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Anissa

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  1. I adore this film. Michael Curtiz is one of my favorite directors, certainly of this period, and perhaps of all time. Having said that I'll try to be objective in my response to two of the three questions. Describe how the scenes in today’s Daily Dose were designed to promote American values for audiences during World War II. Be specific. Refer to props, set design, settings, etc. in your answer. Beginning the scene in the foyer of the White House and moving up the staircase to FDR's office focuses our attention on the grandeur of the White House. The shot stays fairly wide throughout, and we get the sense of the openness of the place. The portraits lining the stairs are of earlier presidents (Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, and Thomas Jefferson stand out to me.) who watch over the characters as they move past; certainly, that would be a comforting thought to Americans at the time that our forefathers watch and approve of the task we've undertaken. Patriotism and a positive sort of nationalism are evoked there. There's also the interesting contrast in costumes at the beginning of the scene. The valet's uniform is elaborate and calls back to an earlier period of formality and opulence when "gentlemen" had manservants in livery. Cohan, on the other hand, is dressed in a simple suit, one that could easily be a working man's Sunday best. Hard work and respect for authority and the solemnity of the moment are implied by that suit. 2. Listen carefully to the dialogue in these scenes. In what ways does the dialogue and/or the screenplay work to boost American morale? Quote specific lines of dialogue in your response. There are two portions of dialogue that I'd like to highlight. The first is the valet's exchange with Cohan. They are discussing the fact that the valet served as valet to Theodore Roosevelt who got him tickets to see Cohan's production George Washington Jr.. He tells Cohan about seeing him sing "You're a Grand Old Flag" and how "Mr. Teddy used to sing it in his bathtub." There's an intimacy here between the personal and the public that's important. "You're a Grand Old Flag" is patriotic but not militaristic. It's about national ideals, not national power. That's the public part. The intimate part is the revelation that President Theodore Roosevelt would sing it in the bathtub. While perhaps meant as comedic (it is kind of funny to think of TR singing in the tub), that knowledge of TR's love of the song reveals that patriotism is with us even in our most vulnerable moments. The second exchange is between FDR and Cohan. FDR comments "That's one thing I’ve always loved about you Irish-Americans. You carry your love of country like a flag, right out in the open. It’s a great quality.” There’s a certain irony to FDR’s comments as it wasn’t so long ago, in fact around the time that George M. Cohan’s father ran away to join the Union Army during the Civil War, that the Irish weren’t welcome as immigrants. In 1878 (the year Cohan was born) you might still see signs that say “Irish need not apply.” World War II will make for some dangerous times for immigrants; showing that immigrants are patriotic and true to their adopted nation could ease some of the potential tensions. It’s a piece of dialogue that includes everyone, native born and immigrant alike.
  2. Top Hat is one of my favorite Astaire and Rogers films. "Isn't It a Lovely Day?" is a interesting number on a lot of levels. Someone earlier in the thread mentioned that Rogers is more of a sidekick or prop rather than an equal in this scene, and I'm not sure I see it that way. The dance off here has a "Anything You Can Do" feel to it. She's dancing in his style, yes, but that's part of the point I think, that a woman can do what a man can. Also unlike other dance numbers where they are an embracing couple, he's not technically leading her even if he's the one instigating the step sequence. It's a big deal for Rogers to be in fitted slacks for this dance member too. Women weren't really wearing pants as a day to day item of clothing; Dietrich and Hepburn are pushing the boundaries with their elegant slacks, but many women are still wearing skirts as their primary fashion statement. (There's an interesting discussion of women in pants here from The Huffington Post.) She's also wearing a riding costume which implies a kind of control.
  3. I had not seen Eddy and MacDonald before viewing these clips, but I'm very familiar with their counterparts from Rocky and Bullwinkle. The first clip put me in mind of any of a number of comedy duos with Eddy as the straight man. He's got a marvelous deadpan face to MacDonald's more expressive face and rather sprightly dialogue. The notion that he changes the song to suit the girl he's with pushes at the boundaries of acceptable content for Hays Code era film. The audience is well aware of what he means when he says "Nothing worked with Maude." Their interactions remind me of the later screwball comedies with pairs like Gable and Colbert and Hepburn and Grant.
  4. As others have already pointed out the clip certainly highlights the sort of "carpe diem" philosophy of Depression-era films. The characters seem to embrace the notion that life is fleeting as is wealth and joy. In terms of themes and techniques that carry over, the lush sets and elaborate costumes are certainly features that you see over the next couple of decades. Also with a few exceptions, the characters themselves tend to come from either end of the social spectrum -- the wealthy toff or the plucky poor kid -- form the focus of the drama, and the woman seems to be more plot device than character. Pre-code Hollywood would likely have capitalized more on the salacious tone of the song in this clip with a more sheer costume with strategically placed slits to show some leg. The musical hall performance set is awfully highbrow for a song that seems like it would be more at home in the 19th century dance halls that were often men's only clubs that sold drinks, cigarettes, and other things.
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