[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]
There is a group of films which are meant to be entertaining, are seldom noteworthy, and are usually G-rated. They can be termed entertainment films and customarily offer nothing for something. It is their habit to stay clear of anything that anyone might consider controversial. So extreme is this fear of controversy that they often end up virtually without content. Technical expertise is not generally one of their assets…. With all this on the debit side, it’s surprising that they ever succeed. But successful entertainment films of a special variety were turned out by one studio with remarkable consistency. The studio was MGM. The special films were musicals. To succeed where others failed, MGM had a formula involving two basic elements: use the best talent available, both in front of and behind the camera.
[Originally published in Movietone News 34, August 1974]
I have never counted myself among the musical buffs. It’s mainly been the arousal of interest in a director—Donen, Lester, Minnelli, Cukor, et al.—that enticed me into a theater or in front of a TV screen where a musical was playing. Conversely, taking Groucho’s advice in Horse Feathers, I have more often than not seized on the unwelcome musical interludes in essentially nonmusical films to go make a sandwich or flip over to another channel to check out the credits of the movie starting there. So if I tell you That’sEntertainment is just utterly swell, I’m telling you. And it is. Utterly. There’s nary a ringer among the numbers selected—except for episodes like Jimmy Stewart c. 1936 singing “You’d Be So Easy to Love” without benefit of redubbing, or Clark Gable doing a semi-improvisatory vaudeville song and dance number in the salon of a resort hotel (Idiot’sDelight), and of course those too become marvelous in their very unexpectedness and forgotten-biographical-footnote splendor (Gable is having such an outrageously good time, Stewart an outrageously uncomfortable time). When a sequence has been compressed or otherwise excerpted, it’s been excerpted sensitively and intelligently. And “director” Jack Haley Jr. has exercised impeccable judgment in deciding when to stay with the original 1.33:1 format, when to go with the full 70mm aspect ratio, and when to let the image grow from one to the other. The color has been faithfully transferred (if it hurts your eyes it would have hurt them in 1948, or whenever), and the black-and-white looks more like black-and-white than in any other color movie in my experience. Some of the newly stereophonicked sound is a trifle distracting, the mobility of the voices occasionally getting away from the less agile figures onscreen; but mostly the great care taken with every facet of the technological renovation has paid off many times over.
[Originally published in Movietone News 52, October 1976]
In his autobiography I Remember It Well,Vincente Minnelli registers a very pragmatic regret that his producer-partner Arthur Freed took such good care of him all those years at MGM. Left to dream his cinematic dreams, cast fragile spells with camera and decor, and build to the visual equivalent of crescendos through flamboyant mise-en-scène, he never had to learn how to deal with the front-office boys, the money men, the guys who had the power to say when and how and even whether he would get to make a film. With the passing of Freed and the extravagant studio armament of Metro, Minnelli was left defenseless in the New Hollywood, and the effect was startlingly apparent: gross conceptual misfires like Goodbye Charlie, the pointlessly transatlantic misadventure of The Sandpiper, several years’ wait for an expensive Barbra Streisand musical liked by neither Streisand fans nor musical aficionados, and then more years waiting for … nothing at all, it appeared, until a couple of seasons ago we began to hear about an adaptation of Marcel Druon’s Film of Memory.
At last it’s here—A Matter of Time—and again Minnelli has been done in by the logistics of the nouveau cinema: the Italian locations obligatorily and tediously paused for, the Italian cast impossible to direct in any mode supportive to the stellar likes of Bergman, Boyer, and (for the sake of discussion) Liza Minnelli, the Movielab color a tawdry, enervating substitute for a man who dreams in richest Technicolor, the sets inadequately realized, the post-dubbed soundtrack deleterious to any evoking—let alone sustaining—of mood…. Whatever Louis B. Mayer might have been, he wasn’t Samuel Z. Arkoff, and if there be a prototype for co-exec-producer Giulio Sbarigia he’s that Italian who made Cinecittà hell on earth for “directors” Edward G. Robinson and Kirk Douglas in Minnelli’s now-prophetic Two Weeks in Another Town.Vincente Minnelli can swoop around corners with the utmost elegance, but he can’t cut them—and corner-cutting shows all over A Matter of Time.
[Originally published in Movietone News 57, February 1978]
Back in February, Marty Scorsese privately screened a rough cut of New York, New Yorkthat lasted four-and-a-half hours. The film as finally released is little more than half that length. We can assume that Scorsese knew he’d never get a four-hour movie released commercially. We can also assume that he knew what was happening while he was shooting and that he didn’t intentionally include failed material in the first rough cut. So how does it happen that half a movie winds up on the cutting-room floor?
The question is not just a matter of curiosity. New York, New Yorkis a maddening, fascinating congeries of good and bad bits and angles, the sum of whose parts far exceeds the value of the whole, and that extraordinary difference between first rough cut and final cut may be the key to what went wrong.