Sunday, December 31, 2017

¿twenty-seventeen?

It was a lousy year in general and, as is usually the case, the year was reflected by its films. The public needed a respite - something, anything, that would delude/distract them - and the studios obliged by producing hugely expensive DC/Marvel-based escapist flicks by the dozens.

But, apparently, potential moviegoers escaped elsewhere. Alcohol maybe? Drugs? Box-office was down. Films expected to gross a ga-zillon dollars took in only a ba-zillion. Hmmm. Exactly who or what was to blame?

Hollywood pointed the finger at Rotten Tomatoes, where "critics" actually do number in the ga-zillions. Or perhaps it was Harvey who put people off with his seemingly insatiable member. Or maybe filmmakers were too demoralized and stressed to make anything with an intricate narrative.

Or it could be that moviegoers simply stopped believing in superheroes. Whatever the reason, singling out the worthwhile of 2017 is a no-brainer.

And it helps that I exposed myself to precious few movies during the year - and not the brain-dead ones the public half-heartedly supported or those titles for which critics managed to feign any semblance of enthusiasm.

"Life's way too short" became my mantra whenever my wife would suggest a movie to see. In 2017, I became impossibly selective.

Only four titles jumped out at me, so to speak, largely because one of the studios, Paramount, didn't try to comfort moviegoers but instead released a trio of allegories that creatively commented on the ills of the times - and because Fox Searchlight supported the R-rated treatment of a film that could have easily been facile family entertainment.

Films
  • Paramount's bracing triumvirate... 
  • "Downsizing"
  •  "mother!"
  •  "Suburbicon" 
  • Fox Searchlight's socially-conscious (in multiple ways) fever dream about love without boundaries... 
  • "The Shape of Water"
  • And... 
  •  “Beatriz at Dinner” / "The Beguiled” / "The Dinner" / “The Founder” / "Get Out” / “Lady Bird” / “Lady MacBeth” / “Personal Shopper” / "Three Bill Boards Outside Ebbing,  Missouri” / “The Tribes of Palos Verdes” / “Your Name"
 Performers
  • Jim Belushi ("Wonder Wheel") / Steve Coogan ("The Dinner") / Hong Chau ("Downsizing") / Matt Damon ("Suburbicon" & "Downsizing") / Jennifer Garner ("The Tribes of Palos Verdes") / McKenna Grace ("Gifted") / Woody Harrelson  ("Three Bill Boards Outside Ebbing,  Missouri”) / Sally Hawkins ("The Shape of Water") / Salma Hayek ("Beatriz at Dinner" & "How to be a Latin Lover") /  Allison Janney ("I, Tonya") / Richard Jenkins ("The Shape of Water") / Noah Jupe ("Suburbicon") / Michael Keaton ("The Founder") / Tracy Letts ("Lady Bird") / Francis McDormand ("Three Bill Boards Outside Ebbing,  Missouri”) / Laurie Metcalf ("Lady Bird") / Michelle Pfeiffer ("mother!") / Florence Pugh ("Lady MacBeth") / Margot Robbie ("I, Tonya") / Sam Rockwell ("Three Bill Boards Outside Ebbing,  Missouri”) / Saoirse Ronan ("Lady Bird") / Lois Smith ("Marjorie Prime" / Kristen Stewart ("Personal Shopper") / Vince Vaughn (Brawl in Cellblock 99") 

If there are notable omissions here, it's because, as I said, I sought out films cautiously - only those movies that promised a hint of something different. The only disappointment was "The Big Sick" which has been the critics darling ever since it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival but which struck me as nothing much and left me emotionally uninvolved despite its coy insistence that I care about its characters. I didn't. Still, it's interesting that it struck a nerve with moviegoers, given that its title pretty much sums up 2017 both as a year and as time when movies needed a doctor.

C'est fini: Turner Classic Movies' current "TCM Remembers" is especially well-done and inclusive this year. (And Gary Meyer's Eat Drink Films site does a beautiful job honoring it.) The reminder of the number of film personalities who pass every year is always sobering, but this year, I am especially saddened by the French losses - Emmanuelle Rive, Danielle Darrieux, Mirielle Darc, Jean Rochefort, Michelle Morgan and particularly Jeanne Moreau. A mournful au revoir to them all.

et le musique: Speaking of the French, the always remarkable Alexander Desplat deserves" bravos!" for two of the year's best background scores - for "The Shape of Water" and for "Suburbicon" in particular.

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.
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 ~images~
(from top)

~Head of the U.S.

~Jeanne Moreau, circa 1962

Thursday, December 28, 2017

thoroughly awful

I thought enough time had gone by - yipes! 50 years! - and that I'd finally find it irresistible. But, no, this disturbing curiosity is definitely resistible.

I'm referring to George Roy Hill's dismal "Thoroughly Modern Millie," the 1967 pseudo-musical which has been disinterred and will air on TCM @ 12:30 a.m. Saturday and that has decidedly not improved with age.

In fact, it's now much worse and it remains an affront that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, an outfit known for throwing away Oscars, saw fit to nominate it for seven - count 'em - seven Academy Awards, including one for Carol Channing's amateurish supporting turn. (There's a reason why some stage performers never make it in movies.)

Aside from being a prime example of.•:*¨¨*:••:*¨¨*:•.forced fun•:*¨¨*:••:*¨¨*:•.
 "Thoroughly Modern Millie" remains jaw-dropping in its blatant racism.

The presentation of Asians here, as personified by the wince-producing performances of Jack Soo and Pat Morita, is unconscionable - almost as unwatchable as Mickey Rooney's notorious Oriental schtick in Blake Edwards' irrationally beloved "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961).

Of course, this brand of racist entertainment had been tossed off as innocent fun by Hollywood for years.  Consider the shameful and demoralizing "blackface" production numbers that mar both MGM's "Babes in Arms" (1939) and Warner Bros.' "My Wild Irish Rose" (1947).

I know - it was a different culture 60-70 years ago when "Babes" and "Rose" were produced. However, times had supposedly changed by the time "Thoroughly Modern Millie" was made in the enlightened late '60s.

What's disconcerting is that "Millie" was produced by Ross Hunter who presented Asians in such a relatively positive light six year earlier in Henry Koster's film of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Flower Drum Song" (1961), whose entire cast (except for one Caucasian in a brief supporting role - Herman Rudin, who played the vagrant who robs Benson Fong) is composed of Asian performers exclusively, Jack Soo among them.

In "Flower Drum Song," Hunter and Koster nudged the talented Soo towards a winning performance that's best described as Martinesque (as in Dean Martin). One can only guess why Hunter and Hill elected to diminish Soo (and Morita) in such a cruel way in "Thoroughly Modern Millie."

Its brand of casual racism remains unacceptable.

Ditto for "Babes in Arms" and "My Wild Irish Rose." And I could care less about the "iconic" people who directed and performed in them.

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.
* * * * *
 ~images~ 

~The poster art for "Thoroughly Modern Millie"
Universal 1967© 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

alexander payne's double-bill

Alexander Payne's "Downsizing" completes a triptych that Paramount Pictures started with Darren Aronofsky's ”mother!” and George Clooney's ”Suburbicon.” Whether intended or not, all three function as creative sociopolitical commentaries on the pervasive contentiousness of the times.

Not surprisingly, each one, whose respective narratives could be called confrontational, has been misunderstood by critics and audiences alike - with the latter taking to CinemaScore and Rotten Tomatoes to harumph.

Of the three, "Downsizing" is the most complicated and, by entension, alienating because Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor have concocted not necessarily a two-act film but two movies - one light and airy and the other rather dark and sobering. And, from where I sit, each film (or part, if you prefer) represents one of the major political parties.

"Downsizing" is a red state/blue state movie.

The brighter first half deals with the notion of literal downsizing, wherein a person volunteers to be miniaturized, ostensibly as a way to produce less waste and thereby save the planet. But the real draw of downsizing is that one can acquire more for less and experience a more privileged life. Money goes further. A few thousand dollars in real life translates into millions in Leisureworld, one of the tracts with Barbie dream houses where the miniaturized are ensconced - or rather, more accurately, segregated.

It's the blatant materialistic side of downsizing that attracts Paul and Audrey Safranek (Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig), particularly Audrey who dreams of living large in a McMansion. It's the first half of "Downsizing" that drives the trailers for the film, giving the impression that it is strictly a cheery sitcom; virtually nothing from the film's more thoughtful (and potentially off-putting) second half, during which Paul becomes enlightened and radicalized, is included.

There's no denying that Payne makes an abrupt left-hand turn with his narrative or that audiences expecting one kind of film have every right to be angered when they're lured into another, altogether different movie.

Suddenly, Leisureworld isn't the haven as it was advertised to be. Paul discovers a huge Trumpian wall - huge! - that separates the newly elites from the undesirables, who are largely people of color. Paul meets Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant who was miniaturized against her will, left with only one usable leg, but who has a work ethic and conviction that were once celebrated as American virtues but are now associated with "losers," a word favored by the powerful. 

The heaviness of this part of "Downsizing" is lightened considerably by Hong Chau's remarkable, exhilarating performance as Tran - and by the comic relief provided by the ever-game Christoph Waltz as a displaced, downsized playboy, whose character's cynicism and resourcefulness complete Payne's less-than-flattering vision of America in its current state.

And Matt Damon takes his affable everyguy persona into a new realm as he telegraphs Paul's confusion and the realization that he's always been "small" but can now do something about it. He plays a simple man who is humbled into doing something that matters - something of consequence.

And it's humbling to witness this actor express so much so quietly - and with such little effort.

No, "Downsizing" is not the larky sitcom promised by its trailers, not a Disney-esque sitcom about the joys and riches of being only five-inches-tall. It's actually taller than that. (Forgive the shameless pun, but it was absolutely intended.) Its social consciousness is big and very progressive.

To sum it up, I liked it. Thanks, Paramount, for this terrific holiday gift.

That said, "Downsizing" joins a select group of titles about the miniaturized, as evidenced by this little album of stills:





Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.
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 ~images~
(from top)

~The poster art for "Downsizing"

~Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig in a scene from the film
 ~Hong Chau and Damon in a scene from the film
 ~photography: George Kraychyk / Paramount 2017©

~Grant Williams and a feline predator in "The Incredible Shrinking Man"
 ~photography: Universal -International  1957©

~Lily Tomlin in "The Incredible Shrinking Woman"
 ~photography: Universal 1981©

~A scene from "Attack of the Puppet People"
 ~photography: MGM 1958©

~A lobby card from "The Devil Doll"
 ~photography: MGM 1936©

Saturday, December 23, 2017

a few notes on frank perry's "diary of a mad housewife" (1970) and other related issues

It's a miserable day here - a good time to take stock of my sprawling VHS/DVD collection and make another (unsuccessful) attempt to purge.

As I inched my way up to the Ds, I came across Frank Perry's 1970 film version of the seminal Sue Kaufman book, "Dairy of a Mad Housewife," something I recorded off Bravo back in the 1980s - way before Bravo was taken over by the inimitable Andy Cohen and his colorful house fraus.

Mad housewives, indeed.

✓ The movie year 1970

I couldn't resist.  I had to watch it again.  For one thing, "Diary of a Mad Housewife" was one of the first films that I reviewed as a young working critic, a movie that I fondly remember as one of the bracing, unsung gems of the New Wave in American Cinema of that particular time period. Yes, 1970 - the year of Robert Altman's "M*A*S*H" and "Brewster McCloud," Hal Ashby's "The Landlord," Bob Rafelson's "Five Easy Pieces," Stuart Rosenberg's "Move," Paul Mazursky's "Alex in Wonderland," Jerry Schatzberg's "Puzzle of a Downfall Child," Richard Rush's "Getting Straight," John Cassavetes' "Husbands," John G. Avildsen's "Joe," Michelangelo Antonioni's "Zabriskie Point," Irvin Kershner's "Loving," Mike Nichols' "Catch-22" and Michael Wadleigh's "Woodstock."  I could go on.

But won't.

✓ Bravo

Also, Bravo had broadcast Perry's original theatrical version, something that has become increasingly difficult to see because, well, Universal Home Video just doesn't give a damn about the film.  It was released, briefly, on VHS but has disappeared from home entertainment.  No DVD so far. In the late '70s, "Diary" was telecast by NBC - which, like Universal, is owned by MCA - but in a version that did not exactly resemble the film that had played in theaters.  (But more about that later...)

Anyway, despite Bravo's disclaimer that the film had been "edited for TV," I picked up only one bit of tampering: A few frames had been adjusted to crop out a brief bit of nudity.  Otherwise, the film was intact, including the use of two different "F" words.  This wasn't exactly a surprise because, around the same time, Bravo had somehow screened the original, uncut, uncensored version of Bernardo Bertolucci's sprawling, 317-minute epic, "1900," which included the infamous sex scene involving Robert De Niro, Gerard Depardieu and Stefania Casini.  I found out about this screening after the fact from the late Lesley Cootes, a terrific San Francisco publicist who had taped it and promptly made me a copy - which is among the assorted VHS tapes that I'm trying (in vain) to thin out.

BTW, "Diary of a Mad Housewife" was televised by Bravo without any commercial interruptions. Again, back in the day.

✓ Frank Perry

"Diary of a Mad Housewife" was the second major studio film made by Frank Perry, after his ill-fated "The Swimmer." He had previously worked on indies (most notably "David and Lisa") and directed two wonderful TV specials based on the writing of Truman Capote, "A Christmas Memory" and "The Thanksgiving Visitor."  Following "Diary," he made "Doc," "Play it As It Lays," "Rancho Deluxe," "Compromising Positions" and "Mommie Dearest."  He was a good filmmaker, hugely underrated by movie critics.  Perry, who famously worked in tandem with one of his wives, the writer Eleanor Perry, died in 1995 at age 65.

"Diary of a Mad Housewife" has a plot that makes less sense in 2017 than in 1970, when it was celebrated as a cautionary feminist tale about the evils of patriarchy.  Seen from the vantage point of more mature eyes, it now resembles a screed: The two main male characters in the film are aggressively awful, repugnant actually.  But they aren't the only characters in the film who routinely - relentlessly - abuse its vulnerable heroine, Tina Balser.  Seemingly everyone does. And Tina remains so patient and so grounded throughout her daily maltreatment that these otherwise laudable qualities quickly become a little suspect.

The woman is obviously a masochist - and perhaps stupid, despite having graduated form Smith.  She's married to a seemingly successful New York lawyer named Jonathan, an insufferable snob and elitist bully with arty pretensions.  He speaks to her horribly, and so does the older of their two daughters (who is Jonathan's mini-me).  Tina is such a dishrag that one eagerly waits for her to cheat on the prig Jonathan.  And she does, but with someone just as repellent - a celebrity writer named George Prager who is curiously effeminate.  It's easy for one to think that one is imaging Prager's closet homosexuality until Tina, finally fed up, calls him out on it (invoking one of the aforementioned "F" words).

 

The late Carrie Snodgress remains a revelation as Tina, a performance that's as memorable and fresh today as it was back in 1970.  Again, the character doesn't exactly add up but Snodgress makes it work. She's the film's star - its titanic supporting structure - but for some unaccountable reason, she's billed third after her two male co-stars.  Given the film's theme, this is quite odd. Snodgress plays a character who is disrespected and, as an actress, is disrespected herself in this case. Life imitating art?

It certainly seems that way.

✓ Benjamin & Langella

Richard Benjamin dominates the film's opening scenes as the unctuous Jonathan as he delivers a monologue of non-stop complaints and demands that efficiently defines the character but also makes him inevitably tiresome.  Benjamin is great in the role, perhaps too great.  Frank Langella, in his film debut, plays the unpleasant lover with a personality slightly more refined than Jonathan's. He might be even more shallow.


Frankly, decades later, "Dairy of a Mad Housewife" is rather painful to watch largely because it lacks subtlety. The characters, none of whom are even remotely recognizable, now emerge as puppets, manipulated to make a point, meet an agenda. Of course, this narrative failing may date back to the source material, Kaufman's book (which I admit I never read).

✓ Carrie

Carrie Snodgress, who passed in 2004 at 58, was an old-fashioned movie star with a raspy voice - think Jean Arthur - who came along a little too late. The year she made "Diary" is the year that she broke into movies.  She had debuted a few months earlier in Jack Smight's very good adaptation of "Rabbit, Run," the John Updike book with James Caan as Rabbit Angstrom and Snodgress, in full Bette Davis mode, as his pathetic, alcoholic wife, Janice. A searing performance.  But it was 1970 and the world was head over heels in love with another actress, a movie star in a decidedly different mold - Ali MacGraw - and with her film, "Love Story."
 
Snodgress was better on screen, see, than in glossy magazine spreads - and so her stint in movies was modest and way too brief.  Prior to her two 1970 films, she had a role in Daniel Petrie's fine 1969 TV film of the Robert Anderson play, "Silent Night, Lonely Night," and in 1971, she excelled in another TV film, "The Impatient Heart," directed by John Badham ("Saturday Night Fever") and written by the great Alvin Sargent. How "The Impatient Heart" with its estimable pedigree ended up on TV and not in theaters is a mystery only Universal can answer.

In it, Snodgress plays an edgy, driven social worker who embraces the people in her charge while she alienates those in her private life. A control freak, she finds that she can't motivate or, rather, manipulate the guy (played by Michael Brandon) who is right for her.  It's a great performance but "Diary of a Mad Housewife," for which she was nominated for an Academy Award, remains her signature role, her one claim to fame.

✓ Universal

I'm a little surprised by how shabbily Universal has treated what was considered a prestige film - Oscar-bait - in its day.  But its treatment of "Diary of a Mad Housewife" wasn't singular. It had little respect for its titles after their theatrical release and routinely created "TV Versions" of its '70s films, the most egregious example being "Red Sky at Morning," discussed in the next item below. At least, with "Diary of a Mad Housewife," Perry himself re-edited the R-rated film, trimming and excising scenes deemed too adult for TV and reinstating footage cut for the theatrical release.

Most noteworthy are an early scene, set in Central Park, where Tina is almost assaulted, and brief bits scattered through the film involving her psychoanalyst (played by the New York stage and television actor Lester Rawlins), whose image Perry shot "upside-down," to convey Tina's couch-bound point-of-view. Only Snodgress' voice is heard in these sequences. (Note: In one of the comments below, reader Jon B. details the many moments in the TV version that were not used in the original film.)

There are, in essence, two versions of "Diary of a Mad Housewife," both valid and effective, and the TV/PG-rated version has been posted by caltroon for screening on YouTube in seven parts (although Part One is inexplicably missing) - Part Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven.  

✓ "Red Sky at Morning" 

As mentioned, one of Universal's most disturbing re-dos involved  James Goldstone's fine 1971 film, "Red Sky at Morning," which reunited Richard Thomas and Catherine Burns (fresh from Perry's "Last Summer) and which also starred Richard Crenna and Claire Bloom as Thomas's parents.  Bloom plays a particularly complicated character, a neurotic woman who is not entirely sympathetic or easily explained.

Her character apparently confused some studio person because by the time the film made its TV debut, also on NBC, narration was superimposed over most of her dialogue.  She would open her mouth but you couldn't hear what she was saying because an uncredited actor speaking as the adult version of Thomas's character is explaining what's happening.  Once again, matters are exacerbated: The voiceover is very "Waltons"-like. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Thomas was the star of "The Waltons" at the time.) The film's powerful ending was also altered for TV, watered down.

Right now, this is apparently the only version of "Red Sky at Morning" that's available anywhere.

Notes in Passing:  The actual running time of "Diary of a Mad Housewife" either has varied or has remained elusive.  IMDb reports that it runs 95 minutes but curiously adds that the "original running time" is 104 minutes.  Huh?  The 1970 New York Times review of the film and the VHS cassette both report 100 minutes.  The film has also been listed as running 85 minutes, but that may be the TV version sans commercials.  IMDb also lists Lester Rawlins as being an "uncredited" cast member but he was never in the theatrical release of the film, only in those scenes added to the TV version.

An uncredited actor who does appear in the film is Peter Boyle, who would score a personal success the same year as the title character in Avildsen's "Joe."  Boyle is featured in the final scene of "Diary of a Mad Housewife," as one of the opinionated members of Tina's group therapy.

One more thing: Perry's long-neglected film is  the subject of an excellent 2009 Essential Cinema essay by Rob Christopher on the Chicagoist site, which was timed to coincide with a 35mm screening of the film at the University of Chicago as part of its Doc Films series that year.

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.
* * * * *
 ~images~
(from top)

~The poster art for "Diary of a Mad Housewife"

~Carrie Snodgress and Richard Benjamin in scenes from the film
 ~photography: Universal 1970©

~Snodgress and James Caan in a scene from Rabbit, Run"
 ~photography: Warner Bros. 1970©

~Video cassette of "Diary of a Mad Housewife"

~Peter Boyle in a scene from "Diary of a Mad Housewife"
 ~photography: Universal 1970©

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

unlikely duo: Edmund Goulding's "Mardi Gras" & Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water"

Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water," arguably the most impressive film of 2017, is a willfully defiant hybrid - an adult genre movie and one with an R rating, no less - that secured the support of a major Hollywood indie, Fox Searchlight Pictures, and seemingly without much compromise.

This hugely creative reboot of Jack Arnold's "Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954), replete with a creature almost identical to the one designed for Arnold by Milicent Patrick (*), could have easily been aimed at the family crowd, given its holiday release.


But del Toro's vision is singular and not at all derivative. It is driven by a grown-up love story involving an odd woman without voice, affectingly played by Sally Hawkins, who works at a research facility in 1962 Baltimore, and the strange aquatic creature from the Amazon (Doug Jones), equally silent, who is being held captive there, the subject of a government experiment.

This amphibian-humanoid is referred to as The Asset by the vicious men who want to cut him apart and study him for the advancement of space travel. He is a Cold War victim, tangled in America's rivalry with Russia. 

del Toro keeps his fable dark and fearlessly introduces sex to the mix.

His decisions as a filmmaker are never less than fascinating, particularly his filmic references and use of movie clips (all from Twentieth Century-Fox features, of course). For purely personal reasons, I was struck by the double-bill that del Toro selected for The Orpheum, the movie house beneath the apartments were Hawkins and neighbor Richard Jenkins live.

The Orpheum's brightly-lighted marquee rather breathlessly announces:

"The Triumphant Return of 'The Story of Ruth' and 'Mardi Gras.'"

Henry Koster's "The Story of Ruth" is a Biblical epic starring Elana Eden in the title role that Fox released in the summer of 1960. I allegedly saw it about a dozen times that summer but actually saw the film only once.

Instead, I was going to repeat showings of Billy Wilder's "The Apartment," decidedly not a film for children. I lied to my parents and let them think that I was seeing "The Story of Ruth" over and over again. My parents weren't particularly religious but I knew that they'd be a problem if they knew that I was obsessed with an adult film filled with bad role models.

Edmund Goulding's terrific "Mardi Gras" from 1958 is something else - a clean-cut Pat Boone vehicle that remains one of my all-time favorite movie musicals. Back in the day, it played in syndication on television regularly but disappeared when local TV stations stopped airing movies altogether.

The old Fox Movie Channel aired it several times in 2009 and, about a  year later, Fox released the film on DVD, its first-time ever on home entertainment, along with other titles from the 1950s and '60s. Most were awful pan-and-scan versions, including "Mardi Gras," versions made to accommodate the old box TV sets.

Fox took the lazy way out with these transfers, ignoring the films' CinemaScope legacy - odd, given that the widescreen process was a Fox trademark. At the time, Dave Kehr addressed Fox's antiquated (and embarrassing) pan-and-scan DVDs in his invaluable column for The New York Times and on his site, "reports from the lost continent of cinephilia."

del Toro uses two or three clips from "The Story of Ruth" in his film but only one brief bit from "Mardi Gras." But it's in CinemaScope. Which gives me hope that a widescreen DVD may be in the offing. (A guy can dream.)

"Mardi Gras" is Boone's third film but it is less a Pat Boone movie than an ensemble musical - and a full-fledged movie musical at that, with a varied Sammy Fair-Paul Francis Webster song score performed by the entire cast (not just Boone) and some terrific choreography by Bill Foster.

The plot is about four Virginia Military Institute cadets - played by Boone, Dick Sargent, Tommy Sands and Gary Crosby - who aim to attract a French movie starlet (Christine Carère, a delightful, if sadly fleeting, screen presence at the time) to their end-of-the-year ball. Everyone converges in New Orleans, where the movie queen is promoting her latest movie and where the VMI cadets are participating in the Mardi Gras festivities.

Lionel Newman (brother of legendary composer-scorer Alfred Newman and uncle of composers Randy, David and Thomas Newman) orchestrated the nimble score, which includes the title song, "I'll Remember Tonight," "Bourbon Street Blues," "That Man," "What Stonewall Jackson Said," "Just Like The Pioneers," "Bigger Than All Of Texas" and "Loyalty," a showstopper sung by the four cadets and cleverly staged in a locker-room shower. The traditional "Shenandoah," sung by Sands, is also utilized.

Rounding out the cast are the wonderful Sheree North, Barrie Chase (Fred Astaire's TV dancing partner who does a comic striptease), Jennifer West and ace character actors Fred Clark and Geraldine Wall. Jeffrey Hunter and Robert Wagner, who were making "In Love and War" with North at the time (also on the Fox lot) put in cameo appearances.
.
Carère made her American film debut in Jean Negulesco's "That Certain Smile" (1958) and would appear in one more American film - Raoul Walsh's "A Private's Affair" (1959), also with Gary Crosby - before heading back to France. All three were Fox films. 

Christine Carère died in 2008, age 78.

"Mardi Gras" is one of several Boone films that Fox never bothered to release on home entertainment in any form. So where's the gratitude?

An early contract player at the studio, Boone was a major cash cow for Fox during the 1950s. What's odd is that all of the films of Elvis Presley, Boone's polar-opposite counterpart, have long been available on home entertainment and have been shown endlessly on Turner Classics.

And let's face it, most of Elvis' titles, with the exception of two or three, are fairly bad. As a performer, I always preferred Elvis but Boone actually made better movies - and his first three titles for Fox are more than deserving of a boxed set. Those three would be "Bernadine" and "April Love," both directed by Henry Levin and released in '57, and 'Mardi Gras."

Boone made a credible film debut in "Bernadine," based on the Mary Chase play and augmented by some popular songs (the title tune and "Love Letters in the Sand," among them) that became breakout hits at the time. It's about a group of high-school guys who invent a fictitious girl named Bernadine - the "perfect girl" - and then try to prove that she really does exist. Such veteran film actors as Janet Gaynor, Dean Jagger and Walter Abel are on hand to fortify the inexperienced Boone, and the younger cast includes Terry Moore, James Drury, Dick Sargent (billed as Richard) and Ronnie Burns (son of George Burns and Gracie Allen).

The affable "April Love" is a remake of Henry Hathaway's 1944 film, "Home in Indiana" (based on the novel by George Agnew Chamberlain and utilizing the same screenplay by Winston Miller), about a delinquent city boy forced to do time with relatives in a rural area, stirring things up. (Actually, Herbert Ross's "Footloose" of 1984 could have easily come from the same source.) 

Boone plays the bad boy and he's effectively teamed opposite Shirley Jones. Again, there's an ace supporting cast here - Jeanette Nolan, Arthur O'Connell, Matt Crowley (not to be confused with playwright Mart Crowley) and the sublime, criminally neglected Dolores Michaels.

Both "Bernadine" and "April Love" are modest, diverting entertainments, as is Norman Taurog's "All Hands on Deck" which Boone made with Barbara Eden and Buddy Hackett in 1961. But "Mardi Gras" remains his best.

And, for me, it's a childhood favorite whose status in my mind has never budged. And I'd like to think that Guillermo del Toro appreciates it, too.

(*) Notes in Passing: No, I didn't misspell Milicent Patrick's name. There's only one L in Milicent. Needless to say, a large team worked on the creature for "The Shape of Water," although Antonio Loza is credited with the "creature prosthetics."  

And my favorite Presley films? Easy.There are three: Philip Dunn's "Wild in the Country" (1961), with three terrific leading ladies (Tuesday Weld, Hope Lange and Millie Perkins); Phil Karlson's "Kid Galahad" (1962), with Gig Young and Lola Albright, and Gordon Douglas' delightful "Follow That Dream" (also '62), with Arthur O'Connell, Anne Helm and Joanna Moore. 

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 ~images~
(from top)

~The poster art for "Mardi Gras"

~Ben Chapman as The Gill Man in "Creature from the Black Lagoon"
 (Chapman played the character on land; Ricou Browning in water)
 ~photography: Universal-International 1954©

~Doug Jones as The Asset (aka, The Amphibian Man) in "The Shape of Water"
 ~photography: Twentieth Century Fox 2017©

~Christine Carère and Pat Boone on the set of "Mardi Gras"
~Geraldine Wall, Fred Clark and Carère in a scene from "Mardi Gras"
~Carère and Sheree North in a scene from the film 
 ~photography: Twentieth Century Fox 1958©

~Shirley Jones and Boone in a scene from "April Love"
 ~photography: Twentieth Century Fox 1957©