En Pointe: Blogathon of Ballet: Rimky-Koravok’s Scheheazade

Before the days of DVRs, Wifi, Fire sticks, Hulu and Netflix, and so on…movie choices on television were based on the decisions of big networks or a local broadcasting affiliates.  If you said “Binge watching” in the 60s, most people would have thought you meant that you somehow medically cared for an alcoholic. In other words, watching your favorite movie or show was not as easy as a pushing a few keys on your remote control.

Back in the late 60s, to find my favorite movie, I scanned the TV guide or the Marquee supplement of the Sunday newspaper. Every week, I would skim the television listings looking for one long word: Scheherazade. If I found it, I usually circled it and noted the time and channel.  If that movie came on at 1:00 am, the last show of night, I would wake up out of a dead sleep in order to sneak into the living room to watch it.  I turned the volume dial down so low that I had to almost put my ear on the TV speaker to hear it.  If my mother heard me out of bed, there would be hell to pay.  This is as close to binge watching as you could get in the 1960s.

Was that movie worth all that work plotting and sneaking around? Yes, Song of Scheherazade (1947) was absolutely worth it.  It was my first exposure to classical music and the world of ballet. It will always have a special place in my heart because it was one of my personal gateways to wonderful, exotic worlds. This film is based on an experience of one of the greatest Russian composers of all time Nickolai Rimsky-Korvakov.  He wrote a symphony based on one of the greatest storytellers of all time, Scheherazade.  Twenty four-year old Nikolai (Nicki) travelled around the world on a Russian clipper ship for three years (1863-1866).  When he was not working and off duty for the Imperial Russian Navy, he would compose music. His compositions were influenced by the diverse music and customs of the foreign countries he visited on this long voyage. This is only thing that is true in the Hollywood movie, Song of Scheherazade, concerning any aspect of Korvakov’s life in the navy.

 

The story of Scheherazade is worth mentioning, especially if you are not familiar with her tale. She was one of the many brides of a Sultan. Because, one of his wives, who he dearly loved, betrayed him and ran away with another, he decided to protect himself from heartbreak and disloyalty. Each night, he would consummate his marriage with one of his wives; and then, he would have her executed the following morning.

When it was Scheherazade’s turn to consummate their marriage, she devised a plan to not only save herself but all the other wives too. She held the Sultan spellbound with these fantastic stories about a thief named Aladdin, a heroic sailor named Sinbad and many others who had their own adventures and loves.  She would draw these stories out so when the morning came, her story was not finished.  The Sultan was so captivated by the story, he had to know how it would end. So each morning, he would tell the executioner to come back tomorrow morning. This continued for 1001 nights.  Until, the Sultan realized how much he loved Scheherazade and stopped all executions of his wives.

 

 

The Song of Scheherazade (1947): Summary

It was during a heat wave (116 degrees with no wind or breeze) in 1865, that a Russian clipper ship asked for a tow into the Spanish port of Morocco; as a result, the sailors were given two-day shore leave. Before they could be “cut loose” on the town, they had to undergo an inspection and lecture by their stern, cigar smoking and shirtless Captain Vladimir Grigorovich (Brian Donlevy).  We learn one of the sailors is a spoiled Prince (Phillip Reed).  He loves to carry an illegal bull whip on his person.  Another sailor is “Nicki” Korvakov ( Jean Pierre Aumont).  He is an aristocrat who is in the constant mode of composing operas. French actor, Aumont is perfect as the wide-eyed, innocent Russian musical genius.  His accent is definitely French but not too thick. You soon forget it is supposed to be a Russian accent. The English he speaks just gives his words an exotic European sound.

 

When the sailors are released to start their shore leave, Nicki locates his friend: the ship’s doctor, Dovctor Klim (Charles Kullmann: an Metropolitan opera singer).  Together they search the town looking for a piano for Nicki to play.  They wanted to hear how his newest composition sounded on an instrument.  Looking through the windows of upscale homes, they find a Piano.

I guess the plan is since Nicki is an aristocrat and a musician, the homeowner would allow these two sailors in their home to pound away on their expensive piano. Once they spy a piano through a window, they excitedly bang on the door. As they push pass the servants, they assure them that they come to only check out the piano, nearly knocking them down.  They relax as soon as Nicki begins to play. It is a beautiful melody that is heard by the mistress of the house, Madame de Talavera (Eve Arden). The Madame is a noble Spanish colonists living in Morocco.  She comes into to parlor from the outside to find two strange Russian sailors: one is playing the piano and the another one is studying the music sheets. She instantly enjoys the music. However, she wants to know who these young men are and interrupts the music.   When Nicki introduces himself, she says, “What a long name. Important people have long names.”  Arden supplies much of the comic relief in this film. She is very funny as the confused, gambling, exaggerating, widowed mother with one daughter. Arden is charming, and, her comedic timing is perfect.

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During the making of this movie, the codes of decency were strictly enforced. It required that all costumes be approved three days before filming.  Strangely, they had no problem with any garments; but, they had a lot to say about Arden’s blunging necklines.  De Tralavera’s daughter, Cara (Yvonne De Carlo), is not home to be introduced to these gentlemen. Finally, Doctor Klim uses his operatic voice to sing Nicki’s new song. This is the first song of the film.  The household enthusiastically applauds when the song ends.It is a success. Madame de Travers invites the young men to come back in hopes she can introduce them to her daughter, Cara.  Nicki and his friend are so happy with the song, they rush back to the ship to work the  on the opera some more.  However, their Captain stops them and orders them off the ship.  He wants them to enjoy their two-day leave.  Who knows when another would be feasible? He orders them to find a club for some drinks, some music and hopefully some women.

 

Nicki  finds himself in such a club, sitting alone at a table, working hard on his music.  None of his fellow crew members are there. Finally, the music changes and a beautiful Moroccan woman begins her dance on a small stage.  All activities stops and all eyes, including Nicki’s, is on this enchantress. He is bewitched by the dance and beauty of this woman (Yvonne De Carlo). Nicki does not know this is the daughter of Madame de Tralavera, Cara.  Most people remember De Carlo as TV character, Lillie, the wife of Hermann Munster on a hit show called The Munsters.  She had a long movie career before television.

 

As her performance ends, she walks through the crowd for donations. When she reaches Nicki, he sees a group of sailors loudly making their entrance into the club behind her.  Nicki tugs on her hand to sit next to him as he begs her to please play along.  He didn’t want any of his peers to report to his Captain or tease him in front of their captain about being alone while working on his music in a crowded club. The Prince sees him and is curious about the lovely woman with him. He walks over to investigate.

Nicki says they were just leaving for one of the rooms upstairs (a place to become more intimate with a working girl). Nicki leaves to pay for their accommodations. Cara walks ahead and enters one of the rooms.  She is surprised when she sees the Prince waiting for her.  He assures her that she would rather his company than Nicki’s. Then, he boldly removes her face scarf. He realizes that she is not oriental. Everything on her face is makeup.  She angrily replaces her covering as Nicki enters the room.  The two men come to near blows. Finally, Nicki asks Cara to choose.  Before she chooses, the Prince concedes to leave; since, he did not want the humiliation of her choosing Nicki over him.  As the Prince leaves, Cara tells him she would have chosen Nicki.

Once the Prince left, Nicki tells Cara to eat; and, she could leave whenever she wished to. He immediately starts working on his music. Cara looks confused; but, persuades him to not let her eat alone.  He joins her; and, they talk.  He jokes with her about how a lovely girl like her could end up in a place like this. He guesses that she was born with a silver spoon and all the wealth of her family was lost.  Now, she works here to survive.  She agrees that “his story” is true.  He is curious how she manages to keep her virtue and keep the company with men she “dates.” She explains that it depends on the type of man she is with.  She orders the right liquor and tells him fascinating stories to keep him entertained; until, they grow tired and fall asleep or leave.

Nicki realized that her story reminded him of the story of Scheherazade.  He asks her if she remembered the story.  As she recounts the tale, Nicki becomes inspired to write the storytelling music. Cara has quickly becomes his personal muse. Nicki is furiously back to work on the music; and, Cara is ignored and forgotten.  She quietly leaves with a hopelessly besotted look on her face.  The next day, Nicki will learn Cara’s true identity.  At this point, I hope you see this whole movie.  There is so much to see including De Carlo disguised as a Russian sailor, Donlevy doing the best cigarette trick ever seen on film, and the sad good-bye to Nicki.  Don’t fret, this is the golden age of Hollywood.  There will be happy faces and warm fuzzy feelings to go around at the end.

Besides, the ballet and the music, there is a lovely romance story and a sub plot of the Prince completely destroying what little wealth the Tralavera family has left.  The are various dances besides the ballet at the end.  There are waltzes and Russian folk dancing too. The mix of dance and music are a hypnotic enough on their own; but, to add visual adventures of a fun storyline transforms this film into pure aesthetic joy.

 

This post was written as part of an entry for the En Pointe: The Ballet Blogathon hosted by Christina Wehner and Love Letters to Old Hollywood.

Please use the links below to read more entries in this Blogathon:

https://christinawehner.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/en-pointe-the-ballet-blogathon-begins-today/

OR

https://loveletterstooldhollywood.blogspot.com/2017/07/en-pointe-ballet-blogathon-is-coming-up.html

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References:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_compositions_by_Nikolai_Rimsky-Korsakov

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0039852/fullcredits

Judy Garland loves The Pirate (1948): A Garland Blogathon

Anyone who personally knows me will tell you that I am a sucker for pirate movies. Obviously, it is the “romantic notion” of a pirate that I enjoy and not the criminal element of real piracy that still exists today. The idea of a noble pirate like Sir Frances Drake, who historically was “the greatest sea dog” of all time, sailing around the world on The Golden Hind to escape capture by Phillip II of Spain is an exciting tale.  Just think of it, Drake was the first Englishman to circumvent the globe in order to keep the gold “booty” he stole from the Spanish king…classically, awesome. Drake aka el Draque (The Dragon) was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I and participated in the naval battle to stop the invasion of the Spanish Armada.  To the English he was a hero; to the Spanish he was a criminal. This is history; however, in the world of the arts our “Bad Boys” can do and be anything we so choose, even being chased by a crocodile with a clock in its belly.

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Basically, the romanticized idea of a  pirate or privateer is a talented captain who is much like a “James Bond,” but sailing the seas and not driving an Aston Martin. In reality, some of them secretly worked for a government or group of investors.  The fantastical captains were strategically brilliant, expert sword fighters, charmingly witty, loved music and the spirits (Ho, ho, ho, and a bottle of rum), had a lusty libido, and were fearless in face of danger.

From movies of all genres (dramas, comedies, horror, and musicals…) and even in Disney theme parks, the pirate is a common sight. So, when I was invited to pay tribute to the beautiful and glamorous Judy Garland, I immediately chose her pirate movie.  This post is part of a Blogathon celebrating the work of Judy Garland.  It is graciously hosted by Crystal from In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.

https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2017/06/08/the-judy-garland-blogathon-has-now-arrived/

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Since, I admit to my pirate weaknesses, I should acknowledge that I am also a fan of television series Once Upon a Time.  Of course, I am happy Emma Snow (the savior) played beautifully by Jennifer Morrison fell in love with Captain Hook played by devilish handsome Colin O’Donoghue. Who could resist?

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Whatever the influence from history, movies, books, or location, pirates are part of the general population’s psyche.  Now, what does this have to do with a post about Judy Garland’s The Pirate?  Well it explains how I could fall (Hook, line and sinker) for the storyline of this MGM, 1948 musical. Although this film was a bust, it lost over two million dollars at the box office, I feel it had the potential to be a great movie.  Okay, given it is not a great movie, it is still enjoyable and has some of the greatest dance and song scenes ever recorded.

There is a myriad of reasons why movies fail.  For instance, a movie like Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (1971) is an example of a movie that failed at the box office: but, later not only becomes a children favorite, but a cult classic, and later a successful remake in 2005 with Johnny Depp.  Although the The Pirate (1948) is unforgivably underrated, it is enjoyable and  entertaining. This film not only stars the multi-talented actress and singing star, Judy Garland; but, also the versatile Gene Kelly. In addition, it showcases an energetic dance number by the amazing Nicholas Brothers; luscious music by the suave Cole Porter; and, all of this delivered under the artful direction of Vicente Minnelli (married to Garland at the time).

So, how did this movie become underrated?  

Part of the reason is because two dance and song scenes were cut from the movie for different reasons.  With these cuts, it left gaps that gave the audiences at the time a sense that something was missing.  Plus, this was released only three years after World War II.  Although Spain was a neutral country, it was still a fascist country under Franco.  The Cold War, and the House Committee of  Un-American Activities were beginning to rear their ugly heads.  Many American audiences were more than cautious about being influenced by what they perceived as propaganda. This is one explanation out of many that explains why this musical failed so miserly at the box office.

Another reason, some say it failed was a result of the music.  Some believe the Cole Porter Tunes didn’t match the story.  I personally do not feel that way.  It is true, there is not a heavy influence of Spanish rhythms or beats in the music to enhance the setting in the Spanish Caribbean Port of San Sebastian.  However, the emotional lyrics matched the story very well.  And, let’s face it, Garland could sing the words off a traffic ticket and people would swoon. There is one thing Cole Porter did that might have hurt this movie.  He agreed to write the music if he could name the pirate after a friend, Macoco. The name sounds like a special hot drink at Starbucks. Latte, anyone? You could find a better pirate name from the following list:

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If I could change anything, it would be the character development of the two main leads. Serafin’s character (Gene Kelly) trying to “sell the life of a traveling troupe” to Manuela’s character (Judy Garland) has an sound of untruthfulness or Con job. An actors life should have sounded as romantic as the life of a pirate. Plus, he speaks so quickly, he sounds too smug to be charming. Manuela is a nobleman’s daughter.  The romantic side of her character should have been developed more. Manuela’s final decision of what to do with the rest of her life should not have been so obvious.  The dilemma of choosing happiness over her family, reputation, duty and money is not an easy one to make. Yes, I did find the script to be lacking.  There were six writers involved in this project.  Only two of them were credited. So, another reason the movie might have failed could have been a simple matter of ” too many writers” spoiling the script.

Manuela Dreams of Life With The Black Macoco

Manuela (Judy Garland) is a young woman who has just come of age. Her aunt Inez (Gladys Cooper) has just told her that an arranged marriage has been negotiated on her behalf with the mayor of the city, Don Pedro Vargas (Walter Slezak).  Manuela learns of her newly betrothed just after she describes, (romantically sings “Mack The Black” to her lady friends.  When Judy Garland sings, you are in her world of possibilities.  No one interprets a song like she does.  She sings of “Mac’s” (Macoco) bravery; his heroic acts of fighting; and, his treasure and gold. She dreams of her pirate, the Black Macoco, falling desperately in love with her and sailing away with her to see the world.

Manuela is well aware that her aunt and uncle took her in as an orphan with no diary of her own to attract husbands. The mayor is a self made man who is at least 20 some years her senior.  She feels beholden to their care in taking care of her.  Plus, it isn’t so so bad since the Mayor is rich and is a world traveler.  Angela’s dream of seeing the world could come true.  During a meeting is set up between her and the mayor, he assures her that although he is not cultured, he has seen the world and will tell her all about it.  He has no wish to travel again because he  cannot bear the sea.  Instead, he enjoys just staying home since it is quite, peaceful and safe. Then, Manuela is told the mayor is paying for her new wardrobe.  To seal the deal, he gives her a beautiful bejeweled extremely expensive engagement ring.

Crushed, Manuela begs her aunt to allow her to take 30 minutes by herself to look at the sea wall.  They are in town to meet with the dressmaker who is making alterations to her new wardrobe from a famous Paris fashion House, Maison Worth.  Just one last  trip to the sea by herself, she begs.  At least then she could see some corner of their world on an adventure. The aunt nervously grants her that wish.  It is near the sea wall that she meets a touring actor, Serafin (Gene Kelly).  He falls instantly in love with Manuela.  How do we know? Because, he calls every woman he meets “Nina.”  It saves him the trouble of remembering their names.

There is a great song and dance that Kelly does as he sings about all the town Ninas. During his dance routine he uses carnival poles. This might be the first pole dancing performed on screen.  After a brief meeting with Manuela, he begs her to give him her name. She informs him that she will soon be married; and, he tells her that she must not marry a “pumpkin.”  Before, she leaves, he invites her to his performance later that evening.  Before the show begins,  Sarafin sees her in the audience and decides to hypothesize her as part of his act.  But, what he really wants to do is plant the idea that she might love him.

While under hypnoses and  to his surprise, she reveals her infatuation with the notorious pirate. She sings about the Black Macoco.  This is one of the song and dance routines taken out of the picture.  It is known as the Voodoo scene.  When Louis B. Meyer saw the clip of this song and dance, he became enraged and demanded all the negatives of it be destroyed. The recording of the song survived. Someone took some movie clips and pictures of the revised scene with Judy singing Mack the Black again but at a much faster tempo.   This video is on YouTube; but,  I added that link below.  The beginning of this song is kind of creepy.

https://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=WKhytfI1UKg

The Tale of Two Scenes (Dance and Song) Cuts: Too Much Sex or Too Much Diversity

Eventually, Serafin borrows Macoco’s identity in his pursuit of Menuela. There is a lot of fun here before Manuela has her revenge for his deception.  Serafin is so convincing in his act, the mayor has him arrested as Macoco. It is during his trial that one of the best dance scenes in the history of film was cut out of the movie, Be A Clown. Gene Kelly and the Nicholas Brothers are incredible in this unbelievable routine. It was cut out of the film before it could be showed in Southern cities.  This was a time of law enforced segregation.  It was the first time a white and black men were filmed dancing together. Eerily, there is a part of the routine where they dance to close to the gallows and see three nooses hanging.  All three of them cringe and quickly dance away as part of a joke.  Unfortunately,  after the Northern cities saw the film, the Nicholas Brothers were blackballed and could not find work in Hollywood. So, they left the continent to find work in Europe.  They would return in 1964 during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. This great dance routine can be seen in the DVD version.  Hereit is to view it now.  It is not to be missed.

Not to spoil the surprise ending, Garland and Kelly will sing and dance this song again, dressed as clowns. Four years later, the song Be a Clown will be plagiarized by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed for another Kelly film, Singing In The Rain. They changed the title to Make em Laugh. Kelly did not sing the song in that movie, Donald O’Connor did. Cole Porter did not legally make a claim that the  song was used without his permission.

https://www.bing.com/search?q=be+a+clown+garland&form=EDGTCT&qs=PF&cvid=7f80993c1d3c4473a334e8398af45e26&cc=US&setlang=en-US

Final Thought

Despite the problems with the script and the cut and piece editing of the dance scenes, I still enjoyed this Garland movie. Personally, I am happy that she had the opportunity to share her romanticized pirate in one of her  movies.  Honestly, regardless of the movie, Garland and Kelly are simply a joy to watch and listen to.  This was the second of four projects planned for Garland and Kelly.  The first was For Me and My Gal (1942), The Pirate (1948), Easter Parade (1948) and Summer Stock (1950).  Kelly broke his ankle during the filming of Easter Parade and was replaced by Fred Astaire.     

What is truly amazing is that Garland, the consummate performer, could make this look and sound so good, especially  when you learn that she smoked four packs of cigarettes a day during the filming of this movie; and, she was also not at her best mentally or physically.  She missed 99 days out of the 135 filming days for illnesses.  It was during the filming of this movie that she received psychiatric treatment that was paid for by the studio. This was a first for any studio because they usually dock expenses out of their actors’ pay.

Like all Garland fans, I wish her life could have been better because she really deserved it. Who knows what may have happened if she went to nursing school and had a different life. What I do know is that she was so amazingly talented that even today, when we  hear her sing, watch one of her movies or listen to her interviews, we feel warm inside because she has made a special place in our hearts. With that said, here is a clip gym from the film, For Me And My Gal.  Garland and Kelly are shinning bright and at the top of their game as they “Show ’em.”

 

This post is part of a Blogathon celebrating the work of Judy Garland.  It is graciously hosted by Krystal from In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.  To read more posts on the work of Judy Garland, please use the link below.

https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2017/06/08/the-judy-garland-blogathon-has-now-arrived/

 

SOURCES:

http://www.notablebiographies.com/Fi-Gi/Garland-Judy.html

Link list of historical Pirates:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pirates

 

 

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