Three handsome Technicolor restorations from MGM DVD slipped in under cover of darkness this week: the ungainly but gorgeously designed “The Goldwyn Follies” (1938), Howard Hawks’s lackadaisical but gorgeously shot 1948 “A Song Is Born” (fodder for those jazz buffs who have commandeered the Oshima thread, but not too much, I hope), and William A. Seiter’s basically indefensible but I-like-it-anyway “It’s a Pleasure,” a low-budget effort for the short-lived outfit International Pictures, starring the Norwegian ice-skating champion Sonja Henie. Further musings can be found in the New York Times.
I’ve been on a Seiter kick since his 1932 “Hot Saturday” surfaced in the recent Universal pre-code collection. In many way, he seems like a better-adjusted, non-alcoholic version of Leo McCarey, who may not have scaled the heights that McCarey achieved but never suffered the long periods of inactivity that McCarey did either. Like McCarey, Seiter learned is craft working on dozens of silent one and two-reel comedies, an experience that seems to have given him a deep ability to appreciate what makes a particular performer distinctive and a concomitant talent for setting those qualities off within an elegantly “invisible” mise-en-scene.
Seiter is responsible for some of the best films by established comics like Laurel and Hardy (“Sons of the Desert”), Wheeler and Woolsey (“Peach-O-Reno”), Abbott and Costello (“Little Giant”) and the Marx Brothers (“Room Service”), and he had a particular gift for drawing out the acting talents of singing stars like Ginger Rogers (five films, including “Rafter Romance” and “Professional Sweetheart”), Shirley Temple (four, including “Stowaway”) and Deanna Durbin (four, including the memorable “Nice Girl?”).
There are some superb screwball comedies from the 1930s, including “We’re Rich Again,” “The Richest Girl in the World,” and “Sing and Like It” (all 1934), as well as the gentler romantic comedies “If You Could Only Cook” (1935) and “The Moon’s Our Home” (1936). And I revisit his Fred Astaire-Rita Hayworth South American reverie “You Were Never Lovelier” with undiminished pleasure; it’s possible that Hayworth was, indeed, never lovelier, and Seiter generates a sexual magnetism between his two leads that never quite emerges in the Astaire-Rogers films (including Seiter’s own “Roberta”). His last film was a deeply felt noir, “Make Haste to Live” (1954) with an uncommonly strong female protagonist (Dorothy McGuire), made for pennies at Republic.
For those who don’t know Seiter, I wouldn’t recommend the minor “It’s a Pleasure” as the place to start (but again — who knew Sonja Henie could pull off a dramatic scene?). But there is a lot to discover in the work of this gifted, self-effacing filmmaker, whose only honor during his lifetime was, according the IMDB, a 1956 DGA Award nomination for directing an episode of “Schlitz Playhouse.”