Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dibs and Dabs: Russell Crowe, Jersey Boys, Obscure U.S. Presidents on Film and A Strange Coincidence Involving The Mole People

I haven't watched anything of late to blog about, but I've had a few ideas percolating in my mind for a couple of weeks. Current movies will be discussed, but there will be some Golden Age tie-ins.

The Mumbler Russell Crowe

Two of the dopiest movies of the year are NOAH and WINTER'S TALE. Both star Russell Crowe, and I'm afraid he's a big part of the problem. For in the last several years, Mr. Crowe has become a mumbler, that dreaded aspect of so many contemporary movies where performers have decided that mumbling their lines is “natural” and “true to life.” Not by a long shot.

No one talks like this. I've had some very serious conversations in my day but none of them took place at volumes lower than dog whistles. Some of Mr. Crowe's dialogue delivery in these films, especially NOAH, is rendered practically mute due to him speaking his lines in a barely heard whisper. I had no problem understanding dialogue from the other performers, so there was no fault with the theater's sound system or my hearing. It's infuriating and compounds what is already two excruciating viewing experiences. He's always been a low talker, but he seems to have taken his whisperings to new levels of inaudibility.

Among Golden Age stars, Alan Ladd was probably the champion low talker. Now I've seen many an Alan Ladd movie in my time, but never once have I had a problem understanding what he was saying. Alan Ladd enunciates. Russell Crowe mumbles.

Like someone telling Clint Eastwood to please hire a professional composer to write the scores for his movies, I wish someone would tell Russell Crowe to stop mumbling, speak clearly and don't pretend that your mumbling has anything to do with the way people talk. In its own way, it's as forced and mannered as the most exaggerated pantomime in silent cinema.

Jersey Boys

Speaking of Clint Eastwood I went to see his latest, JERSEY BOYS, one of my most eagerly anticipated films of the summer. It's only OK, and I was pretty disappointed. We've seen so many rags to riches show biz sagas I'm not sure if anything new can be brought to the table. I like my musical biographies to have lots of music and for me there was not enough of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons as performers. Some might argue that if I want the music buy a CD. But for me, if a movie sacrifices back story for performances of the music that made them famous,  such as the Sousa biography STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER (1952) or the Gus Kahn story I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS (1952), then I'm all for it.

Not that a musical biopic should be all music. But since many show biz movies are so clich├ęd, I'd rather hear the music that made the artist famous in the first place. YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942) is, for me, the champion biopic that deftly balances music, drama, comedy and historic background in a most satisfying way.

Minor spoiler alert in the next paragraph:

JERSEY BOYS wraps up with a production number of “Oh, What a Night” with every character in the movie participating in during a street party. It's a terrific number and one of the highlights of the movie. But then director Eastwood almost ruins it at the end, with everyone freezing with arms extended into the air, as if they are awaiting applause. It lasts a long time and is really annoying. It's a movie, not a stage show. Very odd. I felt the same way at the end of the movie version of MAMA MIA! (2008), where Meryl Streep and company perform ed a number and then asked the audience if they want more. What works on stage comes off as terribly forced and one would think a more creative solution could be found for such moments. It's all very strange and off-putting.

Obscure Presidents on Film


I'm always interested when obscure U.S. presidents are shown on film. By coincidence in one week, I saw President #23, Benjamin Harrison, make a token appearance in the Sousa biography STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER (1952) and, in a much bigger role, #20, James Garfield, in THE NIGHT RIDERS (1939), a Three Mesquiteers B-western starring John Wayne. The latter is interesting, as President Garfield asks the trio to investigate wrong doings by an unscrupulous land baron out west. It's a secret mission, known only to the President and the Mesquiteers. When the three are jailed and facing execution, they await word from the president to pardon them, not knowing that Garfield has been assassinated, and no one in Washington is aware of their predicament.

If that sounds familiar, it's because two years earlier Secret Service agent Robert Taylor found himself in a similar jam in THIS IS MY AFFAIR (1937), with President #25 William McKinley felled by an assassin's bullet before he can pardon undercover agent Taylor. Again, only the president is aware of the mission.

There aren't too many portrayals of Harrison and Garfield in the movies, and I found it an amusing coincidence that I saw them a few days apart. I eagerly await future sightings of Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester A. Arthur.

The Police and the Mole People
A scene from THE MOLE PEOPLE (1956) while channel flipping recently reminded me of the strange quirks the universe sometimes plays on us poor souls.

I've only been in the police car twice in my life and both times there has been a MOLE PEOPLE connection. How's that for an attention getter.


Back in the VHS days, Blockbuster Video used to have a big sale during Labor Day weekend, where unrented tapes would be put up for sale. I would spend far too much time driving to various Blockbusters looking for wanted titles. Since my interest was in classic cinema and most Blockbuster patrons only rented the latest trash on the New Releases shelf,  I usually found some real gems.

One visit netted me a copy of THE MOLE PEOPLE, a terrible film to be sure, but one I'll probably watch many more times than the Best Picture winner that year, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS. 

I was driving home when I saw vast amounts of steam coming from my car hood. I was at a red light when the car stalled. The blinkers went on and fortunately a squad car had seen me and followed me. He pulled up behind me, lights flashing and I waited in the back seat of the squad car for a tow truck to take me to the repair shop at my dealer, several miles away.  I remember watching THE MOLE PEOPLE when I got home. After all, I didn't have a car to go anyplace.

Jump ahead quite a few years and I'm in the car again, waiting for a red light to change. It does and I'm ready to go forward when the car dies. Nothing. I put the car in park and turned the key several times to no avail. Again, a squad car was nearby, noticed by flashing blinkers and pulled behind me. For the second time in my life, I waited in the back seat of a squad car until I could be rescued by a tow truck.

Since the car repair shop was only eight blocks away, I walked home and there on the front porch was a package from Amazon, a DVD set of five 1950s science fiction movies, one of which was THE MOLE PEOPLE.

What are the odds? I mean, really. What are the odds?

I will never buy THE MOLE PEOPLE on Blu Ray. I can't afford another car repair bill.


Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I love your "Mole People" story.

And this..." I wish someone would tell Russell Crowe to stop mumbling, speak clearly and don't pretend that your mumbling has anything to do with the way people talk. In its own way, it's as forced and mannered as the most exaggerated pantomime in silent cinema."

Well put. I've always felt the same way about Brando, that his delivery was affectation and not "natural" at all.

Caftan Woman said...

You lead a very spooky life. Very spooky indeed.

Where do all those obscure presidents go? One would think from old movies that TR was in charge for a hundred years. I sure hope things turned out OK for the Mesquiteers.

Kevin Deany said...

Jacqueline, I agree with you about Brando. I like him in a few roles, but most of them are, for me, just a shrug of my shoulders.

CW, I like to think of it as THE CURSE OF THE MOLE PEOPLE, a fine title for a sequel.

I wouldn't dream of spilling the beans about the fate of the Mesquiteers. But they appeared in countless other B westerns so....

Patrick Wahl said...

I think James Dean had the mumble thing going on in "Giant". I haven't noticed it in Crowe, who I've liked in just about everything I've seen him in.

Jeff Flugel said...

This was a really fun grab bag post, Kevin! I had to laugh at your MOLE PEOPLE/car trouble story. Sometimes there does indeed seem to be some sort of weird pattern to the universe, huh?

I haven't noticed Russell Crowe's mumbling becoming so egregious, but then I have yet to see his recent films like NOAH and LES MISERABLES. Despite his frequently dour public demeanor, I quite like Crowe as an actor and think he carries much more gravitas than most of the new breed of stars today, and he comes off quite believable and dashing in stuff like GLADIATOR and MASTER AND COMMANDER (the latter is a truly underappreciated modern classic, IMO).

Don't have much to add to your interesting aside about little known presidents appearing in classic films, other than I always enjoyed seeing the many appearances of Ulysses S. Grant, sending Jim and Artie on dangerous missions in THE WILD WILD WEST.

Classicfilmboy said...

Great post. The Mole People story ... car trouble = Mole People. There's a conspiracy theory in there. As for presidents, one of my sisters and I recently laughed about a Disney film we saw as kids from the 1960s -- The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band, that was about the Benjamin Harrison/Grover Cleveland election. With songs! "Let's put it over with Grover." We recently sang that, and received stares for doing so.

Kevin Deany said...

Patrick and Jeff, I've enjoyed Crowe's work in the past, quite a bit. Though I'm one of the few people I know who doesn't care for GLADIATOR at all, he has appeared in two of my favorite movies of the last 12 years, LA CONFIDENTIAL and, as Jeff so rightly points out, MASTER AND COMMANDER. He's great in both of those. But these last two perfomances of his really irked me, for the reasons I mentioned in my post.

CFB, so good to hear from you again. I see you are blogging again, so I'll be off to visit your site soon. Thanks for the heads up on the Disney flick. I'll definitely check it out. Love hearing about stuff like this.