Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I Don't Mean Frisco...

Pardon the colorization on this one - sadly, it seems to be all the gods of Youtube will offer up to mark this, the 112th anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake.

Here, of course, we have the potent combo of Jeannette MacDonald and Clark Gable in MGM's 1936 blockbuster film of the tragedy (as it was not just a disaster pic but also the usual MGM love-trio plot, they were joined by Spencer Tracy; we don't see him here).  Each does what they do best:  Jeanette sings (the title song of course, several times), and Clark looks at her with that just-this-side-of-a-leer of his that telegraphs quite clearly that his intentions are intriguingly far from honorable.

I'm especially fond of dear Mr. Ethan Mordden's description of Jeanette in the middle of this sequence - he says she turns up wearing "the kind of hat that a banshee would wear to a bris," and that about sums it all up for me.

Jeanette isn't, I think, as fondly remembered as she might be.  She made too many pictures with that great big hunk of ham-scented wood, Nelson Eddy, and at some point seems to have lost the spark that's so obvious here and have started taking herself seriously as Big Diva on the lot.  Lost in the change was the slightly off-center, frequently naughty lady who had been such a huge hit in some of the earliest smash musicals at Paramount and who then moved on up to Metro.  We certainly catch her here, especially when she lets her audience take the melody and lets loose with a kind of opera-meets-bebop ad lib, during which she carries out a very refined version of minstrel-show trucking.

Seconds later, you know, the whole place goes to hell (a great sequence).  Somewhere across town, in a less fictional version of the city, the young Miss Alice B. Toklas (a year out from her fateful meeting with Gertrude in Paris) wakes her father and says, "the city has been rocked by an earthquake and is now on fire!"  "Ah," says he, "That will give us a black eye in the east."  Well, you can see why she left.

1 comment:

  1. This movie rocked my world when I was a boy. It really did.

    By the way, "hunk of ham-scented wood" is a brilliant description! But I would expect nothing less.