Monday, February 05, 2007

Tash Crash

Fox has done a really good job with the DVD of Frank Tashlin's Doris Day vehicle Caprice -- better, perhaps, than the movie deserves. There's a commentary, several featurettes about Day and about the movie, and original promotional materials like radio interviews. All this for a flop movie that hastened Tashlin's decision to give up movie-making (he would make only one more movie, the Bob Hope flop The Private Navy of Sergeant O'Farrell).

This review at a Doris Day fansite sums up the movie's main problem: it doesn't make any sense, and it doesn't know whether it wants to be a mod spy thriller or a slapstick comedy. The inspiration was obviously Charade -- even the title gives that away -- but making that kind of movie requires the thriller parts, the non-comic stuff, to be played relatively straight, and neither Tashlin nor Day could really get into that. So Tashlin kind of dozes through a lot of the picture and then perks up when it's time for some slapstick, but even the broad comedy isn't much fun when it isn't connected to anything. The best Tashlin movies integrate the cartoony jokes into a larger satirical canvas, but the only thing for Tashlin to make fun of in Caprice is the spy thriller genre itself. Except that every time Tashlin tries to make fun of the genre, he's effectively telling the audience that the "serious" parts of the movie were worthless. And that's a recipe for a flop.

I think one problem Tashlin had by this point is that his type of comedy -- involving bright colors, slapstick, and artificiality -- was by this time almost exclusively the province of what might be called "Mom and Dad" movies. That is, movies that appealed to an older audience. (Among "A" pictures, anyway; loud, bright, artificial movies were also being made for the drive-in set.) So Tashlin wound up working a lot with stars like Danny Kaye, Doris Day and Bob Hope, whose audiences tended to be older and more conservative in their tastes. But in making movies for that audience, he couldn't get as wild or as viciously satirical as he had been in his '50s prime. So a lot of his movies from this period are basically Mom n' Dad comedies -- typical Doris Day or Bob Hope vehicles -- with a few Tashlin touches at the edges.

In Caprice, the most Tashlin-esque scene is probably this one, which features several things Tashlin held dear: beautiful women in wacky costumes, satirical shots at advertising, and an in-jokey cameo -- the distinguished-looking old gentleman Richard Harris addresses as "Shamroy" is Leon Shamroy, the great veteran cinematographer who shot this film (and who earlier had done amazing work on Tashlin's The Girl Can't Help It).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thoughtful post on this forgotten--somewhat justifiably alas--next to last Tashlin. I would take issue with you only on the idea that his style and sensibility left him stranded with these family films and middle aged stars in the '60s. I think this was more a case of career doldrums and bad choices/bad luck (and for whatever reason, no longer being able to write or rewrite his scripts). He was perfectly adaptable to the '60s. Tashlin's cartoon/slapstick aspects in his heyday were complemented by his way with sharp pop cult satire and his attempts to add more sophisticated or at least rowdier sexual content. Tashlin always had at least one eye on Billy Wilder and one could certainly consider Tashlin following a path somewhat in the way of Blake Edwards' elegant slapstick films of the '60s...Or my personal fantasy, Tash becomes Elvis Presley's Richard Lester then reunites with Dean Martin to write-direct the Matt Helm series.