Otto Preminger, code breaker. It’s pretty great that The Moon is Blue was made in 1953. Famous for its frank talk about sexuality, including loaded words like “pregnant,” and “virgin,” this one – along with other Preminger’s like The Man With the Golden Arm and Anatomy of a Murder – went a long way to help break the Production Code.
Some of that sexual talk takes place in the back of a cab, where Preminger frames the driver in the foreground-
We get as much humor from the conversation as we do from his eyebrow-raising reactions.
That the Code doesn’t go away until the late 1960s might be an indication of just how progressive The Moon is Blue was, about 15 years prior. Preminger released it without the Code’s Seal of Approval and the film succeeded anyway- a first.
This romantic comedy isn’t anything great on its own, but I do love some Preminger blocking (see my last post on Skidoo – that one partially misses the mark because the director’s trademark fluid style is conspicuously absent). That got me thinking. Since I talk about blocking in this blog so much: do I just like a lot of blocking rather than good blocking? Of course, I don’t think so, but I’m in the process of looking for a good example of a lot of blocking that still doesn’t work. I know that I do like blocking that echoes themes, dialogue, etc. I also like complicated blocking that appears effortless. And I like blocking done by expert actors who can pull it off and make it feel invisible.
The Moon is Blue has a lot of movement to it. Jonathan Rosenbaum called it “stagey,” but I beg to differ. The word alone should mean that the picture feels relegated to or drawn from the stage, but Preminger manages to subvert that feeling through his – you guessed it – blocking. It’s elaborate, but more to the point, it’s crisp, and actually opens up the space beyond the simple dimensions of a stage. Maybe Rosenbaum thought that the limited set and the constant opening and closing of doors, entering and exiting from rooms, felt like theater, but Preminger takes great pains to make this thing pretty kinetic.
William Holden and Maggie McNamara – as Donald and Patty, who meet atop the Empire State Building and go on a close-to-screwball “date” at his apartment – are up to the task of so much movement.
Here they are in his apartment. Preminger shoots a lot of these 2-shots-
She exits, the camera pulls back anticipating his movement-
-which actually comes in the next shot, one that turns out to be quite the long take. Preminger dollies in with Donald landing in another 2-shot in the kitchen:
After some cutesy talk she walks away. The camera pulls back with her-
-landing in this single outside of the kitchen:
Preminger cuts to this full shot as Donald also walks out-
-and then continues with this pretty long camera dolly and track as she circles him and he swivels with her (there’s some really nice swiveled chair blocking in this whole film):
This does what good blocking should do: it opens up the space, dictates where everything is, and plays cat and mouse with the two characters, who are sexually sizing one-another up. It’s also pretty efficient, which I like – I prefer the long take to something too cutty, generally speaking, and the efficiency here feels fresh and real.
There are other things to like about The Moon is Blue: a great drunken performance from David Niven; a mostly silent meet cute that Billy Wilder probably loved; and a pretty good TV takedown (similar to the one, speaking of Wilder, in The Apartment, though not nearly as biting, effective, or on-the-nose) that shows the tiny box overrun with ridiculous ad sponsors.