Wednesday, September 29, 2010

BEACH BLANKET BINGO

Beach Blanket Bingo (BBB) was the fourth or fifth entry into the"beach party" series, depending on whether you count Pajama Party (which I don't). BBB still holds up today as good lightweight entertainment with stress on the word lightweight. As usual, there's some jealous tension between Frankie and Dee Dee (Annette) that will be resolved before the end of the movie, there's a featured musical group (The Hondells) , there's a simple plot to hold everything together, there's some dancing, some surfing, a slapstick chase, and most importantly there are lots of pretty girls in bikinis. The funny thing is when I was younger, I knew the girls in the movie were too old for me....and now I'm too damn old for them!


Linda Evans (Dynasty) plays a budding singer named Sugar Kane and her manager is Paul Lynne. He cooks up a publicity scheme to make it appear Sugar Kane is diving out of a plane over the ocean, when actually it's Deborah Walley doing the skydiving (well a stunt woman, but it's supposed to be Walley). When she lands in the water, she'll need to be rescued and this will generate some news according to Lynne's plan. Frankie Avalon is the hero of the day when he saves Sugar and, of course, Annette gets jealous about Sugar and Frankie. The real trouble comes when Frankie decides to try skydiving and tells Annette it's for guys only, she belongs in the kitchen (
oh, how times have changed). Besides Annette being mad at Frankie over this remark, the skydiving outfit run by Big Drop (Don Rickles in his last "beach party" movie) employs two pilot/skydivers: John Ashley and Deborah Walley (who in real life were married to each other) who set their sights respectively on Annette and Frankie. Deborah isn't really that interested in Frankie she only wants to make John jealous. I think John was digging on Annette's lacquered hair and thought they could share cans of hairspray.


As far as the music in
BBB, Frankie and Annette sing the title tune "Beach Blanket Bingo" as the movie opens. After some plot development, we see Donna Loren back at the beach house singing a terrific song called "It Only Hurts When I Cry". The gang gets invited to a party to hear Sugar Kane/Linda Evans "sing" (her songs were actually done by Robin "Wonderful Summer" Ward) and she performs "New Love" with The Hondells backing her up. Frankie then sings "These Are The Good Times" at the same party.


Later after some skydiving and other plot development, Frankie and Annette have once again reconciled and during a moonlight stroll on the beach, they sing a really sweet song called "
I Think, You Think". Back at the club, The Hondells perform "The Cycle Set" as the gang dances along and Buster Keaton chases around a blond bombshell (Bobbi Shaw). This is followed by Sugar Kane/Linda Evans "singing" "He's My Fly Boy".


As Eric Von Zipper schemes on how to get his new love Sugar Kane, he performs a Broadway show type tune called "
Follow Your Leader". As the movie ends and the credits roll we get more of Buster Keaton chasing Bobbi Shaw, taking the place normally occupied by Candy Johnson who left the series or was forced out after Pajama Party. Maybe it was because it was also Don Rickles last appearance in the series, but in a scene at the party, he gets to go into his nightclub "putdown act" on the gang. I won't spoil all the good lines he has, but he starts off by calling Frankie and Annette "43 year old yo-yo's". This scene is a highlight in BBB, which was already one of the best of the "beach party movies".

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

HARMONY CATS


I'm going to do you a favor that I wish someone had done for me and tell you the following:
IF you see Harmony Cats on the video store shelf - put it back. IF you see it for sale - walk away fast. IF you see it showing on TV - quickly change the channel. IF Netflix suggests it for you - click not interested. IF you want to see Harmony Cats because it says Hoyt Axton is featured - please realize he doesn't sing and only appears in the movie for approximately 5 minutes. IF you don't heed these warnings and still watch Harmony Cats - don't say you weren't warned.


I'll try to make the story as short as possible, since I'm trying to flush it (
and flush is definitely the appropriate word) from my mind . An orchestra folds and a violinist (Kim Coates) takes a job playing bass with a country band. He considers this type of music beneath him but eventually sees the errors of his ways before returning to the symphony where he now plays wearing his tux with cowboy boots. In the middle of this story is a badly written script with insipid dialogue, hackneyed plot devices, and a terrible performance from the usually reliable actor Kim Coates, who played his role like a combination Frazier/Niles Crane to the nth degree. There are only two saving graces in Harmony Cats: Canadian blues singer, Jim Byrnes, whose singing and acting are both above par and Canadian country music singer Lisa Brokop, who plays his daughter and has some fine musical performances.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

BEYOND THE SEA


There's something about Kevin Spacey I don't like and I can never quite put my finger on it. I think he may exude a smugness that turns me off. On the other hand, I have seen him in a handful of movies where I really enjoyed him ("Glengarry Glen Ross", "The Usual Suspects", "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil", "L.A. Confidential") and I can now add
Beyond The Sea to that list.


Not only does Kevin Spacey star as Bobby Darin in Beyond The Sea, he also directed, co-wrote and co-produced the movie.
Beyond The Sea is told in a series of flashbacks with Darin interacting with his younger self. It takes us back to Bobby Darin as a kid being diagnosed with rheumatic fever and not expected to live past the age of 15. While recuperating from his illness Darin finds that he has a true talent for music and vows to become bigger than Frank Sinatra. We then follow his career from teen idol years with "Splish Splash" to his success as a top nightclub act and his major hit "Mack The Knife". He becomes such a top act that he is cast in movies where he meets the love of his life, Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth). In the late 60s' and early 70's, when he finds his type of music is no longer relevant, he turns to folk music but his audience rejects him. He eventually realizes that he can sing whatever he wants as long as he looks like "Bobby Darin" and not a "scruffy hippie".


The main problem with
Beyond The Sea is that I never once thought I was watching Bobby Darin....only Kevin Spacey "playing" Bobby Darin. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with Spacey's acting, he never hits a false note in the film. He just didn't occupy the role of Bobby Darin like Sissy Spacek did with Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner's Daughter or Joaquin Phoenix did with Johnny Cash in Walk The Line. Someone that did disappear in their role was Kate Bosworth, every minute she was on screen I was convinced I was watching Sandra Dee.


I'm a sucker for big musical production numbers and there are three fantasy sequences in
Beyond The Sea that were a joy to watch. All the songs in the movie are sung by Kevin Spacey with the exception of a couple of background songs in the late 60's/early 70s' section of Beyond The Sea, where you hear "Let It Loose" by The Rolling Stones and "Hush" by Deep Purple being played in the background. Unlike a few biopics that I have seen, where some facts will ring untrue, nothing jumped out at me in Beyond The Sea, although I'm sure everything is not one hundred per-cent accurate (there's ever a disclaimer at the end of the movie stating this fact).



Friday, September 24, 2010

BALLAD IN BLUE
aka BLUES FOR LOVERS


I've only been disappointed twice in the many live concerts I have seen over the years, once at a Beach Boys Concert in 1968 and once on July 12, 2000 at the Peace Center in Greenville, SC when I ponied up a fair amount of money for my family to see Ray Charles. Ray's band warmed up the audience with a performance and were followed by The Raelettes singing a song or two. Ray was then introduced and after receiving an obligatory standing ovation, he sang a few of his hits. After approximately 20 minutes he abruptly stood up, took a bow and walked offstage. The audience assumed this was intermission, until a voice came over the loudspeaker thanking us for coming to the concert. While I still feel "ripped off" by what I had to pay to see this concert, I'm still glad that my family got to see a true legend in the world of music. Now on to the movie, Ballad In Blue, in which Ray Charles does an excellent job of portraying Ray Charles.


As the opening credits roll for Ballad In Blue (aka Blues For Lovers) we hear Ray Charles singing "Let The Good Times Roll". The first scene in the movie is Ray doing an appearance in London at the City Institute For Sightless Children, where we find him and the children singing "Hit The Road Jack". After his appearance, Ray gives a woman and her son a ride home and this sets up the plot for the rest of the movie as Ray interacts with their lives. Ray really takes a liking to the boy who has just recently gone blind and offers to have a doctor, who may be able to restore the boy's sight, take a look at him. The mother is overly protective of her son and is reluctant to let him have an operation that might not be successful. The mother's boyfriend, also a musician, takes a job with Ray as an arranger and when the mother comes to visit her boyfriend, who is on tour with Ray in Paris, she agrees to the operation. In a very "English" ending, it is never revealed if the boy regains his sight.


As far as his acting ability, Ray Charles was as good as any of the professional actors in the cast. Ray's long time manager Joe Adams portrayed Ray's assistant Fred in Ballad In Blue and if I hadn't known who he was, I would just have assumed he was another actor. Besides Ray's acting parts, which in one scene had him driving a bumper car, the movie is able to include Ray singing throughout the movie with him either in concert or in rehearsal. Besides the songs already mentioned, Ray sings "Lucky Old Sun", "Unchain My Heart", "Hallelujah I Love Her So", "Don't Tell Me Your Troubles", "I Got A Woman", "Light Out of Darkness", "Busted", "Talkin' About You", and "What I'd Say".

Thursday, September 23, 2010

MONTEREY POP


When I first saw Monterey Pop, I'm sure I thought it was cool and far out and maybe even groovy. Re-watching it these many years later, for the most part, I have a completely different attitude about the movie.


First up were The Mamas and The Papas doing "California Dreaming" and as much as I enjoy their harmonies on the record, in this performance they just didn't have it together. Canned Heat was up next with some white boy blues doing "Rollin and Tumblin" and this song still held up after all of these years. Third in the movie were Simon and Garfunkel singing "59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)". I've never been a big fan of this duo, either together or solo, but I have to admit their harmonies were as good live as on the record. Next came jazz with Hugh Masekela performing "Bajabula Bonke (Healing Song)", since I 'm really not a fan of jazz, I was very thankful when this song was over. I know I used to like Jefferson Airplane, at least their first few albums, but their first song "High Flyin' Bird" was terrible and their second song, "Today", on which Grace Slick, sang lead wasn't much better....but at least it was better.


Finally a stand-out performance when Janis Joplin backed by Big Brother and The Holding Company perform "Ball & Chain". It was a thrill to see someone so young with so much soul but sad to think of her life being so short. One thing to watch for is when Janis finishes her song and runs offstage, you can see how happy she was with her own performance. Even though Eric Burdon & The Animals diddled around a little too much before getting into the main part of "Paint It Black"....I understand it was 1967 and some diddling was expected, if you wanted to be taken seriously....once they got things rolling it was a great performance. Unfortunately after seeing a couple of good performances, The Who were up next, with "My Generation". I never got that stutter thing in the song and especially always thought the fake trashing of instruments was goofy. They were still worth watching for one reason - Keith Moon pounding the hell out of his drums. To make matters worse, The Who were followed by probably the worst performance in the movie with Country Joe and The Fish doing "Section 43", a terrible waste of film and my time.


Getting the movie back on track was Otis Redding, backed by Booker T and The MG's, showing everyone how it's done with "Shake" and "I've Been Loving You Too Long". Otis is followed by another stand-out performance with The Jimi Hendrix Experience performing "Wild Thing", although the guitar burning elicits the same response in me as when The Who trashed their instruments. The Mamas and The Papas redeem themselves with their second song performance "Got a Feelin" and then the movie closes out with a l-o-n-g Ravi Shankar performance "Raga Bhimpalasi", this finally bored me enough that I had to use the FF button to get to the end of the movie.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

BIKINI BEACH


Bikini Beach (BB) was the third entry in the "beach party" series and spoofs The British Invasion in its main storyline. Frankie Avalon plays dual roles - Frankie and Peter Royce Bentley aka Potato Bug, (get it! Bug instead of "Beatle"....the out of touch adults who wrote this movie, must have thought that was hilarious!). Annette, who wants to get married (doesn't she always), uses Potato Bug to make Frankie jealous....but don't worry, they'll be back together before the end of the film. The secondary plot of BB concerns Keenan Wynn trying to make the beach gang seem insignificant, by showing that his pet ape can do everything they can.....YES, you read that correctly....his pet ape can surf, drive a car and dance! Once he gets the teenagers off the beach, he can expand his old folks home and make more money....but don't worry, he'll see the error of his ways before the end of the movie.


BB opens with the gang rolling down the highway singing the theme song to the movie, "Bikini Beach". After Frankie and Annette have their usual spat, Donna Loren gets a solo number (she did a duet with Dick Dale in Muscle Beach Party) and sings "Love's A Secret Weapon" while the beach gang all dance along. BB moves us along and introduces us to Potato Bug who sings "Gimme Your Love" (which includes a lot of "Yeah Yeah Yeahs" in the song) for all his young female admirers.


After some drag racing, the gang goes to what used to be Morey Amsterdam's club, now owned by Don Rickles and called Big Drag's. At the club, we get a second dig at The Beatles when The Pyramids (replacing Dick Dale and The Del-Tones) all have their mop-top wigs fly off revealing that they are bald....comedy gold....sorry I had to be sarcastic for a moment....now back to the music....as the The Pyramids perform "
Record Run". After some comedy from Eric Von Zipper (who we last saw in Beach Party) where, as usual, he winds up giving himself "The Finger", Potato Bug obliges his female fans by singing "How About That". For some reason The Pyramids are replaced by Candy Johnson's band The Exciters who shout out "It's Watusi Time" and play "Gotcha Where I Wantcha".


We next see Frankie and Annette taking a moonlight stroll and singing the love ballad "
Because You're You". Later that evening, Frankie disguises himself as Potato Bug to find out Annette's true feelings. He gets busted when the real Potato Bug shows up, but Annette winds up mad at both of them. BB gets one more dig in at The Beatles when Annette calls Potato Bug “you beetle-eyed bug”. Annette winds up alone on the beach and sings a plaintively "This Time It's Love".


Eric Von Zipper and Gang decide to sabotage Potato Bug's dragster in the hopes everyone will think Frankie was the culprit, but being Von Zipper and Gang, they sabotage Frankie's car by mistake and it crashes at the big race. When it's revealed Von Zipper was the cause of the dragster crash, everyone takes off after Von Zipper. At this point,
BB turns into a silent movie car chase, which is followed by a big slapstick fight back at Big Drags. After the Rats and Mice are defeated, Stevie Wonder (once again billed as "Little") starts singing "Happy Feelin' Dance and Shout", but unfortunately his song here is ruined as the credits roll over his performance.


Several small things to watch for in
BB: Boris Karloff has a short cameo (as Vincent Price did in Muscle Beach Party). Near the end of the movie when Von Zipper and Gang are in the pool hall inexplicably there's a teenage werewolf, research shows this was the winner of a contest put on by Famous Monsters of Filmland. First prize was a part in BB, the best part of the whole story....the second place winner was Rick Baker. One final note about BB, Director William Asher claims that The Beatles were supposed to be in the movie, but when they declined, the character of Potato Bug was created. I can find no evidence of anyone but Asher stating this fact and I find this highly doubtful and only wishful thinking on Asher's part.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

PROTECTING THE KING


The one thing to keep in mind when watching
Protecting The King (PTK) is that it is NOT about Elvis Presley, it's a movie about his stepbrother, David Stanley, and his relationship with "The Big E". I assumed before watching this movie that it was going to be a disaster, since it was directed and co-/written by David Stanley. PTK turned out to be an acceptable movie even if, at 94 minutes, it is still a mite too long.


I can sum up the movie pretty quick: Elvis was nice to David. Elvis took David on the road with him. The road corrupted David. Elvis took a lot of drugs. David slept with a
LOT of women (Letting us know that he slept with a LOT of women must have been very important for David, since that point is hammered home over and over.) Elvis dies from too many drugs. David sees the light and gets clean.


Peter Dobson was terribly miscast as Elvis (he looked more like Michael Madsen).
PTK would have been improved some, if they had cast someone with a little more believability (with all the Elvis impersonators, that shouldn't have been too hard). Of course, the word "ELVIS" was never used in the movie, he was always referred to as either "The King" or "The Boss" (I guess to avoid lawsuits). Along with not using Elvis' name, the members of his close entourage all have their names changed for the movie. The movie even changed RCA to RAC (which for some reason gave me a brain cramp every time I heard RAC in the movie)


IF you're interested in the life of David Stanley (as told by David Stanley) or somewhat interested in what life was like around Elvis then you will probably like PTK (You will still need to take into account that the movie is slanted to show David Stanley's interpretation of events.) IF you are looking for a movie about Elvis and don't have any interest in David Stanley, I would definitely recommend watching something else.

Monday, September 20, 2010

THE PIED PIPER


I can't imagine anyone who doesn't know the original Pied Piper Story, but just in case: The city of Hamlin hires The Pied Piper to lead the rats out of city, but then they refuse to pay him. To exact his revenge, The Piper leads all of their children out of city and they are never seen again. This would be a very short movie if only that plot was used, so the makers of The Pied Piper padded out the tale to include stories concerning a traveling troupe of entertainers, an arranged marriage, and a Jewish alchemist and his assistant.


The costuming of the characters and the German location shooting were both good, but that's about it. Most of the movie was shot in wide shots, which to me is always distracting.
On top of everything, the movie had the pacing of those dreary historical movies they sometimes showed you in school....you know the type....you would be all excited about watching a movie instead of having class, then find yourself watching a film which eventually put you to sleep.


I've always liked Donovan and his laid back flower power groove, so when I saw he was the titular character in The Pied Piper, I was expecting a movie with the same sort of vibe. Instead I got pounded over the head with ponderous statements about over-taxation, religion, hypocrisy, superstition and probably some other things that I have excised from my brain. It was disappointing to find that Donovan was only a minor character in the story and although he composed all of the music for the soundtrack he only sings three songs: "Riding Homeward", "People Call Me The Pied Piper", and "What A Waste of Time" - the last song perfectly describes this movie. The only people I can think who would enjoy The Pied Piper are those interested in seeing people wear funny hats (see below)

I couldn't find a trailer for the movie, but you can watch the whole movie in parts on youtube. Below is Donovan from a 1972 BBC appearance singing a song he wrote for the movie that didn't make the final cut.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A MAN CALLED ADAM


This is an odd movie, it combines 1960's Black politics and the world of Jazz music. The two intersect in
A Man Called Adam with Sammy Davis, Jr. playing the titular character. Since I'm not Black and not a Jazz Aficionado, while watching A Man Called Adam, I often felt Walter from The Big Lebowski was going to jump out and yell at me "You're out of your element!"


Sammy Davis, Jr.'s character is a very unhappy man, to say the least, and he takes out his unhappiness on his fans and his close friends. A few years previous, Sammy had some problems with racism. He reacted by getting drunk and while driving he had an auto accident which killed his wife and daughter. Sammy meets a woman (Cicely Tyson) who practices Martin Luther King's non-violent approach to racism and falls in love with her. Sammy tries to be a better man and be more like her, which leads him to refuse to act when another racist incident occurs. This sends Sammy into a tailspin, where (as far as I can tell) he drinks himself to death....the movie has a very clichéd ending with him blowing his last notes on stage, collapsing and dying.....see I told you it was clichéd.


I was never really sure if Sammy was a mean drunk before the accident or only after the accident. His self destructive attitude and pushing away of anyone who got close to him appeared to be a defense mechanism. Yet, when he does find true love and things don't work out perfect for him, he goes right back to square one, making his character appear more flawed than the external events encountered.


Sammy sings "
I Want To Be Wanted" and "Whisper of One", but Nat Adderley does the "ghost work" for Sammy's horn playing. Louis Armstrong plays an older jazz musician, who is more interested in entertaining than in race relationships, and sings "Someday Sweetheart" and "Back of Town Blues". Mel Torme is featured at a party singing "All That Jazz". Frank Sinatra, Jr. was the surprise in a A Man Called Adam, as he was very convincing playing Sammy's young protégé. The soundtrack to the movie was composed by jazz man Benny Carter. There are other jazz men in this movie, but since I can't positively identify them, I'll leave it up to all of you Jazz Cats to pick them out yourselves when you watch A Man Called Adam.

I couldn't find a trailer for the movie, but I did find the clip below of Mel Torme singing "All That Jazz" from A Man Called Adam.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

ROCK BABY ROCK IT


IF you are only going to watch one 1950's Rock and Roll movie ....You SHOULD choose Rock Baby Rock It (RBRI) to experience the true feeling of the era. There's no way I will be able to convey in words what a great group of acts this movie presents and what a joy they were to watch. You have to experience them for yourselves. These aren't your famous big name acts, although most people probably know Roscoe Gordon and Johnny Carroll (who, by all rights, should have been a bigger star), instead they're people who look like they're really enjoying playing, singing, and rocking out.


RBRI
was originally titled "Hot Rocks", but the censors deemed the title too provocative (I know that's hard to believe today, but remember this was 1957 and times were a lot different), although why the censors still let the teens' club be called Hot Rocks is a mystery. The plot and the acting are just what you would expect, so let me get the plot, which might as well have been from a Mickey Rooney movie,
out of the way. It seems the kids are running behind on the rent at their Hot Rocks Club and now some gangsters are wanting to get them thrown out and take over the location. The kids decide to "put on a show" to raise funds for the club. While out getting the acts lined up for the benefit show, they also manage to get the gangsters busted and sent to jail.


The coolest things about the acting (or non-acting) part of RBRI are the gangsters were all cast from local wrestlers and the kids were all cast from the local high school. The kids actually do a better job acting than the gangsters, and maybe that's because they really just had to act like....well, themselves. It was interesting to see the kids first at The Hot Rocks Club dressed in what I assume were their everyday school clothes, but once they start going to other clubs to book acts and at the benefit show, the kids all dress up with the girls in nice dresses and the boys even wearing ties.


Before I start on the music acts, I would like to mention the dancing. Unlike Rock Around The Clock and Don't Knock The Rock which both had some great dancers (either professional dancers or top level amateurs). RBRI has kids dancing or boppin', whichever you prefer, who look like real kids dancing (which of course they were). They didn't look like they were trying to show off any fancy steps, instead they're really into the music and dancing with pure joy. One of the dancers, Kay Wheeler (founder of the first Elvis Presley Fan Club) does the commentary on the dvd and while I usually hate to listen to commentaries, hers was well worth my time. My favorite line is when she says "
I'm a teenager caught in an old lady's body". Now on to the music.


Like most of these movies that were made to primarily showcase different performers, RBRI has a variety of styles of music. My understanding is most of these acts were regional performers from around the Dallas, Texas area. The Cell Block Seven, an older group who would probably appeal to Bill Haley fans, open and close the movie with "Hot Rock" and also perform "When The Saints Go Rockin In". Don Coates and The Bel-Aires, a white vocal group, sing an up-tempo "Stop The World", and a slower song,"Love Never Forgets". Black vocal groups are represented by The Five Stars who sing "Your Love Is All I Need", "Polly Molly", and "Juanita". The Belew twins, who might have been trying to channel The Everly Brothers, sing "Lonesome" and "Love Me Baby", but I'm pretty sure I've never seen one of the Everlys "bop out" during a number like one of the twins does. Not to mention, while they're singing "Love Me Baby" a set of young female twins joins them on stage and dances with the brothers.


There's nothing slack about the above performances in RBRI and the movie would have been good, even if they were the only acts. The following acts are just so much stronger, they overshadow the ones previously mentioned. Preacher Smith and The Deacons, who have a distinct New Orleans sound to their music, perform "Eat Your Heart Out" and "Roogie Doogie". Great R&B songs from Roscoe Gordon and The Red Tops, with Roscoe's pet rooster Butch sitting on top of his piano, as they perform "Chicken In The Rough" and "Bopp It". Saving the absolute best for last, great rockabilly from Johnny Carroll and The Hot Rocks who perform "Crazy Crazy Lovin", "Wild Wild Women", "Rockin Maybel" and "Sugar Baby". The last song Johnny Carroll actually sings offstage as Kay Wheeler has her solo dance number and shows why she was known as the "Queen of The Rock n Bop".

Sunday, September 12, 2010

STORMY WEATHER


This movie was released later in the same year (1943) as Cabin In The Sky, which was a story with music.
Stormy Weather (SW), on the other hand, is a big budget Hollywood style musical with a story. The plot of SW is based loosely on the real life of the star of the movie, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.


SW is told in flashback style as Bill receives a copy of "Theatre World." in the mail and reminisces with some neighborhood children about his life. The movie first takes us back to Bill returning with his unit from WWI. Bill and his buddy Dooley Wilson go out for a night of celebrating where he meets Lena Horne and we hear her sing "There's No Two Ways About It". Lena wants Bill to stay on in New York and become a dancer, but he doesn't think he's good enough and tells her he wants to make something of himself first.


Bill and Dooley are working their way to Memphis on a riverboat and when Bill hears a minstrel band playing "
Linda Brown", he joins in with some dancing . The band encourages him to seek a job on Beale Street in Memphis as a dancer. Bill gets a job at a club, but when someone is out sick, he winds up having to wait tables. At the club we get my favorite performance in the movie when Ada Brown and Fats Waller sing "That Ain't Right". Lena shows up to check out Fats for a show that she is going to be in and Fats sings "Ain't Misbehavin'". Although Lena doesn't recognize that Bill is the waiter, once she does, she insists that he be put into the big show in Chicago.


In Chicago we get our first big production number with Lena singing "
Diga Diga Doo", which is followed by Babe Wallace singing "African Dance" as Bill upstages him in the background dancing on the African drums; of course, this gets Bill fired. We find Bill later, still in Chicago, putting on his own show. His show is in danger of being canceled because he can't pay his performers. Luckily, he runs into his old friend Dooley who cons the performers into putting on the show. At the rehearsal, Mae E. Johnson sings a really cool song called "I Lost My Sugar In Salt Lake City". Even though Dooley's flim-flam gets discovered, everyone eventually agrees to wait for their pay until after the show.


Bill's show includes the second of three big production numbers in
SW as Bill and Lena sing "I Can't Give You Anything But Love". After the show, Bill tells Lena he has a Hollywood contract and he wants her to stay home and he will be the family provider. Lena won't hear any of this, she's an entertainer and not interested in domestic life. SW returns to Bill and the kids with Bill's old friend Cab Calloway stopping by for a visit.


Bill finds that Cab is putting on a big show for soldiers leaving for the war and he readily agrees to take part. The rest of the movie is the big show with Cab Calloway singing "
Geechy Joe" followed by Lena in the last and largest production number in the movie built around her singing "Stormy Weather". The show closes out with Lena, Bill and Cab singing "There's No Two Ways About Love", Bill singing "My, My, Ain't That Somethin'" and Cab Calloway perfroming "The Jumpin' Jive" as The Nicholas Brothers do one more fantastic dance number.


Since
SW and Cabin In The Sky were both released in the same year, I can't help but compare the two movies. I thought Lena Horne was overshadowed by Ethel Waters in Cabin, but in SW, even though the movie is built around the life of Bill Robinson, there's no doubt that Lena is the real star. Over and over again, I have seen Cabin cited for racist stereotypes (of which I found very little), but no one seems to mind the overt racist images (of which I found numerous) in SW. It appears that since SW is in the form of a big musical instead of a story with music, that it gets a pass on its racism. If you like big 1940s Hollywood Musicals, Stormy Weather will be sure to please you. If, like myself, you prefer a well crafted story with music, I would recommend watching Cabin In The Sky.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

CRAZY - The Hank Garland Story


Even though he grew up in Cowpens, SC (not too far from where I grew up) I knew nothing about Hank Garland before seeing
Crazy. The movie stars Waylon Payne (godson of Waylon Jennings, son of Jody Payne (Willie Nelson's long time guitar player) and Sammi Smith). Waylon Payne has released one cd, "The Drifter", and previously played Jerry Lee Lewis in "Walk The Line". Waylon has enough pedigree, as just about anyone you could find, to play a country music performer.


I'm going to try to touch on all the musicians included in the movie, and since there are so many this review will be pretty much cut-and-dried. The characters and events in my review are as shown in the movie. They may or may not be accurate, I can only report them as shown to me. Now on to the movie.


Crazy opens in 1945 with Hank's first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry where he gets some advice from another Hank...Williams (Steve Vai, who is also the producer of
Crazy). The movie then skips ahead 10 years where we find Hank has become a professional guitar session man and a member of Cowboy Copas' band along with Billy Byrd (Garland and Byrd helped develop the Byrdland Guitar for Gibson Guitars). Crazy shows Garland doing session work with Patsy Cline (Mandy Barnett), Roy Orbison, Chet Atkins, Conway Twitty, Bobby Helms (recording "Jingle Bell Rock" which Helms and Garland sued over, claiming they were cheated out of writing royalties because they were under contract as artists and not writers) and most famous of all, Elvis Presley, with whom Garland had a long association.


While on tour with Copas, Garland happens upon a bar where Wes Montgomery (Tony MacAlpine) is playing. Montgomery's playing captivates Garland and influences him toward a more jazzy style. Later in Crazy, Hank forms his own jazz band, which included bass player Joe Benjamin (Ryan Cross), to play in local Nashville clubs. Garland would eventually record his own jazz album (Garland claimed it was the first jazz album ever recorded in Nashville) "Jazz Winds from a New Direction". In Chicago, Garland also meets a woman named Evelyn, who became the love of his life. At their wedding Kitty Wells (Shawn Colvin) sings "Tennessee Waltz" and "I Can't Stop Loving You". To further his career, Hank leaves Copas' band to join Eddy Arnold which allowed him to make more money for his family. On the Eddy Arnold TV show we see Hank playing his million-selling hit "Sugarfoot Rag".


Crazy did a good job of fitting most of a lifetime into 106 minutes.....until the last 15 minutes or so, when it tried to squeeze the remaining years of Garland's life into too short of a space. Crazy would have been so much better IF it had just ended after the debilitating car wreck that ended Garland's career. As it is, I still highly recommend the movie for anyone wanting to see a story about a music legend a lot of people, including myself, are probably not familiar with.