to him is simply a misunderstanding. By contrast, the hero of the film is correctly understood by everyone around him. He is a different sort of person, with a different gender than his peers. Everyone correctly understands this. All the subplot in the play about the swim scene that led to the "misunderstanding" has been removed in the film. Instead, the movie makes clear that the hero is correctly understood by everyone around him to be differently gendered. He is the real thing: a hero who is different inside sexually.
Other changes in the play and film reflect the treatment of gayness. The word homosexual could not be used in the movies, nor could gays be shown, according to the Production Code. The film sticks to these restrictions. I am not trying to defend these censorship rules, which were clearly designed to belittle gay people. But the pro-gay film Tea and Sympathy has perhaps used them to advantage, somewhat paradoxically. The play had two characters who represented Evil Adult Homosexuals. This has been removed from the movie version. Because of this, while the play depicted gayness as evil, the movie does not. By any standards, this is a big step up, morally and politically. The change is particularly striking in the treatment of the coach, an obnoxious villain in both play and film. In the play, he is a repressed gay. The revelation about these yearnings at the play's end is treated as a big, guilty secret, showing how Evil and Rotten he is. All of this has been toned down, perhaps eliminated in the film. The coach in the film seems to be heterosexual. He is still rotten to the core. But the film traces his viciousness to his rigid adherence to macho norms. In the film, these norms are seen as a sick part of mainstream heterosexual culture. The coach is seen as representing heterosexuals at their worst. He is a person who spends much of his time enforcing macho norms, and persecuting anyone who falls outside of them.
If one defines male gayness as "a man being sexually attracted to other men", it is unclear whether the hero of the film is gay or not. Throughout the first half of the film, he has two friends who support him: his male roommate, and the female wife of his house master. It is unclear if he is sexually attracted to either of these people. He has a close emotional tie to both. The ambiguity here is clearly a concession to the censor. It allows a hero to get by who is different, but still keeps open the possibility that he is straight.
The finale of both the play and film finds the hero sleeping with the house master's wife. In the play, this is a logical conclusion to the premise of the drama. The hero of the play is a misunderstood heterosexual. It makes perfect sense for him to sleep with a woman, thus confirming his true nature. The finale of the play is one of the most famous scenes in American Theater. However, the finale becomes far more problematic in the film. The protagonist in the film is not a conventional heterosexual. He might be gay, he might be transgendered, he might be some relatively unique kind of gender mosaic. Sleeping with a woman may or may not make sense in terms of his sexual identity. Consequently, this finale seems less like a logical conclusion, and more like yet another strange event endured by the hero. Minnelli's dream-like approach to filming this scene adds to the sense of strangeness here.
I liked the first half of this film more than the second. In the first half, the hero is proud of his nature, and accepting of what he is. He is defiant of society. In the second half, he seems to become ashamed, and self-hating. He is also understandably upset about all the persecution and ostracism he is getting from society and his family, so his distress here is not all self-hate. Still, I wish he had been defiant to the end.
But the roommate in Tea and Sympathy has fewer options than brother Lon in Meet Me in St. Louis. Lon could apparently do anything he wanted, and as an upper middle class proper young man, would be automatically supported by society around him. He was very privileged. By contrast, the roommate's attempts to help the hero of Tea and Sympathy are immediately curtailed by authority figures around him. He has far fewer options than Lon, although he does manage genuinely to aid the hero, and in real defiance of people in the school.
Richard Widmark in The Cobweb is trying to establish a code of patient privacy at the asylum. He meets some severe opposition from clinic staff, who are used to regulating all aspects of patients' lives. If such a code of privacy had been in place at the school in Tea and Sympathy, it would have been an immense help to the student hero. He could have argued that his love life was his own private business, and no concern of anyone else's. However, at the school everyone feels that students' sexual orientations and romantic lives should be totally controlled by the school. This viewpoint is aggressively shared by students, teachers and parents, all of whom hate gays. So there is support for the school being what is actually a totalitarian institution, controlling the most intimate aspects of students' lives.
There is no such thing as privacy in Tea and Sympathy. One of the most frightening things is that every tiny action is immediately reported to parents, who all talk to each other. The whole school is under a level of surveillance that makes the Panopticon seem mild. Surveillance appears in other Minnelli films:
Of all these films, both by Minnelli and Bresson, Tea and Sympathy is the most realistic in presenting a real-life correlative for this monitoring. Both French and American societies of the 1950's through 1970's did constantly monitor people, to prevent them from expressing gayness.
However, both the hero and his roommate, both sympathetic, are also shown to be good at sports. It is seen as unfair, that the hero's skill with sports does not buy him any support from his father, or fellow students.
The coach has a large number of photographs on his wall celebrating sports. This is another Minnelli character with a wall shrine of images. Such shrines can be bad (Madame Bovary with her wall of foolish romantic fantasies) or good (brother Theo with Vincent's paintings in Lust for Life).
Sinister gossip takes place in the locker room, just as it will in The Sandpiper. "Locker room gossip" is a standard phrase, suggesting the lowest form of malicious sexual gossip. Both of these Minnelli movies literalize this cliché, with frightening results.
The heroine is shown playing golf, also like the rich men in The Sandpiper. Her sports activity seems neutral. Both films associate golf with socially prestigious characters, who are connected to elite private schools.
In a completely different context, the heroine's green thumb in her garden, anticipates the flower growing heroine of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.
The hero's closet door is opened, revealing the dress to his father. A swinging door is very simple, compared to the Kinetic Art in other Minnelli, but it does serve to add some motion to the scene. It also recalls a more elaborate example of Kinetic Art: the opening door in the hero's room at the start of An American in Paris, and the complex furniture that emerges.
The revolving barbershop pole is also Kinetic Art.
The neon sign at the restaurant has a rim that blinks on and off. The sign is seen to turn off, at the start of the Ellie sequence.
The heroine drives a convertible with the top down, in the climactic sequence.
The soda fountain at Ellie's resembles Kinetic Art a bit. It can be construed as a small cousin to all the fountains and showers in Minnelli - although this is perhaps stretching it.
Ellie has not-quite-hexagonal wallpaper. Diamond-shaped wall patterns are associated with male spaces in Minnelli; these hexagons seem like an odd variant. Ellie's cigarette is a phallic symbol: she is associated with male imagery.
The student room, in the modern day opening, has a sign on it with a vertical oval inside. It anticipates the Titanic Records wall poster in Bells Are Ringing, with a horizontal oval inside.
A second vertical oval appears in the door to the music room. The door is also filled with rectangular quilting, an odd variation on the more common diamond lozenge quilting that sometimes appears in Minnelli.
The doors at the head of the stairs, seem to form three sides of an incomplete octagon.
The students have geometrical signs on their walls, including diamond speed limit signs, an X-shaped railway crossing sign, and triangular pennants.
The music room itself has stairs in the back. It is filled with statues, including a bust. It also has relief sculpture wall plaques, a kind of "statuary" fairly rare in Minnelli. The music room has a drum set, something associated with self-expression in other Minnelli, although no one plays it in Tea and Sympathy.
John Kerr's room has a tilted wall, like Tootie's bedroom in Meet Me in St. Louis, and Oscar Levant's room in An American in Paris. All of these imaginative characters live on top floors, with bedrooms under sloping roofs. Perhaps related: Streisand's greenhouse on the roof with tilted walls, in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.
The camera moves with the heroine, as she travels rapidly through the forest at the climax. This scene anticipates the boar hunt in Home from the Hill, which also involves camera movement in a forest. In both films, one has the effect of some magical or ritualistic event occurring.
The hero's room is also shown in blue-orange. Much of the wood in the room is orange-ish, the curtains and spread are orange, and the lamp is red. The hero frequently wears blue, and there is a blue painting on the left wall, perhaps resembling a Cezanne.
The golf course parking lot near the start also features blue cars and orange dresses. The parking lot has much greenery in the background: green is a frequent addition to the blue-orange color scheme.
The roommate Al wears a purple sweater with white pants, during his scene with the heroine. He sits in her yellow chair. The purple-yellow combination in Minnelli is associated with virile men: the left hand side of Widmark's bedroom in The Cobweb, the first view of the handsome lover in the historical section of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Please see my list of purple-and-yellow costumes in film and comic books. Al is seated next to a spray of lilacs on the table, whose pale purple echoes the deep purple of his sweater.
The forest scene at the end stresses green, like the earlier garden. The heroine's car is also green. John Kerr is in white-and-black, like many Minnelli artists. The heroine is in off-white or beige clothes. Sometimes, the strange lighting makes them look pink.
The change in focus is reflected by formal changes. A man narrates Father of the Bride and Father's Little Dividend. The Long, Long Trailer is structured as the flashback of a male character. But Designing Woman has multiple narrators, male and female.
The early scenes recall The Long, Long Trailer: the couple in a car, swimming pools, tourist travel, a wedding.
Designing Woman looks at the desire of men to keep women economically second rate. The husband is horrified that the wife has a good job, one that pays her well. He also hates her co-workers and customers. Designing Woman is blunt about his discomfort. The husband wishes his wife were a poor woman, who would be economically dependent on him.
Designing Woman also continues the look at the "war on non-macho men" previously seen in Tea and Sympathy. It is less trenchant than Tea and Sympathy, however. The target in Tea and Sympathy was a man who might well be gay, who has never had a heterosexual experience, and whose gender identity is insistently different from macho norms. The target in Designing Woman is a fey, non-macho man in a non-macho profession, who behaves in a way that suggests once again that his gender identity has a sizable female component. However, the script insists that he is married with children. He is presumably certified as heterosexual.
Once again, this is one of those "glass is half full or half empty" arguments. Should Designing Woman be criticized for disguising or diluting its political criticism, by seeming to equate it with old farce staples like a jealous wife? Or should we be grateful that Designing Woman is raising the serious issues it is raising? Probably the latter response is ultimately more accurate.
Chuck Connors' mob enforcer Johnnie O is also explicitly introduced as a heterosexual character, shown attending the fight with a girl friend. Criminality in Designing Woman is part of a heterosexual world.
Both good guy Maxie and criminal Johnnie O are ex-prize fighters. But they are direct opposites in their life paths. Maxie is deeply honest. And he is truthful in his relations with other people. He is pathetically lacking in social skills, like Van Gogh in Lust for Life. By contrast, Johnnie O is straight sexually, smooth and charming socially, a crook, and a diabolically skillful liar.
Both Maxie and Johnnie O bear some resemblance to common Minnelli types:
The heroine's reaction to the fight is one of the funniest things in the movie.
Camera movements follow the characters, as they make their ways into and out of their seats. The final camera movement, getting the heroine out of the crowd, is especially forceful. The rest of the crowd is not actually in motion. But otherwise, this shot recalls the great finale of Some Came Running, with the characters moving forcefully, pushing against crowds.
The celebration at the newspaper, also has the hero moving forcefully through a crowd, while the camera moves with him.
Later in the film, the hotel switchboard operator gets involved in a second deception. A switchboard will later play a role in the mystery in Bells Are Ringing.
The hero is decorated with chains of shoes, during the wedding celebration at his office. These recall the chains of bells worn by Fabray and Levant at the train station in The Bandwagon.
When the choreographer is introduced, he does an impromptu dance number, waving a white piece of cloth around. This echoes all the dance scenes in Minnelli, using strips of cloth or cords. This white piece as not as narrow as most cloth strips in other Minnelli dances.
The sliding doors at the apartment are used to stage scenes throughout.
Trapezoids include a mirror in the apartment, and an obelisk in the hall outside.
The heroine's office is in pink, and she is first seen there in a green dress. The pink-and-green color scheme is extended by green leaves, a lady in a pinkish dress, and Cole's red sweater.
The outside of the heroine's office is pink, too, with a pink overhanging marquee.
Near the end, we get glimpses of the stage show. One has women in pink dresses, dancing with men in white tie and tails - it's a Minnelli movie, and he had to get his favorite costume for men in it. There is also that Minnelli favorite, a huge chandelier.
Bacall enters in a bright red outfit: one of many Minnelli heroines in red.
The covered tables at the pool, with their arched thin posts, recall the pavilions that run through Minnelli. And a circular bar with orange seats, recalls the screening room with orange seats in Two Weeks in Another Town.
Earlier, the hero is in the same red robe in the apartment, when he is menaced by Chuck Connors. There is a color harmony with the light pink walls of his wife's apartment. Connors and the two other thugs form a triangle around the hero, like some of the triangle-based dance numbers in Minnelli.
The hood is also in a red robe, along with white shirt and red tie, when he eats an elegant meal in front of a mirror. Behind him in the mirror, we see his thugs, in blue and gray suits. There is also a yellow couch.
The doorman is in scarlet hunting coat, like the doormen near the start of the fashion show in Lovely to Look At.
The hotel lobby has dark green furniture on the left, red chairs on the right. Such asymmetry recalls Widmark's bedroom in The Cobweb. The dark green couch also anticipates the green couch in the answering service room in Bells Are Ringing.
The taxicab is dark green-and-yellow. Brilliantly colored cabs sometimes show up in Minnelli, as in The Bandwagon.
The corridor leading to the rival's dressing room has pink flowers, and a woman walks by, in a bright off-yellow dress. Inside, the rival's pink-and-red dress and masses of yellow flowers continue the color scheme.
Backstage, the producer and the heroine sit in a mauve-and-white world, while the stage and its dancers in red-and-white dresses can be seen in the rear. Such fancy mauve furnishings recall Grahame's bedroom in The Cobweb.
The alley outside the stage door has bright orange neon signs. One is in the window of the "Actor's Cafe" on the main street. The other is a "Bar Grill" sign in the alley itself. Neon signs will be central in Some Came Running, and show up in other Minnelli as well. The cafe also has bright red windows, with solid red showing above, and striped dark red-and-white curtains below. The homey lunchroom called "Actor's Cafe" is an appropriate restaurant, to have right next to a theater.
Chuck Connors has changed to a brown suit, for the finale. An even darker brown suit will be worn by the mob enforcer in Bells Are Ringing, a character with much in common with Connors' Johnnie O. Brown clothes are usually depicted negatively in Minnelli - unlike Joseph H. Lewis, who favored them for the heroes of his color films. Connors takes off his hat, while talking with the heroine. His hair looks less blond, than it will on The Rifleman - perhaps Minnelli has toned it down.
The subject matter of The Seventh Sin is full of links to other Minnelli films. But the visual style only occasionally shows traces of Minnelli. The black-and-white movie also does not allow Minnelli's great skills with color any expression.
The Seventh Sin is an absorbing but grim drama. It is worth watching, but does not seem to be at the level of Minnelli's great classics in the drama genre.
There are SPOILERS in the rest of this discussion.
The wife learns Chinese, recalling the housekeeper learning Spanish in The Courtship of Eddie's Father.
The mildly critical comments on mystery fiction perhaps recall the satire on Mickey Spillane in The Band Wagon. However, it is likely that the mysteries read by the wife are far more genteel.
There are also screens with octagonal grills at the orphanage.
The doors at the orphanage have squares inside squares.
Art Nouveau appears, first in the exterior of Gigi's aunt's apartment building. Then in Chevalier's apartment interior. Both of these are locales, in which the sinister sexual morality surrounding courtesans is taught to the heroine and hero.
Louis Jourdan half sings and half talks his song here, just like Prof. Higgins in My Fair Lady. Minnelli links the forward and reverse motions along the path to various romantic feelings of his hero. He has mild exasperation with Gigi along the forward motion down the path; discovery of love, and bursting into the title song, in the water garden at the end of the path, and fervency along the reverse trajectory at the end.
The far end of the path is a garden, with swans in the background on a pond. The garden is designed in white and green, like the garden in Kismet. As in Kismet, we see white birds in the garden, and white buildings and architectural features, intermixed among the green foliage. As in Kismet, this garden serves as the place where a young man fervently expresses his love.
Also Ophulsian: the way one gets a servants' view through much of the film.
Chevalier is not a reliable narrator - unlike the narrator in Ophuls. Chevalier is clearly a male chauvinist. Partly the film treats him as an oo-la-la roué, but partly also as sinister: he is consistently prejudiced against women throughout the film, and gives bad advice to the hero. His opening comments on the married women are sexist and unfairly derogatory. And his dismissal of what seems to be a lesbian couple as "women who failed to get married" is also not endorsed by their visual depiction.
Alan Jay Lerner's script shows the experimenting with voices also seen in his other work with Minnelli. Everything stops, non-naturalistically, for the song, then normal crowd noises resume. Soon, we will have the hero's song, which is part of his thoughts. Lerner had used strange voice effects in Brigadoon (hero hears people in Scots village, when characters speak in New York bar), and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (heroine hears voice of hero, when New Yorkers open their mouths and speak).
The bathing huts have small windows, through which an object is passed to the hero. These recall a bit, the interior pass-through windows in the dining room in Meet Me in St. Louis, and the projection room in The Bad and the Beautiful. However, this is a window to the outside, in the bathing huts.
There is a small ornamental bridge in the garden, over which the characters walk. Such bridges occur in other Minnelli films.
The tables at Maxim's have twin lamps with two conical lampshades. The lampshades are a coral color, that matches the wine that Gabor is drinking at the table. The shades and wine make a color harmony, with a different shade of roses at the table.
Gigi's bed has a oval head, recalling Bacall's in Designing Woman.
When Gigi sings "The Parisians", she passes by a fence with heart-shaped iron work.
Chevalier's bedroom has an almost surreal variation on hexagonal wallpaper, with the hexagons "off" in strange curves. A chair in his living room has starbursts, arranged in a more conventional hexagonal grid.
The chairs at the country resort where Gabor has gone, have strange shaped backs, with oblongs within oblongs.
The fountains play a key role. They are linked with the hero's thought processes. We see them in the background, when he is achieving key understandings of Gigi and his relationship to her. They are a repeated element: seen both during the day, and at night. At night they are lit up, combining Kinetic Art and Light Art, in the Minnelli tradition.
Minnelli's beloved open carriages are prominent in Gigi. So is an early car, also open.
One carriage gets covered with flowers, also a key Minnelli motif. The flowers are tossed, the way rice is tossed at weddings in other Minnelli films.
A baby carriage is also seen in the opening scene. It recalls the one in Father's Little Dividend.
The towel warmer at Chevalier's opens and closes. It is a perfect sphere.
The crowds sure are kinetic at the ice skating rink. However, it is the people who are moving in this scene, not some object!
The first jewelry lesson (right after the lunch) is then in pink, green and gold. This color combination had just been used by Minnelli in his previous film Designing Woman, for the California hotel.
Color is built right into the dialogue. The grandmother and Chevalier reminisce about the pink villa versus the blue villa on the Riviera. The blue fire in green emeralds is praised. Monte Carlo is described with a blue sea and green palm trees.
Chevalier is also in an off-shade during the opening, which can be interpreted as a light version of brown. Later, much of Chevalier's apartment is in brown with gold. Brown usually has negative associations in Minnelli. It is possible that the linking of brown with Chevalier, is meant to cast doubt on Chevalier's philosophy about women. It is certainly male chauvinist.
During the opening, Chevalier meets a nice young man, whose brown suit is color coordinated with his brown dog. This coordination perhaps recalls the numerous Minnelli characters whose brown clothes match the wooden walls of rooms. Such characters are not necessarily negative, unlike most brown clothed folks in Minnelli. This young man seems to be part of a nice couple.
Gabor's dress and headdress at Maxim's includes red, yellow and blue: the three primary colors. This gives the clothes a primitive quality: cheerful but lowbrow. They seem fit for a "common" but good-natured character. Minnelli will repeat the red, yellow and blue color scheme for the vulgar party on the yacht that opens Goodbye Charlie.
Gabor is seen in red-and-white clothes at the rink. When her boyfriend Bergerac is last seen, he is in an off-white suit with red vest. Through most of Minnelli, red-and-white is associated with women. However, in his previous film Designing Woman, Minnelli had experimented with red-and-white outfits for men.
Jourdan wears a silver top hat, with his light blue suit. He leaves the top hat in the apartment, when he goes out to sing "Gigi". Gold top hats will soon appear in Bells Are Ringing. Both are examples of the metallic clothes that run through Minnelli.
A pageboy in red is seen at Maxim's. A grownup man in a similar red bellboy's uniform, will appear among the bookies in the steam room in Bells Are Ringing.
A character at the masquerade ball is in a bright red devil's suit, recalling the infernal characters in Cabin in the Sky. This is also perhaps a hint that the morality of the masquerade party is dubious. The party is part of the hero's public response to his mistress' affair. This is part of the sinister sexual code by which the hero lives. The Arts Ball in An American in Paris, which the masquerade party in Gigi resembles, was also a place where kept men and women were forcibly put in their roles.
Bergerac is first seen at the rink, in an elegant black uniform with gold trim. This is a cross between two types of clothes that run through Minnelli: fancy military dress uniforms, and uniforms for working class men performing jobs. Bergerac's character is in fact such a working class man in a job uniform. The uniform is simpler and elegantly plain, compared to most Minnelli military uniforms. Its black color echoes some of the police uniforms in Minnelli, such as that of Keenan Wynn's traffic patrolman in The Long, Long Trailer. However, both Wynn's police uniform, and those of Minnelli working men, tend to be black-and-white. The black-and-gold combination in Gigi is unusual.
I love the hero's proposal at the end. It recalls Minnelli scenes where other clueless men finally see the light, and start speaking up in ways that appeal to women. See Meet Me in St. Louis when John calls Esther back to help with the lights, and Father's Little Dividend, where the husband reminds his wife about her medication. These men know what they are doing, and realize they are finally on a roll. Such scenes are comic, because they are so obviously benefitting the women, too. All of these men have finally found a verbal fluency as well, such as Jourdan's use of traditional language in the proposal.
However, there are differences in Gigi. The heroes of Meet Me in St. Louis and Father's Little Dividend are 100% good guys, who have always treated the heroines with deep respect and decency. Their only "crime" has been a certain obtuseness in their dealings with women. It is good to see them finally getting insight, and a voice.
But the hero of Gigi has been rotten. His humble language in the proposal is a form of apology to the heroine. It is also a pledge to start treating the heroine with deep respect - something that is desperately important. It is however, only a start, and one hopes the hero goes on to make further amends.
John Saxon, loved by young Sandra Dee, is a rock musician. He is one of Minnelli's refined, gentle young men. His musician profession makes him one of Minnelli's artist-heroes. And his playing rock makes him a rebel and independent outsider, like John Kerr's would-be folk singer in Tea and Sympathy. Still, he is very well dressed, like all of Minnelli's heroes - this is long before the Beatles era, when rock musicians dressed in non-conventional ways.
What is unique about the colors in The Reluctant Debutante is the addition of a fourth main color into the mix, in addition to the blues, red-oranges and occasional green. This is gold. Gold runs through the opulent red-and-gold color patterns of the ball rooms in the film. It also appears in the blue-and-gold Asian screen in the apartment. The gold often echoes the blonde hair of the leading ladies, Kay Kendall and Sandra Dee. Sandra is shown against the screen early in the film. It is completely different looking from the rest of the apartment, and separates Sandra Dee's world off from the rest of the characters. They are part of modern-day Britain; she is associated with other worlds, here East Asia. She is seen arriving on an airplane at an international airport, and also talks about her interest in African music and dancing. Later in the film, we suddenly see Sandra Dee and John Saxon in front of the screen, seemingly transported to another world.
Sandra Dee's young English girlfriend has a crush on one of the soldiers at Buckingham Palace. Minnelli includes the "changing of the guard" ritual in the film. He ties in with the other glamorized men in uniform in Minnelli, in films like The Clock and Some Came Running. His brilliant red uniform exemplifies Minnelli's fondness for the color red. Half of the soldiers in this sequence are in blue uniforms, the other in red. This makes them part of the films blue versus red-orange color scheme. The whole visual design of the sequence is built around geometric patterns formed by lines of blue soldiers, versus red soldiers. Their ornate uniforms also have much gold trim. They recall the fancy Lancer uniforms in The Pirate.
As in Some Came Running, the clothes of the characters are thoroughly integrated into the color scheme. Kay Kendall frequently wears brilliant red-orange ensembles, whereas Harrison's secretary, Angela Lansbury and our first look at Sandra Dee will all feature them in blue. Later, Sandra Dee will wear a light pink dress; its softness separates her from the other characters, although it has ties with the red-orange of much of the film. Rex Harrison's initial suit has a dark blue tinge. Later, Rex will be in Minnelli's favorite clothes for men, white tie and tails. So will two young male extras, dancing behind Sandra Dee and her odious partner in the first ball room sequence. These men are much more glamorous looking than the upper class twit Dee is stuck with here. The care the film takes with their costuming and grooming recalls the effort Minnelli has always lavished on his extras.
Both Sandra Dee and John Saxon appear before some elaborate backgrounds. Sandra and her girl friend sit in a restaurant early on, in front of a grilled screen, through which we can see other diners. The vertical grillwork recalls the pavilions in other Minnelli films. At a later restaurant scene with Saxon, Dee is shown against the fruit and dessert tray of the restaurant. This is one of the elaborate still lifes that tend to show up in Minnelli restaurant scenes. The fruits on the left are bright orange and red; those on the right are in subdued colors. This gives a pleasing asymmetry to the composition. The repeated horizontal trays of fruit, and the long horizontal of the table, make a unique composition filled with horizontals.
Saxon's drum scene at the first party also is filled with the elaborate stuff that recalls the decor of the pavilion sequence in the finale of Lovely to Look At. The metal work surrounding the drums, and the metal poles on the left of the set, recall the pavilions in this earlier work. The scene is also filled with candelabras, also recalling the previous film, as well as the "Stairway to Paradise" number in An American in Paris. A gorgeous chandelier, which peeks in the frame in the upper right hand top of the image, also adds to the complex look at machine-like objects in the shot. Its appearance on one side of the image also creates the asymmetry that Minnelli loves. In the background of the shot, strong verticals are formed by brilliant red or gold strips.
The reception at the end, has the characters appearing on a large landing. This has a familiar Minnelli pattern: shallow steps at the base, making a series of horizontal lines, contrasted with pillars above, forming vertical lines.
The camera movements here recall a scene in Cabin in the Sky, the one in which Ethel Waters flees through the street to the night club. Both involve camera movement through small town streets filled with extremely animated people; in both the citizens are ultimately in panic. Both track the characters along sidewalks towards a saloon. Both show individuals making their way through crowds, in a state of apprehension. Both scenes end with the discovery of a second protagonist horribly wounded. In Cabin in the Sky this is a single moving camera shot; in Some Came Running this has been expanded into an entire sequence of moving camera shots.
Early in the film, Frank Sinatra's uniform is set off against a whole series of rooms with gray walls. The color of the walls and the uniform are carefully coordinated to produce striking color harmonies. The wall color is just a slight bit different from the uniform. The walls often have a hint of blue in them; this echoes the blue insignia of the uniform's upper arm, and some blue patches on its chest.
Sinatra's uniform looks as if it were made out of some special fabric. It has a lustrous, shiny quality, and gives an unusually spiffy appearance on screen. The costumes here are by Walter Plunckett, who often created spectacular outfits for historical costume dramas. Even here, where he tries to stick to clothes that might realistically be worn in Indiana in 1958, his clothes have a special edge.
The cone of light strings has the same shape, a cone made up of separate strings, as a basket seen at the baby shower in Father's Little Dividend. It is much bigger - and more importantly, it revolves.
The open convertibles of other Minnelli films return here, also playing a kinetic role in the film.
Earlier, the ceiling fan in the hotel lobby can be seen as Kinetic Art.
So can the safe at the jewelry store. The safe is one of the most elaborate seen in the movies, with huge doors. It recalls the Mystery Box that opens up in the arcade in The Band Wagon. Some Came Running must be one of the few films that include a safe, that does not develop into a crime thriller. The safe plays no role in the plot: there is no robbery, no embezzlement, no secret papers. The safe is apparently there, just because Minnelli finds it a fascinating Kinetic Art spectacle.
The opening shows a gas station. It is seen more briefly, than those in The Long, Long Trailer - but it does have the brilliant red decor of the garage in that earlier film.
The stands at the carnival, recall the pavilions with thin pillars in other Minnelli films.
The cemetery at the end has one of Minnelli's beloved statues. The scene contains the religious subject matter so often found in Minnelli finales.
Minnelli tends to keep strongly to the viewpoint thus set up within a scene. He will bring his camera in, for a closer look at the characters, still maintaining the frame being almost parallel with the wall. Or he will bring the camera back for a longer perspective, still keeping the same parallel orientation of movie frame and back wall. Sometimes these movements are accomplished by cuts, leading to new camera positions. On other occasions, Minnelli will use camera movement to bring the camera backward or forward, typically maintaining the parallel orientation of camera and wall during the move.
Sometimes, Minnelli will cut away to an entirely new view within a scene. This will often be of a close-up of an actor. These close-ups tend to be medium shots, showing much of the actor's body, as well as a great deal of the room's environment. Sometimes these close-ups face the same direction as the overall shots. For example, the close-up's of the brother (Arthur Kennedy) at his office. However, Minnelli sometimes chooses an entirely new direction for these close-ups. This is especially true of the close-ups of Sinatra in his hotel room during his early conversation with his brother, and later on at his brother's mansion. These shots create an entirely new angle. They too are parallel to the wall of a room; both focus on what was the left hand wall of the earlier master shot. These close-ups are also parallel to the wall of the room. While it is a different wall than the master shot, these close-ups are still organized on the same formal principles. They too create a frieze like effect, showing a beautiful collection of wall pictures, furniture and windows in a nearly head on mode, with the actor framed gracefully inside this composition.
These frieze-like effects are a whole system of filmmaking. They combine camera position, with creative patterns of form and color due to the set and art direction. Their systematic quality, where a filmmaker uses a consistent set of visual principles to create visual patterns of great beauty, remind one of Ozu.
Minnelli sometimes places his camera at a slightly bigger angle to a wall of a room. When he does this, oftentimes there is a piece of furniture in the shot that is exactly parallel to the frame of the film. For example, in the brother's office, the green chair is in exact alignment with the film frame, while the wall is somewhat at an angle.
Minnelli will also regularly perform what David Bordwell calls reframings. These are small camera movements, designed to keep the actors within the frame, as they make tiny moves around the set. As in other filmmakers, these reframings also add visual energy and a sense of movement to the film.
The first visit of Sinatra to Hyer's home follows the "camera nearly parallel to the wall" principle, most of the time. Yet there are a good number of camera moves here, mainly pans. These suggest the emotional dynamism of the encounter between Sinatra and Hyer.
One of the most elaborate camera movements occurs during Sinatra's second visit to Hyer's house. The camera first focuses on Hyer in a room. It is at a 45 degree angle to the corner of the room, a somewhat unusual occurrence in the film. Then it tracks over to the hall. It is now parallel to the wall at the far end of the hall: a more typical position for the camera here. This far wall contains the door leading to the outside of the home; Sinatra is out there. This far wall is much narrower than most walls used by Minnelli to orient his camera. Because of this, the movie frame includes both the left and right walls of the hall; Minnelli usually includes just one side wall in his compositions, either left or right. The camera now starts moving steadily forward in the hall, following Martha Hyer's walk to the front door. It keeps the wall with the door firmly aligned with the plane of the frame during this forward track. Such forward move-in's towards a wall are a standard part of Minnelli's grammar in Some Came Running. However, this move-in is unusually long, steady, and intense; it has a propulsive, kinetic quality. After Hyer lets Sinatra in the door, the camera does a move-back down the hall, reversing its earlier course. Once again, such move-backs are part of the film's grammar; yet this one is unusually kinetic and long. Minnelli then tracks back to the original room, reversing the earlier course of the shot. It is quite beautiful. All of this is one single shot.
This scene then contains a discussion between Sinatra and Hyer about their relationship. It concludes with another long take, one that does not include fancy camera moves, but which is a fairly intense long take nonetheless.
During the early fight scene between Sinatra and the mobster, Minnelli keep his camera at a steep angle to the side wall of Smitty's bar. Such a strong angle is unusual in Some Came Running, and gives the image a striking, dramatic quality. Minnelli steadily moves his camera down this wall twice, first with Sinatra and the mobster; and again later in the scene, after Dean Martin has entered the story line. These camera movements, following the steady angle of the wall, have a visually dramatic quality. They give a geometric emphasis to the camera movement, making it look like part of a mathematical ballet.
It also involves two brothers, as in Undercurrent, Lust for Life and Home from the Hill.
The hero is constantly torn between a respectable intellectual life, epitomized by the professor and his family, and the low life represented by Dean Martin. Both lives have a woman with whom he has a romance, and who embody the pull of the two worlds. This is similar to Cabin in the Sky, where the hero is torn between Good and Evil worlds, and has romances with characters played by Ethel Waters and Lena Horne who represent these worlds. The Evil world / low life world in both films is filled with night clubs and saloons. In both movies, there is a strong sense of ambiguity. Both worlds are shown to have their special energies and virtues. Both can contribute to the vitality and excitement of life. In Cabin in the Sky, this ambiguity is only in the imagery: the dialogue paints the two worlds as completely good and evil. In Some Came Running, this teacher's speech to the class explicitly suggests such ambiguity. She says that artists are special people, who have to experience multiple kinds of life.
On the streets of Parkman, Indiana, Minnelli will sometimes show groups of young men talking together. These young men tend to be happy looking and friendly. We see one such group outside of Smitty's; another through the plate glass window when the brother's friend calls him early in the picture. These young men are dressed in a non-threatening manner. These are wholesome American kids, not street toughs or delinquents. They look both relaxed and animated. These guys in groups stand in contrast to all the tormented young male outsiders in such Minnelli films as The Cobweb, Lust for Life and Tea and Sympathy.
Martha Hyer tells Sinatra that she wishes they could have the same non-romantic friendship that her father and Sinatra have; Sinatra pooh-poohs this. This anticipates the more extended feminst conversations between Taylor and Burton in The Sandpiper.
Hyer's extreme refinement recalls Deborah Kerr in Tea and Sympathy, and Shirley Jones in The Courtship of Eddie's Father.
Martin's dumpy living room, anticipates the poverty stricken answering service room in Bells Are Ringing.
People in this small town, are under as much public surveillance, as the prep school students in Tea and Sympathy. Not only do they monitor the arrival of Sinatra in town, but his bank deposits become a subject of public discussion! Today, such violations of financial privacy are against the law. The film paints a frightening picture of a society where everyone's actions are monitored.
It is hard to think of parallels to this film in today's American cinema. Some Came Running is a film in which people stand around and talk about their relationships. Today, such films, when they are made at all, are aimed at an exclusively female audience: "chick flicks". Yet Some Came Running is full of stars that have strong appeal to men, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and many of the issues explored in the film are about men's lives. The film also mixes serious drama with glamorous settings, photography and clothes, another example of the broad mix of genres and approaches here. Some Came Running is a rich mix.
Some Came Running reminds one that pre-1972 Hollywood used routinely to adapt novels to the screen, such as this 1957 James Jones book. Such adaptations were made of literary works, best sellers, and all sorts of mystery and Western fiction. Sometimes these adaptations were failures; other times, as with Some Came Running, they were spectacular artistic successes. But in all cases, these novels brought a huge amount of imaginative story telling material to the screen. Much of this material seems to be missing from the effusions of today's Hollywood scribes.
There is an excellent discussion of Home from the Hill and other Vincente Minnelli films by Fred Camper (follow the link). This discussion will concentrate on some additional aspects of this rich film.
In all of these things, illegitimate children resemble gay people. The film never makes such parallels explicit. But so many similarities are developed in the film, that it is hard not to see such a resemblance. One suspects that it is intended as a subtext of the film.
Home from the Hill is full of male bonding, and close emotional relationships between men. Often times these are between family members. Such family links perhaps disguise and make palatable for an anti-gay audience, a look at what are essentially gay relationships between men.
Rafe's account of growing up, also compares prejudice against illegitimate children, to the oppression of black people in American society. Both are seen as massive walls of oppression, which individuals can only fight through stoicism and self-reliance.
The macho men are also obsessed with standards. Every one of them seems to judge and condemn others.
The formidable negative portrait of macho male culture in Home from the Hill recalls Tea and Sympathy. That film also showed men as obsessed with standards, and doing everything they could to condemn and hurt others that do not live up to them.
Home from the Hill is the opposite or other side of Tea and Sympathy. Tea and Sympathy showed a young non-heterosexual man who was oppressed by macho men because he did not live up to their standards. By contrast, Theron in Home from the Hill is a golden boy, rich, handsome and heterosexual, who embodies the ideals of macho male culture. Theron himself completely buys into macho male norms. He looks to his father to guide him into manhood as it defined by macho male culture.
Instead of support, the macho men specialize in destruction. The hunters believe in ridiculing young men, and spreading gossip. The wronged husband believes only in killing people. The pharmacist treats the young hero like dirt, in the name of "upholding standards", and later kills a man. The minister specializes in making sure fallen women are burying as second class citizens.
Theron withdraws from the heroine. This leads to huge tragedies. His social withdrawal has a little of Minnelli's sympathies: after all, Theron is under shock from learning about his own father. Still, Theron's withdrawal is seen as a bad thing. And just as harmful as the lack of social involvement and support as the other macho males in the film.
Theron drives a truck which moves things around in the floor. This ties in with Minnelli's love of Kinetic Art.
Bildungsroman. Of these three sections, only the second (Bildungsroman) follows what David Bordwell describes as the Classical Hollywood narrative structure. Theron in this section is a protagonist with a goal: to grow up and attain manhood. And the storyline of the Bildungsroman moves with steady progress towards that goal. It ends with what the macho male culture defines as success: Theron has sex for the first time with the heroine (at the picnic in the woods).
Heroes who start out with goals at the beginning of a film, and a film whose story ends with success or failure at that goal, constitute what Bordwell defines as the standard paradigm of Classical Hollywood storytelling.
However, only the Bildungsroman section fits this paradigm. And it is only the first half of the movie.
What Follows. Startling plot revelations follow immediately after the Bildungsroman ends, and Theron comes home after his first sexual encounter. The whole focus of the film changes. There are no longer any goals: the story keeps moving in unexpected directions.
The story in this section is logically well-constructed. Event follows event with careful causality. We are NOT in an "art film", where plot and causality are de-emphasized. But we are not at all in a simple story of "a protagonist with a goal", either.
It is strongly recommended that one read Fred Camper's analysis of the film. He concentrates on the plot of this third part of the movie, the "What Follows" part. Camper describes the plot structure of this long section as "polyphonic", and gives a detailed analysis of how the structure is constructed. Camper also demonstrates how the plot is linked to characterization and visual style.
The Study. The father's study looks a bit like the art exhibit rooms in other Minnelli. Only here the father has animal heads on the walls, where paintings would normally be. And instead of statues forming vertical lines, here it is cases of upright rifles. The room shows macho men exhibiting their animal killings, instead of culture.
The Hunts. The boar hunt shows the hero moving outdoors, through green vegetation. He is accompanied by steady camera movements. The whole thing reminds one of Minnelli heroes moving through green gardens, as in Kismet, also accompanied by camera movements. Here however, the hero is engaged in killing, rather than helping to build a garden for people to enjoy. Once again, it is a parody or warped transformation of an earlier Minnelli image. Heroes Minnelli admires build and create; the macho men featured in Home from the Hill only destroy.
The boar hunt will be echoed nightmarishly at the film's end, when a similar hunt through the forest is a manhunt for the killer. Here the same hero follows similar paths through green vegetation, accompanied by similar camera movements. It is even more destructive here.
Camera movement usually goes relentlessly from right-to-left in the hunting scenes. The movements are as steady and relentless as those in the great finale of Some Came Running. But they move in the opposite direction, from the left-to-right movements of Some Came Running.
Some of the movements in the boar hunt show first the boar, and later the hero, moving towards the camera. At the film's end, the hero disappears by moving away from the camera, in a reverse echo of the earlier hunt.
The Fog. The fog roiling through Sulfur Bottom is also a version of the colored smoke Minnelli loves. In this film too, it is associated only with death.
The Cemetery. The cemetery recalls the many gardens in Minnelli. It is a place of vegetation, and full of white statuary, like other Minnelli gardens. But it is a place dedicated to death, unlike the true Minnelli gardens.
In later viewings, the tragedy that engulfs the characters in "What Follows" came to color the Bildungsroman section. I could hardly bear to watch the Bildungsroman, and kept viewing it through the lens of a dysfunctional family and disastrous macho way of life.
But on recent viewings, was surprised that I once again enjoyed the Bildungsroman, as a gratifying macho fantasy.
I've come to suspect that such ambiguities are built into the Bildungsroman. It is both an upbeat macho fantasy, and a harbinger of disaster.
I am not a hunter, and as an animal lover, am unlikely to hunt in the future. But Home from the Hill makes hunting look genuinely appealing. Learning skill with a rifle, then having a thrilling encounter with a boar, looks like a male macho dream come true. In a society like ours, where men are often stripped of their manhood in an ugly job market, such a fantasy of manhood attained can have powerful appeal.
We see the Bildungsroman mainly through Theron's eyes, except for a couple of important scenes with Rafe. The whole world mainly seems like a device for gratifying Theron. Other people, like his father and Rafe, seem to exist to help Theron to grow up. Theron experiences male bonding with both, that seems like an overwhelmingly gratifying ideal.
It is only around the edges, that we see a darker picture. Theron's experience reflects class and gender privilege. Rafe has been denied experiences Theron gets: in the Prologue, Mitchum refuses to give Rafe a rifle, a gesture that would have given Rafe a small taste of the banquet spread for Theron. Theron is getting all this, because he a rich boy and the "legitimate" son. People in society's other categories, such as the "illegitimate" like Rafe get nothing.
Similarly, in Tea and Sympathy, the queer hero wins a tennis match. While Theron's success at hunting gets him lavish praise from his father and a large group of male on-lookers, the hero of Tea and Sympathy is viewed with disgust by the other male students and his father. Success at a macho ritual buys him nothing. Such rituals only work for straight boys. The fantasy of "becoming a man among men" offered by Home from the Hill is just that: a fantasy. However appealing in Home from the Hill, it is only open to straight, legitimate men. The illegitimate Rafe in Home from the Hill is great at hunting; the queer hero of Tea and Sympathy wins at tennis. They don't get any manhood certification from their culture or family.
Hunting is also ambiguous. Partly pure macho fun in a traditional culture - partly destruction rather than creation. The film sees it as both.
Minnelli's films are full of high tech long distance monitoring devices. Here, a dog's hearing serves a similar function. It allows humans to monitor what is going on at a distance. It is a nature equivalent of the high tech in other Minnelli.
The Snack Bar at the market, recalls the coffee shop in The Long, Long Trailer. Both have working-class woman employees.
The christening in the church recalls the one at the climax of Father's Little Dividend. Both are explicitly Christian religious rituals. However, the christening in Home from the Hill is open to the whole community, and is a public event, unlike the family-and-friends-only celebration in Father's Little Dividend.
The discussion at the end, where Mitchum recognizes that he and Parker are "rotten parents", recalls The Cobweb. In The Cobweb, young John Kerr's problems are related to parenting, and therapists Widmark and Bacall try to symbolically provide him with "good parents". In Home from the Hill, Theron's emotional breakdown is triggered by bad parents, and in this scene Mitchum and Parker are trying to fix Theron's psyche by reforming and becoming good parents.
In different scenes, Rafe covers up and tucks into bed first Rafe, then Libby. This recalls the finale of The Cobweb, where John Kerr is carefully covered while sleeping.
However, there are other color schemes in the film, as well. These tend to be subdued. I could find no trace in Home from the Hill of some other standard Minnelli approaches, such as blue-and-orange, or mauve-and-white.
Prologue. When we first see the inside of the house, it is full of brown wood. Eventually Eleanor Parker makes her entrance, in a beige dress. She is one of several Minnelli characters, who wear brown or brownish clothes, and who are harmonized with brownish wooden walls. These characters tend to be repressed. Mitchum too in these scenes, is in a shirt with a beige-ish tinge.
In addition to brown wood, the house also has beige wallpaper. Other rooms have an intense copper-colored covering. Both the beige and copper integrate well within the brown color scheme, even though they are not strictly speaking brown.
Two early scenes have some mild red-and-green:
Bildungsroman. Many of the key scenes in Theron's growing-up are in red and green, a common color combination in Minnelli:
When Eleanor Parker appears at the barbecue, she is in a beautiful peach-colored evening gown: a Minnelli favorite for his leading ladies. The soft pink coordinates with the red that runs through the barbecue scene. Yet it is also different, and makes her stand out: she is the only one on screen in pink rather than red.
Red-and-green tends to be a festive color scheme in Minnelli. It lends a party air to the Bildungsroman section. Everything looks like a festival.
When Theron goes to the Halstead's front door to pick up Libby, the screen is drained of color. Theron is in a startlingly proper charcoal gray suit, as if he were auditioning for a job as a Wall Street banker. The house front is white. The only color is some green foliage. The Halstead house is conspicuously middle-class, unlike Theron's own upper class mansion.
At the party, Mitchum is himself in a gray suit. Minnelli often employed gray suits for men in his color films. Like Theron's suit, Mitchum's suit has no "Southern" feel: it is a suit that could be proper anywhere in the United Sates. Earlier, Mitchum wore a light blue Southern suit with string tie. It is very flattering, and has a definite "rich Southerner" look. The pale blue color is unusual in Home from the Hill.
What Follows. Libby's car is green, with some off-yellow seats. It is perhaps related to the green-and-yellow taxis in other Minnelli films.
Theron wears an ill-fitting sweater, which is light yellow. It does give him a callow look. It recalls a bit James Dean's much better looking yellow sweater in East of Eden (Elia Kazan, 1948). Both are sensitive young man rebels in small towns, from fairly upper crust families. Please see my list of yellow sweaters and white dress shirts in comic books and film. They are often worn by refined young men from upper middle class families.
Mainly, this section of the film is also full of red-and-green:
The gas station, seen briefly near the end, has a red pump. It is one of many gas stations in Minnelli. These are typically places with a working class feel.
The twins in the market are in bright red shirts. Several Minnelli films have brief glimpses of twins.
Wallpaper at the Halstead house has horizontal ellipses, always a warm and friendly domestic shape in Minnelli.
Some of the brickwork on both the front and back porches of the mansion, have identical geometric designs in white.
When Theron has the conversation with the doctor outside his mother's room, a cabinet in the background has elaborate designs on its glass doors. These include a hexagon.
Libby's room has a bow window, forming (like all bow windows) a portion of an octagon. Hepburn's room in Undercurrent also has a bow window.
The blanket with which Rafe covers Theron has starburst patterns.
In Bells Are Ringing, the heroine conceals her identity from the hero. This is not a mystery to the audience: we see everything in full right from the start. But it is a mystery to the hero. He eventually does detective work, and solves the mystery of what is going on with the heroine. This is a bit similar to the mysteries in Minnelli's other films - although in those works, both the audience and the characters are in the dark at first about the solution to the mystery.
The heroine briefly pretends to be psychic, to explain how she knows so much about the hero. On a Clear Day You Can See Forever has a heroine who really is psychic (according to the plot), and who surprises the hero with her knowledge.
The delivery man recalls Jack Cole's character in Designing Women. The performers are similar physical types, both are friendly to women, both are erudite about music and dancing, and the delivery man teaches the heroine to dance, while Cole's character is a choreographer.
The beat actor (Frank Gorshin) gets spoofed for his casual clothes. But the film seems to respect his talent as an actor. He is also presented as a person with sincere feelings. Minnelli will return to a Bohemian milieu in The Sandpiper.
The heroine's problems also serve as an allegory of gay experience. Like gay men, she is consumed by longings for a man, longings society does not want her to reveal or act on. She is watched and hounded by the police, who try to prevent her from contacts with men: also part of gay reality in 1960.
The kind-hearted police technician Francis, is a man with a fey attitude and a gentle, perhaps child-like demeanor. One wonders if he is in fact a gay man. Francis's personality contrasts with Inspector Barnes, whose macho attitude is typical of movie cops.
When the heroine wants to dress like a member of the actor's Beat crowd, she borrows a cap from a male garbageman. This is a simple example of the cross-dressing sometimes found in Minnelli. It suggests that the clothes worn by female beats are male-like, with elements of androgyny and wearing men's clothes.
The heroine also impersonates the male character of Santa Claus, over the phone.
Francis the policeman, does all the police technical work in the story, including the bugging and the photography. Although he is not labeled as such, he seems to be a police technician. His photos are in black-and-white. This is some of the last black-and-white imagery in Minnelli's all-color world.
The bookie recalls Jack Buchanan's impresario in The Band Wagon. Both try to fuse highbrow culture with lowbrow vehicles: here classical music with a bookie operation. In both films this is viewed satirically, and is a doomed enterprise. Both men are much satirized for their cultural pretensions.
We see a musical number "The Midas Touch". Like the Faust musical in The Band Wagon, this is a Broadway show-type song and dance, based on mythology.
The house with the theatrical party recalls Buchanan's living quarters in The Band Wagon. Both are full of New York City theatrical sophisticates.
Sutton Place was the locale of a Depression era left-wing play, Sidney Kingsley's Dead End (1935). Dead End contrasted the lavish apartments of the rich in Sutton Place, with the nearby slums filled with poor people. The rich-poor contrast of the neighborhood, made Sutton Place and Dead End proverbial for the collision between rich and poor. The symbolism was perhaps extended in the liberal film My Man Godfrey (Gregory La Cava, 1936), which partly takes place in a Sutton Place garbage dump filled with homeless unemployed men living in tents and cheap shacks. My Man Godfrey also contrasted the wealthy and poor.
What might be the remains of such rich-poor contrast occurs in Bells Are Ringing, with its juxtaposition of the awful, run-down building where the answering service is located, and the rich homes of Dean Martin and his agent. The heroine and other women at the answering service, are emphatically of much lower social class than Martin, his agent and their friends.
The film's credits show some sort of construction or demolition going on, something otherwise not referenced in the current print of Bells Are Ringing. One can speculate, without any real basis in fact, whether demolition of the neighboring houses played some role in an original version of Bells Are Ringing, but got cut out of the version we now have.
"Is It a Crime?" is a modest musical number. It is a pleasant song, but not as good as the first-rate numbers that remain in the film. Its simple staging is also pleasant-but-not-notable. One is glad it survives, and can be seen today. But the filmmakers were perhaps right to cut it from the film.
The actual masses in Bells Are Ringing seem more cultured than the rich people. The delivery man knows a lot about classical music. He is deeply interested in classical recordings. The rise of the LP record, and its making a vast library of classical music available to the average person, was a major event of the era. The delivery man's participation in the world of classical music was enabled by this. Minnelli's films are full of portable phonographs. They are an inexpensive technology, that permits ordinary people to gain access to music.
The working class heroine helps the opera singer, Madame Grimaldi. Working class people took part in the world of opera, through the numerous radio broadcasts of opera.
While Sue who runs the answering service does not seem to be a cultured person, she is willing to volunteer her time and business to aid the professor's record company. While his company is a fake, her willingness to aid in "bringing culture to the masses" is genuine.
I think people today would benefit, if they took the strong interest in culture and the life of the mind that people in 1960 did. Enjoying classical music is one of the most powerful and joyous ways to get involved with thinking. And it is inexpensive: classical music is available for free: on the radio, at public libraries, on the Internet.
Another phenomenon of the times that linked non-rich people to culture, was the Beat movement. At the Beat hang-out, we see a young woman intensely interested in the book she is reading (this seems to be actress Elizabeth Montgomery). Inexpensive paperback books made literary reading available to financially ordinary people. The intensity of the woman's interest was also a phenomenon of the times. People had a burning, reverent interest in culture, without any irony or post-modernist reservations. One recalls the people deeply engaged studying paintings in the art gallery, in a film of the same year, L'Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960).
The park where "Just in Time" is sung, is the site of some long takes:
"I'm Going Back" is also in one long take. The variety of musical styles, and the way they reflect old jazz traditions, recalls "A Great Lady Has An Interview" in Ziegfeld Follies.
The hero's pillows form two nested white squares. This recalls the nested-square pillows in other Minnelli. Here, the squares are outlined by quilting, rather than heavy bars of a different color, as in other Minnelli films.
A pillow at the answering service, contains a circle inside a square.
Martin's apartment has a door handle, formed out of concentric circles. It reminds one of a similar handle in "A Great Lady Has An Interview" in Ziegfeld Follies. The apartment also has one of several octagonal mirrors that run through Minnelli. Martin's desk chair is mainly trapezoidal, recalling the chair designed by Bacall's character in The Cobweb. The apartment has a bar, in the shape of a quarter circle.
The foyer at the answering service, has a window in pie-shaped sections.
The railing in front of the answering service has spirals in the metal work. Later, there is a spiral shadow inside the answering service main room.
There is a spiral staircase in the steam room with the bookies. Later, the staircase at the party house is also more-or-less spiral.
Confetti is tossed in "The Midas Touch". And the red record folders are thrown in the air, to make a dramatic finale to "A Simple Little System".
The first emphasizes the blue furniture, along with a yellow chair and the heroine's pink dress. This blue-yellow-pink color scheme recalls the California swimming pool in Designing Woman. In both films, these scenes are the first on-screen meeting between the hero and heroine. The blue-yellow-pink seems like a version of the red-yellow-blue that runs through Minnelli.
The second scene in the hero's apartment features blue and red-orange, a classic Minnelli color scheme. Here, Minnelli has added some orange-ish suitcases, and often features orange pictures on the walls. The heroine is in a yellow-gold dress, that echoes the yellow chair. This mixture of gold with red-orange/blue recalls The Reluctant Debutante.
The gold imagery in "The Midas Touch" number, added to the bar's red-orange/blue, recalls the gold that runs through The Reluctant Debutante. The male singer appears in a gold version of Minnelli's favorite clothes for men, white tie and tails. This is one of the most spectacular costumes anywhere in Minnelli. It is complete with gold top hat; three more gold top hats are on the heroes' table, serving as phallic symbols for them.
The cat whiskers that get painted on the heroes during this number, are an instance of the face-paint that runs through Minnelli.
Earlier, the heroine wore a black-and-white dress, during her blind date.
One of the mobsters in is a really loud and striking dark brown suit, black shirt and white tie. He recalls Chuck Connors' hood in Designing Woman, in that he first shows up as an extra, then later turns into a character with a speaking role.
The balcony at the party-house, is supported by thin metal pillars. This recalls the pavilions in such films as The Pirate, which are also on very thin pillars.
The park where "Just in Time" is sung is by a river, a favorite Minnelli location. There is a bridge in the background, like the Seine scene in An American in Paris. The park is entered by a staircase, also like the Seine bank in An American in Paris. Minnelli has a delightful crane shot, that moves with the characters down this staircase. The duo give what turns into a public performance in front of a group of delighted spectators: like the two men who sing "'S Wonderful" to the Parisian crowd in An American in Paris.
The park has a tilted fence, guarding the river side. Minnelli films are full of room with tilted walls. This is perhaps an outdoor equivalent.
"Drop That Name" is sung on a circular staircase. It resembles the spiral staircases that run through Minnelli.
The two cousins, one French and one German, recall the brothers of other Minnelli vehicles.
The hero of this film is an expatriate artist living in Paris, just as in Minnelli's earlier An American in Paris. That film was a musical; this is a drama. That film was shot on the backlot of Metro in Hollywood, this one is shot on location in France. The film seems completely personal for Minnelli. Yet at the same time, it seems to use different techniques from many earlier Minnelli films. The sets look different.
Minnelli's hero is an affable, apparently genial young man, who has social entree into all circles. This entree plays an increasing role in the plot through the course of the picture, being used by other people for hidden ends. In this, he is much like the heroine's brother Lon in Meet Me in St. Louis, another young man of apparent total conventionality, but who also has hidden ambiguities in his allegiances and inner identity. Just as Lon used his social acceptability to help his sisters make an end run around the patriarchy who ran their society, so here is the hero's social entree exploited by another oppressed group, the French Resistance, against the sinister men who run their society, the Nazi occupiers.
The hero is frequently shown wearing Minnelli's favorite costume for men, white tie and tails. These are a trademark of Minnelli's most appealing men. But here, this costume gets an extra, political meaning. It is juxtaposed against the Nazi uniforms worn by the villains. It seems an in your face expression of the hero's frivolity and sexuality, as opposed to the macho, traditionally male code of the dominant Nazis. It expresses the sexuality of the hero as a force that defies social norms of masculinity. Ford looks wonderful in his tails, just as all Minnelli men do. His white tie and collar have been exaggerated in size and fluffiness, to make him look especially party-like, fun loving, frivolous, sensual and irresponsible. This underscores his position outside of the "serious" role for men endorsed by macho male norms.
The hero's studio is full of red, as is his spectacular red roadster. He also wears a spectacular red dressing gown late in the film, along with a matching red tie and white dress shirt. Such red costumes are more often associated with Minnelli's heroines. This too suggests that the hero is a man who is outside his society's gender norms. The hero's silver dressing gown is also visually striking.
When the Nazis enter Paris, they display features of an extreme, macho oriented traditional masculinity. Minnelli associates them with phallic symbols such as drums and horses. This is consistent with the loathing and distrust Minnelli has always felt towards traditional masculinity. This gives a political dimension to Minnelli's gender attitudes. The film is deeply anti-Nazi, and Minnelli links his gender ideas to anti-Nazi politics. The Nazi uniforms in this picture are some of the least sharp looking in movie history. Given Minnelli's superb control of costuming throughout his career, one is certain that this is a conscious choice on his part. Minnelli clearly did NOT want anything about the Nazis' appearance to glamorize them in any way.
Other aspects recall Vincente Minnelli's own films. The restaurant episodes recall that in Minnelli's The Clock (1945). Once again, there are sideboards full of plates and other beautiful objects. Each of the diners is also a beautifully conceived cameo, in the tradition of The Clock. Especially endearing is a French Army officer, who tenderly feeds his little girl. This recalls the family with the little girl in The Clock. (The huge crowd scenes throughout the film also recall The Clock.)
The color progressions are also Minnelli like. At the beginning, in the auction house, the heroine wears a light pink dress, that matches the pink background color of the Renoir pastel at auction. Ford is in a light gray suit. These are the two lightest colors worn by anyone at the auction, and make the hero and heroine stand out in the crowd. Women extras are in a series of purple suits here, providing a stunning series of color harmonies. Each one gets a bit of business in the Minnelli manner. After the auction proper, the hero and heroine move out into the hallway of the auction house. This set recalls the Mayor's room in The Pirate. In the background of both, their is a high region reached by a staircase going up at one side. Below this, there are a series of smaller steps going down. A white bust on a tall pillar reflects Minnelli's love of statues forming strong verticals. All of these features recall The Pirate. A later scene along the Seine recalls the waterside sequences in The Pirate and An American in Paris.
A restaurant is full of white tulips in vases, recalling the scenes in Some Came Running filled with white flowers.
Soon, we see the hero's red roadster. It forms a strong red horizontal along the bottom of the Cinemascope frame. It is echoed by a canopy along the top of the frame, in an identical color red. There is also a woman in a red dress in the background. She is seated under a green archway, which recalls both Minnelli's love of arches in his sets, and his fondness for garlanding sets with green plants. Later, in a second restaurant, Minnelli will have the couple seated against another long vividly red wall. It too forms a long red horizontal region at the bottom of the frame. This is just the start of a whole series of flaming red color schemes throughout the rest of the sequence. In many of these red, is contrasted with pale blues, recalling the dominant color scheme of Some Came Running. A restaurant mixes red walls with blue chairs. And the carriage in which the couple ride at the end has red-orange seats and blue lanterns on the side. Some of the scenes link the hero with red. He keeps taking the heroine out to red restaurants, red carriages and his red roadster. He also makes a progression down a long red corridor exiting from the Club Latin dance club, a club that echoes his Argentinean heritage. But the heroine herself also has red associations: she wears an iridescent dark red dress. This beautiful evening gown is of a much darker shade of red than the flaming red-oranges associated with the hero here.
Minnelli bathes the screen with intense colored lights throughout the montage. This seems quite original. Montage sequences in Hollywood reached their peak of popularity in the 1930's, and were typically in black and white. The intense red here recalls the way the screen goes red near the end of Some Came Running. Both colors scream out a warning of danger and menace to the audience.
Minnelli also fills the scene with colored smoke. This recalls the fountain scene in the ballet in An American in Paris. Huge flames eventually emerge in the montage as well, recalling the Pirate Number in The Pirate. Here these are the flames of war, and have a much more sinister meaning than in the earlier film.
The army trucks, with their thin pillars on their sides, also recall the moving pavilions of that film. And the leaf camouflage on the pillars recalls the garlanding in earlier Minnelli films.
The dance begins with close-ups of the men's shiny black boots. Later, the film will emphasize the Nazis' shiny boots, which they use to underscore their arrogant actions. Heinrich in particular likes to display his boots, hoisting his leg over chairs. So do the marchers. Similarly, a man drumming will be prominent in the opening dance - while Nazi drummers will underscore their terrifying march through Paris.
The film seems to view such symbols as boots and drums, as male symbols that can be used for either good or evil purposes. They can be associated with the Life Force, like the opening family dance. Or then can be appropriated by evil regimes like the Nazis, to give their rituals appeal.
When the women join the men, they use scarves: a recurrent Minnelli motif in dances.
Later, the park at Versailles will also be a Minnelli garden, complete with traditional Minnelli imagery: green vegetation, white statues, white garden stone work. But the garden will have something new for Minnelli: the traditional bright red accents are missing. Instead, we have autumn leaves, that are perhaps reddish, but mainly subdued. The garden is a symbol not of life, but of the death of life.
A long camera movement goes down a row of French people, watching in dismay as the Nazis parade. This shot starts and stops. It finally reaches Glenn Ford. Ford is conspicuously better dressed, than the "ordinary people" who make up most of the shot.
The apocalyptic finale recalls the tornado destroying everything at the end of Cabin in the Sky.
The way the Allies are monitoring everything through radio, oddly recalls dance numbers in Minnelli that are tracked by technicians: see the television rehearsal scene in Designing Woman.
Two Weeks in Another Town also preceded Jean-Luc Godard's own look at filmmaking in Italy, Le Mépris / Contempt (1963). Godard includes a homage in Le Mépris to Minnelli and Some Came Running.
Minnelli's brilliant use of color, here and elsewhere, also anticipates the spectacular use of color in both Godard and Fellini. His screening room here has brilliant red-orange seats, a favorite Minnelli color. Minnelli's use of the screening room as the locale of emotionally charged battles recurs in 8 1/2 and Le Mépris.
Squabbling Intellectuals. The Cobweb and Two Weeks in Another Town also contain ferocious characters who battle each other viciously throughout the movie. Their behavior is repulsive.
The Betrayal by a Loved Man. The hero's betrayal by an important friend - and a man for whom he explicitly feels "love" - recalls the betrayal of Van Gogh by his friend Gauguin in Lust for Life. Both men are film directors, just as Van Gogh and Gauguin are painters.
Mentors and Triangles. The triangle that develops between the hero, the young actor (George Hamilton) and the woman, recalls the triangle between the older George Peppard, Hamilton, and the woman they both love in Home from the Hill. In both films, the older man serves as a mentor for the callow characters played by Hamilton. The psychiatrist in The Cobweb also serves as mentor to the young artist-patient. There is no real love triangle in The Cobweb, although there is some jealousy when the young artist is attracted to the psychiatrist's wife.
The filmmaking scenes on the boat near the beginning show Minnelli's use of "friezes". Usually his camera is oriented parallel to the dock and the boat; these form a "wall" towards which his camera is kept in parallel. Minnelli regularly moves his camera forward or backward through this scene, always keeping it parallel to the dock and boat. Occasionally, Minnelli will cut to another perspective here; this turns out to be at a ninety degree angle to the main dock shot, and parallel to other nautical stuff on one side of the dock. This is an outdoor equivalent to a Minnelli cut to a "side wall shot" in his interiors. Minnelli's camera seems a lot more nervous here than in Some Came Running. He cuts forwards and backwards far more often than he did in the earlier film. And while Some Came Running tends to open with a master shot of a scene, then move forward later to an occasional closer view, here Minnelli is jumping forward, backward and all over the place, with no obvious rationale other than exploring the set and following the script. It creates a somewhat disorienting feeling.
The camera boom and the fountain, are two other familiar kinds of Minnelli Kinetic Art that return here.
Many of the scenes in Two Weeks in Another Town either have a blue-orange/red color scheme - or have only bright orange/red colors, without any blue. Even when blue is part of the scheme, it tends to be used more for accents, with orange/red the major color. Minnelli used blue-orange in several pictures - but usually blue and orange/red were equal partners. Here, he keeps to the color pattern - but with orange the dominant player - and sometimes taking over the decor entirely. Blue touches include the blue projection beam light in the screening room; blue accents on the boat; blue decor in the restaurant with the anniversary dinner.
The Italian film producer, is set against a background of a blue striped couch. His blue and grey clothes make a color harmony with this background, a familiar effect in Minnelli.
When Robinson is in the hospital, we see an oxygen tank painted green. This is a standard color coding for oxygen. But the green color seems a little duller than many real-life tanks: perhaps Minnelli has toned it down. The green is color-coordinated with dull-green chairs in the room.
Later, Douglas becomes of one Minnelli's men in gray suits.
Characterization seems inconsistent in The Courtship of Eddie's Father. It is hard to tell what the father wants out of women; whether he is a good father to his son; what his feelings are to Shirley Jones. Eddie ranges from an understandably frightened little boy, to a hipster with all the answers. The personality of the rich girlfriend is also hard to decipher. Such wavering, poorly defined characters are a rarity in Minnelli. They also make the film hard to interpret - it is hard to assign significance to anything these people do. This is a problem at the script and direction level - the performers are talented.
The treatment of feminism is also disturbing. The rich woman tells Ford she wants to be an equal. This recalls the detailed feminist conversations in The Sandpiper. But she is perhaps an unsympathetic character - and the hero dismisses her ideas. The film also seems to object to "working women", in a way atypical of Minnelli. However, because of the film's wavering and vague viewpoints, it is hard to tell what the film is really saying.
The scene introducing Dollye opens with people leaving a movie theater, like The Cobweb. It then segues to an arcade, like The Band Wagon. These are some of the most upbeat scenes in the movie. Dollye resembles a bit Shirley MacLaine's character in Some Came Running - although the film goes out of its way to establish that she is not a "floozy", and that she was good at school. This makes her far more respectable and educated, than the heroine of Some Came Running.
A brief sequence shows the couple, dating and dancing in three different night clubs. This recalls the romance episode in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The first restaurant is in Minnelli's beloved red, and full of another Minnelli trademark, candelabra.
The Courtship of Eddie's Father treats sports as simply good, unlike other Minnelli films. Eddie hits a home run in a ball game, and impresses his father and the crowd. This contrasts with Tea and Sympathy, where the son's tennis prowess fails to wow either Dad or his schoolmates. Also unlike Tea and Sympathy: Eddie seems to have no special relationship with his roommate at the camp.
Eddie runs away from camp, leading to another of Minnelli's "missing persons" climaxes.
Near the end, Eddie tells Shirley Jones that her phone is about to ring. (He knows this because his dad is about to call.) This resembles the scenes in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, where the psychic heroine tells people that their phone is about to ring.
The broadcast room has tilted windows, and tilted technical panels with loudspeakers. It resembles a bit the peaked-roof rooms in other Minnelli films, although it is far from having walls converge to a peak.
The goldfish bowl is trapezoidal.
The hall in front of Jones' apartment has a checkerboard floor.
Ford's office is mainly red-and-green, with some yellow (Ford's chair). The broadcast booth is full of green - but the broadcaster's red vest makes this red-and-green, too.
The rich woman's living room is in mauve-and-white, a Minnelli color scheme for areas of extreme elegance. She has a screen which might or might not be Asian: it is much less clearly Japanese Art than most of Minnelli's screens.
At the wedding, Eddie is sitting in a corner, steeped in the green-and-purple color scheme that sometimes appears in Minnelli.
The orange kitchen booth recalls the one in The Cobweb. It also has a blue picture on the wall, making it one of Minnelli's blue-orange regions.
The hero wears black-and-white clothes as well, with two different tuxedos. He also wears a spectacular black dressing gown, over white pajamas. The gown has a red belt, and red accents.
Dollye wears red-and-white, a popular Minnelli combination, for her delightful drumming scene. This is one of several drum sequences in Minnelli.
Metallic clothes include the hero's silver hat at the New Years' party. The rich woman wears a gold skirt in one scene.
Goodbye Charlie (1964) is a comedy. Perhaps Vincente Minnelli's worst film, Goodbye Charlie is one of the skeletons in the closet of the auteur theory, a lousy movie by a generally good director.
However, this does not mean that Goodbye Charlie is impersonal. It has quite a few relationships with the rest of Minnelli's work:
Also, he is one of the seemingly conventional men in Minnelli, who might be concealing an unusual gender identity inside. Unfortunately, while most such men in Minnelli play "helper" roles, trying to protect or aid a "gender outsider" hero or heroine, Bruce has nowhere to go in the plot. Bruce does try to aid Charlie, the gender outsider, but a much less deserving such outsider than the other such characters in Minnelli.
Still, it is fascinating to see Bruce pursue Charlie. While on the surface, this is simply a man trying to romance a beautiful woman, one suspects that at some subconscious level Bruce understands that Charlie is different. And this is what triggers his attraction. The dialogue also hints that Bruce is a virgin - like the kind-hearted friend in Tea and Sympathy - and that this is the first time he has experienced real sexual attraction.
There is some funny and clever dialogue in Goodbye Charlie, but not enough. Bruce and Charlie get the cleverest dialogue, the double entendres in the parked car. This might be low brow, but it is both funny and sexy. The dialogue also embodies the gender ambiguity of Charlie: although she looks like a she, Charlie can also talk about cars in a way that was associated in 1964 with men. Both aspects of this seem to appeal to Bruce.
Like the other "helper" characters in Minnelli, Bruce is enormously attractive. These men tend to be good looking, sincere, and very well dressed, in conventional but elegant style. These characters have all of Minnelli's heart: he is deeply grateful to them for trying to aid the protagonist. Even if Bruce offers aid to a less deserving character than is typical in Minnelli - Minnelli still depicts him as appealing. Bruce gets to wear the gray suit, that shows up in so many of Minnelli's color films. He also enters wearing an elegant tux, and later wears a black suit and white shirt. Although he is not an artist, he wears the black-and-white clothes so often worn by people in Minnelli associated with the arts - he does recite poetry, and talk about Minnelli's beloved Venetian architecture. Bruce gets to carry that Minnelli favorite, a huge mass of flowers.
As in The Cobweb, the artist heroine is commissioned to create some stained glass windows for the school chapel, just like the artist in The Cobweb was asked to design curtains. In both films, we see ivory tower artists try to make designs for real world oriented institutions, thus paralleling Minnelli's own career as an artist trying to make something beautiful for film studios. Both the chapel and the library are environments, rooms full of pictures. In this they also resemble the room full of sunflower paintings, created by Van Gogh in Lust for Life.
The heroine has her own religious beliefs, which she follows intensively, and which influence her lonely life as an artist: like Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life.
We see the blueprints for the chapel, like the home improvement blueprints in Father's Little Dividend. Both sets of prints are spread flat on a table, for study. Both are stored in a long cylindrical tube.
The heroine's home has a tilted wall, like that of many artist characters in Minnelli.
The son's art is displayed on a bulletin board, like the artist's work in The Cobweb. Unlike The Cobweb, this board is not tipped over, and nothing happens to the drawings on it. It is a simpler scene.
He gets involved in a suspenseful sequence of hunting a wild animal in a beautifully photographed, lush primeval forest, like the boar hunt in Home from the Hill. In both films the hunt is a critique and exploration of traditional male macho codes, something somewhat alien to the boy, but sanctioned by society. Both sequences stand for all the problems non-macho males have in fitting in to traditional macho male codes endorsed by society. One also recalls the red coated fox hunters who open the finale of Lovely to Look At.
Her son deals with a strict school that teaches "traditional" values, like the sensitive protagonist of Tea and Sympathy. It is a religious school, like that attended by the heroine in Yolanda and the Thief. We see the administrators of the school, their work and its interaction with their personal lives, like the people running the asylum in The Cobweb. The son is a charity attendee at the school, just as the young artist in The Cobweb was a charity patient, surrounded by rich people. Both the asylum and the school have art training rooms, where the son and the young artist paint.
The son unexpectedly recites poetry, like the young men in Mademoiselle and Goodbye Charlie.
The Sandpiper resembles Some Came Running, in characters that stand around talking about their relationships, and beliefs about life. In both cases, the talk is richly interesting.
The Sandpiper (1965) came out before the women's lib movement in America had gathered much steam, and was widely reviled by critics. Its forthright feminism really seems to have rubbed critics the wrong way. It is still on many critical books as a Bomb. However, the film seen today looks like a classic drama, and one that was years ahead of its time. Feminist films still draw an intensely negative reaction from critics: the female private eye drama, V.I. Warshawski (1991), for example, seems to me to be a creditable and enjoyable crime drama. But something about it triggered an avalanche of negative responses from many reviewers.
The minister's office (library) is also red-and-green. But when Taylor enters, she is in a purple dress that clashes with it utterly. It is very funny to see. And symbolical of her being from another world.
The first interior view of the heroine's home also emphasizes red-and-green. The heroine is now in a purple sweater, echoing the earlier scene. But the purple is much milder, and now blends more with the red-and-green.
The crowd at the night club are also in red-and-green. They perform a vigorous dance in the background, while the main characters try to carry on a conversation, while seated at a table in the foreground. This recalls the similar staging of "The Midas Touch" in Bells Are Ringing.
Equally vivid, but in a completely opposite way, are the crowds that attend the festival at the school, near the end. This bourgeois group is in their best suits and dresses. They remind one of the confident (and maddeningly smug) young businessmen who attend the prep school reunion at the start of Tea and Sympathy. Taylor stands out here in her yellow dress. She is refined looking as everyone else - but the only person in bright color.
Eva Marie Saint enters the film wearing a brown sweater and skirt, harmonized with the wooden door and other furnishings of the corner of her husband's office she occupies. Her brown clothes / brown wood is a standard Minnelli combination, most often used for women.
A big difference, is that in The Return of October, the possible reincarnation centers on whether the heroine's uncle has come back as a horse; whereas in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, it is the heroine herself who might be reincarnated. The Return of October is also far more skeptical and ambiguous than On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, which shows its heroine possessing psychic powers.
All of these resemblances were present in Alan Jay Lerner's 1965 stage musical, long before Minnelli became involved with the project.
Jack Nicholson plays the sitar, linking him to the folk music hero of Tea and Sympathy, and the rock musician of The Reluctant Debutante. These are all signs of non-conformity in Minnelli.
This episode resembles a bit the hunts for missing persons in the finales of other Minnelli movies. See Father's Little Dividend, The Bad and the Beautiful, The Cobweb, Two Weeks in Another Town. It differs from them, in that in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, we know where the missing person is. And we often see the hunt from the missing person's point of view - whereas in the other films, the missing person stays frighteningly off-screen, till they are found. This allows the climax of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever to be played as comedy, unlike the other more sinister scenes. Streisand in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever is also less purely a "missing person", and more simply a character who is simply avoiding the hero.
The elaborate dinner table in the flashback, resembles the dinner table on the movie set in The Bad and the Beautiful. The hero and heroine try to communicate wordlessly to each other, across the wide table and in the midst of a crowd. This recalls a bit, the couple trying to see each other through the crowds in the wedding reception in The Long, Long Trailer.
The garden at the beginning is on one level, not a hillside like so many Minnelli gardens. It is full of green and red: more typical of Minnelli's gardens. Immediately after walking through it, the heroine encounters a statue outside the university building. The building also has shallow steps: another common feature of Minnelli style. The whole scene is in one long take. And like the rest of the film, it is full of Minnelli's beloved flowers. Streisand moves into and emerges from the bushes, like Spencer Tracy hunting among the bushes for the baby in Father's Little Dividend.
The hero's office also has shallow steps.
The corridor outside the hero's office, has arched niches with curved tops. These recall the arched corridors that run through other Minnelli films.
The hypnotism patient at the start, has his head against a diagram full of intersecting circles. The first shots of the film, show bulbs being planted in round flower pots.
The round entrance area at the center of Brighton Pavilion, recalls the gigantic round screen that closes off the ballroom in "This Heart of Mine" in Ziegfeld Follies:
Montand's quarters have a spiral staircase. Minnelli executes a spiral camera movement, moving with Streisand as she ascends the stairs, after "Come Back To Me".
Streisand's plaid skirt, can be viewed as having diamond shaped patterns in it. Usually, in Minnelli such patterns are on walls, and associated with men. Perhaps I am reaching to see the plaid as containing diamond-shape imagery.
The heroine sits in a cone-shaped chair during the hypnotism scenes. The chair is quilted in a diamond lozenge pattern. Such lozenges are associated in Minnelli with places under male control - and the chair is a locale where the hero hypnotizes the heroine.
During the dinner table scene in the flashback, Streisand's head piece is covered with ovals. The woman in gold at the left of the hero, has a conical headdress.
The little boy in the park in "Come Back To Me" has a pinwheel toy, with four revolving pinwheels.
The fast-growing plants, might also be seen as an unusual kind of Kinetic Art. The opening flowers are fascinating.
The garden opening has sprinkler systems gushing water. These recall the fountains in other Minnelli.
The conference room in which the university board of trustees meet is mainly in green and white. The president's green leather chair, recalls the green leather furniture in the judge's office at the start of The Sandpiper. The many plants in this room, and the green-and-white color scheme, oddly recall the many outdoor gardens in Minnelli.
Red light engulfs the heroine, when she first makes her breakthrough to the past under hypnosis. It recalls the colored light in other Minnelli. Soon, the red light seems to be coming from a dissolve to a red image - rather than the strict colored light in other Minnelli.
The sweater is more-or-less brown, and matches the brown woodwork in the hero's office. Several other films have brown clothes harmonized with woodwork (Judy Garland in The Pirate, Lillian Gish's suit and office in The Cobweb, Lori's fur in Wilde's office in Designing Woman, Eva Marie Saint in her husband's office in The Sandpiper). Aside from these scenes, few other Minnelli locales have so much unpainted wood in them - Minnelli usually prefers brightly colored sets. Most of these previous characters in brown-matched-with-wood were women. Montand is unusual as a male involved in such a color scheme.
Jack Nicholson is last seen in a bright yellow sweater. Yellow clothes are associated with both women and men in Minnelli. At the end, when Streisand sings "On a Clear Day", a student is glimpsed in the background with a yellow shirt and white trousers. Such light colored clothes with a lot of white, echo the clothes seen in front of the Brighton Pavilion. He is soon followed by four women in yellow, and a man in a yellow shirt with black trousers (as well as people in red, orange, blue and green).
Earlier, Nicholson's spectacular paisley shirt shows Minnelli adapting to the Mod era in men's fashion.
The handsome lover is first seen in front of Brighton Pavilion, wearing a purple coat with yellow-ish trousers, echoing his yellow hair. Purple and yellow are opposites on the color wheel, and are therefore a standard combination in color design. However, they are not a Minnelli favorite. Please see my list of purple-and-yellow costumes in film and comic books. The hero is also booted: something not too common in Minnelli, outside of military uniforms, or the fox hunting garb in Lovely to Look At. (In this, Minnelli is the opposite of the cinema of Joseph H. Lewis, in which boots are everywhere.)
The young man is seated next to a woman in green-and-white, a color scheme most often seen in Minnelli gardens.
The policeman in "Come Back To Me" wears a dark, seemingly black uniform, with white gloves. He recalls the black-and-white uniformed traffic patrolman in The Long, Long Trailer. Working class men in spiffy black-and-white uniforms run through Minnelli.
Two women at the dinner table (in the flashback) are in gold clothes. They recall the male singer (Hal Linden) in gold clothes in "The Midas Touch" in Bells Are Ringing. In this same scene, Streisand is in white, nearly covered with diamonds. This use of "precious materials" as costumes is an unusual figure of style. However, the heroine's white clothes, and the hero's black-and-white evening wear, also mark them as Minnelli characters in black-and-white.
This is the only time Vincente Minnelli was able to direct his daughter Liza Minnelli in a film. Also, unlike his MGM period where Vincente Minnelli often directed the same actors repeatedly, most of the cast of A Matter of Time is entirely new to Minnelli. Only Charles Boyer seems to be a Minnelli regular.
Liza Minnelli gets to sing some songs. However, A Matter of Time is not a full scale musical. Two of these numbers are simply on the soundtrack. Only one number is shown on-screen: the marvelous Venice sequence has Liza Minnelli singing "Do It Again".
The heroine of Bells Are Ringing tries to inspire others, to lead richer and more creative lives. By contrast, it is the heroine herself of A Matter of Time who needs inspiration. The actress in The Bad and the Beautiful gets inspired by the producer, as do to a lesser degree the director and writer in that film.
Ingrid Bergman plays a grand dame, with a fabulous personality. This recalls a bit Ethel Barrymore in Mademoiselle. A Matter of Time is also set in Rome, like Mademoiselle and Two Weeks in Another Town. A sequence is set in Venice. After all the glowing references to Venetian art in earlier Minnelli films, it is great to see the director at last getting a chance to make a film there.
Bergman's daughter Isabella Rossellini briefly plays a nun. This is one of many examples of Christian imagery in Minnelli. The Contessa also takes communion from the priest, a striking image.
A character at the hotel, is another of Vincente Minnelli's writers.
The Contessa is another Vincente Minnelli character who disappears near a film's end, prompting a search by the other characters. The search in A Matter of Time is less elaborate than in some Minnelli films.
Years ago, the Contessa left her husband for another man. She is still fixated on this long gone affair. This is one of many treatments of adultery in Minnelli. As often, Minnelli shows the huge costs of this adultery. Not only did it wreck the Contessa's marriage, but it has caused her to live in the past. Like Madame Bovary, she has wrecked her life for a romantic fantasy.
Another aspect that recalls Madame Bovary: the Contessa condemns the heroine's crush on her former boyfriend, saying it will only lead to a bourgeois marriage and children. The boyfriend is a chemist (what in the USA is called a pharmacist), recalling the doctor husband Emma Bovary despises. Both chemist and doctor are middle class professionals who lack the elite glamour sought by the Contessa and Madame Bovary.
However, some passages in the film regard the Contessa more sympathetically than Madame Bovary ever was. Emma Bovary gets condemned, the Contessa gets celebrated.
Also confusing: some passages show the Contessa giving the heroine good advice, such as to be yourself, and to be original. But the Contessa is also shown training the heroine to get jewelry from boyfriends. This recalls the training to be a courtesan in Gigi, something condemned by that film. If it's bad for Gigi to learn how to extract presents of jewelry from wealthy men - and I agree that it is - shouldn't it be bad for the heroine of A Matter of Time?
All of this makes the message of A Matter of Time be scrambled. Sometimes it is urging us to be big-souled, individual and original; sometimes it seems to be celebrating courtesans. I'll gladly take the big-souled tributes to originality: originality is something the world desperately needs. A Matter of Time deserves all credit for such a message - but one has to recognize that it also suffers from some dubious ideas. Once again, it is unclear which of these ideas, if any, were present in Minnelli's original conception.
These pictures of the Contessa do indeed have an almost devotional quality. They show her beauty being celebrated by many great painters.
When the heroine first enters the hotel from the street outside, we see a baker peddling a sort of three wheeled bicycle, with a hugh basket in front. This recalls a street machine in An American in Paris.
The heroine's laundry cart is also a Kinetic machine.
The hotel has swinging doors.
Boyer is carried in an open-topped car, like many Minnelli characters.
The writer throws his papers in the air, one of several tossed items in Minnelli. And the aftermath of the party in Venice is full of multi-colored streamers on the floor, although we don't see them actually being tossed.
The last shot of the film shows the heroine against a revolving door.
The Contessa's hotel suite has wall mirrors in shapes that occur in previous Minnelli films. One is octagonal. The bathroom mirror is a horizontal ellipse, though it is less elongated than those in previous Minnelli. Instead of being elongated, it is close to being a circle. The Contessa has a long elliptical mirror on a dressing table, one more used in the bulk of the film.
The writer's room has a simple three-way mirror above a table.
The swinging doors do not contain mirrors. But they do have windows shaped like vertical ellipses.
The heroine uses a phone in her limousine, to communicate with the chauffeur.
The Contessa also goes to one of Minnelli's flower shops.
The first food we see at the restaurant is "green and soft", a Minnelli tradition. This is the bowl-like plates from which the two men are eating. A bottle of green fluid is nearby on the table. Soon, the Contessa will get a plate of green salad, also a Minnelli favorite.
The Contessa in the restaurant has a pink rose, red walls, green vegetation, and a yellow ashtray on her table.
Minnelli's favorite costume for men appears: white tie and tails.