Sunday, October 12, 2014


Quick now, who was the least likely musical talent to ever have hoped they'd make it as a star of the silver screen? If you guessed Luciano Pavarotti in Yes, Giorgio, Cyndi Lauper in Vibes, Mariah Carey in Glitter or Madonna in just about anything, then you've never seen Liberace in the 1955 howler SINCERELY YOURS. With his moist eyes, congealed smile and mortician's manners, Las Vegas headliner Liberace was doubly miscast here as a talented concert pianist who is also a practicing heterosexual.

Somebody must have realized just how ridiculous this project was, because how else would you account for this scene: when secretary Joanne Dru offers up a choice of PR opportunities - "How'd you like to ride an elephant for the circus?" then, "Would you like to be king of the avocado festival?" and finally, "Open a new aquarium?" -- Liberace is miffed at their inappropriateness to someone of his stature and storms into his bathroom, where his roommate and manager, William Demarest, is taking a bubble bath and chewing on a very large cigar. As if the tableau alone were not enough, Liberace tosses Demarest a washcloth and says, "Don't forget to wash behind. . . your ears."

But the real fun begins as gorgeous, rich Dorothy Malone understandably mistakes Liberace for a lowly piano teacher and haughtily informs him, "When your family has money, you're supposed to be accomplished. So I learned to paint, to ride, to dance, even to try and play the piano. Some people are born listeners--I'm one of them. But my family won't be convinced until I get a letter from you, saying I should stick to Mediterranean cruises and canasta."

Just as you're about to grab a pen and paper to take care of this matter yourself, Liberace sneers at Malone, "Where did you practice your scales - reaching for martinis?" Now that these two have expressed their mutual contempt, Liberace proposes marriage: "Did you ever wonder what it would be like spending a lifetime married to a musician?" he queries Malone. Just in case she's been overwhelmed by his charm, he goes on to warn her, "It's not easy competing with a concerto!" But hey, it's not easy competing with 10 percent of the male population either, right?

Malone is too in love to heed warnings, not even the one she gets at Liberace's concert from serviceman Alex Nicol, who utters words any bride-to-be should pay attention to: "He respects the classics, but from a sitting position - not from his knees." Meanwhile, up on stage Liberace is bouncing on his bench, rolling his eyes ecstatically, and smiling in such delirious self-enchantment he appears to be deep inside his own musical remake of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. Just when you're thinking you'd rather go deaf than listen to one more note from Liberace, he does. This situation puts an end to his concert career, allowing him to mope around his swanky Manhattan penthouse and, in Lana Turner style, to make many of the 29 costume changes that won this movie it's place in cinema history.

Dim bulb Malone isn't the first girl to wonder why her fiance hasn't been taking her calls, but she's probably the first to be given this excuse: "He's deaf." Putting on a bright face, Malone insists they should marry anyway, explaining, "I fell in love with a person, not a pianist." Actually, of course, he's neither, but it's a nice thought. His spirits restored, Liberace embarks on a 12-week course in lip-reading that goes by in what feels like real time. It all pays off, though, when we get to see how he applies this new skill. Leaning off his terrace while holding a big pair of binoculars, Liberace scans Central Park some 30 stories below. That's right, he's become a full-time, long-distance lip-reading voyeur.

To get full mileage out of this plot point, Liberace's hearing returns, and he races down to Central Park to eavesdrop in person on the latest twists in the two-hankie saga he's been lip-reading from afar. It seems that young Lori Nelson is pulling a Stella Dallas on her white-trash mother (Lurene Tuttle) by telling her she'll never fit in with Nelson's ritzy in-laws. After Nelson leaves, Liberace takes the heartbroken Tuttle in hand and happily buys her just the heels, hats and evening gowns he might have picked out for himself. That night he goes with Tuttle to a charity fund-raiser where all the snooty blue bloods are charmed by Tuttle, particularly when she talks Liberace into performing "The Beer Barrel Polka." Then, as divine punishment for this musical lapse, Liberace is struck deaf all over again.

A still hearing-challenged Liberace is casually gazing through his binoculars one night when his eyes settle on none other than his beloved Malone with his serviceman pal Alex Nicol in what is certainly a romantic rendezvous. Amazingly enough - since it's pitch-black outside - he reads their lips to learn that Malone is in love with the other man. What will Liberace do? It all ends happily with Liberace so quickly reconciled to life without wedded bliss that he hops up from his piano and tap dances "Tea for Two," which is meant to have you asking, "Is there no end to this man's talent?" You'll more likely be wondering, "Is there no end to this movie?" Well, yes there is, and it happens to have been the end of Liberace's chances at a starring screen career, too.

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