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The M-G-M MusicalWas: The Varsity Drag


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#61 miliosr

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Posted 03 December 2015 - 05:48 AM

Crawford was at M-G-M for a long time -- from 1925 (still the silent film era) to 1943 (WWII-era). She was smart about evolving her image, just as her great rival at the studio, Norma Shearer, was. They both intuited -- correctly -- that, if they stood still, audiences would tire of them. So, Crawford evolved out of her "great gal" Charleston dancer persona into, eventually, the more hard-boiled persona that let her slide effortlessly into Mildred Pierce when she moved over to Warner Brothers in 1945. And Shearer evolved out of her girl-next-door persona in silents into her free-living persona of the early talkies and, eventually, into her "classy lady" persona of the late-30s and early-40s.



#62 miliosr

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Posted 14 May 2016 - 02:03 PM

Q: What was M-G-M's most profitable musical of 1953? The Band Wagon w/ Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse? Kiss Me Kate w/ Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel and Ann Miller? Dangerous When Wet or Easy To Love w/ Esther Williams?

 

A: Wrong on all counts. M-G-M's most profitable musical of 1953 was Lili, starring Leslie Caron and directed by Charles Walters.

 

Lili takes place in post-World War II France. Caron plays the title character, a naïve, orphaned waif of 16 who finds a temporary home at a travelling carnival. There, she becomes besotted with 'Marc the Magnificent,' a womanizing magician played by the very handsome and very charming Jean-Pierre Aumont. Lili also meets Paul (played by Mel Ferrer), a former premiere danseur who was injured during the war and now can only work as a puppeteer, which he considers to be an inferior art to the dance. Lili unselfconsciously interacts with the puppets in Paul's show; seemingly unaware that the puppets aren't real. Lili's interaction with the puppets makes the act popular to the point where she becomes part of the "act" with Paul and his partner, Jacquot (played by Kurt Kaznar). Complicating all of this is Lili's infatuation with the untrustworthy Marc, and Paul's inability to express his emotions, particularly his love for Lili, except through the puppets.

 

Lili doesn't enjoy the same reputation that two of Caron's other M-G-M musicals, Gigi and (especially) An American in Paris, enjoy even though, during its day, Lili was every bit as profitable as the other two. Still, while Lili is more of a cult musical than the other two, it continues to have its charms lo these 63 years later. Caron is a standout as Lili and Aumont matches her all the way as the sleazy but charming Marc. They are ably supported by Kaznar and, of all people, Zsa Zsa Gabor as Marc's assistant, Rosalie. (If it's humanly possible for there to be such a thing as a "classic Zsa Zsa Gabor film", Lili may be it.) Perhaps the only weak link is Ferrer, who plays the emotionally distant Paul too well -- you can't blame Lili for not seeing anything in him until, somewhat implausibly, the end of the movie.

 

Charles Walters directs with his usual light touch (and acts as the dance double for Aumont in one of the movie's two dream sequences.) The M-G-M art direction team does an admirable job with creating and sustaining the illusion of a French carnival. (I may be the only person in this world who prefers M-G-M France to France-France.)

 

The greatest star of all is composer Bronsilau Kaper's score and especially its hit song, "Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo", which Lili sings with the puppets and which appears in various forms throughout the score.

 

Filmed in 1952, the M-G-M brass had no confidence in the movie and thought they had a major flop on their hands. Much to their surprise, the film was a huge hit and received six Academy Award nominations for: Best Actress (Caron), Best Directing (Walters), Best Music (Kaper), Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography (Color) and Best Art Direction (Color). (Only Kaper won.)

 

Alas, the DVD copy I bought of this is of the DVD-R variety. If ever a movie cries out for an official remaster, it's this one as the use of color would look extraordinary in high definition.

 

When I bought the DVD, I also bought a copy of Kaper's score from Film Score Monthly. Not only do you get to hear all of the musical cues from the movie on the soundtrack but you also get a wealth of unreleased bonus tracks. Recommended! 



#63 macnellie

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Posted 14 May 2016 - 02:37 PM


who did the Glass Slipper? I loved that film!
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#64 miliosr

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Posted 14 May 2016 - 03:40 PM

who did the glass Slipper? I loved that film!

M-G-M reteamed Caron, Walters and Kaper for that. They filmed it in Summer 1954 and it was released in early 1955.




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