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To escape sinful impulses, Ben Harvey, a callow youth, leaves his small town for Chicago in 1910. A pickpocket promptly relieves him of his money, and he nearly starves before Queen Lil takes him under her wing, gives him a room in her high-class bordello, and gets him a job at a newspaper. He's so sweet and dumb, he thinks Lil's is a boarding house. He's soon caught up in an electoral struggle between a secretly corrupt reformer and an openly corrupt councilman. Can Ben expose corruption or will he be caught up in allure of power? An alcoholic investigative reporter and the bordello's ingénue try to help him grow up. Written by
[about why Ben is comatose]
I can't understand it. Medically, I can't understand one bit.
Well, his juices are all dammed up.
[covering young Virgil's ears]
That's all that's wrong with him, his juices are all dammed up.
Oh, how do you expect to raise a boy when his juices all dammed up, and get a man?
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At first GAILY, GAILY (1969) seems to have a lot going for it. An excellent cast, a fine director, a script based on a novel by the great screenwriter Ben Hecht, a unique historical setting, and a loose comedic tone. But the story fizzles out halfway through as the trajectory of the plot is never quite high enough.
Beau Bridges plays a naive young man whose "evil" sexual impulses drive him away from his innocent small-town home and into the bustling city in search of his place in the world. There he is taken in by kind-hearted Melina Mercouri (TOPKAPI - 1964), who runs a brothel, although Bridges is too thickheadedly innocent to make that connection (even after meeting all the female "boarders"). Mercouri hooks him up with a job at the newspaper, working with slick sensationalist reporter Brian Keith (in an Irish brogue).
George Kennedy and Hume Cronyn play rival corrupt politicians, with Wilfrid Hyde-White (MY FAIR LADY - 1964) as the corrupt governor. Margot Kidder (SUPERMAN - 1978) debuts as a beautiful young prostitute who sees Bridges as a knight in shining armor who can rescue her from a life she doesn't want.
Bridges eventually has his eyes opened to the sin and corruption in the world and the climax involves a free-for-all scramble to obtain and exploit Cronyn's little black ledger, which details all the political bribery in the city.
The 1910 Chicago setting gives the film an interesting flavor, and the script is full of irreverent comedy and some (quite literal) gallows humor. (At its wildest, the film calls to mind the even zanier British comedy THE WRONG BOX - 1966.) There are flashes of Hecht's "The Front Page" in the scenes involving the newspaper.
One wonders how much Beau Bridges's character ("Ben Harvey", an idealistic young writer) is a stand-in for Ben Hecht himself. Hecht started out as a Chicago newspaperman before becoming a successful playwright, screenwriter, and novelist. The film is almost over-the-top in its comedy, but the original novel must have been to some degree autobiographical.
It would have been nice to see more of Bridges and Keith at the newspaper after Keith takes the youngster under his wing. The movie could have shown Bridges become cynical with his work, ultimately choosing between a dirty career as a newspaperman or a more fulfilling one as an independent writer. But this film opts for a smaller payoff. At the end it feels like something is missing, or as if the story could continue. But the film is content to end where it does and hope viewers had fun along the way.
As it is, GAILY, GAILY is a lot of fun. The cast is splendid and the characters colorful. Melina Mercouri even sings a song. The black comedy is a hoot and the old-time setting gives the film personality. One just can't help thinking the movie could've been more.
Directed by Norman Jewison (IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT - 1967).
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