Monday, February 04, 2008

"I'm Going To Forget That So-Called American Emancipated Woman Type of Independence..."

I finally got around to transferring my old VHS copy of The Geisha Boy to a DVD (since no commercial DVD release seems planned at the moment). This is my favorite of the six Jerry Lewis solo vehicles that Frank Tashlin directed; like all their movies, it's as much Lewis's movie as Tashlin's (Lewis produced them himself and had more say over the final edit than anybody), and is extremely sentimental, but the gags are pretty consistently good, and it's one of the cartooniest of their films together, with a Looney Tunes ending, a live-action version of a WB-style funny animal in "Harry Hare," and a throwaway reference to Bridge on the River Kwai. It also has a great title sequence with a "calling attention to the director's credit" gag that ranks up there with the famous one in The Wild Bunch.

(Incidentally, I don't think I've seen this mentioned elsewhere, but when Tashlin first signed to direct Martin & Lewis movies in 1955, his first project was announced as "Rock-a-Bye-Baby" -- the remake of Miracle of Morgan's Creek that eventually became his first movie with Lewis alone. Apparently the property was originally planned to be another in Martin & Lewis's long line of remakes of Paramount properties.)

The Geisha Boy was also the movie debut of the late Suzanne Pleshette. She looks great, of course, but has a rather thankless part as an army sergeant/glorified stewardess who seems to have some kind of unrequited crush on Lewis -- she doesn't get him, she doesn't get to do much of anything, and all she gets for a send-off is a rather appalling speech where she decides that the lesson of the story is that women should be totally submissive if they want to land a man.

I don't want to be too hard on that speech since that would take this post into "we're so much more enlightened than our elders" territory. Besides, I'm sure tons of stuff from 2008 will sound wince-worthy in 2058. What I was reminded of when I heard that speech, though, is that Frank Tashlin was a writer-director who was not really a great writer, at least not in the ways we usually judge screenwriting: pithy dialogue, characterization, plot. He wrote a lot of speeches that were worse than the one above (there are a few real clunkers in The Disorderly Orderly among others), his characters are all stock types and his plot construction is kind of ramshackle.

And yet I'm not saying that to put him down, because his scripts work very well when put on film, which is all that matters. Tashlin once told Peter Bogdanovich that he wrote his scripts very fast because "I hate to write"; and his best movies are a reminder that screenwriting isn't really an art form in itself -- a screenplay that satisfies none of the rules of good writing can actually be a better script than a more conventionally well-crafted comedy screenplay, because the best scripts are the ones that lend themselves to being good movies, not scripts that read well on the page.

Oh, and no post on sexist lines in movies could be complete without the line I've touted many times before, Glenn Ford's botched prophecy from The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963, directed by Vincente Minnelli and written by John Gay):

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