“Magic Moments” are dramatic moments which go just over or under the tightwire of seriousness. The most embarrassing such moment (because the most sustained) is in THE ROBE where people sailing back and forth in Cinemascope between Rome and Jerusalem keep talking about waiting for a tide to help them cross the quite tideless Mediterranean—which wonder will serve superbly to introduce–.
MAGIC MOVIE MOMENTS–a treasury of bad laughs
The most famed is GONE WITH THE WIND’s, “Lawsy, Miss Scarlett, I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies.” Most treasured is world-weary Joan Crawford’s offhand reply in A WOMAN’S FACE to Conrad Veidt’s inquiry about her musical interests: “Most symphonies, some concertos.”
In SHANGHAI EXPRESS, old beau Clive Brook asks re-encountered Marlene Dietrich if she ever married. She moans, “It took more than one man to change my name to–Shanghai Lily.” In THE STORY OF DR. WASSELL, titular Gary Cooper “meets cute” with nurse Laraine Day. He’s scraping from Asian pilings snails suspected of carrying disease. He asks her, hopefully, “Are you–interested in snails?” (No, wait.) She replies, earnestly, “I’m interested in anything that will help end this dreadful plague.” (Hush, there’s more.) Cooper gulps and agrees, “It sure has killed an awful lot of people.” (There, now.)
In UNFORGIVEN (motherlode of such “magic moments”), filmdom’s major pre-Mel Gibson macho masochist, Clint Eastwood, as producer and director awards himself not only wounds from being kicked senseless by barroom toughs, but simultaneous (Give me a drum-roll!) near-fatal pneumonia. (Will you be okay?)
In CASABLANCA, ardent Ingrid Bergman–with a perfectly straight face–begs Paul Henreid, (whom the writers must get out of the way so she can rendezvous with Humphrey Bogart), “Victor, please don’t go to the underground meeting tonight.”
In COBRA WOMAN, after good twin Maria Montez has slain her evil sister so she can claim a volcanic monarchy, handmaiden Lois Collier flings herself at the camera in rayon veils to improvise, “FIRE MOUNTAIN NO LONGER ANGRY WITH US. CRUELTY AND OPPRESSION ENDED HERE FOREVER. WE ALL NOW FREE TO LIVE AND BELIEVE AS WE PLEASE, UNDER RULE OF OUR RIGHTFUL QUEEN, TOLLEA!”
In ROCKETSHIP X-M, the first scientist on Mars barely glances through binoculars at a black smear on a distant mountain-range and curtly diagnoses, “Pitchblende–Immense quantities of pitchblende.” (No, please don’t go. See what I have? And this is all for you!) In TOP GUN, fighter pilot Tom Cruise mourns his dead buddy by leaning over a sink in gossamer-thin, skin-tight jockey shorts. (Yes, yes, I said, “Fighter pilot Tom Cruise mourns his dead buddy by leaning over the sink in gossamer-thin, skin-tight jockey shorts.” What on Earth else could you have thought I said?) In TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY, Frank Sinatra in a white tux in front of a white-clad orchestra sings “Ol’ Man River,” including the lyrics, “You and me, we sweat and strain.” (He does so. He does SO! )
“In THE SEARCHERS, having started together from forty desert miles away, Jeffery Hunter on foot arrives at a cabin only seconds after hard-riding John Wayne. (Jeff does look bushed.) In THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, Lana Turner’s car window considerately rolls itself up between shots to keep a sudden rain from spoiling Lana’s white fox finery. In THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, as the agony of all uncircumcised Egypt losing its firstborns to Jehovah’s curse resounds off-screen, Moses and his intimates, chatting over a meal, just happen to improvise the Passover ceremony!
No “bad laughs” in all of cinema history are so surefire as those heard from audiences subjected to the climax of David O. Selznick’s hysterical-yet-leaden ostensible epic, “Duel in the Sun.”
“Duel in the Sun”–intended to prove that Selznick could equal his own “Gone With the Wind” (and also that Jennifer Jones, for whom he had ditched his very popular wife, Irene, was a great actress)–is a lurching, lurid story of two brothers on a western ranch and the half-breed woman both love and one rapes.
As Pearl Chavez, the half-breed in question, Jennifer chooses to kill the rapist she loves, but he (Gregory Peck) isn’t into it. They crawl all over a desert firing rifles, then weeping that they might have harmed each other. They die in one another’s arms, and…a flower grows there. Trust me. A flower grows there. Well, go rent the movie for yourself if you don’t believe me. I tell you a flower grows there! (Sometimes I don’t know why I try with you people.)
In THE MISFITS, after Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, and Eli Wallach pass out from rodeo drunkenness while begging Marilyn Monroe to save their souls, Marilyn–curiously un-mussed by the day which has left them in ruins–rolls her eyes to Heaven and whispers, “Help.” (I’m not capable of inventing it.)
In ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, the camera follows Robert DeNiro after he ravishes Elizabeth McGovern, and the soundtrack swells with turbulent music, sensitive (like the “men’s hotline” in a “Saturday Night Live” skit) to the confused and disoriented state of mind of a man who’s just committed rape.
In the otherwise estimable JFK, Bobby Kennedy’s assassination is treated as a fortunate outside occurrence which reunites tiffing mates Kevin Costner and Sissy Spaceck.
In the medical thriller OUTBREAK, when the dying plot suddenly requires an aerial chase, helicopter-hijacking doctor Dustin Hoffman in passing asks a companion doctor in a masterpiece of emergency exposition, “How many hours of flight school?” and is answered deftly, “Sixty hours plus, sir.”
In POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE, director Gene Hackman convinces actress Meryl Streep that “Growing up is not like the movies where you have a realization and your life changes.” She leaves him, and within minutes has a realization and her life changes.
Saving the very best for last, in STAR TREK GENERATIONS, spaceship commander Patrick Stewart enters a dangerous “dream dimension” to rescue his peer, William Shatner, from a delusory rural idyll. They ride side by side on hallucinated steeds while Stewart convinces Shatner that this is all unreal, and that he can free himself from it by an act of will. Manfully, Shatner agrees, and they turn and ride away on the imaginary horses! (SHAVE! and-a HAIR-cut—SIX! BITS!), and in TITANIC, Kathy Bates must say with a straight face, about a handy tux which hugs po’boy Leonardo Di Caprio like I’d like to, “I was right. You and my son ARE just about the same size,” to which that Pre-Raphaelite pop-tart replies, “Pretty close.” And it is at that, isn’t it? Somebody open a porthole.
With today’s film-drenched film-makers, who seem to know nothing of life, one can’t be sure if they know that they’re funny. The same was not true of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in the “Road to…” series. They knew they weren’t funny, and made that the source of their humor. They seem amazed that they’re being paid. One watched the “Road” pictures, from Morocco to Bali, for the pretty songs sung by Bing and deadpan Dorothy Lamour, and for the occasional surreal instants occasioned by the boys’ disdain for the pretexts of the project. They made out-of-character cracks at each other’s off-screen image, called the film to a halt to belabor its absurdity. They seem always to be wondering, “Haven’t you people got anything better to do?”
The peak moment of this sort came not in a ROAD movie, but rather in a Hope film, SON OF PALEFACE. Jane Russell drives a rickety getaway car as she and Hope flee from pursuit by angry Indians. A rear wheel comes off. Roy Rogers lassos the axle and hands the rope to Hope to hold that corner of the car off the ground. As arrows fly and vultures wait, Hope dryly admonishes implacable Jane, “Hurry up! This is impossible!”
Jane seemed to inspire Magic Moments. In the uncut THE OUTLAW, she starts stripping to bed-down with agued Jack Buetel (to give him healing warmth), and the soundtrack slams into Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony Pathetique.” In MACAO, when asked by Robert Mitchum, “Any objections to a good-night kiss?” Jane delivers herself of, “Nothing that you couldn’t handle.” In the fulsome, funny THE FRENCH LINE, Jane appears as the closing number in a musical fashion show in Paris (planned to prove that an American designer can have the class and dignity of the French), in which she-—strips down to next-to-nothing with holes in it and does a cooch-dance that would close a whorehouse.
JUDY’S MAGIC MOMENTS
Jane Russell wasn’t alone in inspiring memorable moments onscreen. Judy Garland also sparked a couple of doozies. In “Summer Stock”—Performer Judy is so moved by director Gene Kelly’s pre-show pep-talk that moments later she goes onstage–40 pounds lighter!
AND THE ALL-TIME WINNER MAGICAL MOVIE MOMENT…
In “Easter Parade,” Fred Astaire dances onstage in slow motion with a chorus which continues behind him at normal speed, while, in the wings, Judy beams with admiration—as well one might!