RHYMES AT RANDOM

In a comment to my last post (CERF’S UP), I raised the possibility of re-publishing several of my poetic baubles from THE RANDOM HOUSE TREASURY OF LIGHT VERSE. Generous soul that I am, suppose I add a bonus of bangles and beads to the baubles….for man does not live by words alone, but with the inspiration of Blyth spirit beautifully begetting beguiling music, without which our Kismet (fate) would be drab indeed:

Yes, my friends, I have rhymes — or, conversely, should I say….

And now, having strung my lead-in out this far / I wish upon a wishing star / to make appear my Random rhymes / from the pages of bygone times. / These rhymes abode in poems four / nothing less and nothing more / but not having used up all my string / I’ll save one of the poems for my next post-ing:

LOVER BOY

Narcissus was too perfect for sex or pelf —
He longed only to gaze in love at himself….
The moral of which is that, even in myths,
Too much reflection may be your nemesis.

THE BOOK OF WISDOM

Thou shalt not commit adultery;
Nor shalt thou covet thy neighbor’s spouse.
Shouldst thou succumbeth to temptation,
Thou shalt not do it in thy neighbor’s house.

CONCEIVABLY, THE COMPLEAT HISTORY OF HUMAN SEX

Adam and Eve,
I believe,
Were the start of it.

Everyone since,
I’m convinced,
Played a part in it.

NOTE: Ann Blyth, who played Marsinah (daughter of The Poet, played by Howard Keel) in the film version of Kismet, is one of the last surviving stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

 

 

A MAN AND HIS ‘DOGS’

dogs, Slang. The feet: My dogs are killing me!  fantasy, n.  A play of the mind; imagination; fancy; a picture existing only in the mind. –World Book Dictionary

A footnote to the World Book definition of fantasy: it is personified, in my view, by one man — fittingly so, because beyond his pictures he still dances in the mind, as timeless as imagination….no less real than the Hollywood from which such flights of fancy emanated and stars were born. That ethe-real man is Fred Astaire, the pictures were his movies, and this day is his birthday (May 10, 1899).

Astaire’s “dogs” may have been what carried him across the dance floor with Ginger Rogers in his arms, but it was his persona that took us with him. I like to think that what Santa Claus embodied for children, Fred Astaire embodied for my parent’s generation as teenagers/young adults, epitomizing easy grace and the allure of dreams more enticing than any toy that Santa could promise.  No other hoofer in film history even comes close to capturing his magic….which is why he survives his and my parent’s generation, just as any great artist lives on in what he or she creates.

In my favorite scene from my favorite Astaire-Rogers film (SWING TIME, 1936), professional dancer Astaire comes to New York and, after a chance street encounter with Rogers doesn’t go well, he follows her to the dance studio where she is an instructor. Pretending to be a novice, he botches the dance lesson. She insults him and is fired. As she is leaving the studio….

Of course, many elements must come together to produce movie magic, and SWING TIME had the good fortune to combine the talents of the stars with those of a great director (George Stevens), a fine supporting cast (including Eric Blore, seen in the above clip), and one of the best composer/lyricist teams of the Golden Age (Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields). In addition to the ‘dance lesson’ song PICK YOURSELF UP, their outstanding score includes A FINE ROMANCE, NEVER GONNA DANCE, and this love song:

On this May 10 celebration, let’s end appropriately with this:

 

 

 

 

PICK YOUR POISON

I thought I had put poison to bed in my last post, but no. Past encounters of the poisonous kind were reawakened in me, and brought back memories such as this:

Yes, poison has played a part in numerous movies, though seldom as humorously as in the THE COURT JESTER (1958), starring Danny Kaye (above) and Basil Rathbone (of Sherlock Holmes fame), among others.  Rathbone here plays, not the famed sleuth, but a 12th-century English villain, and displays his considerable fencing skills in a hilarious joust versus Kaye. I jest not — it’s just a jolly good show.

Several “poison” films even have “POISON” in the title, including PRETTY POISON (1968), a little-known but beautifully-executed cult classic starring Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins (the same Anthony Perkins who starred in a certain Hitchcock thriller eight years earlier which set the stage for many gratuitous mad slasher movies to come):

“Pretty Poison,” the movie that got the violence and madness of the late ’60s right

If you’re a real film noir buff, you know D.O.A. (1950) is one of the best films of that genre, starring Edmond O’Brien as a walking dead man (doomed by a slow-acting poison), hell-bent on finding out before he doth die who poisoned him and why. This one will keep you in suspenders from beginning to enders.

Another of my fondly-remembered murder mystery films from Hollywood’s Golden Age is Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1945), wherein the characters are murdered one by one (the first by poison), ending with the murderer committing suicide by drinking poisoned whiskey (there have been three re-makes, all titled TEN LITTLE INDIANS, but none rated as highly as the original).

And then there is the animated Disney/grim Brothers Grimm classic SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937) in which a poisoned apple from the evil queen puts Snow White soundly to sleep until Prince Charming rouses her with a smooch….much as mistermuse does with missusmuse, even though she tells him that’s what alarm clocks are for (great kidder, that gal). Whatever. The fairy tale is timeless:

You can probably think of a number of other films in which poison plays prominently in the plot, such as ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944).  NOTORIOUS (1946) and, of course, ROMEO AND JULIET (1936), but all good things must come to a dead end, and so I close with one of my wife’s favorite quotes (originally attributed to Kin Hubbard):
When you consider what a chance women have to poison their husbands, it’s a wonder more of it isn’t done.”

She’s just kidding, of course?

 

 

JOLLY GOOD SHOW

The Golden Age of Hollywood movies, in terms both of quantity and quality, is considered by many old-time film buffs to have started about ten years before, and ended roughly twenty years after, 1939 (the year Hollywood may have reached its zenith with the likes of GONE WITH THE WIND, THE WIZARD OF OZ, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, NINOTCHKA, STAGECOACH, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, GUNGA DIN, DARK VICTORY, DESTRY RIDES AGAIN and THE WOMEN).

But Hollywood wasn’t the only game in town during that period. Hollywood may have had the power and the glory, but England was quietly producing films every bit the equal of tinseltown in artistic terms, if not in numbers. Most of these films are relatively, if not almost entirely, unknown in America, with the exception of those directed by Alfred Hitchcock before he came to the U.S. in that watershed year 1939 (I do not include in this category movies made in Britain but financed by American studios, such as another acclaimed 1939 film, GOODBYE MR. CHIPS).

Here are my favorite British films from that era, starting with three Hitchcock classics:

THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934). Hitchcock remade this thriller in the U.S. with James Stewart  in 1956, but not nearly as well, in my opinion.
THE 39 STEPS (1935). Top flight Hitchcock, one of his best.
THE LADY VANISHES (1938). More great Hitchcock, with Dame May Whitty as the lady who vanishes and Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford as a pair of unintentionally funny British twits who almost steal the show.

EVERGREEN (1934). British cinema was hardly known for its musicals during this period. For one thing, it didn’t have Hollywood’s resources; for another, it didn’t have Hollywood’s wealth of musical talent (Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, etc.). But it did have Jessie Matthews, queen of 1930s British movie musicals who was the singing & dancing star of Rodgers & Hart’s EVERGREEN (top song “Dancing On The Ceiling”).
IT’S LOVE AGAIN (1936). This is the second of Jessie Matthews’ two best musicals, with this one being more of a musical-comedy but no less well done. Songs include the Rodgers & Hart standard “My Heart Stood Still” and an all-but-forgotten Harry Woods gem, “I Nearly Let Love Go Slipping Through My Fingers.”

SANDERS OF THE RIVER (1935). A dated film, but almost any movie starring the legendary Paul Robeson is worth a look. If you’ve heard his magnificent voice (perhaps in the original SHOWBOAT film), you know what I mean. Here he is singing “Deep River” from another British film, 1940’s THE PROUD VALLEY:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=CE4z9J3diiA

BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945). One of my all-time favorite films, based on a Noel Coward play. Film critic Leonard Maltin calls it “intense and unforgettable. A truly wonderful film.” I couldn’t agree more. Incidentally, Coward of course wrote many great songs and plays, too few of which were made into movies. One play which was: the 1933 Academy Award winning CAVALCADE, but it was made in America and therefore doesn’t qualify here.

A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946). One of a number of unique and highly original films by the British writer-director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, this love fantasy is perhaps the most one-of-a-kind of all.

THE LAVENDER HILL MOB and THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT (both 1951 & both starring Alec Guinness). Droll comedies produced by Ealing Studios which, along with the Rank Organization, rank among the top British film producers of the period.

No doubt there are other 1930-1960 British movies worthy of inclusion here, but if I didn’t see ’em, I didn’t include ’em….or maybe I just forgot a few I have seen, which would qualify me as The Man Who DOESN’T Know Too Much.