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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Comedy Skates On The Edge


Will June Allyson in Pigtails Fool Van Johnson?

Loew's Treat for 68 Thanksgivings Ago
June Allyson poses as a fourteen-year-old music prodigy to secure Van Johnson's patronage, him the busy impresario who moves her into bachelor digs. Could this be remade today? Not on our lives. Someone should list topics OK in a Classic Era that are taboo now. It would run longer than most imagine. Too Young To Kiss (1951) was sold with a same tag line as its partial inspiration, The Major and The Minor --- Is She A Kid Or Is She Kidding? We go nearly Too Young's length waiting for the forbidden clinch, June the vamp in pigtails and Van bemused over his attraction to an apparent kid. This was obviously a premise that needed special handling, so Metro treads lightly, and maybe that's why they put emphasis (welcome) on classical recital by June Allyson in remarkable keyboard faking of Chopin and Edward Grieg. The deception was enough to fool hostess of the film's trailer Kathryn Grayson, who picks up a phone to call Allyson and ask if it was really her performing compositions we hear. “Well, you saw me, didn’t you?” is June’s cryptic answer, a challenge for Grayson and us to prove she wasn’t actually playing.




Metro was putting nearly as much imagination into previews as finished pictures during the early 50's, and maybe this one greased wheels for Radio City to open Too Young To Kiss as Thanksgiving attraction for 1951. LA saw it in a first-run combo's front seat, The Red Badge of Courage  at the rear, MGM having given up on it by then. There had been long and fruitful relation between Leo and serious composers, more so than with other studios. Too Young To Kiss would make a good pair with MGM’s Rhapsody from 1954, as each bring Great Music through a back door of comedy and romance. I expect both won converts to classical, even as Tom and Jerry served similar purpose on occasion in the cartoon department. Who were evangelicals on the Lion's lot? No company made symphonic medicine go down so smooth. Too Young To Kiss is available from Warner Archive.

6 Comments:

Blogger Dave K said...

"Someone should list topics OK in a Classic Era that are taboo now." Great idea for a post!

Am thinking the vaults are full of stuff like TO YOUNG TO KISS, SUSAN SLEPT HERE, THAT HAGAN GIRL and MARGIE that hike eyebrows today. And what about the flip side of the coin, all the real life schoolgirl age actresses that played leading lady to middle aged leading men? Ann Miller, Joan Leslie, Mary Astor, Loretta Young and all those D.W. Griffith girls were still teens while in clinches with 40 and/or 50 year olds.

9:25 AM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

"Someone should list topics OK in a Classic Era that are taboo now."

Let's not even mention those Shirley Temple "Baby Burlesks".

12:32 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

The whole girl-and-employer thing. Not just the Cinderella fantasies of shopgirls, stenos and stewardesses marrying the men they served, but the endless gags about philandering execs and secretaries offering varying degrees of resistance. Even after "The Apartment", light fare like "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" could present sex in the office as Innocent Merriment. These days it's far from dead in media or in real life, but at least movies and TV shows tread more carefully. The amorous boss is more likely to be a villain than romantic lead, and work relationships are generally framed as between equals or rivals. Note that "Mad Men" caused a stir when it presented what used to be comic naughtiness in serious context.

Bums and hoboes used to be stock characters, either as comically lazy moochers or faintly subhuman creatures menacing farmgirls. Urban "street urchins" were often presented as feisty Peter Pans reveling in their freedom rather than pathetic and likely doomed children. The depression made a slight dent in those stereotypes as millions of People Like Us were put on the streets. But the happy hobo survived. In O. Henry's story "The Cop and the Anthem", there's nothing whimsical about the hungry tramp trying to get arrested. But when it was filmed for "O. Henry's Full House", the tramp became Charles Laughton, pompous and arrogant in his pursuit of comfort. As late as my own boomer childhood happy hoboes were a standard Halloween costume and Freddie the Freeloader was Red Skelton's most popular character. These days you get gags about loopy street people, but the well-known reality of homelessness has killed off Freddie the Freeloader. You can do stories about poverty, but treating it as cheerful or laughable is no longer a sure thing.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

As for Freddie the Freeloader: I've lived in New York for almost 40 years and have yet to see a bum dressed in top hat and tails.

10:24 PM  
Blogger Ed Watz said...

As a survivor of the 9/11 attack in New York City (I was in the North Tower as the first airplane struck) I'm no longer amused by the Eiffel Tower collapse at the end of THE GREAT RACE. What seemed a preposterous and larger-than-life sight gag is too frightfully real these days.

9:20 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers taboo topics for modern movies:


My choice for a subject that would definitely be taboo these days is Margaret Kennedy's "The Constant Nymph." The novel was quite popular when it was published in 1924, as was the stage adaptation and the three movie versions that followed. When TCM rescued the 1943 Warner Bros. production from copyright limbo in 2011, most people recognized it for the minor classic that it is. They appreciated director Edmund Goulding's mise en scene, the superb score by Eric Wolfgang Korngold, and Joan Fontaine's astonishing achievement as the young Tessa.

Even then, however, there were those who found the idea of the love of a teenage girl for an older man to be entirely inappropriate. That both characters appreciated that their growing love could find no expression in this world, save in the platonic regard they felt for each other, save in the music she inspired him to write, was entirely irrelevant to them. They seemingly conflated any such relationship with sexual union, and could not recognize that the very qualities that precluded that also lent a certain poignancy to a real and genuine love.

If those who objected to such a story a few years ago are no more numerous now, still their influence will have grown out of all proportion to their numbers. Even a Greta Gerwig would have no more chance of mounting a new production starring, let us say, Saoirse Ronan or Chloe Grace Moretz, than Jodie Foster was of her planned film biography of Leni Riefenstahl.

8:20 PM  

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