Saturday, April 12, 2014

Lady and the Tramp


I've settled back into life at Chateau Maine. It hasn't been easy. Doreen and Herbert Scrawcrunch left the house in a truly disastrous state: Mounds of rotting garbage in the gourmet kitchen;  half the ormolu and gold leaf broken off the trim in my beloved Topkapi Palace themed home theater; large quantities of fine MNM consumer products practically destroyed by mishandling and improper care. Doreen put a large number of pieces of VickiWear, all ready for shipping, into the drier and the resultant shrinkage has left them unwearable. I have a phone call into Mattel to see if they might be interested in them for Glorious Diva Barbie. Herbert's toupee is still caught in the pool filter. I phoned my dear friend, Esther Williams, about it. I figured if anyone were to know about corpses and their leavings in swimming pools, it would be her. She hasn't called me back.

All the time in the cast has played havoc on my shapely legs and dancing musculature so I've had to put in some hours in the home studio, getting myself back into shape for my next project. Joseph, my manager, has two very promising leads for me. The first is Goodfollies, a new musical film about New Jersey mobster ladies. Scorsese is the director and they're looking for three classic Hollywood ladies for the major roles. Joseph has also been deep in negotiations with a new cable network, Whee Television. Whee is devoted to the world of film, stage and television and is interested in a new reality television series, The Maine Event, in which I would open my life and home to the cameras and show the world how to live life like a true legend and show business icon. As I understand it, it's tentatively to run opposite that VH-1 show with Miss upstart, Liza Minnelli, and her catamite.

I'm feeling much more positive about life and work than I have for a while so after an hour or so of tap exercises, I decided to collapse in the home theater with an affirming video experience. My choice was Disney's classic, Lady And The Tramp, produced by the studio in 1955, at the zenith of its family film creation under the steely and benevolent eye of uncle Walt. Lady and the Tramp came between Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty in the canon of cartoon features and, while trifling in subject matter, exemplifies the studio at the height of its artistic powers during its golden age.

The film is the story of the two titular heroes, the sweet cocker spaniel, Lady, and the Tramp, a mutt from the wrong side of the tracks. It's told from the dogs' point of view; human characters are glimpsed mainly as legs and hem lines, against a background of turn of the century small city Americana. As the film opens, Lady is a puppy with a big blue bow, a Christmas surprise from "Jim dear" to his wife "Darling". She grows, trades in her ribbon for a shiny blue collar with the emblem of respectability in the dog world, a shiny brass license, and socializes with the other dogs of her upscale neighborhood including Jock, the Scottish Terrier, and Trusty, an elderly bloodhound. One day, Jim dear and Darling reproduce and Lady's household status is diminished as their attention moves to the baby.

When her masters need to make a journey out of town, Aunt Sarah, who is not to fond of dogs, arrives to babysit, along with her two cats, Si and Am. Their duet We are Siamese is the films comic high point. Aunt Sarah is anti-dog and, in a fracas, Lady runs away. She is taken under the wing of the ne'er do well Tramp, learning the ways of the road and romance blooms, culminating in a spaghetti dinner behind an Italian restaurant which features perhaps the most romantic and heartfelt Hollywood kiss ever. Lady and Tramp, however, are not destined to be together happily ever after. A trip or two to the dog pound, more unkindnesses from Aunt Sarah and a deus ex machina chase of the dogcatcher through a rainstorm are just some of the plot points yet to cover until the inevitable Disney happy ending.

In some ways, this look at romance and love with dogs standing in for humans is surprisingly adult, especially for a mid-50s family film. Sex is implied and the issues that Lady and Tramp grapple with will seem familiar to anyone who has contemplated matrimony. On the other hand, the film is definitely a product of its times. Lady, the female, is portrayed as soft and slim and elegant and refined and with a need to civilize while Tramp is rough edged, free and easy and in need of a woman to introduce him to the bliss of domesticity. It's full of clich├ęs to numerous to enumerate here and the approach to gender is hopelessly stuck in the middle of the Eisenhower years.

The best part of the film comes from the contributions from the late songstress and jazz singer, Peggy Lee. Miss Lee wrote much of the better music for the film, as well as providing the voices of the Siamese cats and for a Mae West type Pekingese who delivers a smoldering version of He's a Tramp to a startled Lady, suffering at the pound. Miss Lee's contributions raise the film above the routine and her subsequent treatment by the Disney company, under Michael Eisner, was shameful. Miss Lee's contract called for her to receive additional royalties from use of her voice or music and she was eventually forced to bring suit against the company when the invention of Video and DVD brought them millions and none of that made its way back to her. Their defense was that Video and DVD (not invented in 1955) was not specifically mentioned in the contracts and therefore not covered. Miss Lee sued on behalf of herself and numerous other Disney creative artists screwed over the years and was well on her way to winning when the case was settled out of court.

The DVD has the film in original proportions. Like most Disney products, care has been taken in both the image and sound transfers and the colors, in particular, are lovely. While not in the same class as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Pinocchio, it's still quite endearing and a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half with memories of childhood or a borrowed child or two.

Bad Scottish burr. Bone burying. Evil rat. Streetcar dodging. Drape clawing. Fish attack. Meatball sharing. Ladies shower. Gentlemen's smoker. Implied doggy style sex. Implied execution.

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