Thursday, September 20, 2012

An Extra CAROUSEL Ride

Did you see the Forrest Gump remake, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett?  Time itself practically becomes a character in that 2008 fantasy.  It's fitting and quite imaginative to have the circular representation of clocks seen throughout the story.  To have one important character appearing in the original Broadcast cast of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel was pretty clever.  That play carried on the circular motif.  Today, if you mention Shirley Jones to most fans, they'd say "The Partridge Family!"  When I was a kid, thanks to network broadcasts, a lot of us knew that she was queen of movie musicals and an Oscar winning actress before she became a sitcom mom.  Carousel was one of her A-list musicals.  Gordon MacRae starred and sang opposite her in the 1956 version of the Broadway classic.  They'd reteamed after starring in 1955's Oklahoma!  That was another movie based on a hit Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway musical.  Henry King, versatile director of Oscar winners The Song of Bernadette and Twelve O'Clock High, deftly directed Carousel.
MacRae, at his vocal peak in the best role of his movie musical career, played Billy Bigelow, the often physically abusive carnival barker who falls in love with and marries sweet Julie Jordan.  He loves her but he can't conquer his own bad habits and change his thug ways before it's too late.  He's a big, butch, bad boy.  When he learns that Julie is pregnant, he's pumped up with pride.  He imagines what "My boy Bill" will be like.  The proud papa-to-be proclaims that junior's mother "...won't make a sissy out of him."  His son will be "tall and tough as a tree."  But this is a musical.  Dad tells us all this by belting out a 7-minute showtune number called Soliloquy. That's how we roll in the world of Rodgers & Hammerstein.  Billy dies on a botched robbery attempt and goes to Heaven.   He'll realize the impact of his humanly deeds.  The carousel represents the circle of life.
When he arrives in the Afterlife, a kindly celestial agent tells him that he's got to make amends for his shortcomings on Earth.  The dead bad dad has to balance the books in regards to his earthly thoughts and actions.  An Afterlife record has been kept on them all.
Physically abusive Billy has been bitchslapped in the face with Heaven's Law of Karma.
Did you see All About Eve?  Remember when Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) meets Margo Channing (Bette Davis) in Margo's dressing room?  Eve relates her dramatic and poignant ultimate fan backstory. So poignant, in fact, that Margo's assistant, Birdie, says "What a story.  Everything but the bloodhounds snappin' at her rear end."  Eve claimed she acted in an amateur production of Liliom.  Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel is a sentimental musical version of that European play.  Liliom was the name of Ferenc Molnár's carnival barker.  Charles Boyer starred in a 1934 French film version directed by Fritz Lang.  Liliom's celestial agents didn't have a kindly, heartwarming appearance.
They had the warmth of bill collectors as they escorted him to his Afterlife station.
Boyer's Liliom is a rascal and a womanizer.  He lives life on the wrong side of the fence.
This movie isn't sentimental like its musicalized Carousel.  It's a foreign film that's more sexually frank than the Hollywood musical released over 20 years later.  Look at Liliom on one of his first encounters with Julie.  On a park bench, he's like a brassiere salesman trying to determine her cup size by hand.  Would you like to see Liliom in action?
You can.  This Fritz Lang film is part of the 50th Anniversary DVD edition of Carousel.  You get a great DVD of the musical plus behind-the-scenes extras.  To me, the coolest extra is this rarely-seen Charles Boyer fantasy drama.  It was beautifully remastered and it's very interesting to see.  Especially the Afterlife sections.  Keep in mind this is from the director who gave us the 1927 film classic, Metropolis.  We get an expressionistic view of Purgatory.  And it works.  That somber place is what Liliom has earned by his earthly deeds.  By the way, like Donna Reed, Shirley Jones was another future TV star who became a hit sitcom mom after having won an Oscar for playing a hooker.  Jones was the tough-as-nails Lulu who's got dirt on the hypocritical preacher named Elmer Gantry.
She won the Best Supporting Actress of 1960 Oscar for playing that bad girl.  To see one of her best good girl movie musicals -- and to see a 1934 subtitled classic of the story that inspired the musical -- rent that special edition of Carousel.  Enjoy the extra ride.


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