Showing posts with label Don Ameche. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Don Ameche. Show all posts

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Review: "That Night in Rio" Offers Music and Gaiety" (Remembering Don Ameche)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 83 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux

That Night in Rio (1941)
Running time: 91 minutes (1 hour, 31 minutes)
DIRECTOR: Irving Cummings
WRITERS: George Seaton & Bess Meredyth and Hal Long, with Samuel Hoffenstein (additional dialogue) and Jessie Ernst (adaptation of original play); (based upon the play The Red Cat by Rudolph Lothar and Hans Adler)
CINEMATOGRAPHERS: Ray Rennahan and Leon Shamroy
EDITOR: Walter Thompson
COMPOSERS: Mack Gordon and Harry Warren


Starring: Alice Faye, Don Ameche, Carmen Miranda, S.Z. Sakall, J. Carroll Naish, Curt Bois, Leonid Kinskey, Frank Puglia, Lillian Porter, and Bando da Lua

20th Century Fox opened up its film vaults back in early 2007 and released several of its musicals from the 1930’s and early 1940’s on DVD, including the 1940 musical/comedy/romance, That Night in Rio (released separately and as part of the four-film The Alice Faye Collection boxed set). The movie’s original tagline “Have a rendezvous with music and gaiety,” is truth in advertising.

Actor/club owner, Jimmy Martin (Don Ameche) and aristocratic airline businessman, Baron Manuel Duarte (Don Ameche), are practically identical twins. When the Baron leaves town to fix a risky business deal, his partners hire Martin to stand in for the Baron. Not knowing that Martin has replace her husband, the Baroness Cecilia Duarte (Alice Faye), finds her philandering husband suddenly more attentive to her. The Baroness later learns that an impersonator has playing her husband, so she decides to have a little fun of her own. When the Baron returns and Martin’s wife Carmen (Carmen Miranda) learns of the scheme, the fun gets a lot more complicated.

That Night in Rio is set in an idealized Rio, Brazil of lavish nightclubs and bouncy samba music. Like many musicals, That Night in Rio was filmed in Technicolor, the film color process known for its hyper-realistic saturated colors. In fact, it exemplifies why Hollywood was then called the “Dream Factory.” The sumptuous production values, gorgeous wardrobes, and opulent sets (all in vivid color) must have looked like heaven to early 1940’s America, which was still working its way out of the Great Depression and living with an increasingly ugly war in Europe that would soon engulf this nation.

This movie opens with a bang, as sparkling fireworks effects over a matte painting give way to Carmen Miranda belting out “Chicka Chicka Boom Chick,” which is but one of several fantastic musical numbers in this film. In fact, Miranda, who became an icon for some and a stereotype for others, enlivens this film, with the able assistance of her band, Bando da Lua. Ostensibly an Alice Faye vehicle, That Night in Rio belongs to the suave and very talented Don Ameche, playing the duel roles of Jimmy Martin and Baron Duarte. Although the film’s screenplay eventually becomes twisted in all this identity switching, Ameche (who would win a supporting actor Oscar for Cocoon 45 years later) makes it go down quite smoothly, and he makes what could have been a merely entertaining flick, a very good movie. People who love old time musical comedy may very well want That Night in Rio to never end.

7 of 10

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Review: Ameche, Nicholas Brothers Dazzle "Down Argentine Way" (Remembering Don Ameche)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 92 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux

Down Argentine Way (1940)
Running time: 89 minutes (1 hour, 29 minutes)
DIRECTOR: Irving Cummings
WRITERS: Karl Tunberg and Darrell Ware; from a story by Rian James and Ralph Spence
PRODUCER: Darryl F. Zanuck
CINEMATOGRAPHERS: Ray Rennahan (D.o.P.) and Leon Shamroy (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Barbara McLean
COMPOSER: Cyril J. Mockridge
1941 Academy Award nominee


Starring: Betty Grable, Don Ameche, Carmen Miranda, Charlotte Greenwood, J. Carroll Naish, Henry Stephenson, Kay Aldridge, Leonid Kinskey, Chris-Pin Martin, Bobby Stone, Charles Judel, and the Nicholas Brothers

20th Century Fox opened its vault back in early 2007 and released several of its delightful Technicolor movie musicals on DVD, including the 1940 film, Down Argentine Way. In the film, American heiress Glenda Crawford (played by pin-up gal and girl-next-door Betty Grable) falls for Ricardo Quintana (Don Ameche), a dashing South American horse breeder.

Glenda is in Argentina to buy horses when she encounters Ricardo, the son of Don Diego Quintana (Henry Stephenson), a champion horse breeder. However, Don Diego won’t sell to Crawfords because of a long-standing feud he has with Glenda’s father. Ricardo follows Glenda back to New York to woo her with a deal for a champion jumping horse, but when that deal goes badly, Ricardo leaves.

Glenda and her aunt, Binnie Crawford (Charlotte Greenwood), follow him back to Argentina, where the new couple attempts to reconcile. The star-crossed lovers face tough odds to stay together. In between all the fussing and fighting, Carmen Miranda sings and the famous Nicholas Brothers (Fayard and Harold) perform a standout, show-stopping song and dance routine. An exciting day at the racetrack is the cherry on top.

One of the most enjoyable of 20th Century Fox’s early 40’s Technicolor musicals, Down Argentine Way is remembered for a few special reasons. It was Betty Grable’s breakthrough film, and it was also Carmen Miranda’s first film. Some will also remember Down Argentine Way for the spectacular dance sequence by the fabulous Nicholas Brothers, one of the few African-America film performers whose film appearances were not routinely edited out by theatres to satisfy racist audiences in some areas of the U.S.

After a slow first hour, Down Argentine Way comes to life after the Nicholas Brothers’ scene. Then, the wonderful comedy and thrilling dance numbers show through what is essentially a flimsy plot with stereotyped characters. Charlotte Greenwood’s Bennie Crawford, J. Carroll Naish’s Casiano, and Leonid Kinskey’s Tito Acuna add constant zany flourishes to this idealized Hollywood version of an exotic South American locale. The dazzling and colorful production values on display in this whimsical and gay musical fantasy are an example of why Hollywood became known as the “Dream Factory.”

7 of 10

1941 Academy Awards: 3 nominations: “Best Art Direction, Color” (Richard Day and Joseph C. Wright) “Best Cinematography, Color” (Leon Shamroy and Ray Rennahan), and “Best Music, Original Song” (“Down Argentine Way” by Harry Warren-music and Mack Gordon-lyrics)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Review: "Trading Places" is Timeless (Remembering Denholm Elliot)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 83 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

Trading Places (1983)
Running time: 116 minutes (1 hour, 56 minutes)
DIRECTOR: John Landis
WRITERS: Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod
PRODUCER: Aaron Russo
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Paynter (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Malcolm Campbell
COMPOSER: Elmer Bernstein
Academy Award nominee


Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Denholm Elliot, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kristin Holby, and Paul Gleason

The subject of this movie review is Trading Places, a 1983 comedy film and satire from director John Landis. The film stars Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy as a snobbish commodities trader and a streetwise con artist, respectively, who plot revenge against two conniving millionaires who cruelly use them in a personal wager.

Rare is the comedy film that enjoys success across a broad spectrum of viewer types and still remain popular even two decades after its initial release. That is exactly the case with director John Landis’s buddy, comic caper Trading Places.

Mortimer (Don Ameche) and Randolph Duke (Ralph Bellamy), millionaire commodity brokers, have made a bet. Randolph believes that he can take a common criminal off the streets, Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), and make him into a successful businessman, the old nature vs. environment/nurture. Mortimer disagrees, siding with nature, and the brothers bet one dollar to whoever wins. To learn if even a man who has been brought up in the right environment and has gotten everything he wants can go bad, they pick their hand-chosen successor at Duke and Duke, the snobbish Louis Winthorp III (Dan Aykroyd), and frame him for a few crimes. He loses his job and winds up in jail. The Dukes give Billy Ray Louis’s home and job at Duke and Duke. When Billy Ray accidentally discovers the wager, the wily young con artist joins Louis, Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis) a hooker with a heart of gold who has befriended Louis, and Louis’s butler Coleman (Denholm Elliot) to turn the tables on the two callous Duke Brothers.

One of the things that makes this film so much fun is that it plays upon broad socio-economic stereotypes that are very familiar to audiences. What makes these almost stock characters work so well is a combination of excellent comic actors and a good comedic script. Dan Akyroyd is a very good actor, but he is mostly known as a comedian; combine good acting with a great sense of comic timing, and you have a great performance.

Eddie Murphy’s star as a movie actor was rapidly rising at this point in his career, but he was already a quite accomplished player in the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” The Murphy here is still the brash, streetwise, fast talker bursting with the kinda of “black comedy” that both black and white audiences love – you know, the sassy and mouthy Negro who always has a come back or something smart-alecky to say. That Murphy is mostly gone and rarely makes a film appearance now almost 20 years into Murphy’s film career, but looking back, one can see that he makes Billy Ray Valentine both hilarious and loveable – the guy you can root for and with whom you can almost identify.

Kudos also go to longtime screen veterans Bellamy, Ameche, and Elliot for bravura performances that take stock characters and give them flavor and delightful personalities. We also get the added gem of seeing Ms. Curtis in a role that didn’t require her to run from a knife-wielding murder. Up to this point in her career, Ms. Curtis had become the new "Scream Queen" of horror films.

If you haven’t seen this film, you don’t know what you’re missing. If you’ve seen it once before, you should be at least on your tenth viewing.

8 of 10

1984 Academy Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Music, Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Best Adaptation Score” (Elmer Bernstein)

1984 BAFTA Awards: 2 wins: “Best Supporting Actor” (Denholm Elliott) and “Best Supporting Actress” (Jamie Lee Curtis); 1 nomination: “Best Screenplay – Original” (Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod)

1984 Golden Globes, USA: 2 nominations: “Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical” and “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical” (Eddie Murphy)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Review: "Coming to America" is Still a Classic (Happy B'day, James Earl Jones)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 34 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Coming to America (1988)
Running time: 116 minutes (1 hour, 56 minutes)
DIRECTOR: John Landis
WRITERS: David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein; from a story by Eddie Murphy
PRODUCERS: George Folsey, Jr. and Robert D. Wachs
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Woody Omens with Sol Negrin
EDITOR: George Folsey, Jr. and Malcolm Campbell
Academy Award nominee


Starring: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Madge Sinclair, Shari Headley, Paul Bates, Eriq La Salle, Frankie Faison, Vanessa Bell , Louie Anderson, Allison Dean, Calvin Lockhart, Clint Smith, Don Ameche, Ralph Bellamy, and Samuel L. Jackson

A pampered heir to an African throne, Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy), wants more out of life, and he wants a woman with her own mind, someone other than the beautiful woman to whom he’s engaged, Imani Izzi (Vanessa Bell). His father, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones), the ruler of Zamunda, encourages Akeem to go to America and sow his royal oats. However, Akeem heads to New York City, specifically Queens, to find a mate who will fall in love with him for who he is not what he is. Accompanied by his trusty sidekick, Semmi (Arsenio Hall), Akeem takes a low-paying job at a McDonald’s-like fast food restaurant, McDowell’s. He keeps his true identity secret and eventually begins a romance with Lisa McDowell (Shari Headley), the daughter of the boss, Cleo McDowell (John Amos). But will his royal lineage ruin Akeem’s chances with Lisa?

Coming to America remains one of my favorite Eddie Murphy films. It’s both funny, and the film also reveals the romantic side of Eddie Murphy’s talents as an actor – something we’d see more of in later films. The script by David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein, two writers who wrote many of Murphy’s sketches while he was a cast member of “Saturday Night Live” in the mid-80’s, crafted a light-hearted, but engaging romantic comedy, and sprinkle it with numerous comic sketches and scenes. The writers provide comic gems not only for Murphy and Arsenio Hall, but also for the rest of the cast, which gives even actors with the smallest parts something into which they can sink their teeth. James Earl Jones, John Amos, and Madge Sinclair as Queen Aoleon shine in supporting roles.

Many people remember the film for the fact that Murphy and Hall played more than one role, thanks in large part to the amazing makeup by Oscar-winning makeup effects whiz, Rick Baker (who earned an Oscar nomination for this film, but lost that year to the makeup team on Beetlejuice). Hall plays three characters in addition to Semmi, including one female character. Murphy plays three characters in addition to Prince Akeem, including a Caucasian male. The makeup and their performances were so convincing that some of the audience didn’t realize that Murphy and Hall were playing multiple parts, in particularly Murphy as the old white man, Saul.

Coming to America also had good production values, including an amazing array of colorful (though sometimes outlandish costumes) costumes and a multiplicity of sets reflecting everything from regal splendor to lower class squalor. Probably the best thing that the set decorator and art director did was create an African kingdom that reflects African-American fantasy and myth-making about African monarchies, but something with the whimsy of, say, the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz. If that weren’t enough, the cast features many very talented black actors who rarely get work simple because they’re black, but this film gives us a chance to see these talented performers. That’s why Coming to America remains one of the great African-American romantic comedies, and it is also one of the first times in film that we see Eddie Murphy show the scope of his ability to play a variety of characters.

8 of 10

1989 Academy Awards: 2 nominations: “Best Costume Design” (Deborah Nadoolman) and “Best Makeup” (Rick Baker)

1990 Image Awards: 2 wins: “Outstanding Motion Picture” and “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture” (Arsenio Hall)

Monday, February 13, 2006