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Songs Of The Wild West: “The Harvey Girls”

In the George Sidney film musical, The Harvey Girls (1946), Judy Garland still has her looks, her good singing voice, her good speaking voice, her serviceable acting; but does not dominate the whole of the movie.  There is stark ensemble work, with numerous bits of singing during the spectacular “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” number (the catchiest piece) and in the segment where the female trio, Garland included, sing the pretty song, “It’s a Great Big World.”

Cyd Charisse is in this trio but doesn’t make a splash.  A dancer not a singer, her crooning is dubbed and—well, she dances very little in the entire movie.  But Ray Bolger, as a quasi-blacksmith in this Old West musical, tap dances extensively and deliciously.  The Harvey Girls could use more charm and grace in a couple of its routines; this includes “Swing Your Partner Round and Round.”  The pic is no masterpiece, but it’s not exactly minor either.  My hat is off to songwriters Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer.  Also, not only Garland but Virginia O’Brien (Alma), too, offers some solid solo vocals.

North Dallas Dreck: “North Dallas Forty” (1979)

Cover of "North Dallas Forty"

Cover of North Dallas Forty

Was football controversial in 1979?  No.  It was considered pretty innocent stuff, albeit, as North Dallas Forty demonstrates, it brought plenty of pain to athletic bodies no longer young.

This is convincingly depicted (by Nick Nolte and director Ted Kotcheff), but NDF presents a problem.  It is the most cynical sports movie I’ve ever seen, as well as annoyingly coarse.  For a long time I thought it was insulting to women, but not really.  It’s harder on men than on women, and is, in point of fact, insulting to Christians:  Art the quarterback (Marshall Colt) in particular.  Partly comedic, it is well directed but unwell in spirit.  Its mild nudity is not gratuitous but it seems to be, because the movie itself is gratuitous.

“Pickup On South Street”: Pick Up, No Discarding

Pickup on South Street

Pickup on South Street (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Sam Fuller  film, Pickup on South Street (1953), is probably the only movie ever made in which a prostitute, or former prostitute, is accused of being a subversive Communist.  But the woman in question, Candy (Jean Peters), simply doesn’t know the company she keeps, and is, it turns out, badly roughed up by a Communist.  Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark), a cynical thief, gets rough with her too—welcome to New York City—but later the two become, er, committed lovers.

Fashioned under the studio system, Pickup is better directed, more polished, than Fuller’s White Dog, and just as absorbing.  This despite a couple of defects in Fuller’s screenplay:  e.g. Thelma Ritter‘s character never would have stayed alive as long as she does.  I like most of the acting, except that Murvyn Vye, as a police captain, never changes his scowling expression.

 

Bogie Making A “Dark Passage”

Cover of "Dark Passage (Keepcase)"

Cover of Dark Passage (Keepcase)

A 1947 Delmer Daves picture, Dark Passage, has Humphrey Bogart (character name: Vincent Parry) as an alleged wife killer running from the law.  “Alleged” is as far as it goes:  a woman called Irene (Lauren Bacall) knows he is innocent, hides him and supplies him with money.  Wanting a new face, Parry uses the money for makeover plastic surgery, but what happens later?  For one thing, someone aims to blackmail Irene for concealing a fugitive.

What happens, therefore, is that even the plastic surgery fails to prevent life’s contingencies from arising.  Parry’s identity is known regardless, by people who, unlike Parry, are up to no good.  Enemies keep filing in.  There is craziness in the plot here, but it’s also one to make you think a bit.  And the hard-working cast enables you to admire the acting.  In its late 40s way, furthermore, DP entertains not with sex but, unabashedly, with violence.  A rowdy ride.

Catholic Meaning In “The Girls of Slender Means”

The “girls of slender means” in Muriel Spark‘s 1963 novel of the same name live in a London hostel during the virtual end of the Second World War.  Economically poor, they are also morally unformed—wayward.  But among them the Catholic Spark has fashioned a Christian character, Joanna, and a character who will become a Christian, Nicholas Farraday, a future martyr.

The two of them are self-abnegators who remove themselves, sooner or later, from the world of sex, Joanna doing so with a mild quirkiness.  The young woman teaches elocution of poetry, and as Ruth Whittaker has pointed out, “poetry for Joanna . . . takes the place of sex.”  For his part, Nicholas becomes acquainted with the hostel and moves from intermittently sleeping with the most beautiful of the girls of slender means—Selina—to Christian service in Haiti.  Both persons end up dying: they die with sacred faith.

The girls at the hostel are superficial, except that Joanna is not a girl of slender spiritual means.  Superficiality here essentially means self-seeking, seeking to satisfy the appetites for sex (Selina) and money (Jane). . . The Girls of Slender Means is another well-written, humorous success for Spark—and another short Spark novel, which is good since most of its sentences call for careful attention to determine the overtones.  And hooray for the overtones.

Cover of "The Girls of Slender Means"

Cover of The Girls of Slender Means

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