Saturday, July 15, 2006

Movie Movie

Movie Movie(1978)
Directed by Stanley Donen
Written by Larry Gelbart, Sheldon Keller
Starring George C. Scott, Red Buttons, Barry Bostwick, Trish Van Devere, Eli Wallach, Harry Hamelin, Ann Reinking, and Art Carney
IMDB Entry

Stanley Donen should be high on the list of overlooked directors.  For instance, he directed a film that now, 50 years later, still makes critics top ten lists (and my #1 favorite) Singin' in the Rain.  True, Gene Kelly co-directed, but it's unusual that the director of such a well-known film is so unknown himself.  Other hits of his were On the Town (also with Kelly), Royal Wedding (Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, The Pajama Game, and the original Bedazzled.  He did two first-class Hitchcockian thrillers, Charade and Arabesque, and the two-person drama Two for the Road.  Of course, being a director of musicals probably is a drawback, since musicals are out of favor, but it's a shame that his reputation seems to be in eclipse.

Movie Movie was one of his later films. It is clearly a labor of love, a pastiche of 30s films.  What is a pastiche?  Well, a parody pokes fun at a film or genre; a pastiche shows loving admiration for it.  Written by Larry Gelbert, best known as the writer/creator of the TV version of M*A*S*H, Movie Movie is exactly what the title says it is:  two movies in one, the equivalent of a double feature (complete with coming attractions) in the 1930s. 

The first film, "Dynamite Hands," is a pastiche of the old boxing dramas of the 30s -- in black and white (at least, originally; I've heard some versions have it in color).  Harry Hamlin plays a young boxer who really would rather be a lawyer; George C. Scott is his crusty old trainer, Gloves Malloy.  The entire story is a loving cliché (the boxer was asked to throw a bout, of course, since that scene was in every boxing film of the time) and is filled with funny lines and other silliness.

The second film, "Baxter's Beauties," is a full-color old-fashioned 30s musical. Barry Bostwick -- channeling James Stewart with a touch of Dick Powell-- is the writer/star of the latest do-or-die production by crusty old producer Spats Baxter (Scott again).  Bostwick is perfect.  And the plot is straight out of 42nd Street.  Bostwick is a heck of a talent, and would have probably been a big star if musicals had still been in fashion.

Everyone here has a lot of fun.  Many were reliving the films they saw as kids, and know that the best way to be funny is to play things straight.

The biggest problem is trying see it.  There isn't a DVD, and it hasn't been on tape in years.  You may have to haunt eBay to find it, but it'll be well worth the effort.

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