Mr. wOw’s Cinematic Weekend Heat Wave

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“Pablo, it sez here in de weather report … it say: a front of warm air is moving in from …

Where?

“Jamaica! Moderately high barometric pressure will cover the north end and … the deep south!”

“Small danger of what …?”

Fruit frost!

“Hot and humid nights can be expected.”

That’s a bit of campy dialogue between Marilyn Monroe and her chorus boys – the patter preceded Monroe’s scorching rendition of “Heat Wave” in “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” This number shocked 1954 audiences and even today one wonders how it passed the censors. (When Marilyn says “deep south,” she thrusts the flaming Technicolor flounces of her open-front flamenco skirt between her legs. Honest, Mr. wOw is still astonished!)

Mr. W. had a tropical heatwave on his mind last weekend because, well – we’ve been having a tropical heatwave. I hate warm weather. I hate to sweat. I hate to change my shirt three times a day. It’s bad for my skin. And with that attractive image conveyed ….

So, last weekend I gave up totally. I wouldn’t even try to walk half a mile to the gym … I wouldn’t go to the store … I would draw the blinds in every room and keep the place as dark and cool as possible. And – I would watch TV. Reading, my usual weekend escape, seemed too effortful.

I was glued to my set, and these movies are what deterred me from even setting one foot outside – I present them in no particular order.

Three Hitchcock classics: “Vertigo,” “To Catch a Thief” and “Marnie.” A disappointment when released, “Vertigo” is now considered one of Hitch’s greatest films, with James Stewart as an unpleasantly obsessed detective and husky-voiced, hesitant Kim Novak as his object of desire. (Some say this is Kim’s best performance. It’s not, but she is very good indeed, especially in the heartbreaking last 35 minutes.)

“To Catch a Thief” is just good fun, with Cary Grant as a reformed criminal and Grace Kelly as the earthy society girl looking for kicks. Filmed in Monaco, where Kelly would preside over shortly as princess, the movie contains the now famously morbid high-speed chase along the very roads on which Grace would meet her death in 1982. “Marnie” – the story of a frigid, pathological thief – is the role Grace promised Hitch she would come out of retirement to film. But the subjects of the teensy principality of Monaco objected, and Grace returned to the stifling life as a minor royal.

Tippi Hedren, whom Hitch had thrown to the birds (literally!) in “The Birds,” took the role of Marnie. Hedren was no Grace Kelly – she was awkward, in a fascinating way, but her very deficiencies as an actress worked for the movie, which co-stars Sean Connery as the hot but somewhat sadistic man who wants to “save” her. “Marnie” was one of Hitchcock’s failures – in fact, it was the beginning of his decline as a consistent moneymaker. But the film – criticized for artificiality – looks a lot better now than it did then. I think Hitch was maybe bit ahead of his time.

“Darling Lili” – Blake Edward’s big 1971 musical disaster that put the final nail in his wife Julie Andrews’s career coffin. (He would revive her some years later with “Victor/Victoria”) Mr. wOw went to see “Darling Lili” on opening day at Radio City Music Hall – an ominously uncrowded Music Hall. I loved it! All two-and-a-half languid hours of Julie as a World War I spy and Rock Hudson as a hero flyer. I knew as I watched it that it didn’t have a chance in hell at the box office, but that certainly didn’t deter me from seeing it twice again during its run at the Music Hall. It is, from beginning to end, charming, low-key and jammed with delicious, nostalgic songs. Julie’s opening and closing numbers, “Whistling in the Dark,” the star emerging from the shadows, are superb, and so is her strip number, which, if you look carefully, reveals Julie’s pert left breast for a second. (This is what frame-by-frame was invented for!)

Mr. wOw also had several hours with Miss Monroe – two of her most uncharacteristic roles, back to back – “Don’t Bother to Knock” a noir-ish black and white with Marilyn playing a deranged babysitter, and “Niagara,” a lush Technicolor noir, in which MM is for the first and last time, a stone-cold bad girl (still, her natural vulnerability can’t help but peek through). Though she was at this point hampered by the teachings of her Russian acting coach who in insisted on en-un-ci-ation – coming down too hard on her Ds and Ts – Monroe handles both these roles quite well. “Don’t Bother to Knock” seems, in retrospect, a semi-autobiographical sketch – her character has come from poverty, gone mad, attempted suicide, been institutionalized. She even attempts to murder a child! In her final scene, taken away to yet another hospital, Marilyn evokes a young Blanche DuBois, and one wonders what she might have done with that character, in later years, had she lived. (For film fans, “Don’t Bother to Knock” has an excellent Richard Widmark, as the guy who just wants to get his rocks off, but gets considerably more than he bargained for from the nutty Miss Monroe, and young Anne Bancroft, as a nightclub singer.)

“Niagara” is an overripe celebration of Monroe’s over-the-top sensuality, which would never again be tapped seriously – she would be muted in comic roles thereafter. Here, she wants to kill her nice hubby, Joe Cotton. The movie is worth a look if only for Monroe’s ten-minute segment in which she struts, lounges, wisecracks and sings a husky ditty, “Kiss.” She wears a tight, blazing red dress, and when she walks toward the camera, pelvis thrust out, a bit of a womanly belly obvious, it is her most erotic screen moment. (Later, she would look sexy – all butt and bust – but not be sexy.)

“This Property Is Condemned” – minor Tennessee Williams, major Natalie Wood! This movie about a fantasy-obsessed Depression-era Southern belle and the man she falls for, Robert Redford, is probably Natalie’s most compelling and complete big-screen performance. (She would be brilliant in the much later TV movie, “The Cracker Factory.”) Miss Wood is so ravishing, so invested, so intense. This is one of several films Natalie did that incorporated severely challenged mother/daughter conflicts (“Splendor in the Grass,” “Gypsy”). That she had her own real-life mother issues imbues these films with a striking reality. Natalie reaches her peak here in an incredible drunk scene with her on-screen mom Kate Reid and an up-and-coming Charles Bronson. “That hard liquor you’re drinkin’?”

“Yep, hard as your heart, mama.” (It gets even better after that!)

The movie failed in 1966, but like so many dismissed films, it has been re-evaluated. especially in regard to Natalie, who died far too young and far too tragically. (Mr. wOw, who resists all tales of conspiracy and cover-ups in the matter of that fabled misfit, Miss Monroe, is much more cynical in regard to Miss Wood’s passing.)

Jean Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Mr. wOw cannot begin to do justice to this ravishing and extraordinarily moving 1946 film. Suffice to say, watch this and then try to get through the animated treacle of Disney’s version.
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But it wasn’t all classic fare, as Mr. wOw huddled in his dark den, avoiding the sun and heat. I caught two recent films on cable – jailhouse-thriller “Felon” with Stephen Dorff and Val Kilmer and horror film “Jennifer’s Body” with Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried.

“Felon” strained credibility as to Mr. Dorff’s incarceration, but once he was in jail, cohabiting with mass murderer Kilmer, the movie is compelling, nail-biting to the max. Mr. Dorff is really a very, very good actor (often caught in crappy projects) and Kilmer is great here, nicely underplayed – especially for a character who has murdered 16 people!

As for “Jennifer’s Body,” I have to admit a weakness for horror films, though I don’t like excessive gore. (The “Saw” movies are not for me.) This was pretty gory, but I stuck it out to see Miss Fox, a controversial tabloid fixture, and Miss Seyfried, whom I’ve admired on HBO’s “Big Love” and who was the saving grace of the execrable “Mamma Mia!” Also, I wanted to see what else screenwriter Diablo Cody (Oscar-winner for “Juno”) could do.

Anyway – surprise! – Miss Fox was very good, though her role as a demon-possessed vixen didn’t travel too far off the range. And Amanda was close to brilliant as the nerdy best friend.

Ms. Cody’s script? Everything’s a wisecrack, cynicism reigns. I’m not super-impressed. I really feel “Juno” was a triumph of performance (the fabulous Ellen Page) over writing. As for Diablo’s “The United States of Tara,” which airs on Showtime, this too benefits from the efforts of a fabulous actress – Toni Collette. I think that show is hampered by its half-hour format. “Tara” needs to go longer. The Academy gave Diablo Cody the Oscar because of her back story – stripper-turned-screenwriter. Then again, this is encouraging to all of us with sordid back-stories. Whoever said Oscar was fair?

And the rest of Mr. wOw’s weekend viewing? History Channel (good stuff on the Mayans, the “real life” of Jesus and the lost books of the Bible), lots of “Law & Order” reruns, a few “Reba” mini marathons and “Golden Girls” wherever I can find them – Hallmark or the WE channels.

I emerged on Monday morning, dreading the weather, already wet at the pits, avoiding direct sunlight, projecting what bad news awaited me on my desk and wondering who in the hell invented the concept of working for a living?

My boyfriend of 33 years insists I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t work.

Silly boyfriend.

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