STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Let's Go to the Movies

STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Let's Go to the Movies Yes, it's a busy life going to the theater all the time. This past weekend, it was once on Friday, twice on Saturday, and three times on Sunday. (Oh, those late-night cabarets!)

Yes, it's a busy life going to the theater all the time. This past weekend, it was once on Friday, twice on Saturday, and three times on Sunday. (Oh, those late-night cabarets!)

You'd think that that would be enough entertainment for a body, but the plain truth is that when I arrive home, before I get ready for bed, I spend a good five minutes going through videocassettes, in order to choose which movie I'll watch that night.

I like the movies. They're good. Not as good as plays or musicals, of course. Well, all right, some movies are. And that's what I call them. Movies. I hate the word 'film.' Film is what some unfortunates get over their eyes. I suspect Broadway lyricists hate the word 'film,' too. It doesn't rhyme with anything. At least with movie, you've got groovy.

Anyway, there's something wonderful about popping in a videocassette, tanking out on your bed, switching on the remote, and watching the show until sleep arrives.

My choices almost always movies based on plays and musicals. What can I tell you? I have a one-track mind, and those are my favorite kind of movies. And even though I'm pretty sleepy while the movies are playing, I have noticed a few things I'd like to share with you. * Anna and the King of Siam
This one starts off with one of those translucent white-lettered messages to set the exposition. It says, "In the Victorian era of the early 1860s, a young Englishwoman was faced with the then-difficult problem of earning her own living."

THEN-difficult? Gee, this movie was made in 1946. Was post-war prosperity that terrific for women that making a living wasn't difficult anymore?

And speaking of 1946, don't you think it's interesting that only five years later, we had a Broadway musical version of this property? How would you feel if you heard that a musical version of, say, Home Alone, Sister Act, or A League of Their Own -- all movies of five years ago -- was about open? Wouldn't it seem too soon?

Did it seem to 1951's theatergoers that it was too soon for a musical of Anna and the King of Siam? Or did they not mind because they had faith that Rodgers and Hammerstein would do it right?

* Auntie Mame
Ever notice that when Vera and Mame are appearing in Midsummer Madness in New Haven, that the production's leading man is identified on the three-sheet as Byron Prong? Well, isn't it nice that Prong's career spanned so many decades -- for that was the name of the '30s screen idol celebrated in Fade Out--Fade In in 1964. Comden and Green, who wrote the Auntie Mame screenplay and the Fade Out book, must really have a thing for this name.

* The Women
What's really fascinating is that the opening credits boast -- this is actually printed on the screen, you understand -- As presented for 666 performances in its triumphant run at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York.

Yes, Broadway was a nice pedigree for a movie back then. Today, you'll often see the credit From the play by ... at the end of the movie, after everyone's seen it, when it's too late for them to get discouraged that they're seeing something originally done on Broadway.

* Paint Your Wagon
While I heard There's a Coach Comin' In played, I had a thought. In baseball, you'll occasionally see a coach walk out to the mound to give advice to a struggling pitcher. Don't you think that as he approaches the troubled hurler that this would be a fine time for the organist to play this tune?

Does this suggestion sound far-fetched? Believe me, it's common practice now for an organist to play Send in the Clowns when the umpires walk onto the field. And what I'll next report I swear is true: When Her First Roman was trying out in Boston in the summer of '68, the Fenway Park organist played the show's most lovable atrocity, I Fell in with Evil Companions, in the middle of the fifth inning in a game against the Orioles. Honest!

* The Quiet Man
I love the moment where Barry Fitzgerald says to a warring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, "Is this a courtin' or a donnybrook?" For that strongly suggests that here's where Johnny Burke got his title for Donnybrook, his musical adaptation of The Quiet Man. That started me wondering if the line, There's an ol', ol' custom' inspired Burke to write There's an ol', ol' saying that makes up a chorus of the opening song, Sez I. (Have you ever heard this song? It's one of Broadway's better opening numbers. What happened to those rumors that we were soon going to get Donnybrook on CD?)

* Step Lively
This was a 1944 movie musical adaptation of Room Service, that charming chestnut of a farce in which threadbare producers are trying to raise the funds to put on a new playwright's searing drama. I especially liked when the aforementioned producer says, "Why, when this show is put on, Oklahoma will just be another state."

* Barton Fink
Barton Fink is a playwright whose new Broadway play is at -- guess where? Why, the Belasco, which turns out to be a particular favorite of moviemakers. It's the house where the play is ensconced in Bullets Over Broadway. And don't forget Lewis and Clark's argument in Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys, whether it was Sol Burton or Sol Weinstein who managed the Belasco.

Not bad for a theater that hasn't had a long-run hit in any human being's memory. Hits, yes -- including the current A Doll's House -- but not long-runners. But moviemakers still are drawn to the name, because, I think, it sounds so old-world classy and theatrical.

* The Pajama Game
Here's what I noticed while I was in my pajamas. Did you know or remember that "Seven-and-a-half cents" is said to mean "a heck-of-a lot" instead of then-profane, "helluva lot"?

That turns out to be just the tip of the sanitizing iceberg in this movie. For in "I'm Not at All in Love," Babe doesn't complain of her co-workers, "All you gotta do is be polite to him, and they got you spendin' the night with him" as she does in the stage musical. Here, it's "All you gotta do, it seems, is work for him, and they got you goin' beserk for him."

And you know how in "Small Talk," Babe tells Sid, "What do you think they get for ham now, Got so a buck's not worth a damn now"? Well, in the movie, that's been cleaned up to "What do you think they charge for fruit now? Got so a buck ain't worth a hoot now."

Sorta gives a whole new meaning to Forbidden Broadway, wouldn't you say?

And you know how Babe, in "There Once Was a Man," proclaims that she loves Sid "more than a dope fiend loves his dope"? What do you think they changed that to?

They didn't. THAT, they felt, was okay to say.

* The Caine Mutiny
First off, did you know that the original title of this property, when the play played Broadway for 415 performances in 1954-55, was The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial ?

Anyway, I liked the moment in the trial when the Defense Attorney asks a Doctor about the infamous Captain Queeg, "Would he be inclined to admit mistakes?" and the doctor answers, "None of us are." Can't you just hear Ruth Sherwood correcting his grammatical mistake?

* Jesus Christ Superstar
This movie begins with actors coming off buses and setting up props. Did you ever notice that Josh Mostel LOOKS like he's helping, but he really isn't? Did he get this idea from noticing what Phil Silvers does in his daddy's movie of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, when he needs to pretend he's a member of acrobatic troupe, but just keeps yelling, Hey! Hah! Hoo! clapping his hands, and not doing any of the real work?

* The Big Knife
This 1955 adaptation of Clifford Odets' play features one inadvertently funny line -- when a very young Shelley Winters looks in a mirror and asks her boyfriend, "Hey, did you know that I'm perfectly proportioned?"

* Boris and Natasha
Not based on any theatrical property, though I always thought they and their favorite dupes -- Rocky and Bullwinkle -- could be wonderful characters for a fetching musical. The show, of course, would be called, Bullwinkle on Broadway!

Anyway, in this movie there's a nice little moment where the Narrator (remember how "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" always used a narrator?) says, "Faster you can stop the world, I want to get off." What a nice tribute to a supporting player in the movie -- one Anthony Newley, who plays a villain called Sal Monella.

* Thoroughly Modern Millie
The world of the stage just doesn't seem to suit me, says the actress who plays an aspiring theatrical performer. And who is the actual actress saying this? Why, it's no less than Mary Tyler Moore, who had to utter this line less than a year after she didn't make it to opening night with Breakfast at Tiffany's.

* Take Her, She's Mine
This is a 1963 adaptation of a frothy Henry and Phoebe Ephron Broadway comedy hit that was produced by -- surprise -- Harold S. Prince (as he was known in those days. Now we can call him "The artist formerly known as Harold S. Prince.")

Anyway, this story about a young woman (whom the Ephrons based on their daughter Nora) who's going away to college, where, her parents soon learn, she'll be greatly changed.

And how the times have changed! Early in the movie, there's a scene in which Audrey Meadows is at the airport, and, in order to avoid excess luggage charges, takes things out of her bags when the clerk isn't looking, and putting them back in once her suitcases have been weighed. Can you picture that happening today in these strong airline security times?

Anyway, Stewart drops in on his daughter at college to see exactly what she's up to, and then phones home with what he's learned. "She's very busy protesting, what with the bomb, and desegregation, and the Berlin Wall, and making people put flouride in the drinking water." That was meant as a line to mock that era's youth, but isn't it interesting that the '60s kids did set the ball in motion for all those things to happen?

You know who else is in this movie? Robert Denver, the credits tell us. At the time, audiences knew him better as Bob Denver, who'd played the incorrigible beatnik Maynard G. Krebs on "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" TV series. He'd later make a bigger name for himself as the title character on Gilligan's Island, but that was still a year away. So, at this point, he was obviously trying to change his beatnik image with the more mature-sounding Robert.

So whom does he play in the picture? A beatnik.

* The Owl and the Pussycat
Note that when George Segal bolts out Doubleday's -- the one that used to sit at 53rd and 5th -- you can see in the window the original cast albums of 1776, Jacques Brel, and even Salvation. Nice, wasn't it, that Broadway cast albums were so prominently featured in a store's front window display?

* Silk Stockings
Given that this movie musical deals with Capitalism vs. Communism, you'd assume that silk stockings would be the symbol of Western decadence to Comrade Ninotchka. Actually, the thing she harps on the most is French hats. So shouldn't Cole Porter have call his musical French Hats?

Or could it be because less than a decade earlier, Porter had already written brilliantly of a French hat in Kiss Me, Kate. Sings the fickle Lois, "Mr. Harris, plutocrat, wants to give my cheek a pat. If the Harris pat means a Paris hat, Bebe, ooh-lal-la!"

On the other hand, this movie does suggest that Porter did know how to recycle. You can hear instrumentals of "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "Easy to Love" in a couple of different scenes.

Which brings up another point: Have you ever noticed how many songs that were in stage musicals weren't sung in movie adaptations, but did show up as background music? How Can Love Survive is lyric-less, but it's there in The Sound of Music.

In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, you can hear an instrumental You Say You Care, right after Little Girl from Little Rock is sung. And if you thought that I Put My Hand In wasn't put in the Hello, Dolly movie, you're wrong. Listen carefully during the dance competition, and you'll hear it.

In Funny Girl, Henry Street is in the exact same moment it was in the stage show, but without the words. (By the way, watching Funny Girl today is a treat, because you get to see Streisand before she became an ice-queen.)

The Unsinkable Molly Brown may be the all-time champ. None of Meredith Willson's lyrics in Chick-a-Pen, Keep a-Hoppin,' or My Own Brass Bed are included, but the melodies linger on.

Or IS it the champ? I haven't watched Call Me Madam, Can Can or Flower Drum Song in a while. You will excuse me, won't you? I'm going to bed.

-- By Peter Filichia is the New Jersey drama critic for the Star-Ledger.