Tag Archives: edward everett horton

Carmen Miranda & the Subversive Parts of Springtime in the Rockies.

25 Feb

Miranda, Carmen (Springtime in the Rockies)_01So. Carmen Miranda. And primarily Carmen Miranda in Springtime in the Rockies, though not exclusively (I believe I’ve mentioned my love for The Gang’s All Here before, and if I haven’t, I do so now)I’ve been thinking.

(Sidenote: I’ve also been working, a lot, which is why I haven’t had the time to blog – or frankly, focus on a lot of film watching – in the last couple of months or so.  It’s been great, but I’ve also missed this. I’ll be curious to see if anyone’s still reading…)

Last week, we had a lovely, relaxed, technically-not-a-festival-but-still-pyjamaed  afternoon with the participant in our Fourth One-Woman Film Festival (report to come soon enough) during which, as sometimes happens, The Gang’s All Here came out. That one’s formative for me, in that it was one of the first movies I remember identifying as “old” and “something I want to know more about.” I would suggest (humbly) that anyone wanting to know more about U.S. perceptions of the WWII Homefront would do well to unpack that movie in particular and its references. But later.

What it got me to thinking about was stereotypes, having just watched Swing Time, arguably the best Astaire & Rogers movie, but also the only one with a huge blackface number in it, made more complex because the blackface is Skin Tone Only (none of the other grotesque exaggerations common to it) and in fact is a tribute to someone – Bill “Bojangles” Robinson – that Astaire held as a paragon of the craft of which he himself was seen as a paragon and always said so. So it’s done in loving honor. And also in cork. As I  said, complex.

astaire as bojanglesSo, then came a movie with Carmen Miranda, often dismissed as a capable Brazilian pop star who came to Hollywood and became a low Latin stereotype – oversexed, temperamental, and a butcher of English. Which, I don’t know. Maybe that’s true. Though if anyone can explain the difference between her persona and Sofía Vergara’s  besides “rattles in Spanish-vs.-Portugese when upset,” I’d welcome it.

Or maybe that’s not true. It’s hard for me to watch her next to, say, Betty Grable, next to whom she spent  a reasonable amount of time – like in, say Springtime in the Rockies, which I just saw again for the first time in years – and not think of Miranda as the relatively strong woman in the story. Grable isn’t ever independent; she just pouts sometimes. Not quite the same as Miranda’s clever secretary/inevitable floorshow performer. In this movie when Grable says “You’re the boss,” she’s telling John Payne he gets to decide everything about their honeymoon. When Miranda says the same thing to him earlier, it’s because he is her actual employer. And mostly she still does whatever the hell she wants.

Yes, she is made mock of for cultural reasons, primarily her tormented malaprop English. But she’s in good company. Hell, that still happens to Americans in British comedy. So it’s hard to suggest that she or any group you see her as belonging to is being singled out in that regard. (Also worth mentioning here: South American-ness was super trendy in wartime, for all those Good Neighbor reasons plus the cultural kick-assity of its music/dance goings-on. Note Springtime’s title when distributed to the rest of the hemisphere:

Springtime in the Rockies (1942)_02A Brazilian secretary was, in terms of modern Hollywood formula, a gay best friend.)

But in Springtime, she’s mostly self-protectively argumentative, capable of sexual instigation when it suits her, refusal when it doesn’t, and while no non-Anglo is strictly the lead in that era, she’s always (in her 1940-45 heyday, anyway) involved in and sometimes driving the main entanglements. Her character’s also half-Irish, but they use that as a surname punchline for her all the time (and it also makes it possible for her to end up with a white romantic partner for some reason that illustrates the bugnuts insanity of our forebears. So it goes.)

All this is coming out of a viewing of Springtime in the Rockies, though, which I should note is kind of sneaky. Despite having more or less the same writing/directing creative team as a load of other similar wacky-scrapes-and-musical-numbers movies of the era, for some reason this one decides to be sly – two walk-on indigenous waiters at the Canadian Rockies resort look at each other, give you a moment to expect “Ugh Wampum Kemosabe” talk, then instead discuss the relative merits of Harry James and Glenn Miller in the differently-irritating dialect of Period Swing Slang. Cesar Romero, usually either Latin-style disreputable Lothario or Latin-style ultra suave gigolo, is here more or less a dancing version of what I’d call the Ralph Bellamy role: priggish, WASPy, a little pushy. Doesn’t even get a girl at the end – Miranda ends up with the usually asexual Edward Everett Horton, who is instead a magnet to Brazilian romance, even before she finds out he’s spilling over with dough.

Plus two of the blandest white leads in musical history, no small feat, bless their hearts. Their bits are the least important thing in the movie and to the movie.

Springtime in the Rockies

I don’t pretend this is all cultural subversion by intent so much as comic subversion to keep the audience guessing in the middle of a series of heavily formulaic pictures, but it sure does make this one age better than some of its fellows.

So. I give you Carmen Miranda, ahead of her time as subversive icon of race and gender. Also, her outfits were rich in anti-oxidants and therefore ahead of her time nutritionally as well.

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Edward Everett Horton (part of the 2013 “What a Character!” blogathon)

8 Nov

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(This post is part of this weekend’s What A Character! blogathon – click the link above for more details about the splendid hosts and participants.)

Edward_Everett_HortonIt is not easy to do what he does. To be able to play essentially the same character regardless of the situation or surroundings is seen by some as a lack of range. Which is in a way true – I don’t suppose anyone would expect a Macbeth or a Vanya out of Edward Everett Horton (though now that I say that, I’d pay to see both of those) – but range isn’t everything. There’s also depth to be considered.

Not the “depth” people gush about when discussing the Oscar-worthiness of a nice, bleak performance that features a lot of snotty weeping. But the depth of a Persona that one knows the back roads of so intimately that again, regardless of the situation or surroundings, one can find a place for it anywhere.

Edward Everett Horton, if each character actor of his ilk could be blithely renamed like a Deadly Sin or a Disney Dwarf, was Fussy.

top-hat-hortonIn modern comic terms, he’s often described as “effeminate,” but I’d argue more for “effete,” which is splitting verbal hairs a bit, but is important to getting this right. Effeminate in the sense of “man behaving in a manner that is what one associates with a woman,” which is a possibility here, I guess, but “effete” holds a sense of pampered, infertile, non-threatening that has less to do with being Woman-ed than with being Un-manned. The difference being between, say, a kind of flamboyance that one associates with a Franklin Pangborn, whose persona is undoubtedly more aggressively “effeminate” and a Horton, whose persona, to me is less about gender roles and expectation and more about being an officious stick-in-the-mud.

gangOne of my favorite of his performances – though I’m happy to see him wherever he turns up – is in Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here, one of my personal desert-island-five for reasons of comfort and association if not actual quality. Mr. Potter, the affluent and pinch-mouthed old prude, affable to individuals but disapproving of anything that isn’t aggressively normal, who orders lemonade at a nightclub and feels that if a ballroom dancing couple aren’t married “there ought to be a law” yet still falls into a lets-call-it-Near-Dalliance with Carmen Miranda is to me the…well, if you read that sentence, you’ve pretty much got a handle on the Horton persona.

(To reflect in adulthood that he’s often partnered in that particular film with a freewheeling, slang-slinging, party-throwing Eugene Pallette and then consider which of them was in real life a right-wing loony with an apocalypse fortress and which of them lived comfortably with a Longtime Companion, as they said back then, is at least mildly entertaining.)

Which reminds me, apropos of very little, but this is about my entertainment as much as yours after all, of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I did an adaptation of it a few years ago and got to thinking about what a perfect WWII-era Fox musical it would’ve made. It never happened, and I doubt anyone will ever pay for the staging of a Shakespeare set in an imaginary Movie-Latin Illyria just for my personal shits/giggles, but nonetheless. So if you’re someone who revels in the fact that some scriptwriters are better than others, but that a good cast can do anything, let’s muse for a moment about a prospective Dramatis Personae*:

betty-grableViola – Betty Grable

Alice FayeOlivia – Alice Faye

don-ameche-inoldchicago-4Orsino – Don Ameche

payne-colbert_optSebastian – John Payne

Cesar-Romero-WC-9542350-1-402Antonio – Cesar Romero

palletteSir Toby Belch – Eugene Pallette

edward-everett-horton-001Edward Everett Horton – Sir Andrew Aguecheek

Greenwood, Charlotte_01Maria – Charlotte Greenwood

carmen miranda flower headpieceFeste – (here’s my stroke of genius) Carmen Miranda

sakall-kitchenFabian – S. Z. “Cuddles” Sakall

billy-gilbert-3-sizedA Sea Captain – Billy Gilbert

Leonid_KinskeyValentine – Leonid Kinskey

naishCurio – J. Carroll Naish (I panicked here)

Musical settings by Benny Goodman.

Tell me you wouldn’t be happy to sit through this.

*Gibberish to many scholars, no doubt, but readers of this blogathon will, I hope, appreciate the care that went into the above.