Thursday, July 12, 2007

Jubilation, She Loves Me Again

I've always considered the movie version of Li'l Abner -- read Mark Evanier's great piece on it, part of a series on the Li'l Abner musical -- to be a disappointment, in spite of the great cast (which was almost identical to the stage show). The decision to treat it as a filmed stage play, with the same basic sets and stage business as the play, just makes the material feel less interesting than it could be; I don't think a stage play needs to be "opened up" for its own sake, but even when shooting on an interior set, there are ways of making the result feel cinematic. I'm pretty sure that if Michael Kidd had been available to direct the film (he pulled out of the project and his Broadway staging was re-created by others), he would have re-thought his staging and not have had everyone standing around statically.

My other problem with the movie is the musical arrangement; Paramount had a good music department, but in this case it sounds like the music was done on the cheap. To see what I mean, compare the "Jubilation T. Cornpone" number from the movie with the same song from the Broadway recording (dubbed over footage from the movie). Broadway shows usually have smallish orchestras and choruses, even when augmented for the cast recordings, but the chorus and orchestra on the Broadway recording still sound much larger and fuller than in the movie version.

Movie version:

Broadway cast recording:


Brent McKee said...

Even a tin ear like mine can hear the difference between the two versions - and not just the three verses that were cut between the movie and the cast album. There's a palpable richness in the Broadway version both in instrumentation and voice quality that isn't there in the Paramount version (and am I wrong in thinking that that the Broadway version is "bassier"?).

Visaman666 said...

Seems to me like that the Broadway soundtrack was using multi track recording.

Anonymous said...

I would be surprised if the Broadway recording was multi-tracked. Almost all cast albums, even today, are recorded by just getting everyone together and running through the show and miking it. It's just too expensive to record in layers. The main thing I hear is that the Broadway sounds like a "live" environment (you can hear a lot of natural reverb) while the movie version sounds acoustically dead. That may be an intentional choice (the cast album may be intended to remind you of the stage experience). But I agree the cast album sounds a lot richer.

Will Finn said...

Boy oh boy do i have to disagree... i love/hate this old movie for all its intense corniness and it is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. i have seen it more times than i could count... i have a fascination with Al Capp that is filled with simultaneous revulsion. i can't exactly explain it but the cheap, flat-footedness of the movie captures it for me. I almost wouldn't want to see it look better, (which I'm sure it could have).

As for the soundtracks, i can't vouch for the orchestration, (i don't have a great ear for that sort of thing) but i have to prefer the vocalizations of Imogene Lynne (overdubbing the gorgeous Leslie Parrish) as "Daisy Mae" way way WAY over the horrible hoarse croaking of Edie Adams in the Broadway one. Given that the rest of the main characters (with the execption of "Mammy Yokum") are right off the stage version, i don't see what much difference it makes. i wish like crazy there was a CD of the movie--"I'm Past My Prime" is wonderful. Compare those two tracks back to back and get back to me.

Also, many of the edits, IMO are improvements and particularly the opening number is better in the shorter version in the movie. The re-written lyrics are also prefereable, to l'il ol' unsophistomicated me anyway...

thanks for posting something about this forgotten film tho!