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Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Stewart Again ...

Here Was Conception I Had Of James Stewart Until Age Ten

Dear Brigitte (1965) Dire 60's Notion Of Family Fun

Saucy Euro Alternative to US Poster Art
I was carried with cousins to Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation in summer 1961. It was my first exposure to James Stewart on a theatre screen. Line between this and the Disneys was porous. Both had kids and dogs, harassed dads, and for that season at least, Maureen O' Hara (The Parent Trap a few weeks later). To me at the time, Stewart was so much Fred MacMurray, essentially the same guy. Neither seemed particularly funny, or representative of fatherhood. They'd soldier on, however, in things like Mr. Hobbs, or for MacMurray, a Bon Voyage, the Flubbers, heart-tug plus laffs Follow Me, Boys. You could have switched identities and let Stewart do the Disneys and Fred have the doggy comedies Jim was in for Fox. Both surrendered  degrees of screen authority with these, Fred making last serious stand with The Apartment, Stewart swapping intense for easy-go variations on "Jimmy" (Flight Of The Phoenix one surprise exception from the mid-60's). I don't count Shenandoah as anything other than downer wolf in sheep's clothing, genial-Jim of a start beat down by third act of family slaughtered amidst bleak landscape of Universal's backlot.

Jim Seemed To Me More Unhinged When He Went Off On Guys in the 60's.

Dear Brigette is among the Fox-Stewart wretched. I watched for long standing curiosity and fact it played true HD on TCM. I remembered portions from ABC's network premiere  (11/19/67). We had sunspots that night, so Channel 8 for once came in crystal clear. Dear Brigitte is poison from a tree the 60's called "family entertainment," being would-be Disney but lacking Buena Vista's marketing panache. Stewart is a college professor, absent-minded like Disney's edition played by MacMurray, but not so benign. Jim throws tantrums like bent version of crack-ups he had in Anthony Mann westerns. As with Cagney in later years, Stewart sometimes gave it too much. It was shock in the 60's to see him breaking rock that was Dear Brigitte after one-after-other triumphs of the 50's. I spent young years thinking him a fuddy-duddy pop to Sandra Dee (Take Her, She's Mine) or wrangler-in-chief to brat kids in bad comedy that aped Disney. Seeing Rear Window on NBC came as revelation that Stewart after all had been a lead man with mettle, but it would take several years and further backlog to know fully his worth.

Needless Accordion Infliction Is Repeated Eight Years After Night Passage 

Dear Brigitte wilts also under weight of Unbearable Ed Wynn, narrating direct to us as he spills pipe ash on a hapless dog, that gag done to exhaustion through 100 minutes run time. Billy Mumy is Stewart's boy who has mathematical genius and writes love letters to Brigitte Bardot. That idea works for a middle portion that drags otherwise. Nothing of a Dear Brigitte sort should ever run past eighty-five minutes. Maybe conservative Jim felt we needed more films Mom/Dad could take children to see without embarrassment. Lots of his generation viewed screens as too muddied up. Were these comedies penance for Stewart having been in Anatomy Of A Murder? (his father advised friends not to go see "my son in that dirty movie") Pay-off to Dear Brigitte's title conceit is Bardot making third act cameo (extended) which authority says was her first work in a US film. Bardot heat had cooled or she probably wouldn't have shown up in a pic like this. For host of good reasons, Dear Brigitte lost money from $2.3 million spent. Disney at least had advantage in knowing that no comedy of his should cost half that much, which is why so many of even lamest ones stayed in profit.


Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

This one spent quite a while on the Sat matinee circuit....the rental must have been miniscule. After 1 viewing,tried to avoid a second. However it was my introduction to BB so not a complete loss. ...

5:33 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

At least, LIBERTY VALANCE wasn't too far off in the JS future.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

TAKE HER, SHE'S MINE and DEAR BRIGITTE did stay on the Charlotte exchange kiddie show list into the 1970s, with the DELUXE color consisting of RED.

7:43 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Hey, John! I first saw MR. HOBBS with cousins while on a family vacation also! I was so envious, all we had to do is catch a bus downtown for a mid week matinee, adult free. Back home, wrangling a ride out of suburbia to the outskirts of the city where you still needed two buses (one transfer) to finally reach the nearest theater meant movie going without a parent was about as simple as the Normandy Invasion.

As to the flick itself, I probably would have enjoyed it more if my cousins hadn't bragged about the Japanese monster epic that had played the week before my visit. Always caught a matinee while visiting this particular branch of the family, always independent of grown-ups, never just kiddie fare. Stuff like DONOVAN'S REEF and COME BLOW YOUR HORN!

10:17 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

This film used to play on weekday afternoon on the Fox channel for Latin America when it started in the early 90s. This kind of production could have only surfaced in the 60 when traditional forms of entertainment were collapsing, popular artists were aging and they had to compete with themselves on television (even the ads are uninspired). This self competition explains why most of the movies made due to this somehow fail today. In fact, the Disney family films family films when they went to television in the late 70s and on constant circulation in theaters were actually failing as well. Other studios, on the contrary, had the advantage of having a backlog of better movies that ended up in our screen with far more success.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Never saw this, but I was intensely jealous as a boy seeing photos of Bardot with her luscious arm around Mumy.

1:00 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

I find myself thinking of "Bell, Book and Candle", a semi-grown-up comedy where Kim Novak sets about bewitching a white-maned Jimmy, the latter playing it like a fumbling, combustible twentysomething. Because it's Jimmy Stewart, he mostly gets away with it.

Fathers obsessed with daughters' honor, or at the very least eager to vet and approve suitors, were a whole subgenre of smirky 60s and even 70s comedies. It was part of a larger trend where aging stars were presented as either domesticated patriarchs meddling with younger folks' affairs, or as mature rakes reduced to comic adolescence by women -- younger, of course -- set on domesticating them. Spencer Tracy may have set the tone with "Father of the Bride", which taught that even the Man's Man was no match for 1950s conformity, and that surrender was, eventually, sort of okay. Here and there you had oddities like the aging Bob Hope, playing a father who was still (in the script) a babe magnet himself.

I faintly recall Stewart's "Take Her, She's Mine" and David Niven's "The Impossible Years" offering the same fadeout gag: Once the older nubile daughter is safely matched and Dad is calmed down, the younger daughter saunters through in a bikini and we're off to the races again.

3:32 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon recalls "Dear Brigitte" as a first-run theatrical:

And to follow up "Northside 777" with another Jimmy Stewart vehicle representing at least a very big weather change (call it 'global warming', to match your apt use of the term "dire"!) is an amusing juxtaposition. I agree with you that Jimmy Stewart was one of the best of the best, and yet at the same time, something---and I can't imagine quite what---sort of affected his acting compass and made it drift from true north, as it were, as he got older. I'm glad you mention "Flight of the Phoenix" as an exception---it is, I think. And, the dopey run of Fox comedies he committed to needed all the help they could get. Perhaps he felt that 'emphasis' was what he could contribute. Who know? The later Stewart is a guy who dots all the i's, crosses all the t's, underlines, and often puts it in caps and bold case! I risk denigrating a very great screen personality and actor, and I don't want to do that. But, of the '60s pictures I'm familiar with, this is more and more his tendency. I seem to remember that his hearing was not what it was, so that by the time of his near cameo in John Wayne's last stand, "The Shootist", he's barking most of his lines and not giving us the Stewart we quite expect and most admired. But, we all get old (and don't I know it, now!)

I saw "Dear Brigitte" in a theater when it was new, and I was not as critical of it then, as a kid, as I'm sure I would be now. I was kind of fascinated and thrilled (could it have been puberty coming to call?) to see Brigitte Bardot in the movie. I think that's the one interesting element. On the poster, and perhaps also in the film, it appears she'd agreed to NO CREDIT! And I wonder if it's because of what might now seem obvious: that the movie's very title mentions her [first] name; and, she becomes a kind of 'idee fixe' for the young son, in the story, and therefore receives by default constant reinforcement as a pretty potent pop cultural icon of the time? Of course, she may receive a VERY big credit in the movie that I've totally forgotten. Seeing the cute shot you've run of Billy Mumy sitting in her lap, I wonder what wonderful memories Mr. Mumy must have from a very unique and long career, albeit largely as a child actor? I know he's contributed some intelligent and interesting reminiscences in audio commentary included with reissue of the great TV series "The Twilight Zone" on Blu-ray disc. Speaking of which, I worked on a couple of episodes of the now-notorious "Twilight Zone: The Movie", but NOT the one in which Mumy briefly appears as a clear referent to the original shows, placed there deliberately by massive fan---and, I think talented director---Joe Dante. (That episode, a remake of "It's a Good Life", also includes two wonderful character actors who only just passed away last year, namely William Schallert and Patricia Barry.)

Happy New Year, John, and thanks for an interesting overture!


5:34 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

Actually, Brigitte Bardot at the time of this film was still an important figure in French cinema. In fact, Jean Luc Goddard's LE MEPRIS (Contempt) was released two years earlier and I frankly doubt that the child actually saw that film.

9:54 AM  
Blogger antoniod said...

German films in the 50s and 60s were a kind of parallel to Hollywood "Family Films", with aged UFA stars like Luise Ullrich doing films with titles like "Isn't Mama Fabulous", of Willy Fritsch and his son Thomas in "My Father Taught Me Everything I Know".

11:39 AM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

LIBERTY VALANCE was three years before DEAR BRIGITTE.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

SHENANDOAH has one great redeeming scene--the one where Steward's character thanks God for all the good food all the while by-the-waying that they planted the crops, watered the crops, harvested the crops, and made the meal themselves. But, yeah, go God!

I think even Stewart had to admit that he was way too old to play idealistic young man from the East in VALANCE. So...Hello, Lassie. Hello, Ms. Bardot.

4:08 PM  
Blogger StevensScope said...

Yes, but then, a few years later he (JS) rewards his fans with his sensitive 'Brotherly Grub' to Dean Martins passioned 'ner'-do-well-bandit' in Andrew McLaglens's "BANDOLERO!"; a--winner-in-the-middle- of- a- mess- of the director's laid eggs---a really good western; if only Raquel would have used HERE the accent she would use in "100 RIFLES", only a year later?! .

6:19 AM  

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