Monday, August 25, 2014


Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Brad Pitt, Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kikuchi

My husband rarely watches my 1001 Movies flicks with me.  He’s not a movie buff the way I am, and I would never want to force him to watch, say, an intense Swedish film – like Bergman – unless, for some reason, he really wanted to.  Which normally, he doesn’t.  But he wound up watching Babel with me, almost on accident, in that he was playing a video game in the same room and wound up getting pulled into the film, watching the last hour with the video game on pause.  Do not let this be a comment on Babel amazing quality, however, as when it was over, we turned to look at one another and vocalized our almost identical reactions. 

“That could have been so much better.”

Waving the ride of the concept of telling multiple interconnected stories, Babel’s interconnected stories are in Morocco, California and Mexico, and Tokyo.  An American couple (Blanchett and Pitt) are vacationing in Morocco when the wife is accidentally shot on their tour bus.  The shooter is a young Moroccan boy out tending goats with his older brother; the two were simply monkeying around with the new rifle their father bought for killing jackals.  While the young boys panic and try to hide what they did, the husband of the stricken wife desperately searches for medical attention in the remote farmland of a country whose language and custom he does not know.  Meanwhile, back in California, the children of the American couple are taken to Mexico by their live-in nanny Amelia (Barraza) because her son is getting married and she can find no one to look after them.  While things are fine initially, problems eventually arise.  And finally, in Japan, a teenage deaf-mute Chieko (Kikuchi) is frustrated enough at the world for not understanding her condition; her distant father and dead mother don’t make things any easier.  Chieko starts acting out in possibly dangerous ways as we begin to understand just how angry and hurt she really is.

The reason I said above that this could have been so much better is because the central themes of Babel are good ones, solid ones, even necessary ones.  The very idea that we live in an age of international connectivity is one that is vital to moving forward, and yet this remains an idea that many people, cultures, and countries eschew.  The issues Babel raises around this theme, that of language barriers and lack of communication, are equally profound.  We are all connected to one another, and we must embrace this as the world becomes smaller and smaller, but we have a great deal of barriers in our way that prevent us from truly embracing the similarities we all have.  This idea is important.  Babel deals with important and significant cultural debates. 

It just doesn’t delve into these questions nearly as well as it thinks it does.

Three of the four central tales in Babel are all clearly linked to one another.  The American woman is shot by kids in Morocco while the woman’s own children attend their nanny’s son’s wedding in Mexico back home.  Yes, three stories, all with a very clear thread of connectivity.  Then there’s the Tokyo story.  Yes, there is a link between Chieko’s tale and what’s happening with the other characters, but it’s flimsy at best and feels like a big stretch, as if the writers came up with this great Tokyo plotline but had to find a way to shoehorn it in to the other threads.  Right away, this takes away from Babel’s strength as a film, as there seems to be an oddball tale awkwardly fitted in between the other, related plotlines.  Which is really a shame, because for my money, the Tokyo plotline was easily the most interesting part of the film.  Granted, the type of story and characters in this chapter make me predisposed to liking it more – few, introspective characters, internal turmoil, drama and angst, as opposed to the distinct action/adventure/thriller aspect of the other three tales – but even my husband admitted to finding the Tokyo story (a phrase I cannot type without thinking Ozu) the most compelling, and he’s definitely an action/adventure/thrilling kind of guy.  Honestly, I wish it had been its own film; Kikuchi’s Chieko is devastatingly honest and a frightening pillar of uncontrolled strength and emotion.  When she is not commanding the screen, the film lags, as if Babel itself wishes it could have spent more time with Chieko.

Although for my money, Kikuchi is the best of the bunch, the performances in Babel are all stellar and were probably the biggest strength of the film.  Naturally, Cate Blanchett is amazing, but that’s rather a given.  It’s easy to understand why Adriana Bazzara earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, but it’s Brad Pitt and the nonprofessional Moroccan actors who really manage to buoy the entire film.  Pitt is an actor easy to underestimate; his non-stop tabloid presence and impossible good looks can work against him.  But here, he is very good, very strong as a man who finds himself entirely out of his league and facing a life and death situation.  Right alongside him, the actors portraying the Moroccan family torn asunder by a rifle do a tremendous job.  The two young boys underplay most of their scenes, a fact that works best with child actors, and the Moroccan father believably carries the role of emotional heavy in what is a gut-wrenching tale.  Innaritu must be commended for coaxing such strong performances from every single member of such a varied cast.

*********************************SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING************************************

But ultimately, I have a bit of a problem with the overall message of the film, and this is why I say it could have been such a better movie.  When considering the ending of all four stories, I have to ponder what exactly Innaritu managed to say.  Think: the Moroccan family is completely torn apart, facing jail and possibly the death of one of its own.  Their lives will never be the same again.  The Mexican maid is ungraciously deported, forced to leave behind her entire life and not allowed even a suitcase of her belongings.  Chieko’s emotional future is anything but certain as she pushed herself to dangerous places.  Three of the four stories have distinctly downer endings.

But what happens to the white people?  Oh, no worries, everyone survives and gets back home in one piece.  Really, is that the message we’re going with?  Everyone’s interconnected in this world of ours, and bad stuff happens all over the place, but if you’re American, everything will be fine?  Is this some sort of subtle commentary on white privilege by Innaritu?  Although you may disagree with me on this one, I don’t think it is.  Rather, I feel like the writers felt the need to have one story end happily and they picked the white Americans one.  I really wish they hadn’t.  It would have felt so much stronger to have one of the stories involving a different culture, a different set of people, end well and to have something sad happen to the Americans.  But no, Babel is fundamentally an American film, marketed and shown to American audiences, and we can’t have our American audiences having their delicate sensibilities upset.  So we’ll force all the tragedy onto the people of color and ensure that our own get through unscathed.  This wrapping up of the plotlines undercuts the international message of the film, and thus much of the power of Babel.  Again, this could have been better.

Edit to add: After a bit of time away from this, perhaps the above is the point? Perhaps Innaritu is actually brilliantly calling out white privilege by having that plot line be the only one that has anywhere near a happy resolution. Actually, I don’t believe that is the case, I don’t feel this movie is quite that… clever, but I admit it’s a possibility.

***************************************DONE WITH THAT THEN*******************************

Babel smacks too much of a film specifically designed to make you feel like crap.  The stories continually scream at you to “BE SAD!!”  And if that isn’t enough, all the ancillary filmmaking techniques, such as score and cinematography, belabor the point, yelling at you to “BE SADDER!!!!!!!!”  While a perfectly acceptable film in that there isn’t anything too egregiously wrong with it, I was left a touch underwhelmed.  This is disappointing, as the issues Babel raises are interesting ones.  Again, I reiterate that the biggest message I got from it was wishing that Chieko’s plotline had been developed into a standalone film, as I would rather have watched that.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Philadelphia Story

The Philadelphia Story
Director: George Cukor
Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart

While I make it no secret that MGM musicals were the movies of my youth, they were, for the most part, the only classic Hollywood movies I saw. When I first went through the pages of 1001 Movies, making note of which films I had already seen, I was truly shocked to realize just how few classic films I had already seen.  But one of the few classic films I had already seen prior to embarking on my cinematic journey was The Philadelphia Story. My parents introduced me to this one at a young age, and frankly, it only gets better as I get older.

Tracy Lord (Hepburn) is a New England wealthy socialite about to embark on her second marriage to the bland and blustery George. Naturally, there is no better time for her first husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant), to make an appearance at the family compound. Turns out, though, that Dex has good reason to turn up, as he is actually trying to head off at the pass a sniveling paparazzi journalist who wants to unearth some sordid family secrets about the Lord clan. Reporter ‘Mike’ Macauley Conner (Stewart) and photographer Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) are strong-armed into covering the wedding against their wishes.  Things get complicated as all these people around her turn Tracy’s normal, even-keeled emotional life on its head.

How on earth am I supposed to talk about the verbal perfection that is the dialogue and its delivery in this movie? How unbelievably quotable is every other line that comes out of someone’s mouth? It’s clear that this was a stage play first because of the sheer import that is placed on the specific phrasing of the lines, along with how much they are allowed to shine. This is not a film that shines due to fancy camerawork or flashy special effects, or even on a genius conceit. No, it’s the dialogue that is pitch perfect and painfully brilliant. When you aren’t howling with laughter over Dinah’s pronunciation of “innuendo” or snorting over Mike crank calling as the Voice of Doom, you’re feeling Tracy start to come across at the seams as she hears again and again language of statues and goddesses and ice queens. In my opinion, The Philadelphia Story is easily one of the most quotable films of all time.

When I was younger, it was the broad comedy, found mostly in the dialogue, which I loved in The Philadelphia Story, and it was why I liked the film. But as I got older and I inevitably kept revisiting the movie, I slowly began to understand something more. I really, truly enjoy watching Tracy’s journey from well-meaning but somewhat blind and insulated pride to a more open, more understanding, and definitely happier woman. I didn’t understand Tracy’s story when I was a child; it’s a subtler journey than one typically sees in film, as it’s not as simplistic as “she starts evil and is shown the error of her ways.” No, she somehow manages to start the heroine and end the heroine. But that’s precisely why I like it so much, why I like HER so much.

I identify with Tracy Lord, which maybe isn’t entirely a good thing to admit. But I do. I like her strength throughout the entire film. She starts out as strong but stubborn, and she ends strong as well. I think it takes a lot of guts for her to confront her faults and try to come to terms with them, to admit that she might be making a mistake for marrying someone like George, and for admitting that she has things to learn. She makes mistakes throughout the film, gets sloppily drunk, and generally throws everything into disarray. She isn’t perfect. And you know what? I love that. It’s refreshing. Hers is the sort of character I haven’t seen out of Hollywood in quite some time. Hepburn pulls off the role with aplomb, and it’s easy to see why this is the film that convinced the American public at large to forgive her for… whatever it was they had accused her of. I love the remake of The Philadelphia Story, but damn, it’s hard to one-up how perfectly Hepburn pulls off Tracy Lord.

But the character of Tracy Lord and Hepburn’s performance would not be nearly as interesting if she weren’t surrounded by two equally wonderful roles performed by two equally amazing actors, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. Dexter and Macauley represent choices Tracy can make as she approaches her wedding. Watching Macauley set her free throughout their drunken revels is brilliant. While I would be hard-pressed to call this Jimmy Stewart’s most impressive film performance (it is the only one for which he won an Oscar), it is certainly a fine performance and it is easy to see why the Academy saw fit to recognize it. He is not simply the drunken fool, but full of heart as well, and not afraid to call shenanigans when he sees them. But really, Cary Grant’s Dexter just ties everything together. I absolutely adore Cary Grant, but I do feel like he tends to play different aspects of his celebrity persona in most of his films. His C.K. Dexter Haven, though, is reserved and hard in a way that one doesn’t expect from Cary Grant. He is unsettlingly stoic. And yet Grant has to convince us that Dexter really loves Tracy, that he never stopped loving her despite divorcing her, and that he loves her while being unafraid to speak the truth to her.  Convince us he does, through several sometimes small, sometimes not so small gestures throughout the movie. How he hides the bracelet, how he hits Macauley first, how he stays out of her way when she asks him to at the party, how he doesn’t judge her too harshly, how he is all too willing to save Tracy’s family from incendiary press, and finally, how he tries to help her save face at her botched wedding.  Grant doesn’t try to make Dexter perfect, but he does make him perfect for Tracy. He is wonderful in this role, and I easily think it’s one of his best.

Lovely dialogue, well-formed and interesting adult characters, actors who fully inhabit their roles, and a rollicking comedy with a happy ending. Really, it shouldn’t take anyone by surprise that I have loved this movie ever since I saw it and I will continue to love it for the rest of my life.

Arbitrary Rating: 10/10. Duh.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Hold Me While I'm Naked

Hold Me While I’m Naked
Director: George Kuchar
Starring: Donna Kerness, George Kuchar

I just plain don’t get, or like, experimental films.  Whenever I see that tag of “avant-garde” on a flick, I tense up.  Oh dear lord, what will this one do to me now?  But 1001 Movies always has a lesson or two to teach me about never discounting an entire genre of films.  There are always exceptions to the rules, and I can’t help but enjoy Hold Me While I’m Naked.  Well, as much as I could enjoy an experimental film.

The scant plot of this scant film (it clocks in at 15 minutes) is of a director (Kuchar) trying to make a movie.  One of his lead actresses pulls out halfway through the shoot (Kerness) so he has to find a replacement.  Meanwhile, off screen, we see said actress having sexy fun times with a significant other while our poor director leads a rather solitary, lonely life.

And that’s it.  I mean, at 15 minutes, it’s barely there.  But I’ve seen films where 15 minutes can feel like a chore, and it doesn’t here.  In fact, I’d even go so far to say I wouldn’t mind this particular film being a bit longer.  Wow, did I really just say that?

Why is this so much more amusing than a typical sixties experimental film?  Simple: George Kuchar.  As both director and star, this film is clearly HIS, and it’s evident from the opening that Kuchar has a huge sense of humor.  His voiceover as he coaches his actress through her scenes makes me smile.  And his dialogue as he’s shooting a love scene later just slays me with its bizarre juxtapositions: “Tomorrow we do the massage table scene and maybe we’ll do the scene where you’re found naked in a fallout shelter and there are those radioactive welts on your thigh.”  Wait… WHAT?  Radioactive welts?  Fallout shelter?  From a love scene?  I honestly can’t help but laugh at that sort of ridiculous swing in imagery.  The circus-esque music in the opening credits sets the stage for such an approach. 

Kuchar also makes me laugh later in the film when we continually cut back and forth between couples having sexy times in a shower and him, Kuchar, taking a shower alone, by himself, and banging his head against the wall.  It’s a bit sad, and there’s definitely a poignancy there about a man sacrificing everything for his “art” even though the art is a bit crap.  It’s rather reminiscent of Ed Wood, really.  And yet, despite the pathetic nature, it’s also funny.  Going back and forth between two people obvious each enjoying their time together to Kuchar banally taking off his socks and stepping in his tiny shower… really, it’s funny.  At least to me.

I first saw Hold Me While I’m Naked at the Dryden when they did an evening of screening art house/experimental shorts from the sixties and seventies, and this was before I could see these shorts on youtube or anyplace else.  This was my only chance to see these films.  There were several Andy Warhol films on the docket that evening, and Blonde Cobra was shown as well.  Hold Me While I’m Naked was shown by Kuchar, as was his later short from the seventies, I, An Actress.  I am sure that this is why I’m rather keen on Hold Me While I’m Naked – because when you spend an evening watching Blonde Cobra and Andy Warhol, and then you watch something by George Kuchar, you leap all over that last stuff.  Kuchar’s sense of play, optimism, and humor, really shines through amongst all the ridiculous posturing of the other shorts.  And I think I, An Actress makes a great companion piece to Hold Me While I’m Naked.  It’s even shorter (9 minutes) but again we have Kuchar playing a director making a movie.  Instead, though, in I, An Actress, the entire short is Kuchar coaching his lead actress through a scene, and it’s hysterical as he grows even more over the top in his delivery of her lines (even the actress can’t keep a straight face).  This wacko crazy approach to film works well for me, at least when you contrast it with the other experimental shorts of the time that drive me absolutely bonkers. 

Hold Me While I’m Naked may not make much sense, but at least it laughs at itself.  At least it will make you laugh.  George Kuchar seemed like a really fun guy, and he clearly loved film.  Honestly, I’m glad this selection is in 1001 Movies.  It’s a diverting, campy little 15 minutes of your life.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz
Director: Victor Fleming
Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Margaret Hamilton

The Wizard of Oz is what I call an “exception” movie.  People who don’t like musicals tend to like The Wizard of Oz, despite the fact that it’s a musical.  People who say they don’t like old movies tend to like The Wizard of Oz, despite the fact that it’s 75 years old.  It’s a film that has transcended its origins and become a part of the national film lexicon.  Everyone and their dog knows, and most likely loves, The Wizard of Oz.

The story revolves around Kansas farm girl Dorothy (Garland) who is dissatisfied with her simple life and longs for more.  When a tornado picks up Dorothy’s house with Dorothy inside it and drops her in the magical land of Oz, it seems like Dorothy’s wish has come true, but she is quick to realize that you need to be careful what you wish for.  Dorothy soon wishes that she can return home to her family and friends in Kansas, and enlists the aid of the Scarecrow (Bolger), the Tin Man (Lahr), the Cowardly Lion (Lahr), and the Wizard himself (Morgan) to battle the evil Wicked Witch of the West (Hamilton) so she can find her way back home.  After all, there’s no place like home.

Now here’s where I make a pretty darn big confession: I am not in love with The Wizard of Oz.  And more than that, I never have been.  (Did I just quote Gilbert and Sullivan? Yes I did. Bonus points to those who can tell me which operetta I just referenced.)

Let me explain a bit more: I do not think The Wizard of Oz is a bad or inferior film.  I think it’s great that so many people know and adore this film.  It just never found its way into my heart the same way it apparently has with the rest of the Western Hemisphere.  And before y’all go screaming at me about having ice in my heart for not being enamored of this film, try to give me a chance to explain.  And stop judging, because that’s not very nice.

I have a theory why this isn’t a personal favorite of mine, and it has a lot to do with my disposition as a young Siobhan.  Like pretty much everyone else, this movie was screened quite a bit when I was a child.  I remember watching it over and over and over again. 

A significant fact you must know about me: young Siobhan was a sissy. 

I hated scary books, scary cartoons, and scary movies.  I remember going to a sleepover in elementary school where one of the other girls was hell bent on us watching A Nightmare on Elm Street and I practically had a panic attack from the very THOUGHT of us watching a horror movie.  I watched Star Wars: A New Hope for the first time when I was six, and the trash compactor scene terrified me so deeply, I pointedly refused to watch Star Wars again for another eight years.

And I think the reason I don’t love The Wizard of Oz is because it scared me too much as a kid, but my family kept on watching it anyway and I couldn’t tell anyone.

So, what parts of The Wizard of Oz traumatized me?

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

1. Miss Gulch trying to take Toto away from Dorothy.  I’ve always had an affinity to animals, even as a youngster, and to watch Dorothy as her beloved pet is forcibly removed from her hands broke my heart.  I didn’t like that, no I didn’t like that one bit.

2. Dorothy being locked out of the storm shed.  As I mentioned early on, I’ve seen this film many many times, but I still got anxious every single time the tornado comes.  It’s as if I thought that hoping Dorothy would reach safety would somehow change the plot of the film.  Just one time, just ONE time, I’d love it for Dorothy to not be stuck outside in a natural disaster. 

3. The first arrival of the Wicked Witch of the West.  SHE APPEARS FROM NOWHERE IN A PUFF OF ORANGE SMOKE.  AND THEN SHE IMMEDIATELY TRIES TO KILL DOROTHY.  The Wicked Witch of the West wholeheartedly deserves her spot as one of the greatest villains of all time because she basically scared the crap out of me as a child, and she is so very frightening from the very beginning on.

4. The moving trees that throw apples at Dorothy when she meets the Tin Man.  It’s how they stand stock still and then start mercilessly beating on Dorothy and the Scarecrow.  I mean honestly, this is the stuff of my nightmares.

5. When the Wicked Witch of the West throws fire balls at the Scarecrow.  HE’S MADE OF STRAW.  SHE’S TRYING TO KILL HIM.  Do you know how horrible it is for a six year old to imagine a beloved character burning to death?  Because that’s what went through my head in that scene.

6.  The scary forest when we meet the Cowardly Lion for the first time.  The set designers did their job when they made this incredibly creepy forest, and every single time Dorothy entered this place, I wanted to look away.

7. The poppies.  The goddamned poppies.  The Wicked Witch drugs our gang to try to stop them.  What’s truly frightening in this scene is how she manages to do this from far away in her castle, nowhere near the Emerald City.  She’s incredibly powerful and insidious in her methods. 

8. “Surrender Dorothy.”  Because nothing says frightening like death threats in the sky.

9. Approaching the Wizard of Oz for the first time.  THERE ARE FIREBALLS AND A GIGANTIC DISEMBODIED HEAD WHO YELLS AT EVERYONE.  THIS IS NOT SOMETHING THAT MADE ME HAPPY AS A CHILD.  Y’know the Cowardly Lion in this scene?  Yeah, that was me.

  10. The forest surrounding the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle.  Again, I think I hate the set designers of this film. 

   11.  Flying monkeys.  Fuck no.  Stop giving me nightmares.  “Fly, my pretties!” What you just heard was the sound of child Siobhan running away from this movie. 

12.  The hourglass with red sand ticking away the remaining moments of Dorothy’s life when she’s trapped in the Wicked Witch’s castle.  Having that kind of time limit put on her life made me so anxiety-ridden as a child.

13. When the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow go undercover as the guards to break into the Witch’s Castle.  The music (which is heavily pulled from Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, a genuinely frightening classical music composition), the costumes, the dark lighting and dangerous set, all made this a big pile of “NOPE” to me.

14. The death of the Wicked Witch.  You’d think that by this point in the picture, I’d be overjoyed to watch the villain die.  Nope, not scaredy cat little Siobhan, oh no.  I found her death traumatizing, watching her shrivel and burn away as if she is being corroded by acid. 

Yep.  This movie basically scared the pants off of me as a kid.  And I had to watch it over and over and OVER again.  So you’ll pardon me if it’s not a personal favorite.

Now, having made that rather exhaustive list, you can perhaps understand why this film, frankly, filled me with terror as a young child and why I never quite managed to fall in love with it.  And while the things on that list don’t really scare me anymore, I had to watch this movie SO many times as a child and I didn’t have the nerve to tell my parents that it scared me so heartily that I made myself sit through this frightfulness too many times to ever develop an emotional affinity for the film.  

I told you I was a sissy when I was a kid.  Seriously, you don’t understand just how much everything scared me.

Which isn’t to say there weren’t parts of this film that I enjoyed.  The stand out setpieces are easily the Munchkinland sequence and the arrival the Emerald City.  These two scenes are still my favorite parts of The Wizard of Oz, and I DO love them, very much.  Both are happy parts of the film, which meant I wasn’t cowering behind my hands as a youngster.  Both are towering examples of brilliant uses of Technicolor to achieve a fantasy look.  The colors are rich and luxurious, and both scenes are filled with a multitude of interesting side characters.  I love the costuming and set design of both of these lands.  It’s the rotund, Seussian, illustration-feel of Munchkinland, and the sleek art deco design of the Emerald City, all sophistication and smooth lines, that I really love.  Add on top of that two fantastic songs that leave you humming the tunes for the rest of the day and yeah, for sure, these are my two favorite parts of the film.

The Wizard of Oz will always be considered a great film, and rightfully so.  It’s a visual achievement with a heartwarming message, full of indelible characters and charming songs.  But it’s not my favorite.  It’s basically the first horror film I ever saw, and because I was terrible at communicating my fear as a child, I was forced to watch it time and time and time again.  No, it doesn’t scare me anymore, but it’s really too late to reverse the damage.  I appreciate The Wizard of Oz and I can appreciate its stature in the film world, but it will never be a personal favorite.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10.  Again, I think this is a legitimately good film, full of so many iconic film moments.  But… JESUS it scared me as a kid.

ETA: I will always remember Margaret Hamilton going on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and getting dressed in the Wicked Witch costume in order to show young children that the Wicked Witch was just a character and not a real monster.  

Additional ETA: and yes, I've seen Return to Oz.  And I rather like it, even as a kid, despite the fact that it's exponentially creepier than this film.  The difference was that everyone around me acknowledged that Return to Oz was a scary film and didn't make me watch it unless I wanted to.  I couldn't vocalize my fear of Wizard, so my parents just kept... putting it on.  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Summer Stock

Summer Stock
Director: Charles Walters
Starring: Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Eddie Bracken, Phil Silvers

I make no secret of my love of musicals.  MGM musicals of the forties and fifties are like crack to me. They will always be there for me.  They will always make me happy.  I can watch them a hundred times (and I have) and they won’t get old.

So I thought writing about some of my favorite non-list musicals might not be a bad idea. 

I know that I alienated nearly all of my regular readers with the preceding paragraphs, but, well, I’ve had a really rough year and MGM musicals make me happy.  Consider yourself warned.

Jane Falbury (Garland) is the beleaguered Falbury sister who is stuck running the family farm while younger sister Abigail runs around chasing her dreams of being on the stage.  When Abigail, on a whim, brings an entire Off-Broadway show to the Falbury Farm with the idea of putting on the show on Jane’s premises, Jane balks at first, but Abigail’s boyfriend and show director Joe Ross (Kelly) convince her to allow the show biz folks to stay by providing Jane with necessary cheap farm labor in between rehearsals.  Sparks fly between Jane and Joe, but Jane’s fiancé Orville (Bracken) and the fact that Joe is somewhat engaged to Jane’s sister are pretty big barriers.  When Jane shows a hidden predilection for the stage, though, nothing can get in the way of true love.

Gene Kelly.  Gene Kelly.  Gene Kelly.  Judy Garland.  Gene Kelly AND Judy Garland.

Jesus Christ, I never stood a chance.

The plot of Summer Stock is not why one watches Summer Stock.  It’s simplistic at best and requires more than a little suspension of disbelief.  It’s one of the ultimate “let’s put on a show” musicals, a gag that was getting whiskers even in 1950.

But Gene Kelly.  And Judy Garland.  Falling hopelessly in love with each other.  While singing and dancing. 

Of all the gags in musicals, the “let’s put on a show” bit is not my favorite – even *I* admit it’s a bit silly – but… Gene Kelly is SO pretty.  Were it not for him (and Judy), I would undoubtedly not be speaking so fondly of Summer Stock.  For those keeping a record, he (along with Cary Grant) are in my Holy Trinity of Sexiest Classic Hollywood Actors.  My feelings for Gene Kelly run deep, and looking back at my childhood, I’m pretty sure he’s the first adult actor (by that I mean not a teen heartthrob) that I had a crush on.  My tag for him on tumblr is “eternal crush on Gene Kelly” because in the twenty-plus years I’ve been watching Gene Kelly movies, I have never not been in love with him. 

And my goodness, if you love Gene Kelly, you NEED to put this movie in your eyeballs as soon as possible.

Reasons why Gene Kelly was never sexier than as Joe Ross in Summer Stock:

1.  Quite literally, he spends the ENTIRE movie with either rolled up shirt sleeves or super tight short sleeves that show off his ridiculously sexy arms the ENTIRE TIME.  I wish men realized just how sexy rolled up shirt sleeves are.  Every time my husband comes home with rolled up shirt sleeves because it was hot at work, I want to jump his bones.  Men, listen up: no matter your body type, ROLLED UP SHIRT SLEEVES.  It works.  It’s a godsend.  And in this movie, ladies (and some gents, I’m sure), you get your fill of Gene in tight rolled up shirt sleeves.  Unnnnnnnnnf…

2.  Jeans.  He wears JEANS.  JEANS.  ROLLED UP JEANS WITH LOAFERS.  Gene Kelly was certainly known for being a bit more down-and-dirty than his cohort Fred Astaire, but still, he rarely wore jeans.  HE DOES HERE.  And if you don’t understand why I find that so ridiculously attractive, then I’m sorry, I can’t explain it to you.  BECAUSE JEANS.  ON GENE KELLY.  KILL ME NOW.

3. He does quite a lot of macking.  For the first half of the film, when his character is still pretty devoted to Abigail, every time they are in the same room, they greet one another by making out for as long as the Hays Code would allow.  And in the second half of the film, he finally gets to start macking on Judy Garland.  There is a LOT of kissing Gene Kelly in this flick.  GOD BLESS. 

4.  Joe Ross is quite possibly the sweetest character Kelly ever played.  In most of his musicals, Kelly’s character usually has some slightly dark or even misogynistic streak.  In both On the Town and Anchors Aweigh, for example, he plays a sailor intent on getting as much booty as he possibly can until the right girl wins his heart.  Even in Singin’ in the Rain, his character is called out for being egotistical at the beginning of the film.  In nearly all the other films I’ve seen of his, Kelly’s character is one who starts out as brash/arrogant/egotistical until he meets The One Girl who wins his heart and changes his ways.  But not so in Summer Stock.  As Joe Ross, he starts as so ridiculously, endearingly honest and kind and caring that we know from the get go that silly, materialistic Abigail is NOT right for him, that only honest, kind, and caring Jane will do.  He’s so winning from the get go, he’s practically the epitome of Prince Charming.  Joe Ross, as a character, is basically a female wet dream written into one person.  He tells Jane that he won’t marry her sister unless he can guarantee their financial stability.  STAHP IT YOU’RE KILLING ME.  He is overcome with guilt by his feelings for Jane due to his obligation to Abigail and doesn’t want to hurt either lady.  DEAD I AM DEAD YOU DEADED ME.  It’s only when Jane effectively ends her “relationship” with Orville, and when Abigail runs away from the show and Joe (oh sorry, spoilers?  Eh, I don’t care, the movie is 65 years old) that Joe finally feels alright with making a move on Jane.  I adore a man with principle and holy crap, but Joe has principle.

Okay, so I have an undying obsession with Gene Kelly.  But believe it or not, he’s not the only reason to watch this movie (if you like musicals.  Because if you don’t like musicals, just give the whole thing a pass).

Oh dear lord the chest hair.

Judy Garland.

Yes, I love Gene Kelly, but I also love Judy Garland.  And not the Judy from The Wizard of Oz (which, ironically, is probably my least favorite Garland flick).  No, I love the Judy Garland from other movie musicals, the one who was allowed to be an adult and allowed to have breasts and play the breathy, shaky female lead love interest.  Judy Garland had such irrefutable star quality.  I once read a quote that said that she was the only dancing partner Gene Kelly ever had who drew your eyes to her more than to him (debatable, given my obsession with Kelly, but I get the gist of the argument and it’s a valid point).  In Summer Stock, Garland is just as luminous as always.  And yes, although she was going through personal hell off screen during the filming, it doesn’t show on the screen.  She is so pretty, so gorgeous, so loveable, I just want to take her and cuddle her and tell her it will be alright.  I could get lost in those big, beautiful brown eyes.

And shut up about pairing Judy with Gene.  Take a male actor I am desperately in love with and put him up against a female actress who brims with gorgeous geniality, and I’m a goner.  The internet even informs me that there’s a name for the pair of Judy Garland and Gene Kelly: Jugenea.  Apparently.  Well, whatever the name is, Judy is easily my favorite pairing for Gene Kelly, probably because she has such inherent star quality in her to provide a suitable pairing to his RIDICULOUS SEXINESS. 

The dancing is top-notch, but I wouldn’t expect any less from a Gene Kelly musical.  His first number, Dig for Your Dinner, is a Kelly solo, and god bless for that.  His dancing duet with Judy, Portland Fancy, at the local dance, is so ridiculously cute and sweet you’ll get tooth decay.  But the two show stoppers are later solo numbers.  The first is the obvious Get Happy, Garland’s defining moment in more ways than one, where Jane finally embraces her interest in the stage and performs in the production with all the gusto that we expect from Judy.  Judy Garland has never been sexier than she is in that number, wearing a smart costume of suit jacket and little else, letting her legs stretch on forever.  If Summer Stock is remembered for nothing else, it will be that number, and rightfully so.  It’s iconic.  The other show stopper is Kelly’s later solo, You, Beautiful You, a gorgeous empty-stage piece where Joe just can’t help but dance about his feeling after having first kissed Jane.  Kelly choreographed the piece and it shows the brilliance that was to come a few years later in Singin’ in the Rain.  Kelly needs only a creaky floorboard and a few sheets of newspaper to make an utterly beguiling dance number, one that even Steve at 1001plus likes!  Seriously, if you like musicals, Summer Stock delivers on the musical number side.

And that’s just Gene and Judy.  Phil Silvers and especially Eddie Bracken are such superb comic relief in this film.  Eddie Bracken steals nearly every scene he’s in as Jane’s practical fiancé who is allergic to pretty much everything under the sun.  Phil Silvers is as goofy as always (if truth be told, more obnoxious than goofy), but I love him because he brings out Gene Kelly’s goofy side.  One of my favorite things about Gene Kelly is that he was never afraid to let himself look like a fool, and every time he’s paired with Phil Silvers, you know they’ll have at least one utterly ridiculous song together.  In fact, every time I get too wrapped up in my Gene Kelly fixation, my husband likes to show me a picture from Summer Stock of one of his duets with Phil Silvers to knock him off his sexy pedestal just a bit. 

Nope, still sexy.
If I may go off on a tangent (like I haven’t already), I showed this film to my good friend Angie (who shares my Gene Kelly obsession) and naturally, she immediately fell in love.  Like I said, if you love Gene Kelly, you need this movie.  Regardless, there is one scene where Eddie Bracken and Phil Silvers, both of whom wear glasses, bump into one another, knock off each other’s glasses, then put the wrong glasses on.  Angie, in all her fangirl awesomeness, immediately started talking about shipping them together.  And now that’s all I can think.  I love to imagine that Orville and Herb run off together and have very nebbish gay sex together at the end of this movie.  Thanks, Angie.  You did this to me.

Is this one of the best movies ever made?  No.  Is it one of my favorite movies?  Yes.  Do I recognize its shortcomings?  Yes, empirically I recognize that this is not Citizen Kane.  Do I care about its shortcomings?  Hell no.  Will this movie always make me happy regardless of my mood?  YES. 

Arbitrary Rating: I’m giving this a very personal 10/10.  It has flaws, for sure, but my love of it overrides the flaws.  Gene Kelly, get in my pants.