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From Hong Kong and Japan: THE MERMAID (1965) and THE LITTLE MERMAID (1975)

23 Feb

Two of the loveliest films I’ve seen in a long time are THE MERMAID (1965, Hong Kong) and THE LITTLE MERMAID (1975, Japan), which I watched a day apart. It was my very first viewing of THE MERMAID, a Shaw Bros. Huangmei Opera, while I’d previously seen THE LITTLE MERMAID, a Japanese animated film, only in a poor-quality, severely cropped English dub on VHS. Seeing the widescreen version on DVD, in Japanese with English subtitles, was like seeing it for the first time. The two films have some elements in common, although I’m not sure if the Hong Kong film was inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen tale or by a much older Chinese folk tale. I’m guessing that the screenwriter drew on elements of both. The title mermaid in the Hong Kong film is not, technically, a mermaid as we’ve come to know this creature. Instead, she’s the spirit of a golden carp, a fish living in the pond adjacent to a garden in a Prime Minister’s villa in Old China. The carp takes on full human form, while retaining her magical powers, in order to console a poor scholar who’s been shunned by the family of the maiden to whom he was betrothed. The animated Japanese film is a direct adaptation of Andersen’s tale about a mermaid who trades in her fish tail for a pair of legs in order to live on land and try to win the favor of a prince and was made in 1975 to commemorate the centennial of Andersen’s death. Unlike the later Disney adaptation of the same title (1989), the anime version retains the tragic ending of the original story.

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Musicals or Films about Music? THE GREAT CARUSO, SERENADE and IT HAPPENED IN BROOKLYN

12 Feb

Last month I watched three films on Turner Classic Movies that made think about the relationship of music to movies and music to audiences. What struck me about all three films was the way music was part of the fabric of the society portrayed and played an integral role in community life. In two of the films and most of the third, the music is presented as performances in places and venues where it made perfect sense to perform songs and instrumental musical pieces. Only one of the films, IT HAPPENED IN BROOKLYN (1947), directed by Richard Whorf, featured people breaking into song amidst the settings and activities of everyday life, although this only happens two or three times in the movie. Every other number in the film is a performance number in places where it was perfectly logical to perform music. The other two films starred the great American tenor Mario Lanza: THE GREAT CARUSO (1951), directed by Richard Thorpe, in which Lanza played opera legend Enrico Caruso, and SERENADE (1956), directed by Anthony Mann, a grand melodrama based on a novel by James M. Cain about an opera singer’s rise, fall and rise again in contemporary America. One can make the case that THE GREAT CARUSO and SERENADE are not, strictly speaking, musicals but instead are films about music.

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The B-Movie Returns to Theaters: DANCIN’ IT’S ON

6 Nov

Once upon a time, B-movies regularly ran in movie theaters on double bills with studio releases that were bigger-budgeted and better-publicized. I saw quite a few of them in theaters when I was a kid. Some of them were more fun than the main feature (Mario Bava’s HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD, anyone?), but often they were cheap, indifferent potboilers turned out on low budgets. They were often black-and-white and, in those days, often from other countries. PAYROLL, seen on a double bill with DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, and THE MURDER GAME, seen on a double bill with OUR MAN FLINT, were both English-produced crime dramas that I remember very little about other than that they were short on stars or thrills. The Rat Pack vehicle, ROBIN AND THE SEVEN HOODS, played on a double bill with RAIDERS FROM BENEATH THE SEA, a weak thriller about a team of bank robbers who wear scuba diving outfits to rob a bank on Catalina Island (hence the title) and make their getaway underwater(!).

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JANKEN MUSUME (1955): First “Sannin Musume” Musical

14 Jun

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Sannin Musume is the name given to the informal starring trio of Hibari Misora, Chiemi Eri and Izumi Yukimura, the three ranking pop singers in Japan in the 1950s, when they made movies together. They made a total of four and I’ve written about the second and third ones here, ROMANCE MUSUME (1956), on November 9, 2014, and ON WINGS OF LOVE (1957) on March 8, 2015. I’ve seen the fourth, HIBARI, CHIEMI, IZUMI SANNIN YOREBA (1964), but haven’t written about it here yet. The first was JANKEN MUSUME (1955), which I wrote about previously on my J-pop blog, but used lesser-quality screen grabs, so I decided it was high time to watch it again and cover it here. My emphasis in the earlier pieces was on the musical numbers and the films’ frequent uses of American pop songs of the era, sung in both English and Japanese.

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ON WINGS OF LOVE (1957): American Songs in Japanese Musicals—and Vice Versa

8 Mar

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On November 9, 2014, I wrote about ROMANCE MUSUME (1956), the second in a series of movie musicals starring the group, “Sannin Musume,” consisting of the three top pop stars in Japan of that era, Hibari Misora, Chiemi Eri and Izumi Yukimura. The third film was OHATARI SANSHOKU MUSUME (aka ON WINGS OF LOVE, 1957) and was the last film they made as “Sannin Musume” before going their separate ways (although sometimes two of them would appear together in films). They reunited in 1964, as adults, for HIBARI CHIEMI IZUMI SANNIN YOREBA, which I haven’t written about yet here. The third film, which I’ll refer to as ON WINGS OF LOVE, the English title given on IMDB, is notable for being the first film made in Tohoscope, the first Japanese widescreen process to be used in Japan (by Toho Pictures, naturally). I first heard about this film in a reference in Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s autobiographical manga, A Drifting Life, as depicted in this frame, the caption of which confuses Toho with rival studio Toei:

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Joe E. Brown, Comic Hero of Small-Town America

12 Feb

Joe E. Brown was a major comedy star at Warner Bros. from 1930 to 1936, making 20 starring features for them during that period, until he left the studio for an ill-fated contract with an independent producer that led to a series of lackluster vehicles that brought his starring career virtually to an end. He wound up in B-movies, with an occasional character part in A-movies, turning up years later on television and in memorable bits in such films as AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, SOME LIKE IT HOT, and IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD.

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Elvis at 80

8 Jan

One night this week I was watching an episode of The Untouchables called “Ma Barker and Her Boys” and at one point the narrator (Walter Winchell) intones the date of Dock Barker’s arrest, “January 8, 1935.” That sure jumped out at me. It was Elvis Presley’s birthdate. Some time yesterday I realized that tomorrow (today), January 8th, would have been Elvis’s 80th birthday. I wish I’d thought of it sooner and actually watched some Elvis movies, documentaries or concerts for the occasion. Instead, I barely had enough time to compile some of my past writings on Elvis and scrounge up some screen grabs to illustrate them.  Continue reading