Here's the story: Lucy Dell's husband, Paul, has a new project. He's directing a movie adaptation of MADAME BUTTERFLY with Puccini's music. He wants to shoot on location in Japan and he wants to find a Japanese actress to play the lead. Lucy hates to be separated from Paul for long stretches. She pitches herself for the lead role. Paul politely tells her she'd be wrong for the role. It's a tragic love story that ends with a suicide and the part should be played by a Japanese actress. Edward G. Robinson plays their friend and producer. He knows a movie studio will give Paul a much smaller budget to shoot a movie that does not star Lucy. The studio will probably also demand he shoot in black and white and reduce his on-location time to shoot most of it on the Paramount lot instead.
Paul and his producer go to Japan. Paul holds many auditions. He meets actual geishas. Lucy goes to Japan and secretly tells the producer of her plan to surprise Paul. She knows he's having dinner with a few geisha girls. She gets dressed up like one -- full extreme make-up, wig, kimono and contact lens to hide her blue eyes -- and joins the dinner as one of the girls. Clueless Paul is fascinated with one geisha named Yoko Mori. He has no idea she's really his wife, Lucy Dell.
Lucy Dell reinvents herself as an actress. Paul Robaix distinguishes himself as a director. In the marriage, there will be revelations, manipulated heartbreak and we'll see if the Hollywood "love affair" survives. Does Lucy love her career a wee bit more than she loves her husband?
This may not be the deepest of plots. However, it's the kind of movie entertainment that I needed. I found the movie last night. After a week of White House news that made me want to go full James Dean in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and cry out "You're tearing me apart!," I craved soothing movie entertainment with a talented, skilled cast, some laughs, love, fabulous Edith Head costumes, gorgeous color and a happy ending. That's what I needed -- and I got it with MY GEISHA.
What I noticed now in the movie is how much the husband and wife truly love each other. When he's away from her, he tends to be a little cranky. The crankiness suddenly vanishes as soon as hears from her. Lucy, as Yoko, knows how to fend off the constant flirtatious advances of her constant comedy co-star. He's played by Bob Cummings. Cummings, like Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, was a middle-aged actor who'd been making movies since the late 1930s/early 40s, but doing a hit TV sitcom in the 1950s made him a bigger star than any Hollywood movies had. Bob Cummings applied some of his goofy ladies' man bachelor TV sitcom persona to his MY GEISHA character.
Japanese culture gets respectful treatment in MY GEISHA. During Paul's auditions, we see how young Japanese women have been heavily influenced by our American pop culture. After Lucy/Yoko lands the lead role, Lucy and her producer find an veteran Japanese instructor who can teach them about the art of being a geisha and introduce them to someone who can coach Lucy for her new film role.
Lucy gets an education. And so did I. At that time, American men seemed to think geishas were just party girls in kimonos who pleasantly served food and drink and then freely provided sexual favors as dessert. The older Japanese gentleman explained the true strict and intellectual art of being a geisha. He told what it entailed and what skills it required. The line would get a loving chuckle today because of material in a couple of Shirley MacLaine's future books, but Lucy pays full attention to what the older instructor says and then replies, "You couldn't teach me that in two lifetimes." Yoko Tani is lovely and wise as Lucy Dell's geisha coach.
One form of entertainment can be a bridge to other discoveries in the fine arts.
Shirley MacLaine in MY GEISHA was just the colorful, sweet tonic I needed last night. Yves Montand still gives my heart a glow when he says "Keep bowing, you little ham."