A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Friday, March 2, 2018

Dames (Ray Enright, Busby Berkeley, 1934)

Mabel Anderson: Joan Blondell
Jimmy Higgens: Dick Powell
Barbara Hemingway: Ruby Keeler
Mathilda Hemingway: Zasu Pitts
Horace Hemingway: Guy Kibbee
Ezra Ounce: Hugh Herbert
Bulger: Arthur Vinton

Director: Ray Enright, Busby Berkeley
Screenplay: Delmer Daves, Robert Lord
Cinematography: George Barnes, Sidney Hickox, Sol Polito
Art direction: Robert M. Haas, Willy Pogany
Film editing: Harold McLernon
Music: Heinz Roemheld

Utterly inane and completely delightful, Dames is mostly a showcase for three great Busby Berkeley dance spectacles, each giddier and more kaleidoscopic than the one that went before. The big numbers -- "The Girl at the Ironing Board," "I Only Have Eyes for You," and the title song -- are clustered at the end of the film, the supposed (if impossible) production numbers in a Broadway musical. Until we get to them, there's a lot of nonsense about multimillionaire Ezra Ounce's moral crusade and his cousin Horace Hemingway's kowtowing to Ounce in order to get a sizable chunk of his millions, which involves keeping his daughter, Barbara, from marrying her 13th cousin, Jimmy, who is banking on his ability to put on the big show, which supposedly offends Ounce's moral code. Got that? Fortunately, the bluenoses are played by such grand grotesques as Hugh Herbert, Guy Kibbee, and Zasu Pitts, and there's a lot of silliness about Ezra Ounce's hiccup cure, which is something like 70 percent alcohol. There's also the invaluable Joan Blondell as a chorus girl on the make. Unfortunately, we also get a couple of songs from Dick Powell, in his sappy tenor avatar, and some clunky tap-dancing from Ruby Keeler. But Berkeley's extravaganzas are worth the wait, including the title number, which features chorus girls riding a miniature Ferris wheel. Standing. Backward.

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