December Highlights on TCM
BETTY COMDEN AND ADOLPH GREEN (December 18, 6am)--On December 18, TCM is paying tribute to the team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Comden and Green did many things throughout their long partnership--they wrote songs, screenplays, musicals and television shows, they acted on Broadway and in movies, they sang and danced--and they did it all brilliantly. They started performing songs and sketches at the Village Vanguard with a group called The Revuers. One of their fellow performers was an actress named Judith Tuvim, who later changed her name to Judy Holliday, and they were often joined by a young pianist and composer named Leonard Bernstein. They were invited to Hollywood by Twentieth Century-Fox in the mid-'40s to appear in a picture called Greenwich Village, but their scenes were mostly cut and they returned to New York, where Bernstein asked them to work on a musical that would become On the Town (in which they also played two of the key roles). When the movie version of On the Town came out in 1949, it was a revelation, mainly because of the opening sequence, shot in the open air on locations throughout New York. This sequence was made in the spirit of the new realism in American pictures that came after the war, inspired by Italian neorealism, and while the rest of On the Town was less exciting (most of the original score was replaced with less interesting songs), there was a new freshness, sophistication and frankness about the movie. Comden and Green wrote two more pictures for Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly: Singin' in the Rain and It's Always Fair Weather. About the first, I can only say that it is, among many other things, one of the greatest films ever made about making movies (the scene where the director tears his hair out trying to manage the new, cumbersome sound equipment may seem like a caricature to you, but to me it's stark realism). It's Always Fair Weather is a kind of sequel to On the Town, about three WWII vets meeting up ten years after the end of the war and finding that they have nothing in common, and while it's very funny, it's also quite melancholy--it catches the spirit of disenchantment and anxiety that you see in other, non-musical pictures of the era like The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit and Executive Suite. The Band Wagon, made in 1953 with Vincente Minnelli, is another peak in American moviemaking, and it catches a different kind of delicate mood --that of an aging star making a "comeback," worried about everything going well and that he might be resented or surpassed by the younger people around him (in many ways, the star, Fred Astaire, who is the subject of a month-long TCM tribute, was at just such a moment in his own career). The comeback vehicle is written by his friends, a couple played by Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant--although they were never married, this was Comden and Green's cinematic self-portrait. TCM is showing all of these pictures and several others, including Minnelli's film version of their musical Bells Are Ringing, featuring Holliday in her last performance. This is a fitting tribute to two great artists.
by Martin Scorsese