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Why Can’t They Be Like We Were?

For a decade, George Sidney was the enthusiastic vulgarian who enlivened MGM’s immaculately tasteful musicals with such lurid displays as “Bathing Beauty” (1944) and “Kiss Me Kate” (1953 — and reportedly set for a 3-D Blu-ray release by Warner Home Video). But when he crossed over to Columbia, he immediately became one of the most dignified directors on Harry Cohn’s lot, with the elegant, distinctly Borzagian “The Eddie Duchin Story” and the ambitious but oddly compromised “Pal Joey” (1957). But he got his mojo back with the 1963 “Bye Bye Birdie,” a loose adaptation of a Broadway hit to which Sidney added both the mercilessly catchy title song and the astounding young redhead, Ann-Margret, who performs it in a single, super-charged take before the opening credits. There are times when the film’s bright, bouncy satire on/celebration of early 60s pop culture evokes the genius of Frank Tashlin — such as a vision of a Russian ballet on crystal meth — though Sidney isn’t able to sustain Tashlin’s energy level through the romantic subplot centered on Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh. Twilight Time has released a gorgeous Blu-ray transfer from Sony in its limited edition series, along with Blake Edwards’s rarely seen 1960 ‘scope musical “High Time,” in which Bing Crosby tries to make his peace with Fabian.

Also out: a highly improved edition of Delmar Daves’s sensitive Western drama “The Hanging Tree,” with Gary Cooper as a frontier doctor who collects lost souls. The film’s delicacy of emotion and unusual use of vertical space to evoke the precarious inner lives of its characters has always reminded me of Jacques Tourneur’s 1946 masterpiece “Canyon Passage,” and now that Daves’s images have been returned to their original, 1.85 dimensions and their color restored, its distinctive qualities are very much enhanced. From the Warner Archive Collection, again in a limited edition.

Reviews of the above here, in the New York Times.

154 comments to Why Can’t They Be Like We Were?

  • Alex

    “HEARTBREAK RIDGE seems to work in much the same way as Leo McCarey’s MY SON JOHN. On the surface, both films appear to have overtly right-wing propaganda.’

    Maybe, but I’m inclined to think that McCarey created in full consonance with the anti-Communism of Bishop Fulton Sheen, operatied on the prject may IQ point below, say, the anti-Communist acumen of Whitaker Chambers– and that those proverbial (Lit Theory) cracks in ostensible ideology don’t always run very deep or even always appear at all.

    Sure, John has social gospel motives and some true Christian sweetness — but aren’ these the proverbial snare of on which the good soul is caught and ruined by Communism. Why, hey, “Its the sweeted rose that once rotted smells the foulest.” Sometime autuers simpley flub it — indeed may be bozos –say Lang on ” Secret Beyond the Door… ” or Eastwood on “Absolute Power.”

  • Alex

    That should have been “sweetest rose” (not “sweeted”) above.

    On intellectual and social acuity Re the issue of Catholic-bred Communist agents in the U.S, one has the comparison of Whittaker Chamber’s (1952)WITNESS. For a Leftist, fully secular, spy-free point of view on related matter there is James T. Farrell’s BERNARD CARR. A nice entré into the massive literature on Western Communists authored by former Communists (Gide, Koestler, Silone, Wright, etc.) is available in Crossman and Engerman’s (eds.) THE GOD THAT FAILED.

  • “A nice entré into the massive literature on Western Communists authored by former Communists (Gide, Koestler, Silone, Wright, etc.) is available in Crossman and Engerman’s (eds.) THE GOD THAT FAILED.”

    As a complement it’s worth reading Issac Deutscher’s review of “The God That Failed.”

  • Craig

    @Alex and x359594- I would also recommend Edward Said’s REPRESENTATIONS OF THE INTELLECTUAL which has a chapter framed by a critical response to THE GOD THAT FAILED entitled “The Gods That Always Fail”.