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Essential: BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE (1969)

JL begins:

Paul Mazursky's big directorial debut (and wonderfully co-scripted by producer Larry Tucker) is basically in the same league as GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER, also produced by Columbia, and other quintessential good-if-not-great crowd pleasers of the sixties that tapped into what moviegoers were most curious to see at the time. It may end a bit too abruptly and not milk its subject matter for all it is worth, but I still enjoy it after multiple viewings. Even today, it has plenty to say about relationships and honesty, fidelity versus infidelity.

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Although three of the names in the title commit...gasp!...adultery (more of a no-no back then than today), this is a surprisingly chaste film that lies somewhere in-between a Doris Day and Rock Hudson comedy (Dyan Cannon wears as much eye liner and lip gloss as Doris under the sheets) and a Russ Meyer nudie-cutie with just enough bare tops on display, but not involving our star actresses, to warrant an R-rating. As with a number of box office successes, there was a feeble attempt to create a TV series out of it years later.

TB: Yes, I think the TV series was pretty much a flop. Definitely "tamer" since it had to contend with broadcast standards censorship. It aired around a dozen episodes in 1973. A young Robert Urich and Anne Archer played the main couple. Archer obviously was cast on the strength of her resemblance to Natalie Wood.

We should point out that the cast of the original movie features Robert Culp, who had made films, typically in supporting roles. But he was known more to audiences as a television performer in the late 1960s.

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JL: Robert Culp, who was famous at the time due to I Spy but less familiar today than his co-stars, and Natalie Wood, who needs no introduction, play the liberal-minded Sanders, Bob and Carol; he being a documentary filmmaker and she a rather bored, but pampered, housewife. They spend a weekend at a place resembling (and maybe is) the famous Esalem, a California retreat for new age yoga, relaxation, nude sun bathing and psychological therapy.

TB: You gotta love how they fit all the therapies in. It's one stop place for bourgeoisie healing.

JL: Bob is a trifle skeptical at first but Carol is more open to this getting-in-touch-with-your-feelings that starts out with the soft spoken leader (Greg Mullavey) getting them all to look at each other directly in the face and display total honesty about everything.

Meanwhile, Dyan Cannon and Elliott Gould play the Sanders' more earthbound (read: uptight) friends, Ted and Alice Henderson.

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At first they merely are amused by this great weekend transformation during a discussion at an Italian restaurant, especially after Carol demonstrates “total honesty” with the waiter (Lee Bergere) by asking if he “genuinely” hopes that their food is satisfactory and even later tries to re-explain herself and apologize to him in the kitchen.

By the way, I absolutely adore Natalie Wood in her blue denim mini-skirt. Not to mention Dyan in her solid yellow with matching hair ribbon, repeated in red/black combo, virginal white, sky blue and as pink as a Playboy bunny in her later scenes.

All continues hunky dory until after a late after-party get-together involving a bit of marijuana smoking and stirred libidos. As the Hendersons leave, Carol bounces out with some all important information. She recently learned Bob had an affair, he was totally honest about it, she forgave him and she thinks it is all “beautiful” and worth sharing with her best friends!

TB: To be honest, this part of the plot seems rather absurd to me. In fact it seems like a sitcom plot, where the main character promises not to lie for a week and is honest to the point of being painful. We've seen it on dozens of shows with Lucille Ball and John Ritter. In this case, Mazursky is doing it as a bit of a device to draw the Hendersons more into the story...so that they are now part of the Sanders' process of "truth" and "discovery."

JL: Ted is amused, but Alice is disgusted beyond belief. I think Alice represents roughly 75% of the moviegoers seeing this in 1969 since most at them were well beyond their thirties and couldn't quite grasp all of the new “freedoms."

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JL: Back in the bedroom, it is obvious that Alice is no longer In The Mood while Ted is feeling frisky. After all, Bob's affair and Carol being so candid and comfortable about it is as traumatic to Alice as her own mother's death! Oh pleeeeeeeze.

Actually I greatly enjoy this lengthy bedroom conversation between these two (a key reason both were nominated for Oscars in their supporting roles) with her at first not wanting him to touch her, then they negotiate about whether or not to “do it” despite all of her rage over Bob and finally culminating with his telling her to not touch him!

TB: I agree the scene works rather well. But one of the problems I have with this set-up is that the filmmakers are not quite sure at times which couple should be most in focus. Or if the two couples deserve equal prominence since they may be reverse images of each other. Despite the "confusion" over which two are the main characters, or if all four are main characters, we do get some satiric moments and the comic potential of the storyline is exploited rather well.

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JL: Later Alice tries to get things out of her system with her psychiatrist (Donald F. Muhich). He displays a rather stoic reaction as she talks about “my” (instead of “our”) five year son whom she “loves." Meanwhile she only “likes” her husband. She can't handle sex and body parts, using nicknames instead of medical terms. When she has her “Freudian slip” mentioning Bob instead of Ted, it becomes apparent that she is worried her husband will do a no-no like Bob's despite always being faithful to her.

TB: When I watched this particular scene I couldn't help but think of Otto Preminger's SUCH GOOD FRIENDS (1971) which came out a few years later. Again Dyan Cannon is submerged in an upper class melange of psychological and sexual dysfunction. I guess Preminger was a fan of her performance here in Mazursky's film, causing him to cast her later in his film which covers some of the same "issues." 

JL: On a plane bound for Miami, Bob makes the mistake of suggesting to Ted that his affair was no big deal and, heck, you might as well take advantage of golden opportunities. Intriguingly, Bob himself decides NOT to have a second affair when given the opportunity on another trip at home, but he later confronts Carol herself having one of her own with a much younger and hunkier tennis instructor named Horst (Horst Ebersberg).

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TB: The old "what's good for the goose" routine...! The tennis instructor is a soapy stereotype and since he's so much better looking than Bob, you have to wonder why Carol would even look twice at Bob again.

JL: What I like best about this movie is that it puts the shoe on the other foot so that the man, who takes such things for granted, must now reconsider his own feelings of possessiveness and jealousy. We get Culp's best acting scene but, of course, you know he is a dedicated liberal type who “does not use violence in this house” so he invites Horst to stay for a drink.

TB: I guess this keeps the tone light and prevents the film from descending into histrionics, which is what happens in THE GRADUATE when Elaine learns Benjamin's been having an affair with her mother. But that's another story!

JL: In Las Vegas, where everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, Alice has had plenty of time with her shrink and is no longer judging her best friends by “my morals” and the foursome enjoy themselves in the executive suite.

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TB: This of course leads to the film's most "celebrated" and "liberating" image of the four of them in bed together. If you do a Google search of the film, nearly 80% of the images come from this portion of the movie. It's quite the identifier. 

JL: Everybody is now more amused than shocked to learn about Carol being even with Bob with her sex-capade, but then Ted decides to confess to his affair with a mouthful of yummy nuts! This sends Alice through the roof and she instantly starts undressing and demanding to swap hubbies with Carol, insisting that Bob must find her attractive enough to go to the sack with her. The great O word is expressed, which I can't print here.

When they finally all decide to go to the next level, we gets some great comic scenes with Elliot Gould in particular.

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I find him much more more likable in this movie than in M*A*S*H. He fusses in the bathroom in preparation and takes way too long getting his undergarments off... under the covers. He is even more modest about his body than his own wife!

TB: This is where I think the film becomes a very immature thesis on sexual relationships. Yes, this is a comedy and we're supposed to find some of it tongue-in-cheek, but ultimately it's just a bunch of overgrown "kids" who don't know the first thing about real adult interactions.

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And the fact that Ted's confession forces Alice, who has been rather reserved up to this point, to suddenly want to get it on with Bob-- that seems very contrived to me. Like Mazursky and fellow screenwriter Larry Tucker couldn't actually come with a realistic way for them all to copulate together.

And then, ultimately, because they cannot venture into X-rated territory and remain commercially marketable, we don't see them having sex with each other. Plus, I think in this situation, with everyone relaxed, there'd be some bisexuality playing out. But this film, as you said earlier, is chaste. It's timid. And adolescent. Not as frank or grown up or adult as it could have been. It is an American film trying to do what provocative European films do, and not being able to pull it off, pun intended.

***

JL: So did they “do it” or not? A little video segment on YouTube has Quentin Tarantino suggesting that maybe they all all “did it," but I kinda think they “didn't."

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TB: Yeah, they didn't do it. The film leads up to the promise of sexual liberation but then it chickens out and tries to act vague and clever about it.

JL: We get a questionable scene of Bob looking up at the camera as he kisses Alice, which Quentin thinks is him shooing away the audience for more privacy. I think Bob's expression is more along the lines of “maybe I should not go through with this since the concept was more exciting than the reality."

TB: Yep. I'm with you on this interpretation. Ultimately the film needed to have a moral ending for American audiences. Where the two marriages remain intact and their foursome goes nowhere.

JL: In the end, it is all about the Jackie DeShannon song. What the world needs now is love sweet love. Likely these couples won't stray further in the future, but if they do, they will always be honest in true Me Decade fashion (and this does feel more like a seventies film in the end rather than a sixties film). The surreal parade scene is every liberal's dream of a world united in multiple races and genders.

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TB: Sorry to burst your bubble, but I still don't think this film measured up like it should have. It often takes the easy way out. It doesn't allow the characters to become fully fleshed out, faults and all. The characters aspire to nothing basically and become amoral in a glib sort of cute way. What these four individuals are going through, is not presented in a meaningful treatise, examining possible consequences in a realistic light.

It's clear to me they had to keep the characters likable at the end, or else these stars' careers might have come to a screeching halt. I think one of the couples should have gone too far, should have reached the end of their marriage; while the other couple became more reasonable and saved from the debauchery. That is, if they are meant to be true reverse images of each other. Again I think a more mature European filmmaker would have done justice to the story.

Even though it was filmed in the post-code period, it still seems bound by remnants of the production code. And it seems to be too much in keeping with "good taste" which ironically causes a very dishonest version of what this story is. Anyway, since you obviously enjoyed the picture more than I did, I will let you finish things up with a few positive remarks...

***

JL: Much of this film's charm for me personally lies in its time-capsule appeal. So many little things on visual display represent what was so “trendy” back at the time of its principal photography (November-December 1968), but now look like ancient relics of a bygone era. Obviously Las Vegas has changed immensely since then. We get at least two subtle digs at the presidential election with one visitor at the California retreat reading a newspaper lampooning LBJ and Nixon (perhaps this scene was shot just after the latter defeated Humphrey and Wallace), followed later by two minor characters discussing whether or not they should have bothered voting (a question expanded upon later in Hal Ashby's SHAMPOO, set during this exact same time period but filmed post-Watergate).

Meanwhile, a trio of possibly (oh...heck, any modern viewer can see that they definitely are) gay men listen in on a conversation about love and honesty at the restaurant pre-Stonewall. We even get a bit part by Daniel Striped Tiger at a time when Fred Rogers was among the newest faces on TV.

The fashion show is especially impressive, with the false eyelashes and Nehru sweatshirts (not jackets anymore) going out of style between the time cameras stopped rolling and the time it finally hit theaters in September 1969.

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Of course, Bob must make sure his love beads are on, shirt or no shirt. However everything that Natalie Wood wears is hip and ahead of its time, especially the plaid pants in our early scenes that would not take the nation by storm for another two years or so. Plus Bob and Carol's swinging California pad is pretty groovy with a huge dictionary (!?) opened up in the living room. I am guessing that Natalie says “groovy” at least five times on screen, but I will let the experts analyze that specific detail further.

The movie always leaves me with this warm afterglow that is hard to define. I guess it has to do with the wide-eyed innocence of the characters and the movie's intentions, especially in that final scene of solidarity among all kinds of people. What could be worse to watch on screen?

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Ha ha! You are not busting any bubbles here. No, I do not consider this film a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination but it is still an interesting and entertaining relic of its era when Hollywood, as you even hint above, was confused and uncertain about how far to push the envelope in “adult” themes. In a way, it only goes a little further than the Doris Day vehicles we venture into next and they are more comfortable in their own “skin” so to speak. Personally I consider Ted and Alice far more interesting than Bob and Carol since those two performers seem more comfortable with each other than the other pair... at least by my overall impression.

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Essential: LOVER COME BACK (1961)

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TB: We thought it might be fun to look at a couple of Doris Day films. Namely, ones where she is playing a career woman and finding her place in the business world. In our first selection, Doris is a single character who finds conflict and love with a rival played by Rock Hudson. It was the second of three pairings for the duo at Universal, and arguably the funniest. Next week we will look at how the formula was revised a bit when she costars opposite James Garner, that time as a wife and mother who begins a new career outside the home.

One thing I enjoy about LOVER COME BACK, as opposed to PILLOW TALK or SEND ME NO FLOWERS, is how much energy Doris' character has. In quite a few respects, she is someone we want to succeed. Especially when Hudson's character tries to outmaneuver her; typically he doesn't play fair. Of course, much enjoyment comes in watching how flustered Doris gets and her resolve to try harder to beat Hudson at his own game. 

The film also has some good supporting players. Notably, it features Jack Oakie in what would be his last motion picture (though he would do some television after this). Also, we have other character actors like Jack Kruschen, Joe Flynn and Jack Albertson. Plus Tony Randall is again along for the ride, like he is in the other two Day-Hudson rom-coms.

JL: We are quickly motivated by the proceedings with some clever animation over the opening credits by Pacific Titles: cute female bird thwarts the advances of frisky male bird in a sequence also showing bees and flowers, the birds-and-the-bees emphasizing that this is a “sex comedy."

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Madison Avenue is presented with buildings resembling honeycombs as our narrator introduces Doris Day's Carol Templeton as a “worker bee” competing with her company against that of Rock Hudson's Jerry Webster, a “drone” who arrives to work with a hangover and some passionate kissing with one of multiple ladies seen with him early on.

TB: Of course we know right away that Hudson and Day will soon clash, and given the conventions of the genre, their clash will lead to romance/love.

JL: Carol resembles Elizabeth Moss' famous character Peggy Olson in that she wants to prove to the world that she is as efficient as any man in the advertising business without having to resort to the sex angle, while Jerry steals an account both are competing for by swaying Jack Oakie's J. Paxton Miller his way with Southern style liquor and showgirls, a method totally foreign to Carol.

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She, in turn, tries to get even: first by reporting his unethical behavior to the Ad Council, then she learns from one of Jerry's girlfriends, Rebel Davis (Edie Adams), of a new mystery product “VIP” involving a noted Greenwich Village chemist, Dr. Linus Taylor (Jack Kruschen) in its creation...so she tries to investigate him in order to steal that account from Jerry.

TB: One thing I didn't care for about this part of the movie is that Carol is a bit too righteous and blowing the whistle on Jerry is not going to get her anywhere. Particularly because it is still a man's world and if she screamed bloody murder, would anyone believe her side of things? To some extent her righteous attitude is carried over from the previous film these two stars made together.

JL: Yes. If you have seen PILLOW TALK already, you may sense some déjà vu since this is recycling some plot details. Doris' character is locked in battle with Rock's but doesn't know him on a face to face level at first and he takes advantage of her once he identifies her: as the annoying swinging bachelor aggravating her due to a shared telephone line, he woos her in the earlier 1959 film as an effeminate Texas businessman and, in the '61 film, he fools her into thinking he is Dr. Taylor himself...and is as equally “innocent” of women and dating.

All of this draws out Doris' maternal side. Once she discovers she has been fooled, Hell hath no fury like a woman and she revenges, in the former film, by doing the most outlandish interior design job possible on his bachelor pad and, in this one, woos him to the beach for a midnight swim, only to abandon him in “seaweed shorts” to hitchhike back into the city in a ladies' fur coat truck.

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TB: You have to wonder if things cut from the rough draft of the first film were copied and pasted into the script for this film. In some ways it is a creative "rewrite." They've even repeated the use of the split screens. Also giving LOVER COME BACK that sense of deju vu is the casting of Tony Randall.

JL: Tony Randall pretty much plays the same role in all three Day-Hudson comedies, being single (and super rich in two titles) and sometimes questionable in his, um, orientation. He woos Doris in the first one but she is not interested in him due to a certain lack of sincerity on his part, even though he claims he was married three times before.

In the third film of the Hudson-Day trio, SEND ME NO FLOWERS, he is actually married but we never see his wife and child on screen (?!) and, if that one was remade today, he would more likely have a boyfriend. As Pete Ramsey in LOVER COME BAC, he is the spoiled boss' son who has no interest in girls at all, a bit like the many characters played by Edward Everett Horton. Pete: “Girls again! What's the obsession with girls?” Jerry: “I was a poor kid, remember? I didn't have toys to play with.”

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TB: Good point. And Randall doesn't seem to have a problem, or much aversion, to portraying his characters in the Edward Everett Horton vein.

JL: Providing the “Greek Chorus," observing some of the goings on, are Jack Albertson and Charles Watt as middle-aged shriner club men, who are impressed each time they see Jerry wooing a different woman. “Let's face it, Charlie. Either you've got it or you haven't. He's got it."Later, they react in shock to his hotel arrival in a ladies' fur coat with the line “That's the last guy I would have figured” (a.k.a. it was assumed in 1961 that all cross-dressers were gay).

TB: Yeah, definitely some stereotypes used for laughs.

JL: Meanwhile, when the real Dr. Taylor, a professed “woman hater” whom Carol would not have succeeded with as she does Hudson as his impostor, finally unveils “VIP”, it is revealed as colorful candy that intoxicates like 100% proof brandy.

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When everybody gets drunk, including Carol, we are instantly reminded that this is a Doris Day comedy, so there is this complex situation made in order for Hudson's Jerry to "wed" Carol before he can "bed" her. I am always tickled by such plots (and AUNTIE MAME is another famous example from a few years earlier) because it is highly unlikely a full marriage license and justice-of-the-peace ceremony can be accomplished successfully under the influence and the characters still not remembering anything. Yet there were obvious "rules" that Hollywood still had to follow to avoid the wrath of the Catholic Legion of Decency.

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TB: I agree. It's the most far-fetched element of the whole movie. By the way, the VIP plot device reminds me of the Vitameatavegamin routine in I Love Lucy. I also thought the plot of this movie would have worked as a vehicle for Lucille Ball and Bob Hope.

Care to discuss the director a bit?

JL: Director Delbert Mann previously worked on MARTY and SEPARATE TABLES as one of the most successful TV directors (with over a hundred live dramas between 1949 and 1955 under his belt) making the transition to the big screen; not surprisingly TV becomes an additional “character” quite often in his films and the domination Madison Avenue has over the electronic tube is made quite obvious in the commercial making scenes. The screenplay by Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning has plenty to say about how advertisers sell you any product regardless if it useful to your life or not. In this case, we see VIP getting commercial treatment before Jerry, Pete and Rebel Davis the VIP Girl even know what it is.

TB: We should mention that Paul Henning would go on to create enormously successful sitcoms on television after this film. The Beverly HillbilliesPetticoat Junction and Green Acres were all just around the corner. Shows that featured backwards characters.

JL: LOVER COME BACK is both ahead of its time...and a bit backwards...in regards to gender relations.

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The wild party of J. Paxton Miller may have been considered a riot at the time, but modern viewers may squirm at the sight of so many ladies willingly becoming men's playthings. On the other hand, Doris Day is again playing a woman fully committed to her career and her secretary Millie (Ann B. Davis, “Alice” of The Brady Bunch) was obviously hired for her work efficiency rather than her looks, unlike Jerry and Pete's (even though sexy Karen Norris and Donna Douglas do make the most of their limited roles).

When Carol and Jerry fuss about “my baby," they do agree in the end as equal partners in a way not often covered in romantic comedies. When the liquor council board-members talk Jerry into buying off the account and halting the production of VIP due to potential damage to liquor sales, Jerry insists that Carol gets 25% of the profit even though she was currently trying to seek an annulment from him. My guess is that, after she finally agrees to have the child and stay married, they both work together with their own created agency. Certainly she can take some time off for child rearing but not give up her work entirely...and I suspect, despite all of his earlier partying and womanizing, Jerry is broad minded enough to allow her to do what she wants.

TB: Given the narrow-minded notions of the era, about women knowing and keeping to their place inside the home, I don't think Carol would have had an agency with Jerry. Jerry would have become the sole breadwinner. Maybe using business ideas that Carol provided for him, but allowing him to claim the credit. She would likely have been pregnant again, with a second and a third child. 

Anything else you want to add?

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JL: This is the one Rock Hudson movie I've seen where his shirt is off roughly ¼ of his screen-time. Hey...you might as well flaunt it if you got it. He is well tanned from the California sun and clearly had some training in the gym. Too bad they did not include a scene of him hitchhiking in his “seaweed shorts."

TB: Funny. Thanks Jlewis. Like always, I've enjoyed discussing an essential with you!

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Essential: THE THRILL OF IT ALL (1963)

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“I'm not an actress. I'm a housewife.”

JL: Doris Day as Beverly Boyer, wife of Dr. Gerald (James Garner), says this initially to aging advertising tycoon Tom Fraleigh (Reginald Owen, whom we've seen in quite a few essentials discussed). They had been watching a TV commercial for Happy Soap featuring a blonde Jayne Mansfield imitation (Pamela Currin as Spot Checker, the “Happy Girl”) undressing in a bubble bath. She croons “There are so many things a girl must learn before she can become a glamorous movie star.” Previously Beverly was struggling with her own nudie cutie in a bubble bath, the pint-sized Maggie (Kym Karath, a year and a half before being cast as the youngest Von Trapp in THE SOUND OF MUSIC).

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Mr. Fraleig's son Gardiner (Edward Andrews) and his wife (Arlene Francis) are both expecting a baby despite advancing middle age. I have to make note of Arlene's wonderful comic timing over the opening credits, expressing how happy (as soap) she is discovering that she is pregnant and taking an elevator full of curious men. (Interesting fashion statement: by late 1962, when this was filmed, most American men had pretty much stopped wearing hats in public due to President Kennedy seldom wearing them. Yet she is wearing one, perhaps suggesting that women were not changing their lives and fashions quite as fast as the men were.)

TB: Or that maybe they were now wearing a hat (as in having a career) outside the home, the way men had done before?

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JL: Overjoyed by Dr. Boyer's aid as the obstetrician in relaxing them (suggesting a romantic cruise and so forth) so that she can officially get “on the nest”, they invite the Boyers to dinner at the big mansion, where Daddy is much impressed by Mrs. Boyer. Of course, her first time for the cameras is a disaster...hard to believe, considering this is Doris Day.

TB: Yeah, talk about miscast! I'm kidding, but maybe Doris could have played it with a bit more awkwardness and less "natural" confidence. She hardly seems the type to not be herself and make a bunch of mistakes on camera.

But of course, we are supposed to understand that the character is venturing into foreign territory outside the home. Particularly how it affects her as well as her husband and children. Especially the husband whose male vanity will be threatened if she becomes a bigger success than him.

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JL: Yes. Being a doctor's wife is “career enough” for opinionated Gerald, who objects to all of this interfering with his life. In hindsight, this could be seen as ahead of the curve as feminist social commentary. Not that I myself consider her new career as a TV spokeswoman for hausfrau essentials (and I didn't quite understand all of the German jokes here a.k.a. Nazi story in a Playhouse TV show, a German housekeeper who replaces Olivia, etc.) much of a deal for that time, compared with, say, being a female obstetrician (more on that below) or the interior decoration and advertising jobs that she was quite accomplished with in the earlier PILLOW TALK and LOVER COME BACK.

TB: I agree. Selling soap is certainly not going to be seen as contributing to society in the same way a more educated and professional career woman would be contributing. Plus we know that her selling detergent is probably going to be short-term.

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She won't be saving the world and can quit at anytime. She can return to being a "normal" housewife again who watches TV when the kids are playing/napping, then goes to the store to buy soap so she can come back and wash her husband's clothes.

JL:As much as I enjoy these Doris Day comedies, they were essentially Disney comedies made for the over thirty crowd and did not intend to rock the boat any more than SON OF FLUBBER.

In fact, I feel that this film took a few steps backward in comparison to her earlier films going back to CALAMITY JANE and including the Rock Hudson co-star hits. It all ends with the man in charge and she is all too happy to return to him as “a doctor's wife."

TB: Exactly. While this is an exercise in comedy, it is also an exercise in the futility of a woman venturing out of her traditional, conservative sphere. The writers are deliberately creating a premise where the woman is only going to be validated by returning to the status quo. Their idea of the status quo. She cannot succeed outside the home, otherwise she won't be regarded as the sort of woman society adores and admires. The sort of woman that gives up her dreams and surrenders to the drudgery of domestic chores.

JL: This is despite all of the interesting talk about “our” money versus “your” money, he being called Mister Beverly by accident after her new-found fame and, most dramatically, she alone delivering the Fraleigh baby in a Rolls Royce. Why not allow her to work alongside him after some additional medical school training? Personally, if I was a little Maggie Boyer watching this, I would be getting mixed messages as to what this movie is telling me what my future holds.

TB: Think of all the little Maggies watching, then and now. Of course, we see it as a counter-productive time capsule. But people today still buy into these notions. Viewings of the film may uphold that mentality.

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JL: Leading to all this is the usual slapstick involving a battle of the spouses. In a fit of anger, Gerald kicks Happy Soap into their built-all-of-the-sudden backyard pool (where he drove the car into previously) and, as a result, we get one of the show pieces spectacle-wise involving soap suds galore. (“It's beautiful... like heaven.” In a film full of references to female anatomy, one sud is commented by the all-male construction crew as resembling a naked lady.)

TB: This segment of the film felt like something out of a Lucille Ball sitcom. And in fact, Lucy did have a similar comedic sequence on her last series Life with Lucy in the 1980s. Proving that feature films in the 1960s were resembling television more and more, Doris' own career increasingly heads in this direction since her last feature, WITH SIX YOU GET EGGROLL, is indeed a glorified sitcom. Which was soon followed by a weekly sitcom called The Doris Day Show. You can see the trajectory and how she was being transitioned into lighter television fare.

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JL: There's a subtle nod to Jerry Lewis, whose comedies resemble this in some ways with the slapstick: a movie shown playing at the marquee is “The Respectful Professor” since Universal-International did not have the rights to showcase the Nutty kind (and intriguingly filmed during the same time as this one but I am sure the studios were well aware of what their rivals were doing).

Gerald must also stoke her jealousy and get her to stay home more by pretending to be “unfaithful."

TB: I found that to be the most objectionable part of the film. It seemed like something Rock Hudson's characters would have done in the previous movies. To manipulate the Doris character and get her back in line.

JL: Although some of the gags here are intentionally far-fetched (a.k.a. he plants a candid of him with some unknown woman at a restaurant and applies lipstick to his clothes), only in a comedy like this would you get a surreal line like “I'm surprised at you letting me go into the shower without my underwear.” Oh...they do sleep in twin beds since two kids are enough for now. This may have been among the last major screen features showing this since the times were a-changing.

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Yet it all works out in the end since Gerald is not all that Victorian of a husband as he states and at least understands her career needs. Would he have survived the seventies revolution? I think so. Gerald appears to be pretty good at adapting to what he isn't used to at first, including a working woman getting more pay than he does.

TB: I would say most of that is down to James Garner's interpretation of the material. In many ways I think he is Day's best costar in these kinds of vehicles. He comes across as realistic, even if the scenarios are entirely preposterous.

Care to discuss some of the supporting players?

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JL: Quite a few other familiar faces in the supporting cast worth mentioning. Carl Reiner, co-writer of this box office hit, gets into the act with some hilarious on-TV cameos and as the cop arresting Gerald for stopping suddenly on a highway. ZaSu Pitts from the earlier Hal Roach comedies and countless other classics plays housekeeper Olivia; sadly she would pass away during the production of IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD, which succeeded this. Alice Pearce (another veteran from classics like ON THE TOWN and Bewitched) also appears briefly. Curiously Brian Nash as the other Boyer child only enjoyed limited success as a child actor, not getting blessed performing with Julie Andrews on something seen by the multitudes like his on-screen sister.

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TB: Good points. We should also mention the director.

JL: Despite the fact that Norman Jewison directed this and he would make some interesting forward-advancing features as the sixties progressed (including a most famous Best Picture winner covering race relations), I was a trifle disappointed with this movie much like you were with MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON playing it safe with Frank Capra's all-male U.S. Senate. There were, in my personal opinion, some lost opportunities here that could have been developed much further.

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Then again, as I stated above, this film was made merely to please the masses without making them too uncomfortable. It is a sixties film still somewhat stuck in the fifties...and that is what audiences did want at the time, making it an 11 million dollar hit at the box office.

TB: Thanks Jlewis. THE THRILL OF IT ALL is available on home video and it airs occasionally on TCM.

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“feature films in the 1960s were resembling television more and more Doris' own career increasingly heads in this direction since her last feature, WITH SIX YOU GET EGGROLL, is indeed a glorified sitcom. Which was soon followed by a weekly sitcom called The Doris Day Show.”
 

I think you pretty much sum up a decade in Hollywood with these lines. Backtracking to the years 1948-1955, we see Hal Roach, Revue Studios (later absorbed by Universal), Screen Gems a.k.a. Columbia, Disney, Warner, 20th Century Fox and MGM make their first tv shows, followed a few years later by United Artists. Paramount was doing small stuff here and there as early as ‘49, I think, but really didn’t get fully involved until the Gulf & Western/Desilu period. So... by the sixties, these tv shows were basically what was preventing all of the studio backlots from getting bulldozed to the ground right away. Naturally quite a number of the films of that period, including the economical but profitable Doris Day, Jerry Lewis and Elvis Presley vehicles, looked pretty much like the tv shows using the same sets.

I had referenced Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner when discussing Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice due to most of the same patrons attending both films two years apart. The former looks like a tv program with its limited sets while the latter has more outdoor scenery and spiffy editing. This brings me to that one very trendy movie you referenced when talking about the latter. It was pretty obvious that Columbia’s  Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice would not have been made without The Graduate almost reaching a Sound of Music box office level. Ditto other studios like Paramount with Goodbye Columbus, another Graduate offspring. I think this was the point when Hollywood finally departed from its big screen / small screen look and pretty much everything for the big screen had a more “shot on location” look regardless of its budget.

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36 minutes ago, Jlewis said:

“feature films in the 1960s were resembling television more and more Doris' own career increasingly heads in this direction since her last feature, WITH SIX YOU GET EGGROLL, is indeed a glorified sitcom. Which was soon followed by a weekly sitcom called The Doris Day Show.”
 

I think you pretty much sum up a decade in Hollywood with these lines. Backtracking to the years 1948-1955, we see Hal Roach, Revue Studios (later absorbed by Univeral), Screen Gems a.k.a. Columbia, Disney, Warner, 20th Century Fox and MGM make their first tv shows, followed a few years later by United Artists. Paramount was doing small stuff here and there as early as ‘49, I think, but really didn’t get fully involved until the Gulf & Western/Desilu period. So... by the sixties, these tv shows were basically what was preventing all of the studio backlots from getting bulldozed to the ground right away. Naturally quite a number of the films of that period, including the economical but profitable Doris Day, Jerry Lewis and Elvis Presley vehicles, looked pretty much like the tv shows using the same sets.

I had referenced Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner when discussing Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice due to most of the same patrons attending both films two years apart. The former looks like a tv program with its limited sets while the latter has more outdoor scenery and spiffy editing. This brings me to that one very trendy movie you referenced when talking about the latter. It was pretty obvious that Columbia’s  Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice would not have been made without The Graduate almost reaching a Sound of Music box office level. Ditto other studios like Paramount with Goodbye Columbus, another Graduate offspring. I think this was the point when Hollywood finally departed from its big screen / small screen look and pretty much everything for the big screen had a more “shot on location” look regardless of its budget.

Excellent comment. Coinciding with this is how the old school movie stars begin to transition over to television. Mainly because they do not want to play supporting roles in motion pictures under younger newer stars.

In addition to Doris Day, we see Rock Hudson appearing on a regular series with Susan St. James. And we have people like Jimmy Stewart and Glenn Ford try, but fail, to headline a hit TV show.

The ones who didn't want to do television, they basically went into semi-retirement or full retirement-- people like Cary Grant and Gene Kelly who couldn't even be bothered to do a special episode of The Love Boat or Murder She Wrote.

One old school movie star of yesteryear still going strong on the big screen in the 1970s was John Wayne. Though I am sure if he had lived longer, he would have eventually joined the TV bandwagon in the 1980s...if not a weekly series then in high profile TV movies and miniseries.

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What I especially liked about Wayne, despite his strong polarizing conservative politics and his questionable interviews like the one he did for Playboy (but, hey!... at least he sat for an interview with them!), was his sense of humor. This is something that tends to be lacking in our current, much more polarizing, time. He appeared memorably on Maude opposite "The Liberal" Beau Arthur. Dallas was a another good show for keeping famous stars of the classic era, including Howard Keel. Animation voice-over work also kept many of the formally famous employed, such as those classic Rankin-Bass puppetoons like Santa Claus Is Coming to Town with Fred Astaire and Here Comes Peter Cottontail with Danny Kaye and Vincent Price.

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Coming up:

AUGUST 2020

Foreign animation

August 1: THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED (1926)

August 8: THE TALE OF THE FOX (1937)

August 15: THE EMPEROR'S NIGHTINGALE (1949)

August 22: MAUGLI (1973)

August 29: GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (1988)

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Essential: THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED (1926)

TB: For the month of August I asked Jlewis to select a theme and choose five films. He chose foreign animation. I am going to be reading these reviews along with the rest of you...then adding a few comments afterward. Since this is an area of film I know little about, my comments will be more opinion-based, with me stating what moved me or what I felt was effective.

As Jlewis discusses below, the first title he chose, PRINCE ACHMED, is a bit difficult to find online. There are some clips on YouTube, along with a documentary about the filmmaker, Lottie Reiniger. A complete version of PRINCE ACHMED is on the Internet Archive, with the original German titles and Spanish subtitles. That is the version I watched. Anyway, let's turn things over to Jlewis...

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JL: DIE GESCHICHTE DES PRINZEN ACHMED a.k.a. THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED (1926) is a very unique, one of a kind motion picture that is unlike anything else you would see, except maybe Michel Ocelot's French efforts made eight decades later... also generally unseen by most reading these posts. It is a 65 minute fantasy made primarily by one woman, Lotte Reiniger, with just a few fellow artists of Berlin's bohemian pre-Hitler scene assisting mostly with the background art and technical needs, among them the legendary Walter Ruttmann, Berthold Bartosch, Alexander Kardan, Walter Türk and Carl Koch, the last being her husband and key camera operator.

It is pretty much an “indy” film by a female director long before such things became fashionable, a special project that consumed her for three years straight in its making. The third feature length animated production ever made, at a time when animated cartoons rarely lasted more than 20 minutes and probably three quarters of them were under 6 at most, it is also the oldest over-an-hour cartoon still in existence today. Argentina's Quirino Christiani's previous efforts of 1917-18 are still considered lost and one supposedly destroyed by the authorities in power for political reasons.

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The primary technique employed is silhouette cut-out animation, using flat cardboard and paper cut-outs painted jet-black with limbs and other body parts attached intricately to make them movable, then animated frame by frame for the camera. The overall visual effect is inspired by the stick and hand manipulated puppets of European and Chinese shadow plays.

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Among the earliest examples of this technique still surviving is the British short THE CLOWN AND THE DONKEY (1910), made by Charles Armstrong for Charles Urban's company... and it is not even his first since he made an even earlier SPORTING MICE that is now believed to be lost. Lotte Reiniger did her first short silhouette animation in December 1919, making six shorts total before starting this ambitious feature in 1923.

It isn't employed throughout the entire film. Other interesting effects include paint-on glass for the genie coming out of the lamp and other dissolve-like visuals, this being an animation style that Caroline Leaf later popularized in the seventies with her National Film Board of Canada work. Also there appears to be some pioneering optical effects involving photographed fire in one key scene.

Despite being made 11 years before Walt Disney's first feature, SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, it is not “primitive” in any way and remains a fresh and dazzling spectacle to view even today. Speaking of Disney, he was well aware of its existence at the time he was making that feature, one that the Hollywood press would dub the first of its kind when it actually wasn't, and studied her early use of a multi-plane system involving glass sheets with scenery painted and figures moving on them, each carefully placed a distance apart to create added depth. In PRINCE ACHMED, the effects are particularly good in the shot of our hero flying a mechanical horse over a vast city-scape.

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The story utilizes the same original sources as THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD, ALADDIN (and his lamp) and 1001 ARABIAN NIGHTS, all fodder for many live-action and animated features throughout the century; the animated kind also include the popular 1992 Disney feature and a 1959 UPA-Columbia production featuring Mr. Magoo. What all of these films have in common is that they have virtually nothing in common, involving characters sporting the same names but doing totally different activities on screen.

For example, in both the 1924 Douglas Fairbanks and 1940 Alexander Korda Technicolor versions of THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD, Achmed or Achmad is a lover of the Princess but Reiniger has him as the royally privileged brother of Princess, given the very specific name of Disnarde here. Instead, he falls in love with Pari Banu, the princess/queen of Wak Wak, and saves Aladdin so he can become Achmed's brother-in-law.

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There is a villain in all of these film adaptations who challenges our heroes. In the other films, he is often labeled Jaffar; here, he is merely an “African sorcerer” who creates a flying horse that purposely sends Achmed away so he can take over his father's kingdom. Despite temporarily being imprisoned by Achmed and Disnarde's caliph father, he manages to escape and later abducts Pari Banu to sell off as a future bride for a Chinese emperor (cue some mild but notable ethnic “oriental” stereotyping here) whom Achmed, again, must save her from. Meanwhile, his sister's love interest... Aladdin himself... has adventures of his own, battling a bizarre tree monster whom Achmed rescues him from.

Despite its episodic nature, the story is not terribly challenging to follow, although I was watching an online copy lacking English subtitles. However the action does happen a bit too fast at times. For example, Achmed battles a couple of beasties as well as the sorcerer in very rapid succession, including a multi-headed hydra that grows more heads as each one is hacked off by his sword.

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In later stop-motion spectacles, Ray Harryhausen took his time with his similar battle scenes. At times, Reiniger's battles feel like some drug-induced acid trip with Achmed succeeding even faster than Mighty Mouse. Perhaps she could have spent more time building these up better even if it extended the running time from 65 to, say, 75 minutes.

There is a witch who helps Achmed and she is rather interesting herself. She is a thrumpy, ugly looking dame with curious plants growing from her clothing. Yet she is quite the heroine and I wonder if Reiniger saw a little of herself in this creation as she assists Achmed in defeating the hydra so she can have Aladdin's lamp...and she wants it for positive reasons rather than evil ones like the villain sorcerer. Regarding him, there is a climatic battle of wits between the two that Walt Disney's crew obviously analyzed when they worked on a similar scene in SWORD IN THE STONE between Mad Madam Mim and Merlin: each transforms into different animals (scorpion, giant rooster, etc.) to conquer the other.

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Unfortunately this labored production was not a huge success when it opened in Berlin in May 1926, failing to recoup its costs initially. According to a great documentary on her life, some of her aging friends interviewed in the 1980s after her passing felt that the overall look of this film, so different than the live action features general audiences were used to, may have rendered it too unorthodox for their tastes. She would later attempt a second feature, but DR. DOOLITTLE wound up as a “featurette” instead. Many other short films were made in Germany, France (after she left as Hitler came to power) and finally England where she settled in her later years. Both her and her husband also worked with the great Jean Renoir in several live-action projects of great interest.

Initially this was shown with color tints, but the master nitrate print was lost over time and all copies that were made existed in black and white. Thanks to enough notes taken, the tinting effects could be digitally added a second time around for its 1998-99 restoration for the DVD market.

This documentary excerpt (the full film is a great one to watch but hard to find online) covers the making of this special film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTOe5hCmwB4

***

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TB: Thanks Jlewis. When I watched the film, it seemed quite lovely. But I also found it somewhat primitive. As you stated, Lottie had been making short animated films for several years before she attempted this longer project; and this film took her three years to make.

The one thing that kept pulling me out of the story is that after she does movement with some of the characters-- whether it's a flying scene, or a battle scene-- the characters suddenly stop. There are pauses each time after the characters move. I feel the film is not edited well; where she should have gone in and snipped out those extra frames where the characters are still for a second or two between actions. It would have felt that the motion was more continuous if she had.

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Perhaps the reason she has these pauses in between actions is that it is meant to evoke the use of puppets, where the puppeteer does a motion with the character on a stick, then stops for the audience to respond, even applaud. But it sort of defeats the purpose of an animated feature, which in terms of action is supposed to resemble live performance. Actors on a stage, or actors in a scene from a movie, do not keep pausing.

Another thing that gets a thumbs down from me is the fact that all the silhouettes are in black. I think she could have been more creative and had some figures in gray or dark green. Or even reversed the effect, and for some sequences, had the background in black, with the figures in white. It got too predictable that the characters were always in black. Also, because they were in black, we couldn't see any specific facial expressions or distinguishing marks to convince us they were real and not cardboard cutouts.

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Now she does present the genie in light blue. He is the only character whose facial expressions we get to see clearly. It would have been nice if other characters had such detailed facial features.

Maybe during the fire sequence, some of the characters could have turned red as if they were becoming part of the fire. Yet, she keeps them in black silhouette. It just seemed too easy, not differentiating the characters' color schemes.

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You already mentioned how some of the action scenes feel rushed. I feel she's jamming too much story into 65 minutes. It's easy to see why the 1992 Disney animated feature limits Achmed and focuses on Aladdin. You cannot really have two main protagonists, and two love stories of equal importance, since it sort of pulls the audience away from one story when the focus suddenly switches to the other story, then back again. A clearer narrative is needed, with one main hero and heroine.

Now if this film was built around the villain, and it was about evil schemes against these different heroes and heroines, then maybe that would have worked better.

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The payoff would have been greater when it came time for the sorcerer to do battle with the witch. In some ways, it would have been like Oberon and Titania's story from A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, which might have better unified all the separate story strands.

I don't dislike the film. It's charming and quite visually impressive. But I am reluctant to throw the word pioneer around since I feel that's an overused term and sometimes gives early filmmakers a "free pass" as to why they may not have been more effective. Personally, I think she probably should have spent more than three years on it; and as you say, she could have expanded on some of it, to create stronger pacing and cohesion. It's a valiant effort but ultimately for me, not as satisfying overall as I expected it would be.

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Although animated features may not be your favored choice for movie commentary, you did have plenty to say about this one. In regards to the silhouette animation and every character being black (a "thumbs down"), you do have to keep in mind that audiences of the 1920s were more accepting of its technique overall since most of them were familiar with shadow puppets in their youth. The only difference here is No Strings Attached. I saw plenty of shadow puppet theater in my youth too, but... then again... I had a rather antiquated childhood full of "primitive" entertainment and watched an awful lot of PBS.  The earliest "movies" of the 19th century, intriguingly enough, involved toys like the zoetrope that also focused on silhouettes. Of course, Reiniger did not stick exclusively to this format and did do some color cut-out animation of the non-silhouette kind that may have accomplished some of your suggestions listed here.

I view her as a fascinating singular talent who was a self-made artist first and film-maker second. Think of her along the same lines of the equally unique Norman McLaren, who made many films that didn't even involve a camera! No doubt, Reiniger was too avant-garde for Hollywood tastes, but I do wonder what would have happened had Hollywood saw her as another Disney and gave her a big budget, which this film obviously did NOT have. Plus Technicolor and a special effects team to support her.

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29 minutes ago, Jlewis said:

Although animated features may not be your favored choice for movie commentary, you did have plenty to say about this one. In regards to the silhouette animation and every character being black (a "thumbs down"), you do have to keep in mind that audiences of the 1920s were more accepting of its technique overall since most of them were familiar with shadow puppets in their youth. The only difference here is No Strings Attached. I saw plenty of shadow puppet theater in my youth too, but... then again... I had a rather antiquated childhood full of "primitive" entertainment and watched an awful lot of PBS.  The earliest "movies" of the 19th century, intriguingly enough, involved toys like the zoetrope that also focused on silhouettes. Of course, Reiniger did not stick exclusively to this format and did do some color cut-out animation of the non-silhouette kind that may have accomplished some of your suggestions listed here.

I view her as a fascinating singular talent who was a self-made artist first and film-maker second. Think of her along the same lines of the equally unique Norman McLaren, who made many films that didn't even involve a camera! No doubt, Reiniger was too avant-garde for Hollywood tastes, but I do wonder what would have happened had Hollywood saw her as another Disney and gave her a big budget, which this film obviously did NOT have. Plus Technicolor and a special effects team to support her.

Not sure why you're saying that animated features are not my favored choice for movie commentary. A few summers ago I did a month of Disney animation from the 1990s. So I think that comment is erroneous.

I do think Reiniger's style is primitive but that is not a put-down. It just means she was not as developed as a filmmaker as I expected her to be. She didn't have much experience behind her as a filmmaker when she attempted such a large-scale project. I think her biggest mistake is not narrowing the story down to one couple. Or as I suggested the focus could have been on the sorcerer and witch as a couple waging their own battles that brought in these other couples, like we see in Midsummer Night's Dream. Reiniger was trying to put too much into a 65-minute film and it lacks some focus as a result.

I don't think we need to make excuses about her being an avante-garde artist, since there are plenty of avante-garde filmmakers like Maya Deren and Orson Welles who managed to have hits that are more cohesive. And no, a filmmaker does not need a big budget or Technicolor. It really comes down to the decisions the artist makes and how they execute it. Again, I didn't care for some of Reiniger's decisions, especially since she she kept all the characters in black, with the exception of the Genie, which just seemed a bit lazy. She could still have made them seem like shadow puppets by using grays, dark greens and other darker colors besides black...or as I said, she could have inverted it for one sequence, where the silhouettes were done in white, silver or gold against a black backdrop. 

One thought I had was how this story would have been told, on a truly large scale, if someone like Erich von Stroheim had dabbled in animation. Not saying it would have been another GREED, but I think a more developed and experienced filmmaker in 1926 would have found a way to do this ambitious story in a way that Reiniger wanted to do, but couldn't quite pull off.

Again the film is worth watching and has its own distinct charms, but it just fell short of expectations for me.

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My comment was in regards to yours: "Since this is an area of film I know little about". Yes... yes... YESSSSSSS... I goofed in the way I expressed it. I should not have used the word "favored" since that wasn't exactly the word I was thinking of. My whole point here is that you did quite well with some interesting commentary in multiple paragraphs regardless.

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