Tag Archives: judy holliday

Bells Are Ringing (1960) & more Judy Holliday

19 Jun

Bells Are Ringing (on TCM Friday, June 21 at 10:00 a.m.)  is a sweet little thing, with  Comden/Green book and lyrics, score by Jule Styne, directed by Vincent Minnelli, and featuring Judy Holliday, Dean Martin, the recently-late-always-great Jean Stapleton and Frank Gorshin. (This is all by way of pedigree, not to show off that I read the credits.) It’s fun, it’s Holliday’s last film and it’s worth watching. But that’s not what I want to talk about.

bells are ringingThere really aren’t any telephone operators anymore. I think they’re self explanatory. But it really wasn’t that long ago that the world had answering services. Technically they still exist, but let’s be honest: no one uses them.

As an actor in college we were told (among the other legal and businesslike pyramid schemes we were encouraged to to take advantage of) that getting an answering service in New York City was a must whether one lived there or not. That long-sought-after Veneer of Professionalism you’ve heard talk about would be yours for a low monthly fee.

Now, you pay for the privilege to record your own outgoing message which you check yourself. No chance for an accidental romantic entanglement with the likes of Judy Holliday. Siri does not and will never care about you, pretend though she may.

(Bells Are Ringing is showing as part of a morning of Holliday films including  Adam’s Rib at 6:30 a.m. and Born Yesterday at 8:15 a.m.)

Looking Backward: The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956)

18 May
Marilyn Hanold

“Because nobody would want to look at a steam shovel.”

Seven or eight sizeable roles. A tiny career for a star so well-remembered, and yet in that short time it seems Hollywood did its level best to typecast her in the dizzy city girl mode. And she was always in the dizzy city girl role. What’s impressive is how she managed to delineate among the charming but limited roles she was given. The role of Laura Partridge in The Solid Gold Cadillac was even a little bit of a coup – Josephine Hull played the role on Broadway, and in terms of type she’s more of a … Josephine Hull.

Let’s not pretend this is an earth-shaking (or even plausible) little comedy, this slice of 50s business light satire featuring all the usual pasty white Men of Business that were in all of these grey flannel outings.

But neither should we pretend it’s not impressive that Holliday could play this role, Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday, a wronged wife in Adam’s Rib, Ella Peterson in Bells Are Ringing (all showing again soon, and all worth a look if you’ve never taken one), all cut from the same cloth, and not make them interchangeable.

It’s a question of the way she plays ignorance in this one, for example. She’s a fish out of water, but is in no way a fool. She has plenty of good sense but no terminology. She knows what goes on as soon as she sees it; she just has the knowledge of, say, Robert’s Rules of Order you’d expect from a summer stock actor, which is to say none. Her non-traditional romance with the appealingly lumpy Paul Douglas* is also such a pleasure and something that’s still unusual today.

The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956)

Liz & Dick they ain’t.

Still uncertain about George Burns, though. It’s a shame they didn’t bring him in for Blade Runner’s unnecessary narration, too.

*P.S. Keep an eye out for a Doff! during Paul Douglas’s Spartacus speech.

LOOKING FORWARD: The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956); Also: Bell, Book & Candle (1959)

12 May
The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956)

I know, I know. But I’ve seen all the other ones! Even Full of Life!

I have, like most right-thinking people, a fondness for the comedies of Judy Holliday, yet somehow I’ve not seen The Solid Gold Cadillac. But now, I shall, as it’s on TCM Thursday, May 16 at 2:15 p.m.

(It should be noted that Born Yesterday is on a few hours earlier at 5:30 a.m., which I’d write about, too, were I not swamped.)

See you here sometime soon after that.

Bell, Book & Candle (1959)

Bell, Book & Candle, the other Jimmy-Stewart-is-mystically-enthralled-and-manipulated-by-Kim-Novak movie, was once a community theatre staple, and the film version is occasionally trotted out as a Christmas movie on technicality, but my love for it (without over-emphasizing a languid, backless and capri-panted Kim Novak) is based in its beatniks.

Oh, movie beatniks, how love you. How I long to attend your nonexistent nightlong barefoot bongo wine party. I cannot explain, but it’s not love if it can be explained. The over-herbed Jack Lemmon fingertip-drumming while French cabaret guy Philippe Clay does…whatever it is he does…is worth the film’s entire budget.

Philippe Clay

Tragique!

The Zodiac is the “kind of a dive” (along with the 30s/40s cinematic idea of the nightclub floor show) that never existed in this form outside the movies, and that I nonetheless pine for quietly in reality. I’m one of the lucky ones: there are plenty of adults we all know who have swallowed a false nostalgia or mistaken the pretty pictures for “historical documents” a la the aliens in Galaxy Quest – but when offered the oddball performance of Clay, the gleeful eccentricities of Elsa Lanchester, Hermione Gingold and, bless him, Ernie Kovacs, the glass on the snowy sidewalk that lets you know what’s happening underground…well, I, if I may momentarily adopt the Liz Lemon vernacular, want to go to there.

Someone clearly decided (rightly) that Kim Novak had a particular chemistry with her main co-star, meaning of course that particular shade of blue-green light that’s used heavily here (the summoning flame, the Pywacket spell before it goes all purple, most of the lights in the Zodiac) and more pointedly in Vertigo the previous year. It’s such an era-specific color, too…

Novak in Vertigo (1958)

Daisy Buchanan, Schmaisy Buchanan.

…which makes for a nice segue into another subgenre affinity I have, perhaps related to my faux-beatnik love: New York ca. 1955-65. It would be easy to call it the Bachelor Pad era (Sunday in New York, Any Wednesday, Boys Night Out, The Apartment), but it’s also the era of The Desk Set, Bells Are Ringing and this lovely little piece. It’s as much about design elements – that shade of blue-green, the look of the apartments and offices, the still-high pants but thinner ties- anything else. I have a reaction to this era that a more susceptible person might take to be proof of reincarnation or spiritual transference (unbeliever though I be in the Carlotta Valdes racket). One might go at least so far as to use a word like “grok,” anyway, if the Liz Lemon thing didn’t work out.

And, like the Zodiac, if that city existed, it’s gone now. But the sets sure are pretty.

——

A postscript about Stewart: most people love him for his charmingly backward romantic speechifying in one American classic or another. For me, it’s for moments like his response to his own failed attempt to hail a taxi in a living room, which ranks above even Gene Wilder’s silent reaction to sheep-love in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex*.

*that asterisk doesn’t lead anywhere. It’s part of the title.