I haven't seen it since but I do remember that I was aware then that it was an example of Hollywood's backlot artistry, something which, were it to be remade today for TV, for example, might benefit from some location shooting in the actual locale of the story. It's a gentle film made with the care one would expect from the professionals listed in its credits, one of those relics unlikely to be made available on video, and that's really a loss that many of us do regret, however mildly. Turner Classic Movies unearths it from their treasure trove occasionally. Worth keeping an eye out for.
Technical credits are, for the most part, top-notch, especially that old pro Leon Shamroy's lush cinematography (although I do recall that the back projections were very obvious when I saw this on a 40-foot wide CinemaScope screen when it was first released).
I've never been a particular fan of Richard Harris and he was most definitely miscast opposite Doris. His too-clipped delivery of some of his lines can be attributed, I suspect, to Mr. Tashlin's rather slack direction (unusual for that comic master).
All in all, when one considers that producer Martin Melcher, Doris's husband, was, at the time, squandering her hefty paychecks in unwise investments, it's easy to understand why Ms. Day has since been content to retire form the screen and allow us to remember her better, earlier efforts.
Claude Rains and Audrey Totter chew the scenery with their customary relish in this one and Hurd Hatfield's visage is almost as frozen as it was when he played the title character in M-G-M's "The Picture of Dorian Gray" in 1945. Constance Bennett, looking very glamorous, is given too little to do and Joan Caulfield does about as well as can be expected with the ill-conceived role of an uncomprehending young woman in deadly peril.
Warner Brothers lavished some expense on the sets (by Anton Grot) and costuming (by Milo Anderson) and it's all very professionally photographed by Woody (Elwood) Bredell and slickly edited by Frederick Richards. Franz Waxman does his best imitation of Max Steiner with his lushly orchestrated score, but doesn't lay it on too thickly, as was frequently Steiner's wont.
One little thing stuck out, for me, is how a car that goes careening off a cliff and burns as it crashes is a cheaper model than the one seen speeding down a winding road in the immediately preceding shots. Back then the studios didn't destroy Detroit sheet metal with the profligate abandon which they do now, that's for sure!
It's a rather lame "bedroom farce" that makes poor use of the talents of nearly everyone involved and its main redeeming assets are the location shots of several Spanish cities and its countryside and the gorgeous Lincoln Futura concept car (which lost its eye-popping fire engine red paint job when it was transformed into the Batmobile for the campy Batman TV series).
For some reason M-G-M brass at the time thought that the chemistry between Glenn Ford (dull as dishwater, as usual, and sporting one of the worst and greasiest-looking haircuts on a leading man ever) and a very pert and pretty Debbie Reynolds was worth exploiting. Their second co-starring vehicle, "The Gazebo," was rushed into production and released just four months after this one. Debbie was soon free of her M-G-M contract and went on to appear in somewhat worthier enterprises at virtually all the other major Hollywood studios, with an occasional return to her launching pad at Metro.
Be forewarned, if you haven't ever been exposed to him before, you may find him more than over-the-top, but if you like an entertainer who has never heard of such a thing as an inhibition, then you might just be fabulously entertained.
The story is more than silly and takes little advantage of Miss West's star power, and, except for Hazel Scott's interpolated production numbers, there's almost no one else in the cast to match Mae's wattage. But she looks great, slinking around in Walter Plunkett's fancifully fantastic creations and Franz Planer's glossy black-and-white cinematography makes the most of the second-tier production values typical of a Columbia Pictures programmer.
Poor Victor Moore is required to portray a pathetic boob, intimidated by a battleaxe of a sister, quite effectively embodied by one Almira Sessions. The ingénue, played by Mary Roche, probably didn't elicit many wolf whistles when this dud was shown to the troops during WW II; Lloyd Bridges has a really small role as her swain (in uniform, of course); and there's an actor named Lester Allen, playing a character appropriately called Mouse Beller, who could only be cast in a role with that moniker.
Mae West quit performing before the cameras (going back to the stage and touring with her fabled nightclub act) and didn't make another picture until "Myra Breckenridge" in 1970 (and she was arguably the best thing in that crazy curiosity). This one is only for those fans who want to get a look at what Hollywood thought it could get away with during the wartime years.
So much has changed since those somewhat more innocent times and a gentle story such as this, with two ladies encased in those heavy, enveloping habits (with only their perfectly made-up faces visible to the world, by the way), is almost inconceivable today. See it and be transported back to a time when goodness, sincerity, and religious beliefs that don't descend into fanaticism were the order of the day, at least in Hollywood movies aimed at the family trade.
One interesting little tidbit: in one scene Hugh Marlowe's character (a song writer) sings the Academy Award-nominated song, "Through a Long and Sleepless Night" (which didn't win - and you'll hear why), and his singing voice was dubbed by Ken Darby, who was chiefly responsible for directing most of the choral work in many of Twentieth's films for many years. I have a suspicion that Mr. Darby probably rejected quite a few male candidates who wanted to join the Fox studio's choir if they didn't sound any better than he did!
Despite its subject matter (which I would normally find less-than-intriguing), I thought it was extraordinarily well-done. The contemporary music selections and newsreel clips were well chosen and added immeasurably to the mise en scene. And that final reconciliation scene between Griffith and the son of the boxer who died after fighting Griffith packed a well-earned emotional wallop.
Griffith is a sad case - certainly not meant for the career that ultimately pretty much destroyed his life. He seems a person of genuine charm and a certain gentleness - not what many might associate with the personality of a champion professional boxer. I was surprised how, in the final sequences, the makers didn't shrink from discussing the gay aspect of the story, even while Griffith seems to still be disavowing that he's actually gay.
The widow of Benny "The Kid" Paret was quite a camera subject, very expressive, and Sadie Griffith, Emile's left-behind wife, is still quite a dazzler - what a smile! (Though that close-cropped hairdo wasn't very flattering.)
Previously I knew nothing about Griffith and his story and was certainly grateful that the USA Network chose to show it uninterrupted, since I suspect that I may not have stayed with it had it been constantly cut into for the usual number of commercials.
I have a complaint about the title, though. "Ring of Fire" has been used a number of times, including for an Andrew and Virginia Stone potboiler from 1961, released by M-G-M. (IMDb erroneously says the aspect ratio is 2.35:1, but I saw it in a theater and it was not a widescreen movie). It starred the then-popular David Janssen and was filmed in Metrocolor in and around Vernonia, Oregon, not too far from where I now live. I thought the documentary makers ought to have come up with something more original and, perhaps, a trifle more appropriate to Griffith's sad story.
I understand, from the Message Boards on this film's IMDb title site that the story may be filmed by Paramount (in conjunction with the USA Network) as a major motion picture. They should leave well enough alone, especially since I can imagine the rap "star" or some other currently "hot" black personality who'll probably get the title role. Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, perhaps. Puh-LEEZ!
Her show comes through on BBC America on my TV cable service and I only recently discovered it. It might help if I had a slightly sharper ear for British accents, especially those of the "lower classes" (no offense intended), but I have no doubt that this lady is an extremely gifted comic actress, a virtual chameleon (assisted by some extraordinarily talented makeup artists), who has provided some of the most solid laughs I've enjoyed in some time.
In my book she's right up there with her fellow Brits, Mollie Sugden, Paricia Routledge, et al. and her Canadian counterparts, Andrea Martin and Catherine O'Hara. And let's not forget an American, the inimitable Joan Cusack, who deserves her place right alongside her peers from outside our borders. My enthusiastic compliments to you all, ladies!
The story is absolute piffle, almost redeemed by Mildred Natwick's genuinely funny portrayal of a dotty aunt. (Check out the sequence where she welcomes Yolanda home from her years at a convent school.) M-G-M stalwarts Leon Ames and Frank Morgan (Was he in every single class "A" Metro production from the late Thirties through the early Fifties?) lend reliable support with the little they're given to do. And Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer get (only) two opportunities to display their dancing compatibility. Astaire, of course, managed to complement all of his dancing partners with his patented style and grace (even the miscast Joan Fontaine in "A Damsel in Distress") but, as a matter of personal opinion, I think that Ms. Bremer runs a very close second to the gorgeous Cyd Charisse as one of his most elegant and beautiful co-stars. She's too old for her role in this one, admittedly, but she's nevertheless quite charming and a prime object for the luscious Technicolor cinematography of Charles Rosher.
The real star of this misbegotten show, however, is the opulence of the very artificial art direction, set decoration, and costuming. It's Hollywood at its most baroque and Minnelli keeps his cameras gliding through it all as if on angels' wings. If you're not looking for one of the Arthur Freed's unit's bona fide musical classics, this one will provide a phantasmagoria of color and motion that's rarely been equaled.
With a well-remembered theme song and a nice music score by the prolific Henry Mancini, there's probably no danger of this one being remade, I suspect, and, since it's close to perfect in this original telling, let's just hope that a DVD release will eventually allow us to revisit the qualities that made it genuinely appealing for mature audiences forty years ago and, I feel sure, still would today.
Minor reservations: Karl Malden's being required to vociferously refer to his son, Berry-Berry, as "The Big Rhinoceros" and as other assorted wildlife creatures (Why? Never really explained and seemingly inappropriate, given Warren Beatty's rather sleek appearance); the given names of the characters played by both Warren Beatty (Berry-Berry) and Eva Marie Saint (Echo O'Brien) - pure flights of fancy on the part of the writer(s), when compared to the more down-to-earth names given the other Midwesterners in the story; the frustration of seeing the doomed character, Echo, often expressing her affection for the younger brother, Clinton, while pathetically succumbing to the brutish abuse of his older brother, Berry-Berry.
But the interplay of all the cast (including some excellent supporting players) makes this somewhat forgotten gem a real must-see. It's one time when Angela Lansbury, running on all cylinders, is easily and compatibly matched by her fellow actors. This one's a keeper!
Esther, however, looks wondrously healthy and pretty throughout, the very picture of an All-American Girl, acting with her usual pert insouciance. Howard gets to unleash his rich bass-baritone in two or three forgettable songs, though he certainly looks convincing as a lanky ranch foreman. Red Skelton contributes his usual shtick, at some tedious length here and there, and even manages to amuse today's audiences with a skillfully executed pratfall or two. Ann Miller, ever the most energetic in the cast, seems to come out on top in this pastiche, tossing off a couple of her patented leg-tossing, tippy-tapping dance amazements, choreographed by the reliable Hermes Pan.
M-G-M touted this as 'Another Big MGM Musical' but it appears to have been rather thriftily produced, with some minimal location work that looks notably cobbled together, especially in a concluding and very extended chuck wagon race, which involves some dangerously risky stunt work, by the way.
Keenan Wynn lends some very sour support, as a Texas millionaire, overly fond of his bourbon. Skelton also is supposed to imbibe a prodigious amount in one drawn-out sequence, and we're meant to find it riotously funny, something that may have been acceptable back in the early 1950s but which fails to amuse as easily today, with our greater awareness of the very deleterious effects of excessive alcohol intake.
It's also amusing to note how very much inflation has devalued the American dollar in the more than half-century since this film was released. A multi-room hotel suite large enough to fill one of M-G-M's average soundstages is quoted as costing what would be the usual price in today's dollars for a single, modest hotel room in a smaller U.S. city. A doctor makes a house call, to tend a briefly ailing Ms. Williams (She's fainted from hunger, poor thing!), for a fee that wouldn't cover the charge for administering an aspirin anywhere in a U. S. health facility today. A beautiful Lincoln Cosmopolitan convertible is smashed into a tree (mercifully, off-camera) and the quoted estimated tariff for its repairs (supposedly including a ruined dashboard) is so laughably minuscule that the total wouldn't cover a six months' insurance premium assessed for an ultra-safe contemporary driver with no traffic citations on his/her record over many prior years of accident-free mileage. What price progress?!?
I join those who prefer the original, thanks mostly to the restrained and very professional performances of a quite young-looking Charles Boyer and Miss Irene Dunne, who looks quite ravishing throughout (modelling some gowns that are as chic today as the first time this film was shown). And what a set of pearly whites she had... the better to charm the stuffing out of us with that glowing smile!
Anyway, Turner Classic Movies showed it the other evening and I couldn't believe the terrible condition of the print. Scratches, skips, muddiness, sound problems, every possible defect seemed to be in appalling evidence! Apparently the DVD now in circulation is every bit as bad. Hey! Come on guys! This film is considered one of the better ones during a year (1939) when Hollywood studios unleashed a cornucopia of goodies. How about giving us a version worth watching, for heaven's sake!
Opinions on this one among other IMDb-ers seem, not surprisingly, rather mixed, since the clichés that form the basis for this script are not quite sufficiently redeemed by a generally excellent supporting cast, as well as very deluxe art and set decoration, including a stunning nightclub set. (It almost makes one want to exclaim, "Who needs Technicolor?!?")
But Judy, looking really lovely, performs her heart out and more than holds her own amidst the sort of sentimental claptrap that Louis B. Mayer insisted be fashioned around her maturing femininity. It's also said that Mayer dictated that the final overblown production number should be tacked on to conclude the picture, with Charles Walters, later to be one of Garland's most congenial directors (after the bloom was off the rose of Vincente Minnelli's Svengali-like love affair with Judy), dancing up a storm with her, making one wish that he'd done quite a bit more performing in front of the camera .
Any film, by the way, that gives the wonderful Connie Gilchrist a chance to appear for even only a few minutes of its running time is simply not to be missed. What a treasure she was!
The video transfer of the original Gevacolor negative (apparently an unstable single-strip process), with prints by Technicolor, looked pretty good on Turner's presentation, with some ravishing shots during the opening wedding sequence and the occasional insert of glowing sunsets, etc. But, oh! the tedium of the endless travails of the central protagonists, bedevilled by the almost cartoonish evil of Sukhilala (played by an energetic actor named Kanhaiyalal), a villain so heartless he makes Simon Legree look like the endlessly compassionate Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
The actress Nargis, playing Radha, the matriarch around whom this mostly sad tale revolves, is a standout in a cast most of whom seem to have been encouraged to overact to an almost absurd histrionic intensity. With some contrasting subtlety, she more than holds her own and appears to have been subjected to some extraordinarily difficult torments in order to realistically depict her character's many agonies.
But this early example of what has become known as the Bollywood school of international cinema is definitely an acquired taste. If you like screen exotica, liberally spiced with production numbers sung in Hindi that frequently seem to exceed the length of an entire Hollywood film from the Golden Age of Movie Musicals, then this just may be your dish of curry. But for this viewer it seems less a "classic" and more a prime example of how Indian audiences have been traditionally willing to submit to films that are routinely as long as those blockbusters that bombarded our roadshow houses back in the late Fifties through the 1960s. I can still watch one of those English-language spectacles with a degree of satisfaction, but I confess, this epic from the Indian subcontinent was more than I could digest.
Ms. Smith was not very well-served by the M-G-M artisans assigned to this film. She looks rather grim and is not nearly as flatteringly photographed as was the case in her Warner Brothers films. (On a recent Turner Classic Movies broadcast, host Robert Osborne commented that Alexis was not happy working at M-G-M and was anxious to return to the "less pretentious" atmosphere of her home at Warner Brothers. She may have looked at the rushes for this one and decided that she'd been given short shrift at Hollywood's preeminent glamour factory.)
The story revolves around a gambling house whose boss is a hard-edged guy (not anything that Gable couldn't make sympathetic) whose family and employees, as well as his patrons, all seem to be not always on his team. A showdown in the final reel attempts to make everything right, of course, but I listened to the swell of the end title's music without much of a feeling of satisfaction.
Poor Paul Henreid has a particularly thankless role to play, swinging like an erratic pendulum between jealous tantrums and thoroughly deceived naïveté, but his simulations of the movements of a top-flight cello musician are convincing enough to allow all to be forgiven.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold's music is probably the film's chief asset and it probably sounded superb over the monophonic sound systems when this film was released, since Warners' sound technicians were the best in Hollywood back then. (Unfortunately the soundtrack during the telecast I heard was very wobbly - a real disappointment. Wonder what the problem was, since this certainly isn't the case with many films dating even further into the past.)
While it may not be a delicacy fit for a cinematic gourmet, it's more than passably entertaining for its nearly two-hours running time.
- Mini-Spoilers May Ensue -
Of course the manipulations of the rather simple plot are spun out almost to the point of frustration as a mother keeps her daughters in the dark about why their father and she divorced, the daughters plot to bring their father back from a distant work assignment, their mother meets and marries a charming man whom she truly loves, the daughters resist his introduction into their happy home, etc., etc., etc. Aaarrgh! It could have been utterly annoying, but Jeanette MacDonald, looking lovely, and Señor Iturbi, understandably falling head over heels for her, make for two adults who deserve their final happy song (with the three little vixens joining in) at one of the pianos that seem to be in every room of this film's many luxuriously appointed sets.
A few things of note: Someone (the set decorators, the hairdressers, the color consultants, the cinematographer, whomever) had a liking for the color orange and its many gradations from pale peach to burnished bronze. There's some note of it somewhere in virtually every shot of every scene in this film!
Young Miss Ann E. Todd (not to be confused with the English actress, Ann Todd) seems to have been forced to play almost every one of her scenes with a rather unbecoming scowl on her pretty, brown-eyed face. Its not out of character for the part she's playing, but it does seem a bit excessive.
And, wouldn't you know it? (I did without even checking the IMDb Trivia on this title.) The Roman Catholic Legion of Decency found this film "Objectionable In Part For All" because it appears to "condone" divorce, an absolute no-no as far as that censorious body was concerned when it held such influential sway.
But don't be deterred. Next time Turner Classic Movies unearths this bon-bon from their vaults, give it a whirl. It's fun to see how the better half lived and loved in simpler times, and when a major studio could make going to Cuba and back (without ever leaving Culver City, California - The story happens to involve a vacation cruise on a ship with the most impossibly large public rooms and private suites, enough to make a Greek tycoon's yacht look like a rowboat!) a visual treat every mile of the way.
Max Steiner contributes his usual melodically overwrought score (with heavy reliance on the popular song, "If I Could Be One Hour With You [Tonight]"), lushly orchestrated by Murray Cutter, under the musical direction of that Warners stalwart, Ray Heindorf. It's almost too distracting but the frequently crackling dialogue keeps the audience's attention focused on the pulpy proceedings. Ted McCord's black-and-white cinematography is an outstanding example of why not every picture should be in color and I suspect that it was Travilla who was given the task of gowning Crawford once she'd finally crossed over to the right side of the tracks. (Sheila O'Brien, also credited, probably ran up those nifty waitress uniforms and the prison garb Crawford gets to wear not once, but twice!)
They really, REALLY don't make 'em like this anymore, and thank goodness Turner Classic Movies, for instance, trundles a tasty morsel like this out of their archives every once in a while for us to savor once again.
TCM's host, Robert Osborne, in some concluding remarks after the film's closing scene faded from the tube, advised that Tyrone Power was to have been loaned to appear as Ms. George's son in this version, in a complex deal with 20th Century Fox that involved Clark Gable and Jean Harlow (from the M-G-M side of the ledger) and Shirley Temple and Tyrone from 20th. But Harlow's sudden death caused the deal to fall through (thus permitting posterity to be graced with Judy Garland as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" rather than Shirley, whom M-G-M had really wanted for their extravaganza) and Tyrone didn't come to M-G-M until the following year for his relatively small role in "Marie Antoinette."
The result, as far as the 1937 version of this oft-filmed weepie is concerned, was that M-G-M gave it a little less than "A" production values, but the performance of Ms. George in the title role makes that of small consequence, indeed. She's utterly believable, especially as she slides into slatternly alcoholism during the latter half of the picture. Osborne also revealed that, as the years wore on, Gladys became a bit too fond of the bottle in real life, accounting for her relegation to supporting roles. But there's no way she was under the influence when her inebriated scenes were filmed during this production's abbreviated shooting schedule. She's a professional here, at the peak of her powers, and they're close to tremendous, especially in the final, over-wrought courtroom scenes. Lana wasn't half-bad in the remake, but she benefited from the passage of nearly three decades since Ms. George had made the role her own. What a star!