Thursday, July 24, 2014


How bad is this infamous 1980 musical mega-dud? CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC is so bad that it stars not, one, not two, but three people who can't sing, dance or act.

Steve Guttenberg is the composer who, if he can't make it in showbiz, is going "back to dental school" (which is where co-producer/co-writer Allan Carr found him); Valerie Perrine is the very chunky "Garbo of models"; and Olympic champ, Reality show celebrity and current plastic surgery experiment-in-progress Bruce Jenner is around just so he can be stripped down to his boxer shorts, with both Perrine and Guttenberg on their knees in front of him (don't ask).

Guttenberg's good pal Perrine, having offered to round up male singers who can do justice to his "great" songs, starts her search by "going for a Baskin-Robbins rush" — thus suggesting that sugar is to blame for her selection of the Village People as this movie's stars of tomorrow. (The "gimmick" of this late-'70s disco group of chorus boy types was their homoerotic "macho" regalia – one was a cop, another a cowboy, plus a construction worker, a GI, a leather-clad bad boy and, yes, an Indian.) Modeling magnate Tammy Grimes puts it succinctly: "There's really no accounting for taste."

This movie was the last word in the chichi "bisexuality" (read: gay) trend so flaunted in the late seventies – everyone in it behaves like a just-out-of-the-closet case. With a basso profundo that makes her sound like a drag queen, Grimes actually acts like one when she lays eyes on Jenner: "Fruit of the Loom is doing a big ad campaign. Something tells me you could really fit into a pair of jockey shorts."

This film's relentless obsession with how lads look in and out of their underwear makes it doubly surprising that the director was a woman, the late Bounty paper towel shill Nancy Walker. The recurring skivies motif reaches epic proportions during the infamous "Y.M.C.A." number: As the Village People prance around a health club singing, "You can get yourself clean/You can get a good meal/You can do whatever you feel," male wrestlers pin each other to the mat in geometric patterns (like chorines in a Busby Berkeley musical), Speedo-clad boy bathing beauties dive into a pool (like chorines in an Esther Williams musical), and naked men lather each other up in the shower (like nothing you've ever seen before). For a big finish, these guys line up to form a giant human "Y," and we can only wonder, "Y indeed?"

Answering the question "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" Gypsy Rose Lee's kid sis June Havoc turns up to exclaim that the Village People seem "just like Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall" (actually, they seem just like Garland's audience), and then tells her son, Guttenberg, "It's your music that's bringing all these talented boys together – they ought to get down on their knees!" Such single entendres run in the family, for Guttenberg assures Perrine, "Anybody who could swallow two Sno Balls and a Ding-Dong shouldn't have any trouble with pride!"

But it’s Perrine who gets the most telling line of all: "This is the '80s, darling! You're going to see a lot of things you've never seen before." Well, yes, but little did she realize that she, Jenner, the Village People and Allan Carr musicals weren’t going to be among them.


The musical that would have reunited the stars of Grease if Olivia Newton-John had had her way (but John Travolta, apparently holding out for an even worse script, waited for the 1983 Two of a Kind), XANADU broke new Bad Movie ground by grafting '40s whimsy together with late '70s muzak to pioneer discokitsch. From the opening scene --- when a wall mural of nine babes comes alive so that chorus girls dressed in Bobbi Mannix's peasant-chic garb can run, hop, and rollerskate --- it's clear that this is the inevitable companion to Can't Stop the Music. Delightfully dreadful on their own, viewed together back-to-back they are unassailable as the worst movie musicals ever.

Acting exactly as if she were still a painting on a wall, Newton-John has come to earth to "inspire" down-on-his luck artist Michael Beck, hoping this movie will do fo her what Down to Earth did for Rita Hayworth and One Touch of Venus did for Ava Gardner. "Inspire" him to do what, you ask? Why, to open a roller-disco nightclub, natch, with the backing of rich, lonely Gene Kelly. (Some favor she's doing them, for such skating palaces faded faster than Pet Rocks.)

After giving Beck only her first name, Newton-John aptly sums up her cinematic appeal when she says, "Listen. you know enough about me already --- any more, and you're going to get a headache." Meanwhile, Kelly looks in a mirror and says exactly what we're thinking: "You're getting old." Indeed, his presence effectively makes Newton-John look, well, youngish.

The movie's tacky highlight occurs when Beck and Kelly literally conjure up their visions of their club-to-be, combining the worst of faux '40s musicals with shallow '70s rock, and the two clash together on screen in an electric-orange-jumpsuit-meets-striped-zoot-suits production number that punishes both the eye and the ear --- while tickling the funny bone, "I love it," enthuses Kelly, "I may be crazy." (May be?)

The madness escalates when Beck and Newton-John take Kelly shopping at Fiorucci --- the Eurotrash emporium of the day --- which they correctly call "a franchise glitz dealer." Kelly's musical fashion show is one for the ages --- he must've been desperate for a comeback to agree to dance as a giant pinball across a pinball game set (because the only other explanation is senility). "We've been painted by Michelangelo, Shakespeare's written sonnets for us, Beethoven's played music for us," Newton-John muses to Beck (never mentioning that now Electric Light Orchestra has wailed for them). "Let's skate!" cries Kelly on the club's opening night, so jugglers, mimes, waiters, and what appear to be Tomorrowland employees all skate in circles, holloring "Ho!" (Someone should have guessed that audiences would be pealing, "Ho-ho-ho!")

On a personal note, your hostess managed to catch Xanadu on the big screen three times in one week before Universal ripped it out of cinemas due to general lack of interest. (Very oddly, the soundtrack album saw sales that went right through the roof!)

With animation (don't ask) by Don Bluth and later turned into a hit 2007 Broadway musical (Who knew!), Xanadu is an absolute must-see for discriminating collectors of the sublimely bad in musical cinema.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Delicious remembers talented actor and enduring Hollywood leading man James Garner (1928 - 2014)

James Garner, Witty, Handsome Leading Man, Dies at 86
By Bruce Weber, NY Times, July 20, 2014

James Garner, the wry and handsome leading man who slid seamlessly between television and the movies but was best known as the amiable gambler Bret Maverick in the 1950s western “Maverick” and the cranky sleuth Jim Rockford in the 1970s series “The Rockford Files,” was found dead in his California home on Saturday night, the Los Angeles Police said. He was 86.

Mr. Garner came to acting late, and by accident. On his own after the age of 14 and a bit of a drifter, he had been working an endless series of jobs: telephone installer, oilfield roughneck, chauffeur, dishwasher, janitor, lifeguard, grocery clerk, salesman and, fatefully, gas station attendant. While pumping gas in Los Angeles, he met a young man named Paul Gregory, who was working nearby as a soda jerk but wanted to be an agent.
Years later,  he was working as a carpet layer in Los Angeles for a business run by his father. One afternoon he was driving on La Cienega Boulevard and saw a sign: Paul Gregory & Associates. Just then a car pulled out of a space in front of the building, and Mr. Garner, on a whim, pulled in. He was 25.

Mr. Gregory, by then an agent and a theatrical producer, hired him for a nonspeaking part in his production of Herman Wouk’s “Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,” which starred Henry Fonda, John Hodiak and Lloyd Nolan. It opened in Santa Barbara and toured the country before going to Broadway, where it opened in January 1954 and ran for 415 performances. Mr. Garner said he learned to act from running lines with the stars and watching them perform, especially Mr. Fonda, another good-looking actor with a sly streak.
He found steady work in movies, however. In “The Children’s Hour” (1961), an adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s play, he played a doctor engaged to a schoolteacher (Audrey Hepburn) accused of being a lesbian. He appeared uncomfortable in that earnest role, but he was winning and warm in “The Great Escape” (1963), the World War II adventure about captured Allied flyers plotting to break out of a German prison camp, as Bob Hendley, the resourceful prisoner known as the Scrounger.

In 1964 he starred with Julie Andrews in “The Americanization of Emily,” which he called his favorite of all his films. He played the personal attendant of a Navy admiral, a fish out of water and the voice of the movie’s pacifist point of view.
He also appeared in romantic comedies, including three in 1963: “The Thrill of It All” and “Move Over, Darling,” both with Doris Day, and “The Wheeler Dealers,” opposite Lee Remick. There was also a comic western, “Support Your Local Sheriff” (1969), and a follow-up, “Support Your Local Gunfighter” (1971). Other notable films included “Victor/Victoria” (1982), in which he was reunited with Ms. Andrews, playing a man in love with a woman pretending to be a man. 
Garner appeared in the television films “My Name is Bill W” (1989), starring James Woods as the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, and “Barbarians at the Gate” (1993), based on the best-selling book about the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco; in “My Fellow Americans” (1996), a comic adventure in which he and Jack Lemmon played feuding former presidents who find themselves framed by the sitting president and end up together on the lam; and in the romantic film “The Notebook” (2004).
He reprised his Rockford character in several television movies and appeared in the movie version of “Maverick” (1994) as Marshal Zane Cooper, a foil to the title character, played by Mel Gibson.
Later, there were recurring roles on a number of shows, including “Chicago Hope,” “First Monday” and “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter”; in the short-lived animated series “God, the Devil and Bob,” he was the voice of God.
Mr. Garner, a lifelong Democrat who was active in behalf of civil rights and environmental causes, always said he met his wife, the former Lois Clarke, in 1956 at a presidential campaign rally for Adlai Stevenson, though in “The Garner Files” Mrs. Garner said they had actually met at a party earlier. She survives him, as do their daughter, Greta, known as Gigi; and Mrs. Garner’s daughter from a previous marriage, Kimberly.
Persuasively ambivalent as a hero of westerns, war movies and detective stories, Mr. Garner’s performances may have reflected his feelings about his profession.
“I was never enamored of the business, never even wanted to be an actor, really,” he told The New York Times in 1984. “It’s always been a means to an end, which is to make a living.”

Thursday, July 17, 2014

DELICIOUS REMEMBERS: A sad farewell to one of the great dames of the American Theatre; Broadway's beloved "Stritchie."

Elaine Stritch, Tart-Tongued Broadway Actress and Singer, Is Dead at 89
By Bruce Weber and Robert Berkvist, July 17, 2014

Elaine Stritch, the brassy, tart-tongued Broadway actress and singer who became a living emblem of show business durability and perhaps the leading interpreter of Stephen Sondheim’s wryly acrid musings on aging, died on Thursday at her home in Birmingham, Mich. She was 89.
Her death was confirmed by a friend, Julie Keyes. Before Ms. Stritch moved to Birmingham last year, she lived, famously, for many years at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan.

Ms. Stritch’s career began in the 1940s and included her fair share of appearances in movies, including Woody Allen’s “September” (1987) and “Small Time Crooks” (2000), and on television; well into her 80s, she played a recurring role on the NBC comedy “30 Rock” as the domineering mother of the television executive played by Alec Baldwin. But the stage was her true professional home, where, whether in musicals, nonmusical dramas or solo cabaret shows, she drew audiences to her with her whiskey voice, her seen-it-all manner and the blunt charisma of a star.

Plainspoken, egalitarian, impatient with fools and foolishness, and admittedly fond of cigarettes, alcohol and late nights — she finally gave up smoking and drinking in her 60s — though she took it up again — Ms. Stritch might be the only actor to work as a bartender after starring on Broadway, and she was completely unabashed about her good-time-girl attitude.
“I’m not a bit opposed to your mentioning in this article that Frieda Fun here has had a reputation in the theater, for the past five or six years, for drinking,” she said to a reporter for The New York Times in 1968. “I drink and I love to drink, and it’s part of my life.”

Most of the time she was equally unabashed onstage, rarely if ever leaving the sensually astringent elements of her personality behind when she performed. A highlight of her early stage career was the 1952 revival of “Pal Joey,” the Rodgers and Hart/John O’Hara musical, in which she played a shrewd, ambitious reporter recalling, in song, an interview with Gypsy Rose Lee; she drew bravas for her rendition of the striptease parody “Zip.”
In a nonsinging role in William Inge’s 1955 drama, “Bus Stop,” she received a Tony nomination as the lonely but tough-talking owner of a Kansas roadside diner where travelers take refuge during a snowstorm. Three years later, in her first starring role on Broadway, “Goldilocks,” a musical comedy by Jean and Walter Kerr and the composer Leroy Anderson that also starred Don Ameche, she played a silent-film star and impressed The Times’s critic Brooks Atkinson with the acid capability of her delivery:
“Miss Stritch can destroy life throughout the country with the twist she gives to the dialogue,” Atkinson wrote. “She takes a wicked stance, purses her mouth thoughtfully and waits long enough to devastate the landscape.”
Noël Coward, one of Ms. Stritch’s devoted fans, built the 1961 musical “Sail Away” around her role as Mimi Paragon, the relentlessly effervescent hostess of a cruise ship. She repaid his trust not only by giving what Howard Taubman of The Times said “must be the performance of her career” (including a delicious rendition of Coward’s hilariously snooty “Why Do the Wrong People Travel?”) but also by successfully ad-libbing, on opening night, when a poodle in the cast betrayed its training onstage. The show was not a hit, but Ms. Stritch came away with her third Tony nomination. Her next Broadway role was in the replacement cast of Edward Albee’s scabrous portrait of a marriage, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” as Martha, the bitter, boozy wife.

One of Ms. Stritch’s most memorable appearances was in the Sondheim musical “Company” (1970), in which, as a cynical society woman, she saluted her peers with the vodka-soaked anthem “The Ladies Who Lunch.” It not only brought her another Tony nomination but became her signature tune — at least until, in her 70s, she became equally known for Sondheim’s paean to showbiz longevity and survival, “I’m Still Here.” It was the centerpiece of her 2001 one-woman show, “Elaine Stritch at Liberty,” and she sang it in 2010 at Mr. Sondheim’s 80th-birthday concert at Lincoln Center (Patti LuPone took on “The Ladies Who Lunch”) and at the White House for President Obama.
Essentially a spoken-and-sung theater memoir, “Elaine Stritch at Liberty,” created with the critic John Lahr of The New Yorker, began performances at the Public Theater in Manhattan (when Ms. Stritch was 76) and then moved to Broadway, where it was a smash.
Alone onstage except for a single chair, clad only in tights and a white silk shirt, Ms. Stritch wove together music (including “Zip,” “The Ladies Who Lunch,” “I’m Still Here” and two additional Sondheim songs: “The Little Things You Do Together,” a mordant salute to marriage from “Company,” and the aging showgirl’s lament, “Broadway Baby,” from “Follies”) and showbiz memories into a nightly tour de force that won a Tony Award for the year’s best special theatrical event.

In 2005, after nearly 60 years in show business, Stritch made her solo club act debut, appearing at New York's posh Carlyle Hotel and was brought back frequently. She lived in the Carlyle's Room 309 for a decade.

A documentary, "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me," premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival the week before she left New York, showing a feisty Stritch as she reacted with anger, frustration and acceptance at her increasingly evident mortality. Asked what she thought of the film, she replied: "It's not my cup of tea on a warm afternoon in May." The film was released in 2014.

In the recent Broadway revival of "A Little Night Music," Stritch played a wheelchair-bound aristocrat who offers dry and hysterical pronouncements in her half-dozen scenes, and mourned the loss of standards in her big song "Liaisons," in which she looked back on her profitable sexual conquests of dukes and barons. She might as well have been speaking of theater itself.

"Where is skill?" she asked. "Where's passion in the art, where's craft?"

"You know where I'm at in age?" she said backstage, in her typical wit and sass. "I don't need anything. That's a little scary — when you know that the last two bras you bought are it. You won't need any more. I'm not going to live long for any big, new discovery at Victoria's Secret."

For more stories on this legendary lady, please, please, please go here. (You will absolutely never forgive yourself if you don't ~HvR):

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