Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fetishism, Book 2

TCM ran Frank Tashlin's The Man From the Diners' Club (1963) the other day. It's not very good. It's a film made by people whose careers were starting to peter out: star Danny Kaye hadn't had a hit in a while, and Tashlin's only hits since 1956 had been Jerry Lewis vehicles (which, because Lewis produced them, weren't entirely Tashlin's movies). The low budget is painfully obvious, and while you can see why William Peter Blatty's script was considered appropriate for Tashlin -- it's got the requisite Tashlin elements of satire of modern conveniences and a gangster sub-plot -- it all feels quite tired. There are some good supporting performances from Telly Savalas and the ever-reliable Ann Morgan Guilbert, but overall it's emblematic of a lot that was wrong with movie comedy in the early '60s.

As always, Tashlin finds moments to indulge the leg fetishism I've written about many times before, like a scene that starts with him panning up Martha Hyer's legs for no particular reason. One thing I haven't addressed, though, is whether Tashlin's attitude to women is a weakness in his work. It's not that he's a sexist; he mocks women, but no more than he mocks men. But the women in his movies are usually -- I guess the only word for it is "objectified." And when a director is always calling attention to how female characters look, it's difficult for those characters to really come alive. The exceptions are the sympathetic middle-aged women who appear in several of his films (Glenda Farrell in Susan Slept Here and The Disorderly Orderly, Joan Blondell in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?), and maybe Shirley MacLaine in Artists and Models, because she's one of the few young women in a Tashlin film who's allowed to get as silly as the men. (The insight that comedy is best when the leads can make fools of themselves is something that most of the great comedy directors -- Lubitsch, McCarey, Hawks -- understood, but Tashlin usually seems to throw the lion's share of the silliness to the male lead and let the female lead play it straight.) Tashlin's attitude to young, attractive female characters -- a combination of mockery and worshipful distance -- reminds me a bit of Al Capp, which is yet another reason why it's too bad that Tashlin didn't direct Li'l Abner.

Anyway, here's another illustration of Tashlin's famous leg obsession (with clips from seven or eight movies set to the title song of The Girl Can't Help It), but apart from whether or not there's anything creepy about this -- I tend to think it's a lot less creepy than, say, Alfred Hitchcock's famous sadism toward his leading ladies -- it may be an explanation for why a lot of these female characters are less than completely successful.

(The reason for putting this together, by the way, is just that I've been trying to research something else about Tashlin recently, in the process re-watching a lot of his movies, and while doing so I just put together little compilations that highlight patterns in the movies I watch. I may try to do one next on Tashlin's repeated use of sentimental lost-love sob stories, which occur in movie after movie and are always half-ironic, half-genuine.)

1 comment:

Tom said...

Speaking of Tashlin, saw "The Good Humor Man" the other day. Not bad, though the chase finale got to be a bit much after awhile. One thing that strikes me about this and other of Tashlin's films is that they don't often seem tailored to fit their stars. "The Good Humor Man" would have worked just as well with just about anyone other than Jack Carson in the lead. Tashlin's jokes and situations always seem to be in the mechanics, and the "star" often just seems to be there to react to the special effects or to be yanked through the air on wires or whatever. "The Fuller Brush Girl" is a good example of this. Only in Lucille Ball's impersonation of a burlesque queen does the film take advantage of her innate comic talents. The rest of the time, she's just there to react to the exploding switchboard or to be propelled through the air in impossibly perfect arcs by loose fence boards. Columbia could have cast Gale Storm or Doris Day or Joan Davis.