Mamoulian fu avviato da Stanislavsky in persona alla regia teatrale; negli anni venti esercitò in
Germania (dove apprese le tecniche di Reinhardt), in Inghilterra (dove colse i primi grandi successi) e
infine negli Stati Uniti, dove s'impose anche per le sue regie musicali (sia opera sia musical). Uomo di
spettacolo nel senso pieno del termine, non trascurò alcuna forma o tecnica, e nel 1929, con
l'avvento del sonoro, passò anche al cinema.
Applause fu un musical atipico,
influenzato dall'espressionismo e dal cineocchio di Vertov; descriveva con freddo cinismo lo squallore e
la brutalità del mondo della rivista: le ballerine sono semi-prostitute cadenti e la protagonista
è una spogliarellista che ormai non attrae più, e che mette al mondo una bambina in un
camerino deprimente; dopo aver sacrificato la propria vita per la figlia, non le resterà che
suicidarsi. Il film fu anche un pretesto per fare esperimenti sulla fotografia (una camera molto mobile) e
sul sonoro (la complessa colonna sonora) continuati in
City Streets (1931), tratto da Hammett,
uno dei primi gangster-film simile a Underworld di Sternberg,
di cui ricalca il simbolismo e il realismo.
Big Fellow is the boss of a gang that "protects" businesses. The first scene
is a montage of trucks carrying illegal alcohol, of glasses full to the brim with sparkling alcohol and of bottles being filled in
an assembly line. The owner of the illegal factory had an argument with his
protector Big Fellow and later is killed and his body is thrown in the river.
Big Fellow's right arm Pop is an older man with
an apparently peaceful smile. His stepdaughter Nan is in love with a poor
young man, Kid, who works in an amusement park and is an infallible shooter.
Nan is unhappy that Kid cannot afford to get married, and Kid is unhappy that
Nan's stepfather is a gangster. Kid is not willing to work for the gangster
even if this means postponing their wedding forever.
Meanwhile, Big Fellow has fallen in love with Aggie, the girl of another powerful
gangster, Blackie, and tells Pop that he (Pop) can replace Blackie if
something happens to Blackie. Blackie senses danger and is cautious when Pop
shows up, but Pop outsmarts him and kills him (we see Pop's giant shadow on
a wall following Blackie out of the building where he will die).
Pop runs away before the cops arrive and hands the gun to Nan.
Pop then goes back to Aggie's place where she provides him with an alibi.
The police find the gun on Nan and arrest her. Pop visits Kid and tells him
that the police unjustly framed Nan. Kid doesn't have any money to bail Nan out.
Pop promises him lots of money if he joins the bootlegging business inherited
from Blackie. Kid accepts. Meanwhile in prison Nan has learned her lesson and
is proud that her boyfriend is not involved with the mob unlike the boyfriends
of so many of the other girls.
When Kid visits Nan in prison, they both have changed: Kid is dressed like
a mobster and Nan hates the mob. When she is released, she is hostile to
Big Fellow and the whole business, especially since Big Fellow is ready to
dump Aggie to seduce her (Nan) under the nose of Kid and with the approval
of her own stepfather.
Now that he has the money to marry her he is losing her.
But he finally stands up to Big Fellow the way Blackie did when Big Fellow
flirted with Aggie. Sure enough Big Fellow orders his thugs to liquidate Kid
the same way Blackie was killed by Pop.
To save him, Nan calls Big Fellow and offers herself to him. Big Fellow does
not hesitate to kick Aggie out. When Nan arrives, Big Fellow finds Pop's gun
in her dress and puts it on a chair. Aggie, furious and jealous, manages to
grab the gun unseen and shoots Big Fellow. It is Nan's gun and Nan was the
only one in the room, and nobody (not even Nan) saw Aggie hiding behind a door.
Aggie herself accuses Nan of the murder.
Kid coldly takes control of the gang, but Aggie stirs rebellion.
Three thugs board the car with Kid and Nan as they flee. To get rid of them,
Kid takes them on a wild mountain ride (badly filmed because the people inside
the car never lose their balance when the car swerves madly). Eventually the
thuds surrender and Kid leaves them in the middle of nowhere. Then Kid and
Nan can continue their ride towards a wedding.
There are hints of Soviet montage, German expressionism and French surrealism,
but also some inept scenes and a trivial ending.
Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1932) toccò anche l'horror-film, ma tornò poi al musical con
Love Me Tonight (1932)
per le musiche di Rodgers, un classico della Hollywood canora pre-
Berkeley, in cui un sarto parigino si innamora di una principessa.
The film opens with a documentary-style panorama of empty streets in the mist.
The sounds of the city as it awakens compose a sort of mechanical symphony to
which a cheerful tailor, Maurice (Maurice Chevalier), intones his song on the
way to his shop. His best and worst customers are an aristocratic family that
viscount who is chronically broke and keeps borrowing money from Maurice instead of paying his tailoring bills.
His uncle is a rich duke who lives in a secluded castle outside the city.
The uncle's main worry is to find a husband for his young
widowed daughter, princess Jeanette, a beautiful woman who is chased by
very old suitors (like very old was her late husband).
The problem is that Maurice owes money to his suppliers. He needs the viscount
to pay his bill. Therefore he travels to the castle to collect the debt.
Along the way his car breaks down and while the driver fixes it
princess Jeanette rides by in her horse carriage and has an accident.
Maurice is immediately seduced by her beauty but she looks down on him.
At the castle the princess is constantly ill. The doctor examines her and
realizes that all she needs is a husband of her age group (implying that the
previous husband didn't satisfy her sexual needs).
When Maurice arrives at the castle, he meets the other daughter,
young Valentine, who is desperately looking for single men.
He also meets the three old ladies of the castle, who are charmed by his elegant
manners. The viscount introduces him as a baron. Then the princess walks in
and treats him with sarcasm. Invited to an aristocratic hunting party, Maurice
hides a deer in his room to save its life. When she discovers it, Jeanette is
outraged but then helps him. Maurice goes along with the viscount's lie because
it's his only chance to seduce the princess. He eventually succeeds and Jeanette
is ready to marry him. One day, however, Maurice offends the women tailor of the
family, who walks out outraged. The family is terrified that they lost their
decade-old tailor. Maurice promises to fix Jeanette's dress in two hours and
he does so. But then he has to confess the truth to an astounded Jeanette.
The whole castle is shaken by the scandal. The duke pays Maurice the money
that the viscount owes him and then kicks him out. Maurice takes the train back
to the city. Jeanette is now truly in love. She jumps on a horse and starts
chasing the train. She passes the train and then stands on the railway tracks
to stop the train. She can now board the train and continue the journey with
nella ricostruzione storica con Queen Christina (1933) per la
Garbo, e rifece sonori due cavalli di battaglia di Valentino (Blood and sand) e di Fairbanks
(The mark of Zorro), perfezionando di volta in volta le sue tecniche, e, in Becky
Sharp (1935), storia di una spregiudicata arrampicatrice sociale dell'epoca vittoriana,
affrontò anche il colore.
Golden Boy (1939) is a melodrama about a gifted musician who becomes a
boxer and has to cope with its corrupt milieu.
Showman totale e competente innovatore, Mamoulian capì il
mezzo cinematografico e lo sfruttò secondo le sue possibilità. La colonna sonora fu il suo
banco di prova preferito, e a ciò si deve la sua precoce adesione al musical, genere in cui diede i
suoi ultimi gioielli con il musical nostalgico Summer Holiday (1948),
di un'America sorridente dedita a picnic estivi, e
Silk stockings (1957), in cui un produttore di Hollywood si invaghisce di
una spia russa a Parigi.
Silk stockings (1957) is a musical comedy.
A Russian composer is in Paris, about to start work on a score for a movie
produced by Fred Astaire and starring a famous star, but the Soviet party
sends three comrades to bring him back. Astaire uses three sexy ballerinas to
corrupt the comrades and convince them to stay in Paris for a while.
But Moskow decides to send a special agent, who happens to be a woman, but
hardly feminine: cold, disciplined, hard-core communist. When she arrives in
Paris, the three comrades, who now indulge in capitalist pleasures, are
terrified, but Astaire doesn't waste any time to try cheer and seduce her.
Ninotchka is a hard nut to crack: she is determined to bring back the artist,
and totally indifferent to (actually, repelled by) western decadence.
But Astaire's perseverance begins to make inroads into her feminine instincts.
She becomes more gentle with the three scared comrades, and she can't focus
on her reports as she was. For her next date with Astaire, she gets rid of
her ugly communist clothes and dresses sexy. And when she comes back to the
room, she is half drunk. When the comrades, out of fear, tell her that
the Russian composer is not only refusing to go back but is even writing
the music for a capitalist film, she could care less. When he proposes marriage
to keep her in Paris, she is tempted. But Astaire had the terrible idea to
change the composer's music to turn it into a light pop song for a scene
that is a spoof of Russian culture. The composer is offended, and Ninotchka
is offended. Composer, Ninotchka and the three comrades decide to leave Paris
Back in Russia, Ninotchka helps everybody be forgiven by the authorities.
One day the five get together again, and they reminesce about Paris.
A letter from Astaire excites Ninotchka, but when she opens it she is
devastated: it has all been crossed out by the censors.
The composer now writes pop music with an American rhythm, and the whole
neighborhood loves it.
In Paris, Astaire asks the Russian ambassador to emigrate to Russia,
and the ambassador is shocked to hear that someone actually wants to move to
Russia, and denies the visa. The three comrades are sent to Paris again on
a new mission, and, again, they embarrass their homeland, who, again, sends
Ninotchka to rescue them. She is reluctant at first, because she knows how
dangerous Paris is, but her boss gives her no choice. When she arrives,
she is hostile to the three comrade and simply wants to take them back
and avoid Astaire, who is now only a faded memory. But the three comrades
have no intention of going back: they now own a restaurant. And Astaire is
still in love with her. In fact, he wrote the anonymous report about the
three comrades that inspired her boss to send her to Paris: it was all
planned by Astaire and the three friends. He tells her that he couldn't
travel to Russia. He tells her that he had written many
letters to her, even though she received only one. He still loves her.
And she falls into his arms.
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