Classic Film · Film

April In Paris

 

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“It’s no use, Philippe. I’m in love with the man I married, and he’s not even my husband.” “Even in Paris, that is an unusual situation.”

Some stories I’ve heard/read suggest that Ray Bolger was an egotistical ass. And, unfortunately for him, he didn’t have the good looks and notoriety for people to swoon over him the way they do other egotistical asses (and Hollywood, then and now, is chock full of them if we’re being honest). I have come across Doris fans who write off this film simply because they can’t stomach Bolger, hate the treatment she endured during filming, etc. before they even get to the actual flaws the film might (and does) have. I understand that if a movie’s been tainted, it’s been tainted, but it always makes me a little sad that this charmingly saccharine little film gets left out a lot of times.

For me, I’m not here to see anyone or anything other than Doris Day making the sun shine brighter than anyone else can (sorry, Wham!, but nobody can top Doris). That’s a common thread for me in all of her films. With the exception of The Man Who Knew Too Much (blog-a-thon post by Crimson Kimono) and Please, Don’t Eat The Daisies, because I love Jimmy Stewart and David Niven respectively, the leading men are pretty much all nonexistent when I’m watching a Doris Day film because I only have eyes for her. That’s not to say I don’t have soft spots for her team ups with some of the other men by any means, (Rock and Tony come to mind since I’m no sacrilegious Doris fan!) just that it’s often been a case of needing a few viewings to even appreciate the male leads or costars if I wasn’t already in love with them.

tumblr_n3fvzqzg3a1qdrqovo4_250So because I couldn’t care less if Bolger was in this film or someone else – if it were the same film (and not an actor I abhor) – and because I find Bolger entertaining regardless of the moments I’m applying face to palm, I love April In Paris and urge everyone to at least give it a shot if they want to see a bright and sunny young Doris (her 12th film, and towards the end of her first five years in movies). I would urge everyone to at least give it a shot simply for Doris’ rollicking number, “I’m Gonna Ring The Bell Tonight”.

The film opens up with Bolger’s character, S. Winthrop Putnam (the S is for Sam). He’s a ‘politician’, specifically the “Assistant Secretary to the Assistant to the Undersecretary of State.” Of course, the joke here is that he acts more high-and-mighty than he ought when, really, he’s just an easily manipulated, graveling peon in the ridiculous bureaucratic system of Washington D.C. If anything, he’s only put up with because of his fiancé Marcia Sherman, the daughter of his boss, who has high political aspirations that she’s willing to achieve vicariously through her spouse – it seems whoever she marries will be in the White House if she has her way.

Underneath Sam’s rigid exterior isn’t a regulation-obsessed, power-hungry rich man, rather a whimsical Everyman into the arts who’s worked his way up from the son of a janitor and would like to give into his carefree whims and enjoy life. But he’s simply so entangled in the politics of following rules, pushing pencils, and pleasing older, regulation-obsessed, power-hungry rich men that he doesn’t tend to give into those whims. Fortunately for Sam, he makes a terrible mistake. An invitation intended for Ethel Barrymore to act as an American representative at an art festival in Paris is sent instead to a chorus girl named Ethel “Dynamite” Jackson who’d applied for a work permit for Montreal at the same time, Doris Day of course.

tumblr_n3fvzqzg3a1qdrqovo2_250In the opening act, before Sam learns of his mistake, we also meet Philippe Fouquet (ah, the little middle fingers that were given to the production code are sometimes very amusing), a Frenchman played by Claude Dauphin. He’s a Parisian night club owner who’s stranded in America, trying to get home, but being put through the runaround by the government – going through the “usual channels” which is essentially code for being tossed from one agency to the next because none of them are willing to help him. (Funny how 65 years later, things operate generally the same in that regard.) Philippe acts as the guiding force of the film, and narrator; he even breaks the fourth wall.

Sam rushes off to un-invite Ethel Jackson and finds her in the middle of a chorus line, singing “It Must Be Good.” Naturally, Sam is bowled over when he sees just how drop-dead gorgeous (hence, “Dynamite”) Ethel is. Sure, “what a built” may be entirely sexist, but aren’t we all guilty of having to pick our jaws up off the floor upon seeing Doris Day for the first time, and every subsequent time? I certainly can’t say I wouldn’t be right there with him if in a similar situation. tumblr_n3fvzqzg3a1qdrqovo8_250

What I love about Doris Day characters is that even though Doris is absolutely stunning and feminine, she’s not some picture of frail womanhood (no offense to the actresses who are, by any means, since we all need representation). Ethel Jackson is no exception. She’s a woman who will sock you if you tell anyone she’s been crying, who pushes back when she’s being pushed around, who gets angry, who rebels, who stands up for her dignity, and generally displays a wonderful range of human emotions and reactions while on her little adventure in the movie.

Sam breaks the news and, naturally, previously excited Ethel is heartbroken and singstumblr_n3fvzqzg3a1qdrqovo3_250 the beautiful Yip Harburg and Vernon Duke classic, “April In Paris”. I love this song, generally speaking, especially performed by Ella Fitzgerald – one of Doris’ biggest influences, and of course love what Doris brings to the table. It’s a moment of vulnerability for her, in the film, and her sedate performance, her emotional voice and tear-glossy eyes are simply mesmerizing. Doris always has this natural charm that pulls me in and it’s true when she’s being emotional too. For all of the “affectedness” that could be (and has been) wrongly attributed to her sunny, ultra-blonde, girl-next-door routine, for me, I’ve never seen that in her acting. I mean, she always breathes life into her characters just by opening that lovely mouth of hers whether to speak or sing or simply smile, but then she taps into the character’s emotions even deeper and shows off her acting chops and it’s like icing on an already delicious cake (seriously, Doris, you’re giving the rest of us unrealistic expectations!).

Now, obviously, the movie would end there if it were as simple as Ethel Jackson having her hopes and dreams of being spirited to Paris dashed for good. Fate, and popular politics, intervene when “the people” voice their joy at having a common woman represent the U.S. at the art festival and Sam’s boss responds with voter numbers in his eyes instead of pupils. Sam, after trying to fix the problem, has to hurry off to fix the problem again by making sure Ethel comes along, but not without performing a song and dance number with himself dressed as two different presidents, which gives us a little insight into his truer artistic and imaginative personality while also giving us another example of how he’s let Washington go to his head (honestly, he’s not overly likable as a stuffed shirt politician, and less so when I rewatch the film now following this past election cycle). Ethel doesn’t go without throwing a wonderful fit over the incompetency and runaround, but she goes.tumblr_n3fvzqzg3a1qdrqovo1_250

What follows is your standard fare: girl and boy fall in love, but it’s complicated. And it’s the madcap complication that makes it delightful. Some of the highlights for me include, aforementioned “I’m Gonna Ring The Bell Tonight” sequence (a song that gets stuck in my head for days at a time), Doris’ song number with Claude: “That’s What Makes Paris Paree” toward the end, and a humorous scene in the middle that is nearly completely impossible outside of its 1952 context – that is, it’s literally all about preserving sexual virtue prior to marriage and is an example of how the production code was literally played with for humor. One thing can be said for the production code, and I may talk about more of my feelings on the subject in another post, and that’s it sometimes gave us unique storytelling, creative jumping through hoops and witty satire we don’t see anymore (for better and worse).

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There are hearts in my eyes. Doris is heartrendingly mesmerizing.

April In Paris certainly isn’t the most nuanced film. It’s not Doris Day at her best (although that’s a false statement because she’s always at her best). It’s probably not even all that memorable unless you’ve managed to form some kind of attachment to it like I did early on. There are some misses, objectively and subjectively (I don’t love the jealous women trope by any means). But, overall, it’s still a cute little movie and a pleasant enough excuse to fawn over Doris Day for an hour and a half. I wish more people could see that and appreciate it for what it is! Cheesy has been thrown at this film as a description, but I say pop open a bottle of wine get a French loaf and enjoy it! And if you don’t want to watch the film, at least do yourself a favor and watch some 2e5o7jpclips on YouTube!

This post is part of the Doris Day Blogathon hosted by Michaela at Love Letters To Old Hollywood, and just in time for Doris’ birthday! For more entries, click on the banner and if you enjoyed my post, you’re sure to enjoy the others even more!

XOXO Elinor Anne James

(Featured Image Credit: MoviePoster, Gifs made by me @ Tumblr.)

Disney · Faith · Film · Personal Experiences · The Lord of the Rings

The Disney Dozen; and a few other ramblings.

So this morning I didn’t get up to go to church. My mother’s response was to state that she feels I’ve been behaving more and more like a heathen, not reverencing God. I could talk about that in this post, but I feel I still need to digest that accusation in order to speak about it better. I need to sit on it a little bit so that it’s not just a knee-jerk reaction post.

Instead I’m going in the opposite direction with something much more light-hearted and therapeutic and that is a Disney meme snagged from Kids Riding Bicycles via Champagne for Lunch.

When it comes to fictional-based things that have shaped me, in spite of everything, Disney is one of them. The only thing that is comparative is The Lord of the Rings. (I cannot thank the authors of Finding God in The Lord of the Rings enough – no matter how controversial the book or topic of allegory has been among Tolkienites – because it opened up the dialogue regarding the faith of J.R.R. Tolkien, and finding religious themes in secular literature/media – so that my mother allowed me to watch the films, and then read the books, which began a love affair for all things Middle-earth and Tolkien that has been unwavering; well, it wavered with The Hobbit films, because NO, but that’s inconsequential.) And because Disney was one of those hard-fought-for allowances at times in my my youth, I think that makes many of the films even more special to me. They are something I have a bit of a deeper connection with. And as a highly imaginative and creative person, they spoke to me and inspired me then and continue to do so.

So without further ado, here are 12 questions about Disney and my responses as best as I can articulate them:

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1. What’s your favourite Disney film and why?

This is always a little like picking a favorite child. The massive catalog of films makes nearly impossible and I tend to overthink and categorize things. Of the animated canon Aladdin has long been my standing favorite. I connected with it when I saw it in the theater as a kid.

And a lot of my love for the film has to do with the fact that Princess Jasmine, although second (by a margin) to Ariel as my favorite princess, has always appealed to me in so many ways. The moment she freed those birds from the cage because she knew they deserved better was the moment I fell in love with her and the film. Jasmine, to me, was an inspiring and feisty princess who demanded that she be given the respect and freedom she deserved and then even when she fell in love and had a chance at a happy ending, she supported Aladdin in doing the right thing making her so much more than the token prize in my personal opinion. She gets to choose Aladdin, for who he is, not be given to him as a fake prince. Above all that she is clever and cunning, often figuring things out and so on.

2. What was the first Disney film you ever saw?

There’s some disagreement on this one. Some family members insist it was Bambi. Others Cinderella. It is likely one of those two. And those are the first two I remember so I can’t say for sure which. But I like to think, or hope, that it was Cinderella seeing as that film, and the tale in general, has been such a guiding light in my life. Whether it be the various Broadway adaptations, films such as Ever After, or very importantly the 2015 live action film from Disney (which I will spiel about incessantly on this blog), it all began with 1950 Cindy and her faith in her dreams. I know there is a lot of complaint about the themes of Cinderella and what they teach modern little girls about agency, but I’ve always viewed Cinderella, the character, and the film as having to do with someone who has every reason to give up continuing to press on. It’s the ever-hopeful, “it gets better” message. She’s an abuse survivor who doesn’t let that abuse or the difficult-to-change circumstances crush her spirit, her humanity, her ability to love and be loved. It may be unrealistic or idealistic, but there’s nothing wrong in taking inspiration from it anyways.

3. If you could ask Walt one question, what would it be?

I would probably ask him how he feels about Disney owning so many subsidiaries and sticking their foot into everything. Does Disney need to own Marvel? Star Wars? ESPN? FREEFORM? Etc. If that question could lead to a discussion, I would follow it up by asking him if he would prefer the company get back to its roots and focus on creating works of art (and awful live action films to support those works of art) that have the potential of breaking the bank a la Sleeping Beauty rather than focusing so much on the bottom line with ‘soulless’ blockbusters.

Actually, I would probably just ask him if he would have at least stepped in and stopped the horror of a Bruce Banner/Natasha Romanoff romance and if for any reason he even implied he liked said romance I would be forced to consider my life and my choices before throwing out every single Disney movie I own.

4. You’re asked to create an attraction at Disneyland based on a Disney movie. What do you create?

I am not really familiar with the parks or if anything along these lines has ever existed, but I’d like a Treasure Planet attraction. Maybe like a simulator of the RLS Legacy voyage complete with an immersive IMAX-like screen that makes you feel like you’re in the galaxy and then maybe it progresses to a chase by the pirates or the escape from Treasure Planet (I think I’m imagining it something like the immersive feeling of Philharmagic only with an actual boat ride that could simulate physical feelings. Physics-wise this is probably all but impossible?

5. What fairy tale that Disney haven’t yet adapted would you like to see them make?

I want Disney to do The Nutcracker.I know it’s not like your standard fairytale, but it has fairytale elements and I would love to see Disney take the whimsy of it, see how they change it as they do with everything, and turn it into a gorgeous animated film.

6. Gaston is excellent at most everything. But what are you better than Gaston at?

Self-deprecation. His down in the dumps scene is amateur hour.

7. What’s your favourite Disney song?

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Part of Your World (Reprise). I know that Part of Your World is her iconic song, but for me the reprise is that moment where all of her yearning for something turns into real, fierce determination. Eric is the closest she’s ever gotten to the human world and it fuels her longing so greatly that she says not matter when or how she’s going to go for what she wants. It’s foolish and reckless and passionate and powerful and leaves me breathless.

Honorable mentions to For The First Time In Forever (Reprise) which has come along in the recent canon and blown me away, Not In Nottingham for being the little forgotten jewel that tugs at my heart and speaks to me when I’m feeling blue, and I’m Still Here for being the ultimate, and rawest, want song of all the canon in my opinion.

8. What’s your least favourite Disney film?

I dislike a lot of Disney films actually. Not fond of too many of the live-action films to even name. I’m not fond of Pinocchio or Fantasia (I like the 2000 version though) or Alice In Wonderland or Sword in the Stone or The Black Cauldron among the ones that I typically name off the top of my head when someone asks. So pick one of those I guess. Oh and Brother Bear. I don’t think I ever want to sit through that film again, thank you very much.

9. You can live in any Disney film. Which one do you pick?

Um… I think Meet The Robinsons would be pretty fun. An imaginative future with retro leanings seems rad.

10. You’re the eighth member of the Dwarfs. What name do you go by?

Ditzy

11. Disney make a new Fantasia. Which musical pieces would you like to see them include?

Probably a lot of things, but especially Boléro by Maurice Ravel with the animation being a quick Disneyfied retelling of The 12 Dancing Princesses.

12. You can invite five Disney characters to a dinner party. Who do you choose and why?

I’d hang with the Big Hero 6 crew. Wait… that’s 6. In that case, how about:

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Because she’s my girl.

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Because she’s my other girl and she could totally bring Rajah with her.

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Because Anita can teach me how to serve up my aesthetic 🙂

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Because I’ve always wanted to be Mulan’s best friend. I’ve always felt like she and me would get each other. Like we’d understand family pressures, not feeling like our parents understand us, wanting to honor them but also wanting to find ourselves, being sort of awkward, not overly feminine, etc. and I’d just love to have a heart to heart with her I guess.

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Because if you’re going to invite an obligatory male to this little dinner party Wasabi is the only one who makes sense 🙂 At least to me 🙂