Friday, May 8, 2009

Back to the past (Thanks, Netflix)

Great movies scenes part 1 (Musical numbers not from traditional musicals)

This week the random movie selection was The Girl Can't Help It.  Perhaps a better title would have been Little Richard, Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran, Jayne Mansfield and Julie London Couldn't Help This Turkey.  As a movie, it's pretty laughable even though it was filmed in Cinemascope and had old pros Edmond O'Brien and Tom Ewell.  In addition, Little Richard, Fats, etc., perform for the first time in a big screen, big budget movie.

So why am I bringing this up?  Part of the backstory is that washed up talent agent Ewell was at one time the agent for Julie London (played by, you guessed it, Julie London).  About a third of the way through the movie she sings Cry Me A River (  It's quite a tour de force. When I figure out how to embed videos, I update the post.  Anyway, the cover to the left might give you some idea of Ms London's considerable charms.  I think every boy in my age group was in love with her.

I saw this movie for the first time in my life this week, so my earliest recollection of seeing and hearing Ms London was in her role as pitch-woman for Marlboro cigarettes, before they went all cowboy.  Still remember the lyrics, too:

You get a lot to like with a Marlboro
Filter, flavor, flip top box

Sung with that slightly husky but charming voice, wearing an evening gown (and of course, smoking the sponsor's product), those commercials probably could have convinced Ralph Nader to take a few puffs.

Interestingly enough, although today she is remembered primarily as a singer (and for super model good looks), Julie started out as a straight dramatic actress.  It was her second husband, actor-songwriter Bobby Troup (composer of Route 66, among others) who started her singing career.  Somewhat underrated as a singer, she used to joke that the producers spent more time and money on the album art work than on the arrangements. 

Jule and Troup later teamed on the TV series Emergency!, which was produced by Julie's first husband, Jack Webb. (Guess he didn't carry any grudges.  More on Webb in a minute). For a later (and totally different) interpretation of Cry Me A River, look on this album.  

One of the pleasures of watching old moves is seeing future stars, or ones just breaking out, when they were young.  Years after Webb had become a big star (and very rich) from Dragnet, I saw him in The Halls of Montezuma (1950), a pretty good World War II actioner, with a slew of future big names including Richard Widmark, Karl Malden, Jack Palance, and Robert Wagner.

That's Webb on the right, with Richard Widmark.  Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, could give you the Icy Blue-eyed Glare of Pure Death (patent pending) like Widmark.  If the Navy could have sent Widmark to the South Pacific during the war, he might have glared the Japanese to death.  For good example, take a look at Widmark staring down Duke Wayne in The Alamo (1960). 

The last movie is related to the first, and to the theme of great musical numbers not in traditional musicals.  By traditional musicals, I mean the classic, song and dance movies like Oklahoma!, or My Fair Lady, or (blech) The Sound of Music.  After all, just because there's lots of music in the movie, it doesn't make a musical.  If that were the case American Graffiti would qualify, to name just one example.  So, the other nominee for the award is The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) starring Jeff and Beau Bridges as piano-punching brothers.  Looking for a new singer, they luck into the young Michelle Pfieffer.  The closing credits feature a grand piano and a red dress sprayed onto Ms Pfieffer while she croons an old standard, Makin Whoopee. Here's an idea:

I rest my case.

1 comment:

  1. The Fabulous Baker Boys is a favorite of mine. Such a great movie. "Frank, if somebody requested 'Chopsticks', you'd need the sheet music."