A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Friday, April 1, 2016

Funny Face (Stanley Donen, 1957)

Is there anything better than Astaire singing Gershwin? And in Funny Face he sings five Gershwin songs with his impeccable phrasing and musicianship, which in itself would be enough to make this one of the great film musicals. Okay, maybe it's not up there with the best of the Astaire-Rogers films or The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli, 1953), but it's close enough. And he dances, too, with the same grace and vitality at the age of 58 as when he was much, much younger, especially in his great solo performance of "Let's Kiss and Make Up" and his duet with Kay Thompson on "Clap Yo' Hands." So Audrey Hepburn isn't in the same league as Ginger Rogers or Cyd Charisse as a dance partner, but she had studied ballet when she was much younger and her solo number parodying modern dance moves is one of the film's highlights. As a singer, she's a good actress, by which I mean that her big solo number, "How Long Has This Been Going On?", is memorable because of the way she sells the concept of innocence awakening to ecstasy, greatly aided by a big yellow hat and Ray June's gorgeous color cinematography. It's clear that she had a small, untrained singing voice, which is why Marni Nixon had to be called in to dub her in My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964), a role that makes demands she probably couldn't have met vocally. There are those who are bothered by the nearly 30-year age discrepancy between Astaire and Hepburn, but she spent much of her career playing opposite much older men like Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, and Cary Grant -- in her prime in the 1950s and early '60s, there were very few leading men her age who could match her star power. Some critics also object to the film's mockery of French intellectuals -- Pauline Kael calls the lecherous philosopher played by Michel Auclair "a sour idea" -- but that's probably asking too much of the conventions of romantic comedy. The screenplay is by Leonard Gershe, but the real heroes of the film are Astaire, Hepburn, Thompson, June, Roger Edens in his dual role as producer and composer, costume designers Edith Head and Hubert de Givenchy, photographer Richard Avedon as "visual consultant," and most of all Stanley Donen, who not only directed but shared choreography duties with Astaire and Eugene Loring.