Mindy Newell: Making A List…
I have a list of movies that is as malleable as a rubber band. Okay, certain movies, such as The Bridge on the River Kwai or The Searchers or The Best Years of Our Lives are always on that list, but their positions- 1, 2, 3, and so on- tumble around in my mind like clothes in a dryer. Other movies appear and disappear like the crew of the Enterprise on the transporter pad.
Gone With the Wind, for instance. This is a movie that hops on and off my list all the time. On the list because of the incredible “brought to full life” performances and spectacle, and off the list because, as a devotee of Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer-winning novel, in which all the characters are given full, rich personalities, I can’t stand the way Scarlett is portrayed in the second half of the movie; this is a product of Victor Fleming’s direction, who was brought in after George Cukor, the original director, was fired less than three weeks into filming, and of Fleming’s rewrite of the script so that Rhett Butler became a more sympathetic character and Scarlett O’Hara much less so.
There are two explanations for Cukor’s firing. The first is that that Clark Gable— who supposedly wasn’t enthusiastic about playing Rhett Butler, and only agreed to do it after producer David Selznick agreed to help Gable obtain a divorce so that Gable could marry Carole Lombard — was not happy with the choice of Cukor as director. Cukor was known as a “woman’s director,” and Gable was worried that Cukor’s attention to Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland as Scarlett and Melanie would overshadow any direction that Cukor gave Gable in playing Rhett. The second, and probably true, reason is that Cukor knew that Gable had worked as a gigolo in the gay Hollywood scene before breaking out into stardom, and that this, understandably, made Gable very uncomfortable working with him. So the actor threatened to walk off the set unless Cukor was replaced. But just as Cukor as known as a “women’s director,” Fleming was known as a “man’s director;” he gave very little advice and just shot the movie, wanting no dilly-dallying or investigation into a character’s motivations and he was not in the least respectful of either Vivien Leigh or Olivia de Havilland and their talents- oh, and by the way, for you GWTW fans, Leigh and de Havilland continued to secretly meet with Cukor at his home when off the set to investigate their characters’ motivations and how to play them.
Gone With the Wind was on Turner Classic Movies a couple of weeks back, and of course I watched it. And it’s on my list again. It also made me pick the book and start reading it again.
And then there is The Sound of Music. The movie is based on the true story of the Von Trapp Family, escaped from the 1938 political annexation, or Anschluss, of Austria into the Third Reich. Directed by Robert Wise (who directed Star Trek: The Motion Picture), the movie stars Julie Andrews as Maria and Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp. It was filmed on location in Austria, including Salzburg and the Nonnburg Convent, where the real Maria was a postulant. The music, of course, is unforgettable and iconic- in fact, midnight sing-alongs of The Sound of Music, a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show have become quite the thing- but more than that, and it’s something that makes the movie more than just a beautiful travelogue of the Austrian Alps, it’s the Nazi threat and the looming-on-the-horizon beginning of World War II that underscores what could have been just a “sappy” love story.
By the way, Carrie Underwood got a lot of grief from critics and non-critics, i.e. “pundits” on the Web, last week for her performance in NBC’s live broadcast. Okay, she was a little stiff and a bit ingenuous, but that lady can sing. There were also complaints that the teleplay “messed with the script,” moving songs around, leaving out the gazebo, and not having Captain Von Trapp engaged to “the Baroness.” Which annoyed the hell out of me, because the teleplay was based on the original Broadway show which starred Mary Martin as Maria and Theodore Bikel as Captain Von Trapp and ran for 1,443 performances, from 1959 to 1963. Which means that it was the movie that played with the original script. Jesus, people, know your musical theatre history before you complain!
Anyway, it’s not a movie that appears on my list, but when I do watch it, I am enchanted and captivated, delighted, thrilled, and yes, just a bit weepy at the ending as the Von Trapps “climb every mountain” and “ford every stream” to escape the Germans’ every-tightening noose into Switzerland.
And then there’s Mary Poppins.
I remember going with my family to see it. I also remember my father not being entirely willing, but doing it because, well, that’s what fathers do. And I also remember my father really enjoying himself. Starring Julie Andrews (hmm, is there a theme here?) as the magical, mystical nanny and Dick Van Dyke as her friend Bert, the one-man band player, chalk painting drawer, chimney sweep Cockney, and deliverer of wisdom to sacked-from-the-bank Edwardian fathers, the film is based on English writer P. L. Travers’s series of books. Believe it or not, I never read the books, and I didn’t know what to expect on this family outing, except that I had a girlhood crush on Dick Van Dyke (or Rob Petrie) and my mom told me he was in the movie, so I was looking forward to it.
We all came out of the theatre singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and it became a badge of honor at school and at sleepaway camp that year to be able to spell it backwards (s-u-o-i-c-o-d-i-l-a-i-p-x-e-c-i-t-s-i-l-i-g-a-r-f-i-l-a-c-r-e-r-p-u-S and if you think I can do that without looking at the word while typing it out you’re giving me a lot of credit!)
And I still find myself singing “A Spoonful of Sugar” while cleaning the house and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” when seeing kids play with them in the park and singing “Feed the Birds” when I see pictures of St. Paul’s in London. And after watching previews of Saving Mr. Banks (which I’m definitely going to see) I downloaded the score to my playlist on iTunes.
That puts Mary Poppins on my list of top movies…
For a while at least.
Next week: …AND CHECKING IT TWICE. My favorite Christmastime movies.
TUESDAY MORNING: Jen Krueger
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis
I didn’t read the books until after I had seen the movie. They are lovely. Different, but lovely.