Music Lovers' Debate Society: Daddy Long Legs

Hi, everybody. The assigned movie for this month was Daddy Long Legs. One of my favorite musicals. Featured Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron.

Basic premise: On a tour through the French country side, Jervis Pendleton stops at an orphanage run by nuns, and meets Leslie Caron. He’s so impressed with her, he decides to anonymously put her through school. He tries to keep things as hands off as possible, doesn’t even reply to any of her letters. Thelma Ritter is wonderful (as always) as his secretary. He visits her at school, not telling her who he is. At this point, she’s more than a little angry with her mysterious silent benefactor, who can’t even take the time to respond to one letter. They do eventually fall in love and run off to live happily ever after.

My favorite song/dance sequence is Dancing Through Life, more for watching Leslie Caron dance than the actual song. Fred Astaire is, as always, perfect, and I am a sucker for a happy ending.

Well, I’d never seen the film before, but I’ve got to rather strenuously disagree. I may love musicals, but it doesn’t oblige me to love mediocre ones, and this one certainly is, IMHO.

First of all, from a musical perspective, there are only two good songs, and while one (“Dream”) is played to death, the other (“Something’s Gotta Give”) is pretty creepy in context (more on that later). The dream sequence dance numbers would be OK, except they borrow so liberally from The Red Shoes and Yolanda and the Thief (more on that later, too) that it borders on plagiarism. “Sluefoot” is better, but still clunky in the staging (for which we can blame the hack director, Negulesco).

I have to disagree about Ritter, too. I love her, but she is turned into such a sob sister through most of the film, that I found her wasted; only at the end does she begin to resemble the Thelma we love from, well, most everything else she’s been in.

But that’s not the film’s biggest problem. Now, this will probably be the most controversial statement this Society has seen thus far, but my biggest problem with DLL is one that drives home what I find a rather unassailable fact: Fred Astaire is not a very good actor.

Now, don’t get me wrong–as a talent, he is virtually peerless in films. He’s a better dancer than Kelly (though not as good a choreographer), he’s always been underrated as a singer, and he’s got a ton of charisma and natural screen charm. And when he’s asked to play a sympathetic romantic lead (which is 90% of the time), he executes it flawlessly, from his stuff with Ginger to Rita to Cyd. He is casual grace defined, and a completely justified screen icon.

But when he’s asked to take on a more challenging role, like this one (or like the one in Yolanda), he simply can’t do it. Jervis Pendleton III is obliged to go from a being an eccentric, a cad, and an inconsiderate, self-absorbed tycoon to a sympathetic romantic lead. And for Astaire, it’s too much; like in Y&tT, he’s not very good at playing a bad guy. I never found his character arc remotely believable.

And then comes the May-December thing. The film makes the mistake of assuming we’re going to sympathize with the couple, so it’s not obliged to make a convincing case for why they belong together. There is zero chemistry between him & Caron (who’s fine, btw), for starters. Secondly, the age difference requires a gentle touch–we’re completely justified in feeling his motives are largely ignoble, but a talented director would be able to handle it more deftly (see Vincente Minnelli and Gigi); Negulesco’s all thumbs. As a result, the seduction of Caron in “SGTG” comes across as genuinely creepy; there’s no subtlety in the song–it’s all brazen overtures, which comes off as manipulative (especially since he knows that she fantasizes about his alter-ego). I find their mutual attraction a hard sell, and his behavior doesn’t help matters one bit.

The best scene in the film is when the ambassador confronts Jervis in the hotel room, after hearing their conversation in the adjoining balcony. Even though the talk is taken out of context, everything he says is still 100% on-the-money. Jervis is right to feel completely appalled by his own behavior. The problem isn’t that later we get a “happy ending”; the problem is that I never really see what she sees in him romantically, and I never was convinced that he’s actually in love with her. And without this conviction in them as a couple, the default reaction (“creepy” impropriety) is the natural one. The film implicitly condemns the judgmental types (like the guy in the airport) who make the “ugly” assumption, but we can’t help but make the same assumption since their romance feels jerry-rigged and unnatural.* And this is largely Astaire’s fault (though I’ll admit the script builds several large contrivances in her character as well).

Unfortunately, this film needed a real director at the helm–Yolanda (with which DDL has quite a few structural similarities) is a mess in a lot of ways, but there’s plenty of style, tension and innovative composition to compensate. DDL is visually flat, but that may be an unfair assessment since the film’s not available on DVD in its original CinemaScope (which Negulesco was fairly adept at using); still, I’ve seen plenty of Scope films on video where you could sense you were missing things out on the margins–but I never get this feeling here. Worse yet, this film needed a surge of romantic uplift–a sense of emotional inevitability–to overcome its troublesome plot elements, and J.N. just cannot deliver. The film is ostensibly about Love, but what plays is more of an ill-advised (and thoroughly unerotic) lust.

Interestingly, there’s a parallel thread about romantic comedies that I feel applies to this film, but I’ll let another Doper (twickster?) tackle that one.

In short, Caron is the best thing about the film (well, second-best: Kathryn Givney is tops, though given too little screen time), and though none of DDL was painful, most of it felt contrived, derivative and unconvincing. A shame. 5/10.

*I’m obliged to mention that I’m a product of a March-December relationship, so I’ve got nothing against old-young couplings in general.

I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it.
One of the things I like best about the musicals from that era is the total lack of a “message,” other than a feel good story. And that’s basically what this movie delivers.
I will agree that Astaire doesn’t act nearly as well as he dances, but I felt Caron’s performance more than made up for his minor woodenness.

As much as I like this movie, I’ve always been a bit put off by the difference in ages–even though I dated a man 21 years my senior for several years! I think ArchiveGuy put his finger on it when he mentions that it needs a gentle touch (I don’t remember being bothered by the age differences in the original Sabrina, for example, but it has been a few years since I’ve seen it).

Fred Astaire is one of those guys that looked fairly old when he was fairly young, they may have been able to use that to deflect a bit of the potential creepiness. It would be easy enough to establish that he’s closer to 15-20 years her senior, rather than 30+. or, for that matter, to imply that Leslie Caron was a bit older than a normal Freshman in college. Of course, that might make her very charming naivete seem more forced, but her background in the movie would make her lack of sophistication, even if she were in her early 20’s, believable.

If I’m writing this based on memory, (I’m a guest in your society), but if I’m not mistaken, there is a dance number at the college–a ballroom scene, with lots of lovely young college men in tuxes and young women in poofy gowns. Astaire eventually dances to put them all to shame, and obviously, the number has stuck with me.

ArchiveGuy – what a wonderful analysis, thanks! I’ve read it three times and I’m still mulling it over.

My reaction to the movie was a little more visceral: I find the age difference between the two characters really, well, oogy. In the interests of full disclosure, I tend to find large age differences between members of a couple IRL oogy as well. (A friend of mine recently pointed out how strongly I react to it, which I was unable to deny.) My problem isn’t with the story – I reread the book a dozen times with great delight when I was a kid – it’s a wonderful, romantic story.* As Kalessa points out, though, there was absolutely no effort on the part of the scriptwriters (Nora Ephron’s parents Henry and Phoebe, BTW) to mitigate the age difference in any way. Astaire was 56 when the movie was made; Caron was 24. If they had tweaked her age, as Kalessa suggested, or downplayed his – though, as ArchiveGuy points out, acting, qua acting, wasn’t really Astaire’s strength, making that a little trickier – perhaps it could have worked. The complete and utter lack of chemistry between the two of them, though, means that I always come away from this flick – and I own a copy, and have seen it at least a dozen times – disturbed. (It’s the same reaction I have to Funny Face, and for many of the same reasons.)

The dance numbers are typical '50s full-scale dramas – most of them based on Caron’s fantasies. The two exceptions are the numbers Astaire and Caron do together: the “Sluefoot” number at the school dance and “Something’s Gotta Give” on the hotel balcony before they leave for their evening out. Yup, the two of them can both dance – they are, in fact, both brilliant dancers – but their different styles totally don’t mesh. Gene Kelly, who “discovered” Caron and gave her her first role, in An American in Paris, is actually a better partner for her, since he’s more apt to do the whole “ballet thing” (she says dismissively). Separating the two dancers as much as they do is in some ways an acknowledgement of how little they belong together. (For instance, in “Something’s Gotta Give,” her right hand hangs at her side, rather than clasping his.)

OTOH – “Something’s Gotta Give” is a wonderful song – it’s been on the mental jukebox all day.

*BTW – a couple of the links I was poking around in mentioned that the Shirley Temple flick Curly Top – most famous for the classic “Animal Crackers in My Soup” number – is also based on the Jean Webster novel. In that version, of course, there were two sisters, and the love object was the older sister, not Shirley.

Well, I don’t remember saying anything about how a movie needs a “message” of any kind (though I would dispute your assertion that musicals of that era were “totally lacking” in that regard).

But a story poorly thought-out and poorly executed precludes it from being “feel good” for me. YMOV.

Kallessa, that number at the school is the “Sluefoot” one I’m talking about. It’s the best in the picture, though the set-up for it is one of the more unbelievable in the film–why does she come on to Jervis (her roommate’s MIA uncle!) as such an outrageous flirt right beforehand? And if she was that comfortable being so forward with men, how likely is it that she didn’t have any boyfriends at college? Her naive fixation on DLL as a romantic ideal becomes even more “oogy” (thanks, twickster) because of this contradiction. And your comparison to Sabrina from the year before is astute–Wilder knew how to defuse the “oogy” through good writing (though I think Bogie’s a bit miscast).

However, in my praise for Caron in my previous post, I have to amend it by saying that I feel she was the Ruby Keeler of the 50s–cute Kewpie doll lead who was generally talented without standing out as particularly special in any way. Caron was a better dancer than Keeler, but I’d hardly call her “brilliant” (though you make a good point, twickster, in saying Kelly was a better partner–testament, I think, to his instincts as a choreographer).

Yeah, I think “brilliant” is overstating it for Caron – I’ll retract that. You’re clearly a lot more familiar with ballet on film than I am – believe it or not, I’ve never seen The Red Shoes – and I’m not a good judge of talent in that genre. Tap I’m willing to comment on, and Ruby Keeler was a dreadful tap-dancer – slow and awkward. But I digress.

I’m thinking more and more about my aside about how many of the dance numbers in the movie were based on Julie’s fantasies. The musical was in kind of a weird transition in the '50s, when the demands of some kind of “realism” began to kick in. In the '30s and '40s, it was no big deal for the protagonists to suddenly start dancing, although there was usually some kind of plot point to explain why they might do so (the characters were in show biz, usually). In the '50s, though, this began to change. I’m not a film historian, so I’m not going to talk about this at length. (May I pass the baton back to you, ArchiveGuy? Or perhaps lamia, another scholar of the genre, will check in.) I do know, though that Oklahoma! was a pivotal show that was the first to separate the “naturalistic” dancing of happy cowboys and ranchers from Laurie’s “dream ballet” sequence.

Hmm, I’m still thinking about this – and I actually have work to do today at work (damn them!), so I’ll be back later.

Actually, in some ways I think the exact opposite is true–the 30s and early 40s tended to have musical numbers motivated more by the action (Busby Berkeley “putting on a show” premises; Fred usually playing the role of a dancer, etc.), but as color became more prominent, musical numbers became more stylized and “dreamlike”.

Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to this, so I don’t want to make too broad a brushstroke. Still, if there’s one person more responsible for this push into heavily-stylized, dreamscape ballets in the film musical, it’s Gene Kelly. Virtually every major musical he was in from Anchors Aweigh on has some sort of extended dance sequence that can almost be seen as a structural digression (though it often has some dramatic or psychological resonance to the story). This reached its apex with his Invitation to the Dance in 1956, which is an anthology film of extended dance stories.

The Red Shoes, of course, was also seen as a hugely influential “crossover” hit, though I think ballet was still relegated as some sort of “high art” form by most. Still, DeMille’s earthy robustness in Broadway’s Oklahoma! made ballet appear more “masculine”, and since the R&H premiered on Broadway in 1943, you might argue that it got the ball rolling in paving the way for a more popular acceptance of that school of dancing (although the film adaptation caused nary a ripple). Remember, also, that Oklahoma! was revolutionary in that it helped redefine the musical as a genre where people did burst out into song. Most successful productions before that were revue-type musicals, with song assemblies that very rarely provided dramatic motivation for the story, instead providing a showcase for the songwriter(s) of the show.

It’s difficult to track exactly how the “naturalness” of musicals developed–even though West Side Story (probably the most successful “balletic” musical) shot in real NY locations, there were still plenty of stylized moments and people breaking out into song extemporaneously. Cabaret has the reputation for being the first huge musical hit in decades that contextualized all the songs in the diagesis, but it also proved to be the last gasp of the Hollywood musical for a while. Sure, there were others in the 70s, but none coming close to its popularity or cultural impact (though the impact of Broadway musicals in general on the national culture had been diluted pretty dramatically by then, anyway).

One could speculate that the era of film realism in the 70s made the stylization of musicals a harder sell, and once that era ended (the late 70s), MTV was not far behind to change the musical landscape further. The stratification of Broadway musicals (which by that point, had become even more stylized in some ways, with 100% singing, etc.) made them increasingly riskier enterprises for film adaptation, which is why there are so many musicals from the last several decades that have never made their way to the screen. Relatively unknown content + larger suspension of disbelief + high production values = a gamble most producers don’t want to take; for every fluke success like Chicago (which still grounds its musical numbers in “realistic” packaging), there’s still the spectre of Evita, which took a financial soaking despite having arguably the most popular female entertainer on the planet as the lead.

Just poked my head in to say that even though I read the book about a million times as a kid, I had no idea there was a movie. Thanks for starting this thread!

::off to update Netflix list::

" '30s and '40s" probably wasn’t the best way to divvy up the periods – I think the transition to separating out the musical numbers as distinct from the story and presented as a dream sequence or fantasy of some sort starts around the end of WWII. (Coincidence? Probably not.) Anchors Away was 1945. As you point out, it has a famous fantasy sequence, the number with Jerry the Mouse – which, IIRC, spins off from a bedtime story Gene Kelly is telling Kathryn Grayson’s nephew. (Sorry, it’s been several years since the last time I saw this, I could be wrong.) The dynamic was very much pushed by Gene Kelly, whose whole approach to dance is, as you point out, totally opposite Astaire’s.

My beef with Kelly, as I’ve mentioned in passing in other threads, is that he was so damned butch – so concerned that we not get any “ideas” about his masculinity just because he’s a dancer. I much prefer Astaire’s unconcern with (obliviousness to?) the possibility that someone might consider him a “sissy.” It is occurring to me now, as I’m typing (and I’m sure someone has already thought this through carefully and presented the argument coherently – and if you know where and can provide a cite, pls. do), that the move towards the “fantasization” of the dance is part of, and fed by, Kelly’s concerns about machismo. IOW, by bracketing the dance as “not part of real life,” he’s dissociating the implications of “being a dancer” from his manly identity. And, since (again, as you point out), Kelly was a talented choreographer, unlike Astaire – and since he was much, much more of a dance “auteur,” his interests and preoccupations had a big impact on the direction of the movie musical over the next decade or so.

I need to think about this some more. I’ll be back.


Not to go completely OT, but –

It seems like the ultimate melding of the two strains of musical – the old-fashioned “we’re dancing because the characters are dancers” with the postwar “we’re dancing because it’s only a dream” – might be All That Jazz.

The “fantasy number” is a type of movie musical number that I think has been largely overlooked in the literature. A lot of scholars only distinguish between “staged” (part of a performance within the context of the story) and “straight” (people burst into song/dance with no apparent explanation) numbers; I guess they consider fantasy numbers a subset of straight numbers.

I think there’s a case to be made that straight numbers are actually a subset of fantasy numbers. Even when it’s not made clear that the musical number is imaginary, outside of spoofs it’s almost unheard of for characters in a straight musical to display any awareness that they’ve just been singing and dancing. They don’t say “Boy, I’m tired from all that dancing, let’s go get a drink!” or “But…in your song, you sang that you loved me!” I don’t know that straight numbers were ever meant to be taken literally. They are an expressionist device to show us the internal thoughts and emotions of the characters.

Anyway, ArchiveGuy is right about early screen musicals; they tended to be backstagers in which all the musical numbers were part of the rehearsal/performance of the show-within-a-show. Straight/fantasy numbers didn’t become really popular until later. I’d agree with ArchiveGuy that this was probably at least in part because technological advances allowed filmmakers to move away from “gritty backstager” and towards “fantastic dreamworld”.

I haven’t encountered this argument before, but I think it has merit. Insisting upon making it explicit to the audience that the musical numbers are purely imaginary suggests a certain discomfort with the idea of the unstaged musical number in the first place. Audiences know that people in real life don’t suddenly launch into elaborate musical numbers, but are generally willing to accept that characters in a movie may do so. They know that movies aren’t real life…don’t they? So why insist upon pointing out to the audience that the musical number isn’t “real”?

Much later films like Dancer in the Dark and Chicago have used this technique to question the effects and morality of the split between real life and the world of popular entertainment, but I’m not sure what Kelly’s motives were. Although I wouldn’t rule out some degree of criticism of the entertainment business – after all, such criticism was a big part of Singin’ in the Rain.

Could you say a little more about this, lamia? How does separating out dance sequences as being fantasies constitute a critique of show biz? (I’m not saying it’s not, I’m just not sure what you mean by it.)

I’ve only seen Dancer in the Dark once. I did buy a copy, though it was so dark, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to watch it again. I don’t remember the plot well enough to see where the critique of popular culture comes in – Bjork’s character, I assume? Maybe I’ll tweak my meds and watch it again.

Oh, it ain’t necessarily so, but fantasy musical numbers can be used for that reason. If the implication is that a character has been made prone to musical fantasies by exposure to popular entertainment and that these fantasies have a negative impact on their life, then that’s a criticism of the effects of the entertainment industry. For instance, in Chicago Roxie’s fantasies of herself as the star of various musical numbers reflect her dangerous obsession with fame.

A fantasy musical number can of course serve to illustrate more innocent secret wishes without any criticism of show biz being intended. I doubt any such criticism was intended with Daddy Long Legs. However, I think the fantasy numbers may contribute to the discomfort some people have with the Astaire/Caron romance. They make it a little hard not to feel that he’s taking advantage of a naive, dreamy girl rather than building a real relationship with a young-but-adult woman.

In Dancer in the Dark I think the fantasy numbers cut both ways. Bjork’s character makes it clear that her musical fantasies help get her through the day. They’re something that can make her happy no matter how bad her life gets…and it gets pretty bad. Yet the movie also shows that she’s not very good at dealing with reality, and she gets into trouble more than once because she was daydreaming instead of paying attention to her immediate situation.

I would have to vehemently disagree with this statement because the obvious subtext of your argument is that Kelly was homophobic and sexually insecure with his image. I don’t think there’s any evidence of this what-so-ever. Kelly couldn’t be an Astaire because he wasn’t built like him. He was shorter, more stocky, and more “traditionally” athletic. It was believable that he could play parts like GIs and sailors, baseball players and stunt men, etc. because he had a body type that was considered more “masculine” during that era.

Transferring this athletic/“masculine” style to dance was not only a natural by-product of his skills, but it was a way of creating his own screen identity–the non-Astaire if you will. This had absolutely nothing to do with fearing he’d be seen a “sissy”, but about branding himself in the studio star system. Astaire had been famous for a decade before Kelly had his first starring role; the only way to ascend in the MGM power network was to distinguish yourself somehow–especially important since Kelly’s aspirations for directing (and not just acting/dancing, like Fred) were evident fairly early on. Certainly, there’s no doubt that many men probably more readily identified with Kelly because he was more “macho” (as well as sporting a more All-American type of good looks) and this contributed to his enduring popularity (with both men and women), but to assert that this is somehow linked to a preoccupation with not being seen as “man” enough is, IMHO, completely unsupportable. Please note that for every extended fantasy dance sequence he was in, he was in 3-4 regular dance sequences, often by himself or with other men.

Using your own logic, Astaire was insecure that he might be perceived as gay, which is why he danced with women so often (certainly he’s more associated with hetero-/couple/romantic/courtship dancing than Kelly)–a notion equally absurd.

I don’t want to give too much credit to technological advances–after all, I think the backstage formula had been pretty well exhausted by the early 40s, and audiences were more interested in seeing the genre expand. And I should note that there have been few musical numbers that better qualify as “fantastic dreamworlds” as the ones Busby Berkeley oversaw; after all, even though they’re all supposed to be live theatrical set pieces, they’re staged and choreographed in purely cinematic ways. We, as the real audience, are privileged with perspectives (overhead, underwater) that the ostensible theatrical audience (within the confines of the story) could never see or appreciate.

Which brings us to subversiveness and back to Kelly. Berkeley was subversive in seamlessly breaking down the proscenium arch–giving the illlusion of a straight-forward staged musical number (which most people new to cinema what be used to in associating musicals with popular entertainment) but then taking flight, creating kaleidoscopic displays and sweeping camera movements and absurdly stylized flights-of-fancy that were completely new to the medium.

Similarly, I’d argue, Kelly used his more traditional All-American features and athleticism to subvert the values that most associated with these features. He was unafraid to play a ham, a bloated egomaniac, a womanizer, or a selfish prick. There was a darkness in his shit-eating grin, a suspiciousness that merged easily with his boyishness. Certainly, his soft moral center would be validated by the end of the film, but not before this ego had been pricked and deflated.

Fred was usually the nice guy whose only obstacle in romantic coupling was the misunderstandings of others; Kelly was usually the heel whose main obstacle in romantic coupling was himself–his pride, his self-interest, his stubbornness. His characters had arcs and evolution in self-awareness; when Fred tried to go this way (as we’ve seen in DLL, for example), the result often fell flat. Kelly was the likable All-American who isn’t as likable as he thinks; he has real flaws and vulnerabilities that run deep, while Fred’s very rarely scratched the surface.

Actually, many of Kelly’s films comment on the nature of the artist–from his dependence on illusion (The Pirate) to his self-absorption (American in Paris) to the fickleness of celebrity (Singin’).

Another theme Kelly often dwelled on was dynamics between men–On the Town, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, It’s Always Fair Weather all comment on the American male’s relationships with other men–whether its through support, collaboration, or alienation. That’s the thing about Kelly’s dream sequences that twickster seems to completely miss–these extended dance numbers gave visual license for jocks and “manly-men” to have fantasy lives. No matter how robust and rough-and-tumble his other dance numbers might be, Kelly was always at his most graceful and balletic in the fantasies–an admission that tough guys can have sensibilities that are romantic and poetic. These were always the numbers that lasted the longest, and the ones where Kelly was most naturally “himself”.

Contrary to any sexual insecurity, I think the intention was exactly the opposite–that emotional expression, romantic desire, and sexual longing are more closely linked to these attributes ordinarily associated with “femininity” but which are perfectly acceptable for men to have. The sequences’ sense of psychological interiority was a way of conveying that there is nothing un-masculine about being “sensitive.” And certainly, we see plenty of examples of Kelly externalizing his emotions through dance in “the real world” as well (“Singin’ in the Rain’”, “I Like Myself”, “Almost Like Being in Love”), not just as fantasies.

Well, not only that, but the Red Shoes-like dance sequence posits Jervis as her mentor and guardian angel. There is nothing overtly romantic about the representations in the number–he’s more of a caretaker than partner, so to eroticize this relationship (while providing very little convincing motivation) feels a bit, well, “oogy.” :wink:

I just wanted to react to the comments made in some of the first posts about the age difference between the characters and the believability or lack thereof of the romance between them.

First of all, I think the amount of time spent by the French ambassador, etc. worrying about Jervis taking advantage of Julie contributes to my discomfort with the age gap.

Secondly, while I could be mistaken, I think the age gap in the movie is MUCH greater than the age gap in the book. I don’t own the book, so I can’t be sure, but it seems like the first time she meets “Uncle Jervie” she’s surprised by what a young uncle he is.

Thirdly, while it is easy to see what attracts him to her, it is much harder to see what attracts her to him.

Fourthly, the book is told almost entirely in the form of letters from Jerusha Abbott (not Julie and she wasn’t french either) to Daddy Long Legs. The reader doesn’t discover that DLL and Jervis are the same person until Jerusha does. Given that the movie’s star is Fred Astaire not Leslie Caron it is not surprising that the movie focuses more on him and his feelings, but it changes the audience’s perceptions of him.
Finally, and totally unrelated to all those above. I have decided that something which is neccessary (but not sufficient) for a really good/enjoyable musical is songs which I can sing along to. Watching people dance just doesn’t do the same thing for me that listening to them sing does. Therefore I enjoyed the song about “Welcome Egghead” and the lesson about the Cat spelling english words with french pronunciations of the letters.

Sorry to chop such a lovely post down so much to make a short reply, but it’s already past my bedtime here! Let’s see if I can still manage coherency…

I did recall the big number at the end of 42nd Street as I wrote that post – a number that was obviously made for the screen and that would have been impossible to present in such a way onstage. But it was the technology of the cinema that allowed for this. You’re right not to give too much credit to the technology itself, but directors do have to work with the tools available to them. Berkeley used what he had to great effect, but it must have been easier for later directors to think of and attempt elaborate fantasy numbers with a flashier toolkit to work with. Not that a flashier toolkit always produces better (or even comparable) results, but it can make the task seem easier and thus encourage the attempt.

That reminds me, one thing I wanted to mention about the “Broadway Ballet” fantasy number in Singin’ in the Rain is that it almost seems like a tribute to the technological advances in cinema since the 1920s. At the end, when Douglas Fowley says “I can’t quite visualize it, I’ll have to see it on film first,” I don’t think the joke is merely that we’ve just finished seeing the sequence on film ourselves. I think it’s also that we know that what we’ve just seen couldn’t possibly be captured on film during the time period in which the movie is set. It just wouldn’t be the same in black and white on a smaller screen.

ArchiveGuy – fascinating post. I’m going to have to rethink my whole Gene Kelly thing. Your point about his willingness to play unlikeable is excellent, and really throws his whole oeuvre into a different light for me. Let me get back to you after I meditate on this for a while.

Lamia – thanks for the clarification. I think I was reading too much into (overgeneralizing) what you said – my bad.

I’m definitely going to be interested to see which movies you two pick!

I won’t argue that the advance in technology (especially in color development) broadened the pallettes, so-to-speak, of directors looking for a heightened stylization. I’d say Busby’s best setpieces, however, were ones that started “straight” but became increasingly stylized gradually, washing over us with vivid imagery and angles before we have time to think, “Wait a minute–I thought this was taking place in a theater!” :slight_smile: With the “flashier toolkit”, Busby, in some ways, just got weirder, not better.

Oh, and that’s a good observation about Singin’, though the line was by Millard Mitchell (R.F., the producer), not Douglas Fowley (Roscoe, the director).

Actually, the screens were still the same size (aspect ratio). Singin’ isn’t in widescreen.