Monday, May 3, 2010

Movies that I’ve stared at recently on TCM #56

The Gazebo (1959) – My esteemed blogging colleague Rick “Cultureshark” Brooks recently remarked about actor Glenn Ford: “Mr. Ford just doesn't quite do it for me. I often find his films kind of...I don't know, missing something.”

I like Glenn Ford—but it’s been my experience that unless the movie I’m watching him in requires him to spend a good deal of time in the saddle I’m not going to enjoy the experience. In westerns like Jubal (1956), The Fastest Gun Alive (1956) and 3:10 to Yuma (1957)—Glenn is nothing less than first-rate.

Now, I commend Ford for having the versatility to expand his range in films—and I love to watch him in other genres, notably film noirs like The Undercover Man (1949) and The Big Heat (1953). But when he showcased his talents in movies like The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956) and the above-named black comedy co-starring Debbie Reynolds…well, it’s just not my particular cup of Lipton’s Loose Leaf.

In Gazebo, Ford plays Elliott Nash—a harried television director-writer who’s the target of a blackmailer claiming to have compromising pictures of his wife (Reynolds). Nash invites the man over to the house one night and dispatches the scoundrel to the Great Beyond, shooting him with his pistol and burying him underneath the titular edifice. Or so he thinks—his D.A. pal Harlow Edison (Carl Reiner) later reports that the blackmailer is indeed no longer among the living…but that he was murdered in his hotel room that very evening he was supposed to be calling on Elliott.

Gazebo was directed by journeyman George Marshall, who definitely knew a thing or two about movie comedy (among the films on his resume: You Can't Cheat an Honest Man [1939], Destry Rides Again [1939] and The Ghost Breakers [1940]) and who had worked previously with actor Ford in Texas (1941) and one of my favorite Ford films, The Sheepman (1958). (Marshall and Ford would eventually continue their working relationship with four additional films, the final being Advance to the Rear in 1964.) I really wanted to like Gazebo, but the final product comes off as a bit too forced—though I must admit that I did chuckle a bit more than usual in the scenes where Ford’s character, having planned everything to the nth degree a la Rex Harrison in Unfaithfully Yours (1948), tries to carry out his murder plans and is continually stymied by Murphy’s Law. (Right in the middle of his preparations, Ford’s Nash gets a phone call from Alfred Hitchcock!) Gazebo’s certainly worth a look for the curious but the best moments in the film belong to the supporting players, including TDOY idol John McGiver and “the poor man’s Margaret Hamilton,” Doro Merande as a boisterous housekeeper (she has a habit of yelling because her mother is deaf). (I had originally planned to watch this with Mom but when she announced that there was no way she was going to sit through a song-and-dance routine from Reynolds I was forced to make other plans.)

Mr. Lucky (1943) – I have to confess that I watched this classic Cary Grant concoction yesterday ostensibly to tape a Joe McDoakes comedy short TCM was showing afterward (So You Want to Be a Gambler) but since it had been a while since I viewed the film it turned out to be a nice treat. That Bristol lad plays a “boss gambler” who manages to avoid being drafted into WW2 by adopting the identity of a dead man and who plans to make tracks to Cuba by raising a few funds working hand-in-glove with a war relief organization chaired by lovely Laraine Day. Naturally, Grant falls for Day so hard that he abandons his original scheme of taking all the money and running, instead reforming and becoming a model societal citizen.

Lucky is available as a MOD disc through the Warner Archive…but to demonstrate how it’s possible for the dusty TDOY archives to become so large the owner can sometimes forget what’s in them, I didn’t realize until later on that I owned a copy of this movie on Region 2 DVD (courtesy of the R-K-O Collection at Editions Montparnasse). The movie was one of Grant’s big box-office smashes, and if you can buy into Cary’s hoodlum act I think you’ll find it quite enjoyable—the supporting cast is also top-notch (I enjoyed seeing Alan Carney sans Wally Brown as Cary’s sidekick and Orson Welles crony Paul Stewart as the bad guy), particularly Day as the love interest. Several years later, Blake Edwards adapted the Mr. Lucky concept for a short-lived 1959-60 television series that starred John Vivyan in the Grant part and a pre-Wild Wild West Ross Martin as the sidekick.

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Kurt Burgess said...

I first watched THE GAZEBO many years ago and enjoyed it for the great McGiver, who steals the film with his usual odd phrasing and distinct pronunciation of "GOZebo."

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I caught McGiver in a Love, American Style rerun many moons back -- he and Ann B. "Schultzy" Davis played a married couple who find what they think is pot in the suitcase of their son's fiancee; it turns out to be tea (which they get "stoned" on). Silly as it sounds, but the man was such a pro it was hard not to like his performance.