Monday, April 30, 2007

More F.T. Trivia

Sorry for still another Tashlin-related post, but in doing some research on his movie career I found one other bit of trivia that I didn't mention in my last post.

You may have heard that Something's Got to Give, the picture Marilyn Monroe never finished, was supposed to be directed by Frank Tashlin. He had written the script, but Monroe refused to work with Tashlin, and insisted that a new script be written and that George Cukor be brought in to direct. This was undoubtedly one of the things Tashlin was thinking about when he told Mike Barrier that "many actors have turned me down, wouldn't allow me to direct them."

But what I hadn't realized before was that Something's Got to Give was originally supposed to be a vehicle for Jayne Mansfield. In a letter to her fan club in 1961, Mansfield wrote that her next picture would be Something's Got to Give:

I may do a movie called "Something's Got to Give" on location in Hawaii. At the present time we are involved in finding a leading man and ironing out all the technical difficulties that go with the production of a movie. Frank Tashlin, who wrote "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter" is writing the screen play and will direct. It is actually a remake of a hit a few years back called "My Favorite Wife". I like the script very much and it should be a great picture.

Apparently Joan Collins would have been cast in the role of the other wife (the role that was to be played by Cyd Charisse in the Monroe version). Though with that cast it would undoubtedly have been less than a grade-A Fox project, I have to say it's too bad that a Tashlin-Mansfield reunion never came about.

As for being fired off the Monroe version, apart from anything else, I don't think at that point Monroe would have been very compatible with him; she really seemed to have lost her taste for outlandish, cartoonish comedy. A hint of that is that when she submitted her list of acceptable replacements for Tashlin (with the names of Billy Wilder, Vittorio De Sica and others in addition to Cukor, who was available), it didn't include Howard Hawks, whose Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was an admitted influence on Tashlin's Jayne Mansfield films.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Page to Screen

I know I've posted this scene before, but I wanted to try posting a movie scene after quoting the same scene from the novel it's based on.

The scene is the book shop scene from The Big Sleep, or as it's called in the movie, the ACME Book Shop (it's a Warner Brothers picture; ACME had to be in there somewhere) where Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart in the movie) asks for some help from a bookstore clerk (played by Dorothy Malone in the movie).

Howard Hawks claimed that most of this scene was made up on the set, and like a lot of Hawks's stories, it's not quite true but not quite a lie either -- half true, let's say. As you can see, the first part of the scene in the movie is almost exactly the same as the book, right down to the fact that the clerk is wearing glasses (though she's obviously supposed to be more genuinely nerdy in the book, whereas Malone wearing glasses is more a joke on the "beautiful woman with glasses and her hair up" stereotype). But the second half of the scene, where Marlowe and the clerk take their flirtation one step further, is all original to the film, and a lot of it may have indeed been made up as they went along; Malone said it was her idea to pull down the window shade, for example. It's kind of a running theme throughout the movie: adding more sex to Chandler's original scenes -- in particular, making Chandler's rather chaste Marlowe into a flirting, womanizing chick magnet.

I shoved on back into the store, passed through a partition and found a small dark woman reading a law book at a desk.

I flipped my wallet open on her desk and let her look at the buzzer pinned to the flap. She looked at it, took her glasses off and leaned back in her chair. I put the wallet away. She had the fine-drawn face of an intelligent Jewess. She stared at me and said nothing.

I said: "Would you do me a favor, a very small favor?"

"I don't know. What is it?" She had a smoothly husky voice.

"You know Geiger's store across the street, two blocks west?"

"I think I may have passed it."

"It's a bookstore," I said. "Not your kind of a bookstore. You know darn well."

She curled her lip slightly and said nothing. "You know Geiger by sight?" I asked.

"I'm sorry. I don't know Mr. Geiger."

"Then you couldn't tell me what he looks like?"

Her lip curled some more. "Why should I?"

"No reason at all. If you don't want to, I can't make you."

She looked out through the partition door and leaned back again. "That was a sheriff's star, wasn't it?"

"Honorary deputy. Doesn't mean a thing. It's worth a dime cigar."

"I see." She reached for a pack of cigarettes and shook one loose and reached for it with her lips. I held a match for her. She thanked me, leaned back again and regarded me through smoke. She said carefully:

"You wish to know what he looks like and you don't want to interview him?"

"He's not there," I said.

"I presume he will be. After all, it's his store."

"I don't want to interview him just yet," I said.

She looked out through the open doorway again. I said: "Know anything about rare books?"

"You could try me."

"Would you have a Ben Hur, 1860, Third Edition, the one with the duplicated line on page 116?"

She pushed her yellow law book to one side and reached a fat volume up on the desk, leafed it through, found her page, and studied it. "Nobody would," she said without looking up. "There isn't one."


"What in the world are you driving at?"

"The girl in Geiger's store didn't know that."

She looked up. "I see. You interest me. Rather vaguely."

"I'm a private dick on a case. Perhaps I ask too much. It didn't seem much to me somehow."

She blew a soft gray smoke ring and poked her finger through. It came to pieces in frail wisps. She spoke smoothly, indifferently. "In his early forties, I should judge. Medium height, fattish. Would weigh about a hundred and sixty pounds. Fat face, Charlie Chan moustache, thick soft neck. Soft all over. Well dressed, goes without a hat, affects a knowledge of antiques and hasn't any. Oh yes. His left eye is glass."

"You'd make a good cop," I said.

She put the reference book back on an open shelf at the end of her desk, and opened the law book in front of her again. "I hope not," she said. She put her glasses on.

I thanked her and left. The rain had started. I ran for it, with the wrapped book under my arm.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


I can highly recommend the new Tyrone Power DVD box set, containing a bunch of his costume adventure films (though not Zorro and The Black Swan, which have already been released separately). As the above review says, all the transfers are good except maybe the first couple of reels of Captain From Castile, and all the movies are good except the last of the bunch, The Black Rose (an example of the kind of product Fox was turning out as the studio system was just starting to crumble: it was made in England to save money, and it has a heroine who looks cross-eyed a lot of the time). Fox tends to produce more elaborate special features for classic films than most studios; the featurettes here include interviews with living actresses who worked with Power (Colleen Grey, Terry Moore, Jayne Meadows), making-ofs on some of the movies and commentaries on others.

Fox's costume adventures had less of a sense of humor than Warners'; in fact, they're often quite po-faced and take these absurd stories very seriously indeed. They seem to stick closer to the style and tone of the potboiler novels they're based on: the episodic structure, the faint pretensions to historical accuracy. But they look beautiful and they've always got something going on: Darryl Zanuck always wanted to excite moviegoers with something they hadn't seen before, and part of that was choosing a new and different place to shoot every time: Son of Fury has some underwater footage, Prince of Foxes is shot on location in Italy and Captain From Castile in Mexico.

I think my favorite of this bunch is Son of Fury, from 1942, which is pure hokum in every way. It's got Power as a dude who's the real heir to the fortune and title of his evil boxer uncle (George Sanders, natch). It's got some point to make about the wickedness of the class system. It has Sanders beating Power with a whip. It's got a masked ball. It's got Frances Farmer, in one of her last roles before being lobotomized, looking spectacular as Sanders' haughty daughter who looks down on Power but really pants after him. It takes Power to a mysterious South Sea island where he spends years with his shirt off and meets the ridiculously gorgeous young Gene Tierney, who wears a sarong and mostly speaks in a fake native dialect. It's got a courtroom scene where the judge allows last-minute evidence that no judge in any legal system anywhere would allow. Produced by Zanuck himself and directed by John Cromwell (Caged, The Prisoner of Zenda), it's an absolute blast. The other highlight of the set is Rouben Mamoulian's Technicolor bullfighting spectacular Blood and Sand, an amazing-looking movie, and not just because it features two more of the most beautiful women in movie history (Linda Darnell and Rita Hayworth).

Several of the movies have music-only tracks for Alfred Newman's scores, including his imitation Korngold score for Son of Fury (the main title theme is a blatant Korngold imitation). Newman was one of the busiest musicians in Hollywood; not only did he compose the scores for most of Fox's big-budget pictures, but he usually did the arrangements and background scores for their musicals, he conducted the orchestra (one of the best in Hollywood), and he brought other composers to the studio and supervised their work (he brought David Raksin to Fox and gave frequent freelance assignments to his friend Bernard Herrmann).

But, all in all, he was a better musician than he was a composer. Being a superb musician, he knew all the nuts and bolts of scoring a picture, and he knew exactly how to pick the right notes or the right style to get the effect a scene needed. But his music is rarely inspired. He wasn't a distinguished composer in his own right like Korngold, Franz Waxman, or Miklos Rozsa; he was more of a good all-purpose film musician like Max Steiner. But Steiner was a far better melodist; his tunes (like the themes from Now, Voyager or A Summer Place) just have a distinctiveness that Newman's themes don't. Also, Newman was too inclined to fall back on stale gimmicks like a chorus singing "ah" or singing in a foreign language. He was a wonderful musician, as I said, but the Fox scores that were written by other composers -- like Hermann and Raksin -- showed the individuality, the inspiration, that was missing in his own


The great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich died yesterday. John Culshaw's autobiography, Putting the Record Straight, had some material about working with Rostropovich (on some recordings with Benjamin Britten), so I thought I'd transcribe that here. The "distinguished elderly British composer" whose concerto Rostropovich reluctantly premiered was Arthur Bliss.

He turned out to be a warm, dedicated man with an endearing -- if occasionally bruising -- habit of greeting anyone he liked with a massive bear-hug. In Kingsway Hall he worked as I had never, in all the years, seen an artist work before: he could hear, and wanted to correct, imperfections which were not always apparent to me or, I think, even to Britten. The orchestra observed all this with something like awe -- yet he was not beyond turning to the first cellist and asking how he would bow or finger a particular passage. It was just a question of music-making, and nothing else (but nothing else) mattered. At that stage conversation was somewhat limited, for although he knew more English than Vishnevskaya, who was his wife, it was still very primitive. He and Britten had therefore invented something they called Aldeburgh Deutsch, since both of them spoke a little German; its first principle was the abolition of any rules applying to the definite article -- die, der, and das were interchangeable at random. The familiar du replaced Sie except when you specifically wanted to say "they." Somehow, it worked.

Between sessions we used to eat at the pub called the Nag's Head, across the stage door at Covent Garden, and it was during one of those meals that I said (in simple words) how penetrating I had found his performance of Elgar's Cello Concerto. To my amazement, he pulled a face: he didn't, he said, think very much of the work. I was left to ponder how it could be that someone open enough to admit such an opinion could still give a performance of such perception and beauty as he had done during that series of concerts. Fanciful theories did not appeal to me, but since I had no doubt that he meant what he had said it seemed impossible to avoid the conclusion that somehow, during the performance, he had become possessed by an insight which overruled his conscious intellectual judgement.

Although there were no signs of it then, I suppose it was inevitable that sooner or later he and his wife would defect to the West and be stripped of their Soviet citizenship in the process. That was not to happen for another ten years or so, but he already paid scant attention to officialdom of any kind, irrespective of nationality. He could not pay lip-service. When, a few years later, the directors of the Aldeburgh Festival commissioned a distinguished elderly British composer to write a new work for them, he turned in a piece for cello and orchestra with the request that it might have its first performance by Rostropovich. It was not very good. Slava -- as we all called him by then -- gave it a close examination and then, in his much improved English, said to Britten, "When I am in Russia I am obliged to play Russian shit, which is no reason why I should play British shit when I come to England." Then he added, "But if you want me to play it, I will." And he did.

On another occasion he bought a Land-Rover and stuffed it full of consumer goods unobtainable in Russia. He then set off to drive from Aldeburgh to Moscow, although the rest of us were at pains to point out how many customs posts he would have to cross and that, if he was obliged to unpack the Land-Rover for inspection, he would never in a thousand years get everything back inside again, if only because he moved himself and other objects rather like a bulldozer. He waved all such observations aside, and several days later rang from Moscow to say that he and his goods had arrived intact. We asked him how. "If there was no queue, I stopped," he said, "and they were always very understanding. But if there was a queue I drove straight on. Is the best, no?" Only he could have got away with that.

Much the same applied some five years later, when he was appearing as a conductor with the Bolshoi Opera in East Berlin and I was a member of the jury in a conductors' competition organized by Herbert Von Karajan in West Berlin. It happened to be a time when feelings at Checkpoint Charlie were at their most sensitive, and the guards on both sides were operating strictly according to the rules. Yet every day Slava used to drive over to West Berlin and buy goods for members of the company, which he then quite openly trundled back in the Land-Rover. "What if they won't let you through?" I asked him one day. "What if I tell them I'm not going to conduct tonight?" he replied.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Good Fanfic?

Denis McGrath has an entertaining rant against fanfic.

Unlike most anti-fanfic posts, which are based on the dubious premise that fanfic violates the rights of the creator (so why doesn't a spec script violate the rights of the creator?), Denis's argument is that fanfic is badly written and stupid, which is a more legitimate argument.

I certainly don't think most fanfic -- including my own occasional attempts -- is very good, though I will say that I have seen plenty of fanfic that is no worse than the average spec script for the same show.

But here's a question: can you name any actual good fanfic? That is, fan fiction you think qualifies as good storytelling in and of itself?

I sometimes think that could apply to some of the stories at the Batgirl Bat-Trap Homepage. Though it seems to be part of a fetish site (about Batgirl being tied up and the like), and though the prose in the fanfic is kind of over-ripe sometimes, some of the stories aren't bad. And if you read enough of them it really does, in a weird way, come to feel like the author has enriched and expanded the '60s Batman universe for the better. It helps that the author has, instead of just writing straight-up Batman stories, writes stories focusing on an under-used character (Batgirl) and creates a new universe of characters to back her up, even while the main characters of the original show still have a lot to do.

That's the most legitimate use of fan fiction: creating stories that the original show would not have done, with characters who weren't the stars. In that sense, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is the greatest fanfic of all time: it's a Hamlet fanfic that turns the spotlight on two under-utilized characters from the original play. And what's wrong with that?

I also think that, quality aside, fanfic is an important part of a show's fan community. Writing a fanfic is a way for a fan to express his or her take on a character, or the show's premise, or the way it's developing. It may not have value to someone outside the fan community. But within that community, you can look at Fan X's fanfic and understand, better than that fan could put it in non-fictional prose, what Fan X thinks the main character wants or where that character is headed. I never got strongly into the fanfic culture, but when I was a poster on a decade ago, that group would have been much the poorer without the fanfic, in-character songs, in-character skits and much more created by fans. Heck, my first post on that group was a fanfic where Chicken Boo was Sweeney Todd, complete with song parodies (London was OK with him cutting up his customers and making them into pies, but they turned on him when they discovered he was a giant chicken). That's just part of what being a fan is all about.

Your choices for good fanfic?

Update: McGrath responds here; I don't have much to argue with in this post (yes, "overripe prose, and the weird, slightly fetishy sheen" are indeed an off-putting part of almost all fanfic).

There's actually a reason why someone might turn their energies toward fanfic instead of coming up with original stuff, and one of the commenters over at McGrath's blog implies it: coming up with good original characters can be really hard. And without good characters, it's harder to do good writing.

So for some of these fanfic writers -- and we're talking people who do it for fun, not professionally -- it's easier to start with clearly-defined characters and setups that someone else came up with, and build from there; the stories and dialogue flow naturally from that.

I remember years ago I started to write a fanfic for a now-defunct hour-long action-adventure show that shall remain nameless. I'd gotten up to like 10,000 words when I stopped, and I stopped because I realized I was putting all this energy and work into a fanfic that I should be putting into real writing. But it was so much easier and more fun than real writing, and that's because I knew who the characters were and didn't have fo "find" them in the writing. I still think those 10,000 words are some of the funniest writing I ever did (not that that's saying much).

Of course it's not the same caliber of writing as original writing, nor even a spec script. While a lot of specs are bad, they do require one thing that fanfic doesn't, and that's discipline. A spec script not only requires that you format the text properly, but it requires you to fit everything into a set structure and a reasonable length (meaning you can't write endlessly long scenes or wander away from the plot for thousands of words). But of course that's another reason why people find fanfic enjoyable to write, that it's free from the constraints and disciplines of writing a spec.

The Animated Man

I'm a little late in mentioning this, but check out Jenny Lerew's review of Michael Barrier's new Walt Disney biography.

Since I write this blog as an animation artist and fan, and that's who I write it for, I'll put it this way: Animated Man is the book I've always wanted to read on Disney the person, and the one that I've enjoyed the most (of the two recently released and the previous few), because it's plain the author understands exactly how animated cartoons are and were made--what they are, what they can be, and how it felt to work for Walt Disney at that incredible time in history, for better or worse.


One more WKRP article, but a good one: An interview with Richard Sanders (Les Nessman). Sanders was a writer as well as an actor; his writing partner was Michael Fairman (a fellow character actor who appeared on the show a couple of times), and together they wrote one or two episodes every season, including the famous "Ferryman's Funeral Home" episode.

Q: Do you think people will notice the missing music?

A: I think in certain shows it's going to be sorely missed because that was the thing that made it different than any other show about radio that had ever been on. We used actual music at the time, the music that everybody was listening to at the time — and sometimes before they were listening to it. It became almost like a radio station. Record companies would send us copies of their new releases and people would listen and decide.

A lot of times, Tim and Howard would choose the music they wanted to use and the writers would try to work around that. Sometimes songs would come out that people hadn't heard and they would become popular as a result of that. And because it was playing up-to-date music, then the disc jockeys all around the country the next day would talk about the show because they would talk about the music, too. So it really helped, hugely.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Jack Valenti, RIP

He was the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, and most people will remember him for creating the MPAA ratings and as a villain of the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated.

But I'll always remember him from his brilliant guest appearance on Freakazoid!. This scene, come to think of it, is really an earlier, shorter, funnier version of This Film is Not Yet Rated.

Speaking of the Late '90s

I see that Sabrina the Teenage Witch Season 2 is getting released. As I've said before, this show was never again as good as it was in the first season, when Nell Scovell was running it. She left or was pushed out, several cast members were dropped by the new producers (including Paul "Freaks and Geeks" Feig), and it just wasn't quite the same. But it was still entertaining in the second season, and certainly it remained one of the more entertaining entries in the very difficult genre of fantasy-comedy.

How difficult it is to do fantasy-comedy was proved that very season (1997-8) when ABC made a decision that may have killed off its Friday night TGIF lineup: delighted with the success of Sabrina, they ordered two more shows that were fantasy-comedies in the exact same style. You Wish was from the underrated Michael Jacobs (creator of the underrated Boy Meets World), about a genie working for a single mom and her kids. And Teen Angel was from The Simpsons' Al Jean and Mike Reiss, about a kid who dies from eating a spoiled hamburger but comes back as the guardian angel of his geeky friend, who lives with his... yes, you guessed it... single mom. (Hilda and Zelda were so popular on Sabrina that the network apparently figured that people primarily wanted to see kids without father figures.) These producers weren't particularly happy to be doing this kind of material; Jean and Reiss admitted that they pitched Teen Angel only because ABC/Disney wouldn't take any of their other sitcom ideas. But the glut of wisecracking fantasy-comedies, of Sabrina followed by two inferior imitations, not only weakened Sabrina but weakened the once-mighty ABC family-friendly lineup.

Experiments With Cheesy Video Effects

I am trying to figure out how to do video effects on my computer. Why, I do not know. But I took a scene from Tootsie and amateurishly used wipes to whittle the scene down to the best parts of the whole movie: Bill Murray ranting about the theatre.

Things That Should Suck, But Don't: Unhappily Ever After

The local multi-cultural channel, OMNI, is showing repeats of Unhappily Ever After. (They show it at 11:00 p.m., so I sometimes watch it when The Daily Show isn’t doing anything interesting. But most of my memories of episodes come from a few years back when I had to watch it in syndication because it was the only thing on while I was exercising.) Why anyone would choose to rerun this, other than the fact that the syndication rights are probably cheap, I’m not completely sure. But I’m nonetheless glad they are, because it’s given me a chance to remind myself that I kind of liked this show.

I feel almost nervous about admitting that, because this was considered one of the worst shows of the ‘90s – and not without good reason. One person actually got angry at me when he discovered I liked Unhappily Ever After. But let me try to explain why I like it.

First, some background. Unhappily Ever After was one of the early shows created for the then-new, now-defunct WB network. At that time (before it made its mark with teen shows) the new network was trying to do a lot of low-budget videotaped sitcoms with a blue-collar feel, so they went to Ron Leavitt, co-creator of Married With Children, and asked him for something similar. Leavitt and Arthur Silver (another Married writer who had started out in the Miller-Milkis-Boyett salt mines on shows like Joanie Loves Chachi) came up with a premise that was basically Married with a twist: what if the Al Bundy ripoff (Geoff Pierson) actually got divorced from the Peg Bundy ripoff (Stephanie Hodge)? Of course, after the first season, this was abandoned, the dad moved back in with his family and it became a straight-up Married With Children ripoff.

The only thing setting it apart was that the dad was a full-fledged psychotic, and that his psychosis manifested himself by his hallucination of a talking stuffed bunny who would rant about how much everything sucked. This bunny was a puppet voiced by Bobcat Goldthwait. Actually, this was kind of a ripoff too, because the character resembled the foul-mouthed sock puppet “Skank” (himself a parody of Married With Children and similar shows) voiced by Andy Dick on The Ben Stiller Show.

Geoff Pierson was no Ed O’Neill (well, nobody is – O’Neill’s Al Bundy was one of the greatest pieces of comic acting in TV history – but even by that standard, Pierson wasn’t that good), and Stephanie Hodge looked bored through the whole thing and left the show a year before it ended. However, the casting director did make some good choices for the three kids. For the little kid, Justin Berfeld, later of Malcolm in the Middle. For the middle child, Kevin Connolly, now on Entourage. And for the Kelly Bundy role of the sexy teenage daughter, Nikki Cox. If you ever saw an episode of this show, you’ll recall that Cox was exploited like nobody else you’ve ever seen: the audience was ordered to scream and hoot and holler every time she came in (not just her first entrance in the episode; every damn time), and the wardrobe people put her in FCC-baiting costumes. Cox is very attractive and funny and has always deserved a really good vehicle (her self-titled sitcom Nikki wasn’t it, and neither is her role on Las Vegas), but the exploitation element was so blatant here that you could almost wind up feeling embarrassed for her.

Okay, so all of that said, why did I enjoy this unevenly-cast, cheaply-made, sometimes embarrassing show? Because the writers, knowing that the show was all of the above, would often say to hell with it and indulge themselves in the most insane stuff I’ve ever seen on a network sitcom. Rants against celebrities, an occasional feature on Married With Children, became the main joke on Unhappily, with every episodes abounding in nasty references to any celebrity the writers didn’t like. Frequent objects of hate included aging musicians, Quentin Tarantino, that “Monday Seinfeld/Tuesday Seinfeld” ad on KTLA, the cast of any show that was beating them in the ratings – every other show, that is to say. The puppet started talking to the audience, and then the other characters started doing it, until by the end of the series one joke was preceded by a minute of Kevin Connolly asking us to guess what the punchline would be (“You know I’m going to ruin this painting, but how will I do it?”). The plots became more and more freakish with every passing season. In the first couple of seasons, it was a fairly standard Married With Children ripoff; in the final season, with the mother gone, it was totally nuts.

And because most of the jokes revolved around the writers’ hatred of late ‘90s culture, the show is a perfect time capsule of the late ‘90s cultural moment. (For example, the final season introduced a goth girl as a character; after her first scene, Nikki Cox explains that even though the goth look is out, sitcom writers are always at least a year behind the times.) The trends of the late ‘90s were all there, not only pop-cultural but political; there was a weird irony whenever they’d make political references – and they made a lot – because their drunken audiences would cheer loudly at references that were meant to be ironic. You could almost see a new political cultural trend developing, unintentionally, when Nikki Cox tried to explain to the other characters the dangers of mob rule and assuming that someone must be a terrorist just because he’s accused of being one (this was in reference to the Atlanta Olympics incident) and not only the other characters didn’t get it, but the studio audience didn’t either. Or look at this chillingly prescient speech and how the studio audience agrees with it.

Listen, world, don’t get too cocky out there. The real Americans are still here. One day, we’re going to wake up from our drunken stupor, realize we’ve got a fat Miss America, and say “What the hell happened here?” And on that day, we’ll grab our guns and swig one more beer, and kill, and kill. and kill, until this is the great country it once was! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

I’m not trying to make this show out to be a work of subversive genius. It was kind of subversive, at least in the sense that the writers were sneaking in all kinds of things that were too smart or weird for their target audience. But it was also kind of bad. Still, it was crazy and funny and often refreshingly angry. Let me put it this way: it was essentially a bad show, but in terms of being weird, mean-spirited and tasteless it was the show that Family Guy never had the nerve to be -- and much funnier than Family Guy could dream of being. And if you want to understand what the late ‘90s were all about, you could do worse than watch a few episodes of this thing.

I’ll close with two sample stories to give an idea of what I’m talking about.

- The premiere of the final season (written and executive-produced by Kevin Curran, a Married vet who’s now writing for The Simpsons along with a couple of other Unhappily writers), was an X-Files parody where the paranormal phenomenon is the dancing baby from Ally McBeal, who only appears to women who are ovulating; it turns out it’s a midget who enjoys dressing up as a dancing baby and once fathered a child by Bea Arthur. Meanwhile, the other characters play a prank on Justin Berfeld by convincing him that this episode is all about him and how he needs glasses; he doesn’t catch on until the end that the camera is never on during any of his scenes. The episode ends with a caption: ”In loving memory of The Magic Johnson Show, 1998-1998."

- The conclusion of a two-part episode where the mother dies: a tanning-salon accident causes her to be fried into beef jerkey, upon which Kevin Connolly eats her. But she comes back as a ghost, and insists that she will haunt the house until they show her some love. After the family gets Father Guido Sarducci to exorcise her, she takes a hint and leaves, but a WB network executive shows up to insist that the series go back to status quo. Oh, and Nikki Cox sums up the episode by saying that they need the mother because “We need a common enemy. It’s kind of like when we lost the Russians as an enemy; who are we supposed to fear now? The Arabs?”

Rock n' Roll Fantasy

I haven't said much more about the WKRP-on-DVD issue because it's kinda depressing. For the sake of the people involved with the show, I hope it sells well. I especially hope that it sells well enough to justify an actual music budget for seasons 2-4, because those seasons often had entire scenes accompanied by music, and if you don't pay for the song, you have to cut the entire scene because the dialogue track doesn't exist in isolation.

There's one episode in the fourth season where a whole scene is underscored by the Beatles' "Come Together." Except for Johnny mentioning John Lennon, the music is so quiet you'd hardly know it's "Come Together," and it's mostly there to make an obscure in-jokey point about the scene. But still, it's the Beatles, and it's there, and I have no idea how this scene will ever make it onto a DVD.

The set seems to be doing OK at Amazon, and I have noticed that people who haven't seen the show in a while don't seem to mind or notice most of the changes, except for the really obvious ones like changing Jennifer's doorbell. But it might be doing better if Fox had ponied up more money to release a better product. There's no reason to feel gratitude to a company for releasing a product that doesn't meet expectations.

Here's a video compilation with some music-related moments and dialogue that either don't make it onto the DVD or make it only with changed music.

One episode that doesn't lose a lot of footage but is kind of weakened by the lack of music is an episode Hugh Wilson wrote called "I Want to Keep My Baby"; it's about a woman leaving her baby at the station, and Johnny's attempt to return the baby to its mother, so most of the songs were chosen for their relationship to the situation:

- "Baby" by Carla Thomas
- "Teach Your Children Well" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
- "Return to Sender" by Elvis Presley
- "Your Smiling Face" by James Taylor (at the end)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

With My Chin on My Knee

One more excerpt from New Faces Of 1952. This was sung by Robert Clary, who along with Ronny Graham probably did the most material in the show; Graham isn't in this scene, but he wrote the music and lyrics for the song, "I'm In Love With Miss Logan." Clary, whom you know as LeBeau on Hogan's Heroes, plays a boy with a crush on his teacher. His French accent (which is explained by calling the character "Andre") just makes the scene more charming and sweet.

By the way, the film version is available on a bunch of public-domain DVDs; they're not great quality -- they look like these YouTube clips, basically -- but they give an idea of what the show was like (though the breakout star, Eartha Kitt, has some numbers that she didn't perform in the original show).

And this long essay gives an overview of Leonard Sillman's New Faces revues. Young performers who appeared in these revues over the years, in addition to the bumper crop of the 1952 edition, included Henry Fonda, Imogene Coca, Alice Pearce, Inga Swenson, Virginia Martin, John Reardon, and Maggie Smith.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Scuzzy and Harriet

Lot o' bad news about TV-on-DVD releases lately. The latest is about the Ozzie and Harriet "Best Of" collection. According to this post at Home Theater Forum, the episodes on this set are all 22-minute syndication versions. Nuts.

You Can't Chop Your Papa Up in Massachusetts

When there were all those stories two years ago about Michael Brown, the then-current head of FEMA, for a moment I was confusing him with the Michael Brown who wrote "Lizzie Borden" in New Faces of 1952. As performed by -- at least I think it's him -- Ronny Graham, it was one of the big hits of the show and the 1954 film version.

Graham, who died in 1999, was one of those guys who was really talented at everything and never quite a huge success at anything. As a songwriter, he wrote the lyrics for the Broadway musical Bravo Giovanni (with Cesare Siepi and the young Michele Lee), but the show didn't last long and Graham's contribution was very uneven. As a performer, he was never a huge headliner, and he did guest-starring work on television but didn't have a regular role on a series. And as a writer, he co-wrote some of his friend Mel Brooks's movies (but not his best ones) and spent some time as a staff writer on M*A*S*H (after the show was already a little past its prime). He was an interesting and brilliant guy, always this close to being famous and never quite there.

Grudge Matches I'd Like To See: Dennis Hopper vs. Christopher Walken

Two of Hollywood's busiest exponents of the art of creeping audiences out go up against each other. Who wins, Dennis Hopper with his manic psychosis, or Christopher Walken with his more low-key creepiness?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Grudge Matches I'd Like To See: James Bond vs. Willy Wonka

James Bond is once again assigned to sneak into a madman's impenetrable fortress, get past his henchmen, and blow the place up. This time, the madman is Willy Wonka, the crazy proprietor of the Wonka chocolate factory.

Can Bond get past Wonka's various traps, Oompa-Loompa henchmen, etc. and blow the factory up the way he blew up all those other hideouts? Or is Wonka too wacky for Bond?

Wing Ding Tonight

You may remember that in a couple of posts about Frank Tashlin, I mentioned that he seemed to be obsessed with showing off his female characters' legs. I wasn't basing this on anything he said (there weren't many interviews with him), but just on the content of his movie, like the pinups-come-to-life scene in Hollywood or Bust.

But after I wrote that, I came upon a couple of newspaper articles from the early '50s where Tashlin was quoted, one of Son of Paleface (one of his first and best) and the other on Marry Me Again (an obscure black-and-white comedy with Marie Wilson and Bob Cummings). I don't have them right in front of me so I can't quote them directly, but here's what they were about:

- In the article on Son of Paleface, Tashlin talks about how he did something new with Jane Russell: "We lowered the camera and discovered her legs," he exults, adding that Howard Hughes called him and the producer (Robert Welch) up and thanked them for showing new aspects of his contractee.

- In the article on Marry Me Again, Tashlin talks about the buxom Marie Wilson and the censorship problems that they ran into (with the censors checking to make sure her dresses weren't too low-cut). But then he says: "Fortunately, there's nothing wrong with legs, and Marie has good ones." Then Tashlin proceeds to detail every scene and costume in the picture where he had the opportunity to show off Marie Wilson's legs.

I would say that this is something a Tashlin biographer, if any, should look into. Except, really, there's nothing very complicated or sinister about it: the guy was a leg man.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

What's In a Comedian's Name?

You know one thing I always appreciated about Laurel and Hardy? It's that they almost always played characters called "Stan" and "Ollie." Even after they started doing features, they didn't feel a need to make up new character names every time; they were Stan and Ollie, they knew we knew them that way, and there was no reason to call themselves anything else.

Most comedians and comedy teams, especially in features, wouldn't or couldn't try that, so even though they played the same characters in every movie, the writers had to go through this charade of finding new names. If a comedian made enough movies, the writers could conceivably find themselves looking for the 20th or 30th character-appropriate name for the exact same character. Not an easy task.

Sometimes it works. W.C. Fields and Groucho Marx's crazy character names are part of their appeal. And sometimes even a conventional name can work if it's used right. It was usually annoying that Abbott and Costello had to play characters not named Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, but Costello's cry of "Oh, Chuck!" (a substitute, I suppose, for "Hey, Abbott!") became one of the most famous bits from Hold That Ghost.

But usually you wish that the writers would just admit it: like cartoon characters, a screen comedian is always the same character even when the setting changes. Even though Mickey Mouse is a steamboat captain one year and a brave little tailor the next, he's still Mickey Mouse. So why should Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis have to constantly pretend to be someone other than Dean and Jerry?

Obviously, the hardest job in these comedy-team re-namings is coming up with new names for the straight man, the guy who can't have a funny name. It's very hard to remember Zeppo Marx's different character names. And as for Dean Martin, oy. I'm going to list, in random order, the names of Dean Martin's characters from the Martin and Lewis movies.

You will try to guess, without looking at Dean Martin's IMDb listing, which name is from which movie. Betcha can't do it. I certainly couldn't.

Bill Baker
Bob Miles
Bill Miller
Chick Allen
Steve Wiley
Joe Anthony
Pete Nelson
Herman Nelson
Rick Todd
Larry Todd
Vic Puccinelli
Slim Mosely
Steve Harris
Al Crowthers

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Boston Beguine

I'm sorry I haven't been posting much lately (particularly if rants about music replacement in television shows don't count as real posts). Hopefully I'll be able to get a longer post up soon, but in the meantime, here's something entertaining: Alice Ghostley sings "The Boston Beguine" in the film version of New Faces of 1952 (retitled New Faces because it wasn't 1952 any more).

This revue was the most successful of producer Leonard Sillman's series of Broadway revues showcasing young writing and performing talent, and many of the performers hit it big (Eartha Kitt, Paul Lynde, Robert "Hogan's Heroes" Clary and Carol Lawrence). The songs were more cabaret-style songs than Broadway; most of them were written by songwriter-performers (Arthur Siegel, June Carroll, Ronny Graham) and they had an intimate, one-on-one feeling, maybe a little too much so for Broadway, which could explain why these songwriters didn't become big successes in Broadway book shows. On the other hand, "Boston Beguine" is also a cabaret-type song -- a coyly clever parody number -- and its composer-lyricist, Sheldon Harnick, did become a big success: working as a lyricist only, he was teamed with composer Jerry Bock and they did Fiddler On the Roof and the rest. The version in the film is slightly truncated, cutting a passage that quotes Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" (maybe they would have had to pay to use it?).

Monday, April 16, 2007

Where The Deer and the Antelope Play

Here's the late great Ralph Bellamy talking about the making of The Awful Truth. About two or three minutes into the clip, he describes Leo McCarey's method of working: he had no script, the actors didn't really know what the story was from moment to moment, and he threw the actors into scenes without any preparation. The first scene Bellamy shot was singing "Home On the Range" with Irene Dunne at the piano: Bellamy couldn't sing, Dunne couldn't play the piano very well, and that's exactly what McCarey wanted.

Even today, when improvised comedy is more legitimate and respected than it was in 1937, can you imagine anyone making a film like this? Even an independent film? In his prime, McCarey was so well-respected by the studio bosses that they would let him make a film without a real script; according to Bellamy, Harry Cohn left McCarey alone and trusted him to make things turn out right, even when the actors all complained about him.

And here's the "Home On the Range" scene.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


If you want to get a little more depressed about music changes to TV-on-DVD releases, Sitcoms Online has a list of the music changes in season 2 of Happy Days.

Not only has Paramount replaced "Rock Around the Clock," they've cut just about every real '50s song except Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill." (If you don't license "Blueberry Hill," releasing Happy Days is pretty much impossible, given that it was sung about 9,000 trillion zillion billion times in the series.)

The one thing I'll say for Paramount is that they did license all the music for the first season of Happy Days. Then the set didn't sell much, and they lost money on it. So they can at least point to actual proof that season 2 of Happy Days wouldn't sell enough to make back the expense of paying for the music. Obviously this doesn't apply to a studio releasing the first season of a show with all the music gone (but we've been over that before).

Thursday, April 12, 2007

It Sure Isn't Yooooouuuu

Not only was the late Stan Daniels (co-creator of Taxi, co-producer of the best seasons of Mary Tyler Moore) a great comedy writer; he was also a songwriter. He wrote the songs (music and lyrics) for the musical So Long 174th Street, and when he and Ed. Weinberger created Phyllis, Daniels wrote the lyrics for the hilarious theme song -- one of the few TV theme songs that's a direct parody of another songwriter (in this case, Jerry Herman):

It's interesting how many television writers started out as songwriters, or aspired to become songwriters. Joe Keenan (Frasier) and the team of David Crane and Marta Kauffman (Friends) are only two examples of people who were librettists/lyricists before they went to California to write for TV. Tom Whedon, head writer of The Electric Company among many other credits, was a song lyricist, and of course his son is a career screenwriter who aspired to write musicals. Bill Persky and Sam Denoff wrote music and lyrics for Broadway-style songs in many episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Arnold Horwitt, who wrote the lyrics for the Broadway show Plain and Fancy (with the song "Young And Foolish" that Eddie Fisher made into a hit), later moved out West to write for sitcoms. And of course, there was that writer for the television comedy Topper, Stephen Sondheim. Many, many other examples.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Where an Outtake Can Lead

When it comes to outtakes, the usual ones -- forgetting a line and cracking up, forgetting a line and swearing -- are OK. But I prefer something a little more meta-humorous like Bob Newhart's famous absent-minded mistake from the first season of Newhart:

I wonder if this moment helped inspire the show's finale, eight years later? Probably not, but it's fun to pretend that it did.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Vote, Vote, Vote!

Warner Brothers has set up some kind of online survey to see which animated TV shows people want on DVD.

Please go there and vote for Freakazoid! The survey allows you to vote for as many other shows as you want -- Tiny Toons certainly ought to be on DVD, and I suppose the '80s version of The Jetsons must be wanted by all those Orbitty fans out there -- but you gotta start by voting for Freakazoid!

You Fill Me With Inertia

I'm glad that Bedazzled (the original, not the Brendan Fraser remake) finally got reissued. I notice from the booklet notes that Peter Cook expressed some reservations about Stanley Donen's direction of the film, or at least the way he and Dudley Moore responded to his direction. As film neophytes working for an experienced director like Donen, they perhaps deferred too much to his judgment and didn't give themselves all the freedom they needed to be at their funniest.

Also, by this time Donen -- who had been living in Europe for years and had just made the innovative, fragmented Two For the Road -- was filling all his movies with crazy camera angles and trendy "cinematic" effects. Which works fine for something like Two For the Road, but not so much for a straight-up comedy-thriller (compare Donen's incomprehensible Arabesque to the much more normal Charade, which he made only three years earlier) or a satirical comedy like Bedazzled. I sometimes wish he'd let up with the angles and filters and let Cook and Moore do their thing, and I also don't care for the extensive use of post-dubbed dialogue (a bane of '60s movies all over the world).

But Cook and Moore are so funny that even a tilted camera angle can't stop them. And despite my carping about Donen, he does bring a certain warmth to the film and to the relationship between Cook's devil and Moore's sad-sack Faust. And there are a number of scenes where he tones down the with-it technical flourishes and lets Cook and Moore have more leeway; and still other scenes where his attempt to be groovy sits well with the material. Like this scene where Moore wishes to be a pop star so girls will love him -- only to find that his fame is eclipsed within minutes by Cook's rival act ("Drimble Wedge and the Vegetations"). Moore's music -- the same melody arranged into two different styles of song -- is a dead-on parody of late '60s pop styles, and Donen matches it with a spoof of in-concert films and broadcasts.

And here is a transcript of Cook's lyrics:

I don't care.
So you said.
I don't want you.
I don't need you.
I don't love you.
Leave me alone.
I'm self-contained.
Just go away.
I'm fickle.
I'm cold.
I'm shallow.
You fill me with inertia.
Don't get excited.
Save your breath.
Cool it.
I'm not interested.
It's too much effort.
Don't you ever leave off?
I'm not available.

WKRP Music Addendum: What They Shoulda Done

Sitcoms Online has a review of the WKRP set that is more or less aligned with mine.

Also, since writing the original list, I've actually discovered still more cuts in the DVD set. In one episode, Johnny sings a line of "So Long For a While" and exits the room. Now he just leaves without saying anything. I would say that of the 22 episodes in this set, more than half of them have footage cut from them for one reason or another.

But one more thing I wanted to add, as a WKRP-ite, is this: what would a legitimate, acceptable DVD release be like? That is, I've said that a legitimate DVD release could change some music but not the "essential" songs. But which songs are "essential?"

So I went through this list which another fan compiled, of most of the songs used in the first season (there are a few he missed). As you can see, there were about 50 rock recordings used in that season alone.

Here are the recordings (not counting onscreen performances, admittedly) that are so important to the episodes -- either because they're timed to the action, related to the plot, or intertwined with the dialogue -- that the DVD should have kept them. It goes without saying that almost none of them are included on the current DVD.

Pilot (1)
Queen Of The Forest by Ted Nugent

Pilot (2)
Old Time Rock N Roll by Bob Seger

Bailey's Show
Boogie Oogie Oogie by Sukyaki
Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presely

Turkeys Away
Dogs by Pink Floyd

Love Returns
Beast Of Burden by The Rolling Stones

A Date With Jennifer
Hot Blooded by Foreigner

Goon Squad By Elvis Costello and The Attractions

Goodbye, Johnny (1)
Surfin U.S. A. by The Beach Boys

Johnny Comes Back (2)
Into The Mystic by Van Morrison
Layla by Eric Clapton

Never Leave Me, Lucille
Everybody Rock N Roll The Place by Eddie Money

I Want To Keep My Baby
Baby by Carla Thomas
Lively Up Yourself by Bob Marley
Return To Sender by Elvis Presley
Your Smiling Face by James Taylor

Young Master Carlson
Caravan by Van Morrison
Patton Main Title - Jerry Goldsmith
Soul Man by Sam and Dave

Fish Story
Drinkin Wine Spo-de-o-de by Jerry Lee Lewis

The only recordings kept on the DVD are "Boogie Oogie Oogie" and "Lively Up Yourself." Why these two? I have no idea.

(I didn't count the song snippets in "The Contest Nobody Could Win" as essential songs because you're not supposed to recognize the excerpts as individual songs anyway, and I'm not even sure if they're actually the songs referred to.)

As you can see, even that whittled-down list amounts to about 20 songs, and that's not counting the onscreen performances like "Heartbreak Hotel" that Fox doesn't want to pay for either.

If a DVD release included the above songs and not the others, I would be OK with it and I think most fans would be, if not overjoyed, at least accepting. But of course, that list would simply cut the music licensing fees down from a large fortune to a small fortune. It would be, let us say, about what the music licensing costs might be for a season of The Simpsons (which seems to use an average of one real song per episode). And of course Fox, or Paramount, or whoever, doesn't want to expend that kind of music budget on a 1978 series.

What it comes down to, then, is that you can release an acceptable WKRP set with reduced music costs. But you can't release it on a very low budget. And Fox's mistake, I think, was not bailing on this project when the budget didn't allow for any kind of substantial music licensing.

Here's an example of how music licensing should have worked for this show. This is a clip from the second episode, where Johnny Fever plays three songs: one at the beginning of the scene, one at the end, and one in the middle. The songs at the beginning and end are very short and not really related to the scene except in the sense of being noisy. They are unimportant enough that they were actually replaced in the first syndication package (the one that kept most of the real music). But the song in the middle, "That Old Time Rock N' Roll," is specifically timed to the scene and set up by the dialogue. The scene makes no sense without it.

If a DVD set had changed those two shorter songs but kept "That Old Time Rock N' Roll," I'd be fine with that. But changing everything -- as in the version used on the DVD -- ruins the scene and severely weakens the whole episode.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

This Collection Makes Sense When You Think About It

While Fox's TV-on-DVD division is kinda messing up (see below), their producers of classic movies are doing some interesting work, for now. They've had some mis-steps, like the use of what many critics considered an overly dark transfer of The Gang's All Here, but they are releasing a lot of catalogue movies andthey almost always manage to include some newly-produced special features (unlike Warner Brothers, which often uses vault material like shorts and cartoons instead of producing special features).

However, unlike Warners, which markets its classic movie releases intelligently through print ads and cross-pollination with Turner Classic movies, Fox doesn't seem to give its classic movie releases much publicity, which leads me to wonder if they're making any money on these sets. Also, whereas Warner's George Feltenstein is pretty smart about figuring out which movies fans will want to buy, the Fox department seems to pick old movies almost at random, leading to a lot of rather unpopular movies being marketed as "classics."

On the other hand, this leads to some movies coming out that probably wouldn't otherwise. Case in point, Fox has set a July release date for The Joan Collins Superstar Collection, five movies from Joan Collins' years as a Fox contract player. Now, none of these movies -- The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!, Sea Wife, Stopover Tokyo, Seven Thieves -- are great movies, or much-in-demand movies, and Joan Collins was not any kind of a "superstar" while she was at Fox (she would be the first to admit that she was mostly wasted by the studio), and name recognition seems to be the main basis for putting together this set. But still, it's great to get some of these movies, for various reasons.

For example, Rally 'Round the Flag is the great Leo McCarey's last comedy, and while the stars -- Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward -- did not respond well to McCarey's improvisatory style (this method of working must not have appealed to Newman very much), the supporting actors did, especially Collins, who's better and funnier here than she was usually able to be in her movie career.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Dubbing, Book 2: Martin and Lewis in German

What else is there to say?

As in most musicals, the dubbing stops when the characters start to sing. They would sometimes dub songs by supporting characters (if there was a separate accompaniment-only track for the song), but the audience would feel cheated if you overdubbed Dean Martin or some equally well-known singer with a separate singing voice.

Also, the fact that the singing wasn't usually dubbed in these films is a data point against the theory that Jerry Lewis was popular in France because of the guy who dubbed his voice. (It sounds weird, but I've heard several people say this in one form or another.) The French, like everyone else in the world, knew what Jerry Lewis sounded like because the dubbed versions used his voice when he sang.

Of course, the whole idea that Jerry Lewis was unusually or freakishly popular in France is a myth that goes all the way back to the early '60s. Given that Lewis was a huge star in American movies until the mid-'60s, it never made much sense to see his French popularity as out of the ordinary; his movies were popular in France, but they were equally if not more popular in America.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Rewards of Being Good At Audio Dubbing

Someone synched up the famous Orson Welles "Frozen Peas" audio outtake with the animation of the Brain (of Pinky and the Brain) doing the same routine. It works surprisingly well.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Toot Toot

As you may know, Warner Brothers got the rights to the Fleischer cartoons a while back. Fortunately the studio's flagship property, Popeye, appears to be the second cartoon franchise to be handled by Warner's classics division (apart from Looney Tunes, most of the other DVD sets has been from their less careful "family entertainment" division). The result is Popeye the Sailor: Volume 1, 1933-1938, July 31.

Jerry Beck has more information on what sounds like a great set.

Be a Clown, Be My Love

Some more MGM musicals will be released on DVD on July 24.

They include:

- A sspecial edition of MGM's cult flop The Pirate, an Arthur Freed/Vincente Minnelli/Gene Kelly/Judy Garland/Cole Porter musical made at a time when Minnelli's musicals were kind of stilted and garish. After the failure of this movie, he and Freed toned it down a notch and started setting musicals in familiar settings with somewhat more realistic plots. (Minnelli and Freed's next two musicals together, American in Paris and Band Wagon, are both contemporary stories, not wacky period pieces like The Pirate.) And yes, Freed completely ripped off Porter's "Be a Clown" four years later when he wrote "Make 'Em Laugh" for Singin'in the Rain.

- A double-feature of Fred Astaire musicals: Royal Wedding, which up to now has only been available in bad-looking public domain prints, and The Belle of New York, Freed's last attempt to do an original whimsical fantasy musical (and, like all his whimsical fantasy musicals except maybe Brigadoon, flopped at the box office) and Vera-Ellen's only chance to do a lead role at MGM.

- Words and Music, which bears absolutely no resemblance to the life of Rodgers and/or Hart.

- A double bill of Mario Lanza/Kathryn Grayson musicals: The Toast of New Orleans and That Midnight Kiss. Both were produced by Joe Pasternak, who was MGM's schlockiest producer of musicals but whose films were probably more consistently popular than Freed's. Pasternak's movies always had certain basic ingredients: sweet, innocent characters and plots, wacky ethnic supporting characters, and lots of light pseudo-classical singing (he made Deanna Durbin a star at Universal). Midnight Kiss may be his ultimate film because it features most of his favorite contractees after Durbin: Mario Lanza, Grayson, and pianist Jose Iturbi, who Pasternak kept putting into movies like Anchors Aweigh for no appreciable reason. Here are the three of them in a number that was cut from the film, but will be on the DVD as a bonus feature: