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Friday, March 10, 2017

Sturges Out The Door

The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend (1949) Is Another Loud One

This was the last film Preston Sturges wrote and directed in the US. It seems commercial enough, if more irritating than funny, and you'd figure anything with Betty Grable in Technicolor for profit, but no, there was $1.2 million bled out, plus Sturges alienated from Zanuck, who'd begun as head cheerleader for the once-master of farce comedy. Too much LOUD was always my issue with Sturges, who I'd like to love, but just can't. Had he dialed down by 1949 and The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend? I watched an HD broadcast (gorgeous) from FXM to find out. First glimpse of Sterling Holloway and Danny Jackson as braying hillbilly brothers confirm again that Sturges and I share little sense of humor (his best for me --- The Lady Eve). This talent should have ruled the industry all his working life ... after all, Sturges, like DeMille, was always for commercial topics and pleasing the mob ... but somehow Sturges fell out, always, with high-ups, and each fed him to lion of unemployment. Sturges was also reckless with money, that known all over town for business ventures he started, then struck shoals with. Fact is, Sturges had many chances and somehow blew them all. Was there something about his personality that rubbed folks the wrong way?

The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend does succeed as a curiosity, and gets over in 77 minutes. Zanuck was reluctant at first to use Technicolor, a given for Grable during the war and her peak, but tabs had gone skyward since, and recent ones with her, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim and That Lady In Ermine, had each lost a million. Negative costs surpassing two million were hard to get back. Earlier 40's musicals with Grable were oft-finished for half that, or less. Sturges was doomed to fail through less fault of his own. The budget would trip him if a poor product didn't. As Zanuck lost confidence, he nit-picked more. Sturges would no longer have final creative word. DFZ had liked his first for Fox, Unfaithfully Yours, but it flopped, result mud splattering on Sturges. He was luckless since leaving Paramount (and before, considering conflict during final rounds there). Even Betty Grable, generally docile in performance of duty, turned on her writer/director, foregoing an end-of-shoot party, which all saw as a middle finger shot at Sturges.

If it was funny seeing Porter Hall shot in the rear by an errant bullet, why not do it three times? Here was overkill applied to The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend, where Sturges again jams much of cast into close space and has them yell their heads off. Volume down is always-command when I play a Sturges, but there are a few pluses --- the always amusing Rudy Vallee, reliably underplaying where others won't, Caesar Romero (a Zanuck choice) doing the same, and Olga San Juan as a Mexican posing as an Indian. Sturges takes clever poke at western clichés. Mass gun battle sees one guy taking an identical fall onto a tin roof over and over, then Snub Pollard splashed by water from a trough every time he fires from behind it. Sturges knew his slapstick and wasn't shy to cut loose with plenty when talk was exhausted. How would he have made out with Sennett or Roach in the 20's? An earlier start with movies might have given us opportunity to find out (he was born in 1898). The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend is recently available on Blu-Ray from Kino Classics, a visual stunner among 20th Tech titles whatever the reservation otherwise.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

As I understand it Sturges had been told he would die in six months. After the doctors left he turned, saw a book by his bed on how to write a play. After reading it he wrote a play. After writing the play he got out of bed to have it produced. He was successful. Hollywood called. He went. He did not die in six months, obviously. As a result of throwing himself completely into what he was doing his mind was taken off his illness allowing his body to heal itself. The same thing happened to Leni Riefenstahl and Norman Cousins whose book ANATOMY OF AN ILLNESS details his recovery.

Perhaps his near death encounter contributed to his cavalier attitude with money. UNFAITHFULLY YOURS stands the test of time as do many films that did not find favor in their day (THE GENERAL--1927). I have the dvd from Fox of BEAUTIFUL BLONDE. I did not know that Gable's two previous films had not recovered their cost due to the use of Technicolor. I don't share your problems with Sturges. It would have been interesting to see what he could have done with Mae West.

9:11 AM  
Blogger lmshah said...

THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND was a film neither Grable nor Sturges wanted to make, it was actually on the boards before UNFAITHFULLY YOURS, but Sturges demanded that with Grable starring the film needed to be in Technicolor, and that would raise the budget to the point where profitability was unlikely, especially with a then-current British surtax on 75% of profits on American films seriously hurting the foreign market. BASHFUL BEND's production was tabled and Sturges made UNFAITHFULLY YOURS first.

UNFAITHFULLY YOURS suffered from being too long (126 minute first-cut in previews, and still too long at the hour and 45 minutes it was trimmed to), and having a polarizing effect on its audience whom either loved it or hated it. You can put me on the fence between the two attitudes, the first-half has some great material in it, but it suffers from Rex Harrison's character being an arrogant, conceited, pompous ass, even for a symphony conductor, and the second half still bogs down in the way too protracted sequence where Harrison tries to actually commit his murder or cuckhold fantasies after he’s imagined them.

To begin with, as great as Harrison was as an actor, he’s no slapstick comedian, and his attempts at visual and physical humor in that scene fall flat, secondly, Sturges makes one fatal error as a Director when he presents this sequence scored by the same music Harrison had heard when he was conducting that affected his fantasies, the audience has to hear the same music over again and it becomes grating and misses the point, it would have been more effective and much funnier if Harrison had not had the music when he actually tries to act out his fantasies and reality sets in, the sequence should have been done dead silent, with perhaps Harrison trying to hum the music to regain his original moods and failing while he destroys his apartment. In any event, it’s hard to sympathize with Harrison as the protagonist when his whole dilemma is merely in his mind to begin with, and when it turns to reality and his abuse of Linda Darnell has the same effect as someone beating a puppy. UNFAITHFULLY YOURS is too unpleasant to succeed as a mainstream comedy and that and Harrison’s scandal over Carole Landis’s suicide killed any chance it had for boxoffice rewards.
Sturges has always seemed to go for slapstick when he was in trouble with his story or simply bored, I actually like BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND better than UNFAITHFULLY YOURS because it is so chocked full of comedians and old pros(not only Snub Pollard, but Chester Conklin, Heinie Conklin, Hank Mann, Eddie Gribbon, El Brendel, Hugh Herbert, Tom Tyler, Kermit Maynard, Margaret Hamilton, et al. ) that one has plenty of fun spotting them all when the film’s not going anywhere. Sturges apparently made the film with no enthusiasm or interest and it shows in the complete lack of subtlety, still, it’s shorter then UNFAITHFULLY YOURS and the great cast works to keep it afloat and that makes it a bit more palatable. In the end, the high budget sank both it and Sturges career at Fox, and it's unfortunate because the budget issues were not really his fault.


11:53 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Thank you. Sturges is such a demi-god that I've learned to shut up about not liking most of his films that I've seen. It's nice to know that I'm not the only member of his club.

P.S. I bought your new book.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I've probably said this before here, but there's always at least one moment in each Sturges movie I've seen when I laugh as I've never laughed at anybody else's movies. The climax of "Harold Diddlebock" literally had me falling out of my chair. No one else had that effect on me.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Until now I thought Sturges had written UNFAITHFULLY YOURS and BEAUTIFUL BLONDE. Hadn't read the credits that close. Both work for those I have shown them to.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Tom Ruegger said...

I think "The Palm Beach Story" is the brilliant one.

2:23 AM  

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