Sunday, April 13, 2014

Golden Earrings


Interiors for my new film project, Goodfollies, a musical tale of lady mobsters in New Jersey, are currently being filmed on the sound stages at Warner Brothers. The producers have rented them from the company for six weeks, enough time to complete filming and reshoots. While it's nice to see the old place again, I really feel that Burbank is somewhat déclassé and that I am lowering myself every time my car and driver have to carry me over the hills into the valley. I wanted to film at Paramount but apparently their stages are booked solid for Winona Ryder's remake of Caged. I hear Martha Stewart may have a featured role. 

The first day or so in the studio have been fairly uneventful. I have only been needed for a couple of establishing shots and have finished early so I have been spending time at home attending to my retail empire. According to Joseph, my manager, sales of GlamourPuss gowns, VickiWear and Lesterene brand make-up have been less than ideal over the last two quarters. He feels that additional publicity is needed to make the modern American woman more aware of my style and refined tastes. Recent shoppers surveys have shown that Pic and Save may not be quite the right outlet for my glorious creations. With K-Mart going down for the count and Wal-Mart refusing to buy American, Joseph has opened some very delicate negotiations with Lane Bryant. We may need to use a bit more fabric in the designs, but he feels it's a bit of an under tapped market. 

Visions of ravishing women in opulent clothes filling my mind, I decided it was time for a classic Hollywood film with a glamorous leading lady. A Mr. Stephen Murray, executive associate vice-president of the Bay Area Branch of my fan club, had recently sent me a little packet of sweet nothings, including a tape of the 1947 film, Golden Earrings with Marlene Dietrich so I popped it into the home theater system for a peek. Unfortunately, Marlene only had one costume for the entire film, but it proved enjoyable anyway. 

The film opens in 1946, after the end of World War II, in one of those stuffy British Gentlemen's Clubs only seen in old films. Here we meet General Ralph Denistoun (Ray Milland), a hero of the war. Someone has sent him a small packet that contains a pair of golden earrings. Denistoun immediately grabs the next plane for Paris, ending up sitting next to journalist Quentin Reynolds (playing himself). Reynolds notices that Denistoun has pierced ears a, rather unusual affectation on British army officers of the World War II period and asks him about them. Denistoun proceeds to tell his tale and we flashback to the summer of 1939 in Germany, just before the outbreak of the war. 

Denistoun and his companion, Richard Byrd (Bruce Lester) are not very good spies who have been sent to Germany to bring back a secret Nazi poison gas formula in the possession of an old family friend of Byrd's. They have been captured and are being held by the SS and Gestapo until, with usual 1940s film bravado, they escape into the German countryside. They separate, determined to make their way individually to the town where the scientist lives. On the way, Denistoun runs into the Gypsy woman Lydia (Marlene Dietrich) encamped beside the river, waiting for the man she has been promised by the water spirits. Lydia does a quick make-over on Denistoun, whom she has fallen for hard, and he emerges a Gypsy gentleman who looks like he has escaped from a provincial touring operetta. Lydia and Denistoun then meet up with the whole Gypsy clan, run by Zoltan (Murvyn Vye - a long running Jud in the original stage production of Oklahoma!) and there is much singing, dancing, and fighting. As this is 1940s melodrama, there are narrow escapes, sudden deaths, heroic actions under the noses of Nazi task masters, love denied and love reunited. 

The role is something of a departure for Marlene. She spends the entire film in a long dark wig with a Gypsy head cloth and a single peasant dress. As she can't trade on her usual glamour and sophistication, she has to rely on body language and meaningful glances to get her unique sense of sexual appetite and eroticism across and she makes the most of every opportunity. At times, she's a bit overbearing, as if she's playing to the back wall of the Hippodrome rather than a film camera in close-up but it's still good fun. Ray Milland, never the most convincing of film actors, isn't expected to do much except be stalwart and heroic and to soften under Marlene's expert ministrations and he manages to do this. The supporting cast are the usual inconsequential studio players with the exception of Vye, who used this debut to launch several decades of character work on TV and film. 

The movie was directed by Mitchell Leisen, one of the lesser known, but greatish directors of the 30s-50s who had his beginnings as an art director and an ability to compose wonderful black and white images. The flow of the film, especially in the Gypsy camp sequences, is much more refined than the usual programmer of the period. The pacing will seem slow and stilted to modern audiences, but is simply typical of the films of the period. The film was co-written by Helen Deutsch who also wrote National Velvet and King Solomon's Mines and had a good ear for dialog. She gives Marlene all the best lines, naturally, and it's great fun to hear them delivered with that incomparable mittel-European accent. 

This is not a film that will ever make a ten best or even a hundred best list, but it remains highly enjoyable and a pleasant way to while away an hour and a half in the evening. If you come across it while channel surfing, stick with it. It's good fun. 

Fish head stew. Fish cleaning on bed linens. Mercedes dunking. Telegram boy. Gratuitous secret formula. Nazi tackling. Dotted sign posts. Gratuitous Gypsy czardas. 

No comments:

Post a Comment