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The Vincent Minnelli File – Part 2

The Vincent Minnelli File - Part 2

Onward we go through the films Vincente Minnelli directed that are rated and commented on in my 1952-1970 card file of movies I saw in that period. As I indicated in Part 1, Minnelli’s good pictures seem to get better as the years pass. Look at the first and third entries below as examples.

BELLS ARE RINGING (1960; d: Vincente Minnelli).

1960: (Some nice slick direction and a brilliant performance by Judy Holliday is about all there is to commend in this elaborate, pleasant musical comedy about a girl who works for an answering service, and the lives of the people she affects; Dean Martin, miscast, is still personable. Minnelli’s work is always recognizable, but the question persists: who wants to recognize him?)

Added 1965: Good (I want to recognize him. Though not one of his best projects, he brings his usual style and charm to work and, with Miss Holliday’s indispensable help, manages to create an altogether likable picture —in spite of the script’s thinness and the score’s basic vapidity.)

Added 2014: This is a lot better than either of the preceding comments would indicate. Judy Holliday was a treasure, and the musical was first produced on Broadway as a vehicle for her; I was lucky enough to see her in that show, and she was electrifying, absolutely delightful, a joy. The movie blunts some of her personal magnetism, but that’s true of any film of a stage performance, especially in a musical. There’s no way to beat seeing the star right in front of you, dancing and singing, without one cut. Charlie Chaplin’s son, Sydney, was really terrific on stage, to such a degree that Judy fell hard for him, and was devastated by his ultimate rejection. She was diagnosed with breast cancer not long after, and this movie was her swan’s song. Making it all the more precious. Dean Martin is actually very good casting, and he’s excellent in it, but I’m a big Dean Martin fan. All in all, I like this picture, and Minnelli did a good job.

I DOOD IT (1943; d: Vincente Minnelli).

1961: Poor* (Silly little Red Skelton vehicle about a clothes presser who gets involved in show business machinations —competently directed, but nothing to scream about.)

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944; d: Vincente Minnelli).

1961: Fair* (Colorful, elaborately produced period musical; done with a certain amount of flair, nicely performed by Judy Garland, others, but somewhat dated, tiresome, only occasionally entertaining.)

Added 2014: How could I have been so wrong?! This is a classic musical, an utter delight. Just Judy Garland and a very young Margaret O’Brian doing a song-and-dance number together is worth the price of admission. But there’s also Judy singing “The Boy Next Door” and “The Trolley Song,” and everybody doing “Meet Me in St. Louis”. All the period flavor is wonderfully rendered, and all the performances are charming, especially Mary Astor as the Mother. This is the movie on which Garland and Minnelli fell in love and got married, and it is the director’s first masterpiece. One summer many moons ago, my then ten-year-old daughter watched this lovely film a total of eleven times. I can see why.

ZIEGFELD FOLLIES (1946; d: Vincente Minnelli).

1962: Fair- (Colorful, but tedious, syrupy, uninspired series of vignettes and song-numbers based on productions as Florenz Ziegfeld might have mounted them on the stage. The best thing in the picture, and really worth sticking around for, is the Gene Kelly-Fred Astaire “Babbitt & Bromide” routine: sprightly, fast, delightful. For the rest, it’s not my kind of picture.)

TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN (1962; d: Vincente Minnelli).

1962: Excellent* (Among Minnelli’s best pictures — an expertly written, brilliantly photographed, well acted story of Hollywood people making a movie in Rome — filled with authentic detail, atmosphere, inside references, and fascinating, sophisticated relationships. Minnelli’s sense of color and decor is exacting, and his flair for melodrama has never been more superbly apparent. This personal, outstanding work makes a perfect companion-piece to the director’s “The Bad and the Beautiful”, made ten years ago.)

Added 2014: Minnelli wasn’t happy with the studio re-cutting of this picture, and looked surprised when I told him I really liked the movie. All the relationships ring true, and Edward G. Robinson and Claire Trevor reprise a version of their horrible interplay from “Key Largo,” but with a heartbreaking twist to their hateful exchanges. The Americans making a film in Italy is very well portrayed and stands as a brilliant view of that faltering period in picture history. Kirk Douglas is especially good as an insecure and struggling former star, and George Hamilton is the epitome of an arrogant and self-destructive young star. Good stuff.

THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER (1963; d: Vincente Minnelli).

1963: Very good (Extremely well made, unpretentious, and most touching comedy-drama about the life of a man and his young son after the death of their wife-mother. Glenn Ford is commendably restrained and sensitive, Ronny Howard is simple and believable as the boy, and the women play their types with dash: Shirley Jones as girl-next-door, Stella Stevens as sexy-not-so-dumb-redhead-from-Montana, Dina Merrill as cold-high-fashion-fish. An entertaining and affecting story made considerably superior through Minnelli’s handling.)

Added 1966: (Really a very good movie, in Minnelli’s most American vein, extremely honest and true.)

BRIGADOON (1954; d: Vincente Minnelli).

1963: Good (Less typical of Minnelli’s light, colorful touch with musicals, but a nonetheless effective and often delightful excursion into fantasy — carefully, thoughtfully filmed — distinguished by several exquisite sequences and one striking scene in a New York bar at the end: a scene more typical of his fifties work. Well played, excellent use of CinemaScope — Minnelli’s first in the medium — fine choreography, charming songs — a good, if often less than inspired, work.)

Added 2014: This is a terrific stage musical, but for some reason it doesn’t really play very well on the screen. Gene Kelly is always good, but Van Johnson is a weak partner. The magic just isn’t there.

THE PIRATE (1948; d: Vincente Minnelli).

1963: Very good* (Judy Garland and Gene Kelly are both terrific in this delightfully flamboyant, bravura Minnelli film about a young girl who falls in love with a traveling entertainer who poses as a famous pirate; enchanting Cole Porter score, dazzling color, exciting choreography, beautiful performances, restless, inventive direction. A swashbuckling tale handled with Minnelli’s most swashbuckling technique.)

Added 2014: There are great set-pieces in this movie, like Gene Kelly singing and dancing to “Be A Clown”, and a number of good sequences, but overall it seems more pretentious than his other musicals – one that looks better on paper than it does on screen.

FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1950; d: Vincente Minnelli).

1963: Very good* (Beautifully acted by Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, Elizabeth Taylor, Don Taylor, skillfully and delightfully directed, charmingly written story about a father whose daughter is getting married: soft, often hilarious, sometimes touching. If taken on its own terms, this is a keenly observed and occasionally strikingly done domestic comedy, true and unmawkish.)

Added 1970: (It probably never happened this way, but it remains a delightful domestic fantasy, with good performances and its share of moving scenes.)

Added 2014: This is much better than either of those entries indicates. There are numerous superbly staged sequences – like the chaotic wedding rehearsal and the engagement party –- and Tracy has never been better, telling the story to the camera with great intimacy and charm. Really a memorable family comedy.

THE STORY OF THREE LOVES (1953; d: Vincente Minnelli (Mademoiselle), Gottfried Reinhardt (The Jealous Lover, Equilibrium).

1964: Fair- (The Minnelli episode is far and away the most original, but is not among the director’s most successful achievements. However, it has a fragile beauty and charm. The Reinhardt episodes are obvious, though competent.)

UNDERCURRENT (1946; d: Vincente Minelli).

1964: Good* (Katharine Hepburn, Robert Mitchum, Robert Taylor in a fascinating melodrama, smoothly, silkily directed by Minnelli; story of a girl who falls in love with a manufacturing tycoon and then begins to find out about the skeletons — some of them living — in his closet. The script is a trifle too pat in its exposition, but because of the fine acting and expert direction, it always seems better than it might have been under other circumstances.)

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