Saturday, June 9, 2012

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion

In honor of the 121st birthday of the favorite son of Peru, Indiana, the inimitable Mr. Cole Porter, I thought it might be fun to have a look at what may well be the most (only?) enjoyable moment from one of Hollywood's greatest disasters.

Yes, it's "Find me a Primitive Man," delivered with grim determination by Miss Madeline Kahn as what appears to be an hommage to Dietrich's "Hot Voodoo" number from Blonde Venus.

Oh, and the movie?  Why, it's 1975's At Long Last Love, the film that can if nothing else be described as the best-ever Cybil Shepherd-Burt Reynolds musical.  The writer-director, the estimable Peter Bogdanovich (who really can, when called upon, write and direct, albeit not here), was bound and determined to demonstrate the versatility of his personal leading lady, Miss Shepherd.  It's a puzzling effort that makes one believe it's possible that his encyclopedic knowledge of Hollywood history (as demonstrated previously in The Last Picture Show, What's Up, Doc?, and Paper Moon - he's no slouch) somehow omits any familiarity at all with the words Republic, Herbert Yates, and Vera Hruba Ralston.

But at least there's Madeline, and bless her, she does her best.  The picture was shot live, so she's not lip-synching (it was the first big movie since the early talkies to give this a try; it turns out there's a reason the technique was abandoned at the earliest possible moment), and the challenges of filming a number like this at more or less one go actually greatly enhance its similarity to similar moments in early musicals circa 1930.  She gives it all she's got, and it only takes the couple of short inserts that include her co-stars to make you realize just how dire the rest of that mess must have been.

In a side note, earlier this week I had mentioned in reply to a comment from a Gentle Reader, the euphoniously numerical joel65913, that today might be an opportunity to mark the centenary of that towering figure of '40s exotica, Miss Maria Montez.  She was, no doubt, a one-woman Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion all on her own, but a quick look at the clips available on YouTube establishes clearly the difference between simple Camp and High Camp.  Montez is the former, and once you get past the sets and costumes and "Geef me zat Cobra chool," there's not, alas, all that much more.  Porter, by contrast, is the Highest of Camp, even in the debased form seen here, layer upon layer that can be, with relish, picked apart one by one.  Still, camp is camp - for anyone longing for today's Montez Moment - just click here.

Technical note:  while you'll see a still above, you'll actually have to click on it and head on over to Youtube to take in the richness.  Believe me, it's worth it.  But y'all come on back, hear?


  1. Madeline Kahn makes everything better!

    1. Indeed. She could rescue a stinker of a show with very little effort whatsoever... Jx

  2. OK, I'm back, but first I had to make a quick detour of Blonde Venus. Hot Voodoo!

    A musical starring Cybil Shepard and Burt Reynolds. Doesn't that seem like a joke in a skit from Saturday Night Live?

  3. i've always avoided this movie because.....yes, madeline did her best.

  4. Having no "familiarity at all with the words Republic, Herbert Yates, and Vera Hruba Ralston", I have spent some time reading up on their rather fascinating story. Far better than watching this movie, no doubt. Jx

  5. Of the many, many reasons that I'm mad for, this one will always stand out. You put out an article on Cole Porter and wind up mentioning Herbert Yates and Vera Hruba Ralston. Further, that you bring them in as a cautionary tale that Peter Bogdanovich failed to heed, has made me your devotee!

    I think I'll just go and lay down now.