Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bonjour, ROSEMARY'S BABY

Rosemary's Baby was a spooky best-selling novel by Ira Levin that was made into a spooky big hit 1968 movie.  Roman Polanski masterfully wrote and directed a modern-day mystery/horror story starring Mia Farrow.  Farrow was a top TV star at the time, popular with young viewers on ABC's prime time hit series based on the novel and movie, Peyton Place.  Her performance in Rosemary's Baby got raves from the critics and proved she was a big screen actress of considerable skill.  She begins as the optimistic young Manhattan wife in a new apartment with her non-famous actor husband.  Rosemary wears sunny, optimistic colors.
                                               
Actress/playwright/screenwriter Ruth Gordon won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Rosemary's nosy and slightly kooky but truly sinister neighbor.

Rosemary's sunny exterior is darkened and deteriorated by demons.  She's surrounded by them.  She no longer looks like a sunny young wife. She looks stricken and somber.  Who can Rosemary trust?  Can she even trust her husband?                                                                      

Pregnant Rosemary breaks down mentally.  Something is wrong with her life.  Something is wrong with her baby.
Rosemary's Baby has been altered and "reimagined" for NBC.  The first part airs tonight.  Zoe Saldana takes on the key role of Rosemary, the innocent wife who may unwittingly be pregnant with the Devil's child.

I read the review of the NBC remake in Friday's  New York Times.  I still don't know how the critic felt about Zoe Saldana's lead performance.  That review didn't tell you much about the actors in the highly promoted NBC production.  It was a high-tone piece of writing that told you more about France, the locale for the new version, than it did about the remake.  It did not leave me satisfied with information.

Let me put it like this:  When I lived in New York City, a friend invited me to have lunch with her.  I was up for a good hearty lunch.  She chose a restaurant in a ritzy Fifth Avenue department store.  I wanted a cheeseburger.  This restaurant was so fancy that the cheeseburger came out looking like it was putting on airs.  No buns.  The slim burger was served on an English muffin.  The cheese was Gruyere.  Behind a large leaf of Arugula lettuce were a few very thin julienne fries lying around loose as if they didn't care.  Like supermodels on deck furniture at a Fire Island summer home for the weekend.  I ate the burger, but I wasn't satisfied.

That night, I went to a favorite diner in my working class neighborhood.  I had a cheeseburger deluxe.  A bigger burger with a heap of thicker fries and for less money than that fancy burger-ette on Fifth Avenue.  I was satisfied.

That New York Times review was like the Gruyere cheeseburger on an English muffin.

Here's part of it:

"France is inherently risky for visitors.  As the works of Henry James and Diane Johnson, author of 'Le Divorce,' attest, all kinds of bad things happen to Americans in Paris.  If the Devil is going to return for an encore, it's surely more likely to be in the city of Dominique Strauss-Kahn than in the one run by Bill de Blasio."

Umm...OK.  But how's the acting?  Is Ms. Saldana as effective as Ms. Farrow was?  I still didn't know.

I continued reading the review:

"And because it's Paris, it is possible to wonder, at least for a while, if maybe the problem is Rosemary, not her neighbors, who seem so serenely superior and all knowing.

As Ms. Johnson's heroine put it in 'Le Divorce,' describing Frenchwomen's inability ever to be shocked or surprised:  "It's the French nature to say, 'Of course,' as if perfidy is to be expected, even planned by grand design."

I still don't know how the critic felt about Zoe Saldana's performance.  I know more about Diane Johnson's "Le Divorce" than I know about how Saldana rates as Rosemary.  Mia Farrow is one of those Hollywood film veterans who, shockingly, has never received an Oscar nomination.  Not for any of her golden performances in Woody Allen films.  Mia's performance in the original Rosemary's Baby was ripe for a Best Actress Oscar nomination.  How does the remake work with the husband now an aspiring novelist instead of a struggling actor who would sell his soul to the Devil for that one star-making break?

Oh, well.  Maybe I can see it for myself tonight and Thursday.

As for that part about "...all kinds of bad things happen to Americans in Paris," here are 5 classic film rental tips from me in which Paris produces wonderful things.

1.  Midnight.  This tasty comedy is one of those many excellent movies released in Hollywood's great year, 1939.  It's a twist on the Cinderella tale with a screenplay co-written by Billy Wilder and directed by Mitchell Leisen.  Claudette Colbert is a chorus girl stranded and broke in Paris.
A temperamental but sweet taxi driver offers to help her out.  But she's from New York and her plan is to marry a millionaire.  She tells him, "I've spent most of my life on a Bronx local.  Squeezed, trampled, stepped on."  She could easily fall for him (played by handsome Don Ameche) but she doesn't want to wind up like her parents.  They married for love but years of struggling and no money just wore them out.  Love seemed to evaporate.  The taxi driver believes in marrying for love, not for money. Still, she's determined to land a Prince Charming with loot.  The Bronx Cinderella says "It took me years to realize you don't just fall into a tub of butter, you jump for it."  To her, money equals peace of mind.  We know that she'll fall for the cabdriver.
Eve Peabody sneaks into a invitation party with her pawn ticket.  It's there she meets a wealthy older and slightly wacky gent who becomes her Fairy Godmother.  He gets her to a ball with a fabulous new wardrobe, spending money and a chauffeur.  He recruits Eve to divert the attention of his wife's boyfriend.  The Fairy Godmother is a millionaire but what he wants most is his wife's love.  Superstitious Eve goes along with the ruse but reminds him, "Don't forget, every Cinderella has her midnight."  Claudette Colbert is yummy and at her comedic best.  John Barrymore is a hoot as the wealthy benefactor.
2.  Sabrina.  Here's one that Billy Wilder directed.  Audrey Hepburn starred in the title role.  This sophisticated comedy is about love and social class.  Sabrina is the chauffeur's daughter on a Long Island, New York estate.  She's secretly in love with the playboy son of the wealthy family her father drives.  The playboy son doesn't even know she's alive.  She plans suicide because of her unrequited love.  She's saved by the older, more responsible and business-like brother.
Sabrina is sent to Paris where she renews herself and finds her spirit.  She learns to run away from life.  Or from love either.  With her emotional and wardrobe makeover, she returns home to her proud father in Long Island -- above the garage on the estate.                                    

She keeps that touch of Paris with her and finds unexpected love back in New York.  Humphrey Bogart and William Holden co-star.
3.  Funny Face.  Audrey Hepburn gets another transformation and emotional makeover in Paris.  This time in a bright musical comedy classic co-starring the legendary Fred Astaire.  Audrey plays a New York City intellectual working in a Greenwich Village bookstore.  One day, it's overrun by the staff of the top glossy fashion magazine for a photo shoot.  The bookworm clerk watches the model strike a pose and thinks the whole thing is absolutely silly.

But the photographer (Astaire) sees something new and fascinating in her face.  He sees "character, spirit and intelligence."  The bookworm is offered the chance to go to Paris and become a butterfly for the magazine's next issue.  Jo (Hepburn) has to stop being a snob about high fashion.                          
She wants to go to Paris and study with a renowned philosopher.  Besides, she thinks her face is funny.  Too funny for the sophisticated world of chic high fashion.  But if she models. she can go to Paris for free.  She models and finds a new life in Paris.



Jo Stockton is a sensation as a model.  She and Richard Avery (Astaire) will fall in love, sing and dacne to some classic songs by George and Ira Gershwin.  Some new songs not written by the Gershwins are added to the mix -- like "Bonjour, Paris!" and "Think Pink," both performed with lots of bazazz by Kay Thompson as the magazine editor.  Funny Face, stylishly directed by Stanley Donen, is one of the best musicals of the 1950s.

4.  An American in Paris.  More Gershwin songs and more Paris.  But this Paris is really the genius of MGM art designers, set decorators and craftspeople.  Funny Face went on location to Paris.  An American in Paris was shot entirely at the MGM studios in Hollywood.  Gene Kelly is the American in Paris.  He's an ex-GI, a painter who was influenced by the great French artists.  He's a struggling but happy artist.
In his early numbers, we see that he loves the people and they love him.  He's a sweet man, respectful of older folks and he loves kids.  He's a charming Yank.  He makes friends easily.  He's got character.  He's a regular guy.
He meets and falls in love with a very dear young lady played by Leslie Caron.  But there are complications in their romance.
By the way...Leslie Caron starred in the 2003 film adaptation of "Le Divorce" based on the novel by Diane Johnson.

This MGM musical boldly and brilliantly ends with a long, gorgeous ballet to Gershwin's "An American in Paris."  In includes visual inspiration of the French artists who inspired Jerry, the American painter.  I love the Lautrec portion of the ballet.


Two innovative Hollywood masters were at the top of their creative game in making this film -- director Vincente Minnelli and actor/dancer/choreographer Gene Kelly. The An American in Paris ballet alone is better and more dazzling that some current 2-hour movies chock full of computerized special effects.  Here, the two biggest special effects were the terrific dancing of Gene Kelly and, in her screen debut, Leslie Caron.

5.  Paris Blues.  An under-appreciated film that came out during the Civil Rights era and did some subtle yet provocative things for an American movie of that time, in 1961.  We see two pairs of best friends.  The first pair is Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman.  Yes, an interracial pair of best friends.  They're American jazz musicians and composers working and living in Paris.

They play in a club rich with jazz and diversity.  In the opening scene, director Martin Ritt shows interracial couples dancing and same-sex couples on dates while the band jams "Take the A Train."

Poitier's character loves his native country but he can get more respect and acceptance as a black man in Paris than he can in America.  Romance will come into the lives of the two guys in the form of a two girlfriends on vacation in Paris from the U.S.  These two best friends are played by Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll.  Yes, another interracial pair of best friends.  And the white jazzman throws a classy flirt at the sophisticated, lovely black tourist.  That was really new for American films back then.

Diahann Carroll made Broadway history in 1962 as the first black actress to win the Tony Award for her performance in a musical.  She introduced "The Sweetest Sounds" in Richard Rodgers No Strings, a musical with an interracial love story about...two Americans in Paris.  In Paris Blues, Ms. Carroll gets the kind of role Hollywood should've given Dorothy Dandridge right after her historic Best Actress Oscar nomination for 1954's Carmen Jones.  Because of Hollywood's racial timidity and the lack of equal opportunities, the first black woman nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award did not have another screen assignment until 1957.  Lena Horne called the gifted and glamorous Dorothy Dandridge "the black Marilyn Monroe."  Diahann Carroll had a supporting role in 1954's musical drama, Carmen Jones.  In 1961's  Paris Blues, she urges Eddie (Poitier) not to give up on America.  Bring his talents back home and know that the Civil Rights movement will bring new things.  Be a part of the movement with his art.

Paris Blues has a solid jazz score, thanks to Duke Ellington.  It also boasts the first and only screen role  to really treat Louis Armstrong like the jazz great and American genius he was.  He plays "Wild Man" Moore in Paris Blues, an international music star who's on tour in Paris.  It's a nice upscale part and Armstrong has a good scene with Paul Newman, advising the young musician on his compositions.


And Armstrong's jam session...Ooh, baby!  That's why he was a legend.  Thank you, Martin Ritt, for treating Louie Armstrong like the American music master he was.  In Paris Blues, he's not a sidekick with a horn like he was in several movies of the 1930s and 40s.  This movie role gave Armstrong major respect.
In addition to that, there's the upscale romance between the two black lead characters.  It's the most interesting of the two romances.  Two educated black American professionals fall in love in Paris. That really hit a high note with my parents when they saw this movie.
Martin Ritt also directed Hud, The Great White Hope, Sounder and Norma Rae.

There you are -- five films in which good things happens to Americans in Paris.


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