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Thursday, July 25, 2019

More Of Behind-Scenes Buffoonery

Part Two of It's A Great Feeling (1949)

It's A Great Feeling was the first Doris Day vehicle not helmed by her mentor Michael Curtiz. She's a commissary waitress who wants to be a star, if Dennis and Jack can manage it. There are sunlit treks all over the lot as Doris carries trays and bumps into cameo-appearing Warner stars, one of which is Sydney Greenstreet, who'd made his last for WB, Flamingo Road, seen here for a first and only time in Technicolor. Guest celebs in their natural habitat are joy to behold, most playing in accordance with long-honed image. Gary Cooper responds yup and nope to Dennis Morgan inquiry, looking older than a last time color cameras addressed him (Unconquered). Cooper was forever the inarticulate cowboy, and no amount of Fountainheads or such off-casting would bend the perception. Ronald Reagan addresses Carson as "Jack Curtiz himself" in the studio barber shop, which looks like a welcome refuge on slow shooting days. Did Butler and Great Feeling company use actual studio locale for this spot?

Standing sets were used, a most ostentatious being the staircase built for Adventures of Don Juan, with Errol Flynn. This was a breath taker and nicely sums up WB's final splurge on Flynn, a star who'd slipped and would no longer be accorded top-level vehicles. But wait --- neither would anyone at Warners once spending clamps were applied. It's A Great Feeling came at least a year into belt cinching at Burbank, the Don Juan set being monument to extravagance past and gone. Culprit for reduced earnings and thus lowered budget was, among other things, the hell spawn that was television, and WB, like most of an industry, took swipes wherever opportune at the upstart medium. In Feeling's case, it is a bar-set segment where televised wrestling comes with drink and idle time. Behind-counter TV was a feature at watering holes nationwide, fewer among populace having sets at home. Lots visited bars as much to watch as drink, with accent on fact that, unlike theatres, this entertainment came free. Studios depicted tube fare as refuse off a junkyard, wrestlers summing up the best of what TV had to offer. Who but drunks and down/outers would watch? It's A Great Feeling was not alone among features getting fun at television's expense.

Not that Warners was above poking holes in themselves. Studio publicity is admitted to be fabrication from top to bottom. Producers live in fear of someone ... everyone ... having a knife out for them. There's ring of truth to hardship we're invited to laugh at, and who knows, maybe each job was vital to Jack Carson's keeping his house and car. Story credit was I.A.L. Diamond's. Did Billy Wilder see It's A Great Feeling and make mental note of a writer with ironic sensibility not unlike his own? Scribes credited include Jack Rose and Mel Shavelson in addition to Diamond, and the three likely loved taking down the factory a peg or three. It's A Great Feeling may be the Warner feature that comes closest to spirit of cartoons being made on the lot, so many of these having ridiculed live-action counterparts barely, if at all, aware of what went on in short subjects.

I'm not alone in considering Warner sound reproduction to be the best in the business. Their music department too was second to none. A man largely credited for this, by us if not his employers, was Ray Heindorf, who gets a longest cameo among guests in It's A Great Feeling. Heindorf was perhaps a least known of these, having but recently assuming tune charge at Warners. He's shown conducting the studio orchestra and spars with horning-in Jack Carson. Dialogue between them gets way "inside," to a point where I wonder if some wasn't ad-libbed. "If you don't like it, you can take it up with Petrillo," says Heindorf to Carson during their argument, a reference to James Petrillo, head of the American Federation of Musicians, a trade union of which workings were well known by show biz. Petrillo was an unseen but known figure to radio listeners and filmgoers, his name evoked in features, cartoons, and broadcasts, wherever someone spoke of real power within the industry. Now he'd draw a blank among viewer/listeners, the name having retreated to obscurity like so many objects of 40's topical humor.

Remaining guest stars were Warner folk who'd for most part go elsewhere within a next few years as the company thinned contract rolls toward greater saving. As with Gary Cooper's bit, all traded on images long locked in. Joan Crawford amuses with a Mildred Pierce reprise capped by slaps to the face for Dennis and Jack. I do that in all my pictures, she says, and indeed she did, and would, for what had been and was left of melodramas at WB. Edward G. Robinson had lately done Key Largo to remind everyone that Little Caesar was alive and well. This time, he'd force a guard to open Warner gates for Jack and Doris, looking direct at the camera when saying he'll do what it takes to keep his studio job, that a prescient line in view of what came after Eddie got caught in the HUAC glare. The biggest laugh, and coming as surprise for the finish, was Errol Flynn as boy-back-home Doris Day refers to throughout the show and returns to marry. A friend who saw It's A Great Feeling in 1949 told me that the roof nearly came off his crowded theatre when they recognized Flynn as "Jeffrey Bushdinkle." Such was joy audiences could still take in favorite faces, even as an industry that supported them began to rust.


Blogger Supersoul said...

Another huge financial loss for all the studios was the loss of their wholly-owned, theatre chains. The government considered this a vertical monopoly and forced the studios to divest themselves of all their theatres. This had to hurt because they would no longer have a guaranteed outlet for product. One of the effects of this was volume reduction and less taking of chances. No wonder then, that between the threat of free TV and loss of ownership of the captive and lucrative exhibition capability, from that point the studio system was doomed. In retrospect, I'm not at all sure that forcing the studios to divest their theatres served the public any better than it served the studios.

BTW... Doris Day was the best thing about this movie and she looks terrific in it.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

Supersoul: The following (approximate) quote best sums it up and is attributed to Mickey Rooney: "If Ford can have Ford dealerships to sell Ford automobiles, why shouldn't movie studios have their own theaters?"

10:16 AM  
Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

I remember watching IT`S A GREAT FEELING on TV when I was a teen. I`d watched a full week of Errol Flynn films before that. All his big hits. So I got a big kick out of Flynn showing up at the end of FEELING just like that audience did back in 1949.

12:44 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Speaking of young women and much older men Errol as the boy at home is old enough to be the grandfather at home. Loews created MGM to guarantee films for their theatres ditto Famous Players with Paramount. It was a huge mistake to force the studios to let go of the theatres just as it was a huge mistake to cave in to censorship.

6:03 AM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

What's a vertical monopoly? A monopoly standing straight up?

Reg, Errol Flynn is only 40, a mere thirteen years older than Doris. Stinky once had a girlfriend thirteen years his junior, and no one batted an eye.

Of which he knows.

12:37 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Good for Stinky. Hope you get another one.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

You produce the product (the studio), then you distribute the product (film), then you show the product in your own theaters. You control every aspect up the chain.
The Robot

1:02 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I use to read that movie studios refused to show TVs in movies during this time, yet I see them constantly. Was that just a fable, like John Gilbert's alleged voice problems?

3:07 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I think TV sets weren't seen much as household items; that would remind moviegoers that they could have stayed home. TV sets had to be part of the plot: CHAMPAGNE FOR CAESAR jabs at TV quiz shows, RHUBARB has the baseball game interrupted by commercials and static, ARSON, INC. shows gamblers watching horse racing on TV, LUCKY LOSERS has Gabe Dell as a TV commentator.

One of the most incongruous places a TV appears is in TOOTING TOOTERS, an Andy Clyde two-reeler of 1954: Andy runs a music shop with musical instruments all around -- and a large TV set. The original story, filmed in 1938, involved radio.

8:39 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

James Petrillo leaves one monument at least for Chicagoans besides obscure references to the wartime recording ban:

3:37 PM  

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