Crooked & Narrow update and How to Marry a Millionaire (Negulesco, 1953)

My second full-length film, Crooked & Narrow, has been moving along in post. We’re through a first rough cut and into the next. Score and post-sound are turning their gears as well.

This one was a very different shooting experience for me than Second-Story Man. I was also lead producer – something I hope not to repeat, though I’m maybe drawn to the chaos and subsequent order of producing in a lot of ways; we shot in extreme heat instead of extreme cold (apparently it has to be one end of the thermometer); and I really scaled back my coverage and camera movement for a variety of reasons, some narrative and thematic, others temporal.

It’s interesting to get lost in your own rough cut, but I assume it happens to everyone. By “get lost” I mean that it becomes fairly difficult to discern pacing and performance after watching, re-watching, and re-watching for the hundredth time.

Keep an eye out for a short teaser trailer within the next month, and then for more news as we work towards our early-summer completion date.

How to Marry a Millionaire

This is a pretty odd pairing with Crooked & Narrow. The latter is a heist film that I tried to style after some of my favorite American films of the genres from the 60s and 70s. This one’s a Marilyn Monroe vehicle (despite Lauren Bacall dominating in screen-time) from the early 50s.

Bacall, Monroe and Betty Grable are Schatze, Pola, and Loco, respectively. They move (through some shady dealings) into a Manhattan apartment and start out on their eponymous quest.

Monroe steals the show here, but I’m a big Bacall fan and she more than holds her own. It’s funny to see the three personas of each actress on-screen here: Bacall wears the pants, Monroe is ditzy, Grable is…well she’s not too bright.

Millionaire fits really comfortably into Monroe’s rising star of the 50s. It’s the same year as the superior Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and the underrated Niagara, and a few years before big ones like The Seven Year Itch and Some Like it Hot. For my money, I think she plays closest to her character in Monkey Business here, though not as confidently sexual (there is a running joke in Millionaire: that glasses could actually make Marilyn Monroe unattractive).

Jean Negulesco’s direction is capable and smooth and pretty un-showy. He sticks to a lot of the wide and full shots of the time and really lets the snappy and/or silly dialogue do the trick.

Some of the fun of the film is seeing the women’s dresses (very elegant and elaborate, and more importantly for my viewing pleasure, relevant to their characters and outside-of-film personas). Also fun is how writers and director pair each actress up with a comparably serious, oddball, and erratic counterpart. Both costume and counterpart are represented in these stills here:

Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 12.22.37 PM Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 12.22.58 PM Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 12.23.08 PM

But sometimes it is just about the fashion. Check out this scene, where Bacall’s Schatze models a dress. Look at those awesome outfits in the background!

Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 12.24.47 PM

And maybe my favorite wardrobe choice of the film. Were these sleeves actually fashionable? It looks like she’s wearing a chef’s hat on each arm. Awesome!

Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 12.24.17 PM

There are several funny sequences in the film, but this one is easily my favorite. After each woman has met their initial object of (monetary) desire, she has a dream.

We start on Schatze in bed-

Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 12.25.13 PM

-and dissolve to representations of stoic, old, Texas wealth: cattle and oil fields:

Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 12.25.22 PM Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 12.25.36 PM

Schatze’s dream of course ends with an elaborate and expensive jewelry purchase:

Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 12.25.42 PM

Pola is up next. To maintain rhythm, equality, and logic, Negulesco starts in a similarly framed shot-

Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 12.26.03 PM

-and then cuts to her dreams of exotic wealth, a golden airplane for two-

Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 12.26.07 PM Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 12.26.11 PM

-and a wealthy, mysterious locale, which, surprise surprise, ends with Pola also having expensive jewelry in her hand:

Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 12.26.18 PM Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 12.26.26 PM

This last part is some great filmmaking. Negulesco has done two things. First, he’s established a logical outcome. Given the title of the film, what’s already happened in the film thus far, and the two dreams we’ve seen, we can assume that Loco will also dream of a different kind of wealth, but wealth nonetheless.

Second, he’s established a rhythm. If Schatze and Pola’s sections started with a medium close-up of each woman sleeping and then went to 3-4 subsequent shots, the first of which is some wealthy object, the last of which ends up with jewelry in-hand, then we can again assume at least a series, including her MCU, of 4-5 shots for Loco.

But like any good director, Negulesco changes the pattern to keep us on our toes and for comedy. Here’s her sequence:

Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 12.23.30 PM Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 12.23.47 PM

This is hilarious for many reasons.

First, and most obviously, that’s a steak sandwich, and not jewels. It totally goes against pre-established expectations, thereby making the surprise of the food image funnier.

Second, it’s relevant to the unpredictability of her character (“that’s so Loco…”).

Third, the image itself is so plain in comparison to the lavishness of those filling Schatze and Pola’s dreams and that ordinariness is far from the womens’ goals in the film thus far – it really speaks to what Loco’s really after: she just wants something to eat.

Last, it breaks the rhythm of 4-5 shots. While not inherently funny, the suddenness with which the image comes on-screen and with which Loco’s dream then ends (“wait, that’s it??”) is maybe the funniest part.

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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One Response to Crooked & Narrow update and How to Marry a Millionaire (Negulesco, 1953)

  1. John Charet says:

    Excellent views as always:) Sorry, I have not blogged on your site in a while, I have just been so busy with my top 10 best films entry, which I am happy to announce I have finished and is up on my blog:) Keep up the great work as always and below is the link to my Best Films of 2014 list:)

    http://cinematiccoffee.com/2015/01/18/the-best-films-of-2014-etc/

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