Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sequences That Belong In Another Movie

As part of my neverending quest to find obscure Tashlin movies, I stumbled on a VHS of the 1954 Susan Slept Here at Sam the Record Man's going-out-of-business sale. (Yes, I did feel like a vulture, thank you.) This is the one where writer Dick Powell somehow gets talked into letting juvenile delinquent Debbie Reynolds stay over at his house at Christmas; this leads to misunderstandings, complications, a paper marriage and a Red Skelton cameo appearance.

It's based on a play by RKO writer-producer Alex Gottlieb and Steve Fisher (who was better-known for crime novels like I Wake Up Screaming); Gottlieb is credited with the screenplay, and it feels like Tashlin must have come into the project fairly late, because whereas most Tashlin movies have almost nothing to do with their source material, this is a pretty stagy movie, taking place mostly in Powell's house. You can hear Tashlin's uncredited rewrites in a lot of moments at the margins -- having the film narrated by Powell's Oscar statuette, or some moments for Glenda Farrell that were basically repeated in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

What obviously interested Tashlin about the material was the bad taste aspect of having Powell romance a girl less than half his age, and who (in the story) is under the age of consent; instead of trying to make it more palatable as any other filmmaker would do, he goes out of his way to make it even ickier than the writers could possibly have imagined, and mine comedy from our discomfort.

But the strangest part of the movie -- and this finally brings me to what this post was supposed to be about -- is a six-minute sequence about two-thirds of the way through, where Debbie Reynolds has a dream. The scene really has no business being in this movie at all: it's a weird combination of fantasy, dance and psychology. It seems to be at once a parody of pop-psychology dream sequences and, well, a pop-psychology fantasy sequence. (It may also be a spoof of the vogue for fantasy ballets in movies like An American In Paris and plays like Oklahoma!) It is related to the themes of the movie -- Reynolds dreams up appropriate roles for herself, Powell, Anne Francis (as Powell's bitchy fiancee) and the young Alvy "Hank Kimball" Moore (as Powell's buddy). But it seems to belong in another movie altogether, and I have no idea what 1954 audiences must have made of this bizarre interlude in the middle of a stagebound romantic comedy.

So watch the sequence -- apologies for the scratchy print (I imagine that a better print would look really good, since it was photographed in Technicolor by RKO's great cinematographer Nick Musuraca) -- and answer the question for the day: are there any sequences you've seen that simply seem to be out of whack with the rest of the movie? I'm not talking about dream sequences that sort of fit the tone of the movie, like in Vertigo; I'm talking about scenes where the movie just becomes another kind of movie entirely, like Susan Slept Here suddenly morphing from a romantic comedy to a weird psycho-babble fantasy.


Thad said...

Is Sam's really folding up? That's a shame. I found lots of stuff at the one in Toronto back in the days before DVD that was quite rare, like a few of those Warner Jubilee and Cavalcade tapes and the Harveytoons CD boxset.

Anonymous said...

How about that scene in Robin William's "Man Of The Year" where the woman goes crazy in the coffee shop after being druggged?

Anonymous said...

The ending of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, where its suddenly revealed that the weird guy is a really ugly woman, and s/he starts killing everyone, and calling herself superwoman. That was pretty unexpected.

Anonymous said...

The "Easter with Bugs Bunny" live action/animation number in MY DREAM IS YOURS, which is otherwise a fairly conventional, even serious musical drama, readily comes to mind.

I dunno whether this counts, but the sudden "it's juat a movie, Miss Balin" ending of THE PATSY (a picture I really like) has always seemed very jarring to me.

Sorry to hear about the demise of Sam's -- I spent many blissful hours in that store.

Anonymous said...

Dammit! Griff beat me to it re: the bunny number in "My Dream is Yours." He's totally right. But it also brings to mind "Que Sera Sera" in "The Man Who Knew Too Much." Yes, I know it becomes a plot point, but it still feels like it's been shoehorned in.

Rays profile said...

I just saw the DVD of "Man of the Year" last night - it seems like two half-movies somehow got put on the same disc.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I love Hollywood - the "age-appropriate" bitchy fiancee was played by Anne Francis, who was all of 18 months older than Debbie Reynolds - and Dick Powell was 26 years older than Anne Francis.


Anonymous said...

Aloha Sam The Record Man. Yonge Street won't be the same without you.