I realize you’re probably being bombarded with suggestions for Christmas gifts — the hottest books, videos, and CDu2018s. But let me suggest a few other choices. My taste may seem to be a little antiquated as my recommendations are from the past and possibly unfamiliar. So I will supply a little blurb with each to help you decide if you have any interest.
A video that always makes me happy is the 1939 musical comedy version of The Three Musketeers starring Don Ameche and the Ritz Brothers. Today, the three Ritz Brothers are practically forgotten compared to the Marx Brothers but during their heyday they were big time "box office." Their outrageous humor is definitely not sophisticated. In fact, they made slapstick an art form. Ameche plays a tongue-in-cheek D’Artagnan who mistakes three bumbling cooks for fellow musketeers and uses them is his attempt to reclaim the Queen’s most valuable jewel. In the process, Ameche falls in love with the Queen’s lady-in-waiting. Humor, singing and swashbuckling abound.
Another type of humor is offered by The Bobo, a film from 1967 and, believe me, it is vintage 1960’s. The film was not well received when released but has become a cult favorite. A beautiful gold digging courtesan, Olympia, (Britt Eckland) is sought after by a bevy of discouraged suitors, the most bitter being the powerful impresario, Carbonell, whom she had previously rejected. A cluster of these men sit in an outdoor café across from the gold digger’s apartment, lecherously watching her comings and goings. One day a penniless gypsy, Juan Bautista, (Peter Sellers) drifts into town and begs Carbonell to book his act which involves singing while fighting a bull. Unable to get rid of the persistent Bautista, Carbonell finally makes him an offer. Carbonell will book him for a week at a prestigious location if, within three days, Bautista is able to bed the aptly named Olympia. The plot thickens and, in the end, like a tale by Chaucer, everyone gets their comeuppance.
From 1954 comes Pushover, a reworking of the 1944 film noir classic Double Indemnity, starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck. MacMurray is back again as the man on the inside, this time a detective trying to outwit his associates and make off with $200,000 of stolen money. This film introduced two screen lovelies, Kim Novak and Dorothy Malone. MacMurray might be a little long in the tooth as the love interest of the young Novak who was still in her teens when the film was made. But the chemistry between the two works and so the film works. The tension begins early and remains taut throughout.
Videos of the1935 film The Littlest Rebel can still be found. Shirley Temple is Virgie Cary, the daughter of a imprisoned Confederate officer. A Union Colonel is charmed by the little girl and helps her father escape and return to his plantation. But the two men are caught and scheduled for execution. The spirited little girl, in true Shirley Temple fashion, convinces President Lincoln to spare the two men. The film is corny and Shirley Temple is pure confection. But children (of all ages) like it and it worth the price just to hear Shirley Temple sing "Dixie" to the Union Colonel.
One of the finest animated films in America was made in 1946, the Walt Disney classic, Song of the South. The film, with music, is based on the famous Uncle Remus stories by Eatonton, Georgia’s Joel Chandler Harris. Unfortunately, the Walt Disney Company capitulated to intimidation from politically correct types, objecting to the film’s portrayal of slaves and plantation life, and has refused to allow their best animation film to be distributed in the United States. But the film was not censored in other countries including England so now VHS and DVD copies, compatible with American equipment, can be found in the U.S. The storyu2018s hero, Uncle Remus, is the wise man, whom all turn to for advice. Sometimes Uncle Remus’ most meaningful interactions are with children and he dispenses his philosophic lessons in the form of stories of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox and Brer Bear. The film contains the wonderful song "Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah."
Music with a Southern flavor can also be found on the CD, Hoagy sings Carmichael. With a backup band of outstanding musicians, including the late Art Pepper, Hoagy Carmichael puts his gravelly voice to his own compositions, songs with either Southern subjects or a Southern flavor; Georgia on My Mind; New Orleans, Baltimore Oriole ( yes, Baltimore is a Southern city) and, my favorite, Memphis in June. The CD also contains Lazy River, Two Sleepy People and Ballad in Blue.
The most Southern of all songs is, of course, Dixie and there are a number of outstanding versions available. For the standard marching band rendition I recommend the version by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops. This CD, American Jubilee, also includes many other favorites such as Yankee Doodle, The Stars and Stripes Forever and Battle Hymn of the Republic.
For a New Orleans Jazz interpretation of Dixie, there is the one and only Louis Armstrong playing with the Dukes of Dixieland; Satchmo and the Dukes of Dixieland. The CD also includes the Mardi Gras standard Bourbon Street Parade as well as Washington & Lee Swing, South, Lime House Blues and Sweet Georgia Brown.
My favorite version of Dixie is by a vocal quartet known as The Hi-Lo’s whose style is best described as "a cappella." This group exemplifies fine musicianship and their version is unusually slow, almost mournful. A muted trumpet and a muffled drum roll sound as though they are coming from a distance as they set the stage for the voices. The muted trumpet, reminiscent of Taps, bridges the verses of the song and is used at the end to fade the piece out. I have seen grown Southern men get teary eyed listening to this version — especially after they have had a taste of the grape. The CD is called, Together Wherever We Go and includes terrific renditions of classics such as Laura, Wait Till You See Her and I Married An Angel.
Finally, a novel from the past, controversial for its time and now largely forgotten but still available. Françoise Sagan’s book Bonjour Tristesse was published in Paris in1958 while that city’s intellectuals were still in the thralls of existentialism. The heroine, Cecile, is a young girl in her late teens as was Sagan when she wrote the book. Cecile lives with her divorced father, a serial womanizer. But the young girl is content with her unconventional life ; her father’s wealth allows the two of them to divide their time between Paris and the French Riviera. However, when her father falls for one of his mistresses and considers marriage, the young girl fears for her idyllic lifestyle and begins an intricate scheme to end her father’s relationship with the woman. The law of unintended consequences causes her scheme to go awry and end tragically. Hence the title, which loosely translates as u2018Good Morning Sadness.’ Although the book is written from the perspective of an unorthodox young girl who is coming of age, it should appeal to anyone who enjoys fine writing.