Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Night and Day


Of all the fabricated Hollywood “biopics” I have ever seen, this just may be the worst. And that’s setting the bar pretty high. That’s not even counting that the story totally ignores one of the central facts of Cole Porter’s life: His homosexuality. I don’t fault the writers for that, I understand that there was no way at all that they could even hint at that. But just take a look at the rest of the story. Its 90% lies, maybe 95%. And the most bizarre thing about it is, Cole Porter was still very much alive! Reportedly, after he screened it, he said “Well, if I can survive that, I can survive anything.”

Film: His first show, See America First, opened and closed on the same night because of the news of the sinking of the Lusitania. Fact: That ship was torpedoed a full year before his show. It closed after fifteen performances because of bad reviews.

Film: He is too proud to accept any money from his family or wife, Linda Lee Thomas. He is just a hard-working American boy, and she was a self-effacing American girl. Fact: They were both filthy rich. As for her, far from working in an orphanage in London after the war, she and Cole threw parties of such Dionysian debauchery that even Paris was shocked. He once hired the entire Ballets Russes to entertain his guests.

Film: He served three years in the trenches, and was badly wounded. Fact: Don’t know about the injury, but there is some doubt if he even served in the French Foreign Legion, as he claimed. He definitely did not serve three years. There is even more doubt about the rest of his war record.

Film: He was constantly promising to go on a trip with her to “get away from it all.” And he broke the promise every time, to start a new show. Linda ended up leaving him because he wouldn’t devote enough time to her and their marriage. Fact: This one is hilarious. Though they were good and close friends, she was completely aware that he was gay. She provided him with a plausible cover in those days when you could not come out. (Though, of course, it was an open secret among those who knew him, and he didn’t even bother to hide his lovers.) For him to stop writing would have been the absolute last thing she wanted.

There is much more, but I think you get the point. For some reason Hollywood felt compelled to hammer each life story into one of a very limited number of scenarios. The idea of a rich man making good just wouldn’t cut it.

The saddest thing about his life is that when this was made, he was halfway through twenty years of constant pain from having his legs broken in a fall from a horse. After thirty-four operations to put him back together, it was finally necessary to amputate one of his legs. He sank into a depression he would never recover from. From that day forward, the great Cole Porter never wrote another note of music.

Okay, if it was so damn awful, why did I watch it? It’s the music, of course. And the dancing. Some big, glorious production numbers. Seldom has a director (Michael Curtiz, of Casablanca fame) crammed so much song and dance into a two-hour movie. There is hardly a two-minute gap between numbers, as he got all the fraudulent “story” out of the way quickly to focus on the music. And, being just Cole Porter songs, it is all great.

Mary Martin plays herself singing “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” and Porter’s great friend Monty Woolley also plays himself. Which is a little bizarre, as he is the same age in 1914 as he is in 1938. And lastly, when a friend asked him what he thought of the casting of Cary Grant to play him in the movie, since they looked nothing alike, he replied “If they wanted Cary Grant to play you in a movie, would you complain?”

DVD EXTRAS: In the ‘30s and ‘40s and into the ‘50s a trip to the movin’ pitchers was a whole different experience than it is today, in the age of the multiplex. You were seated by an usher or usherette. You settled down with your popcorn (some things never change) and watched the first feature. Then instead of being cleared from the theater, you would very likely be shown a travelogue (See Beautiful Bavaria!), a musical short (Bavarian Oompah-pah Slap Dancing!), maybe an episode of a serial (Commando Cody and the Bavarian Menace!), and a newsreel (New Pix of Bombed-Out Bavaria!) Plus at least one animated cartoon … and then, the second feature. Yessir, you got a lot for your four bits in those days. I’m just old enough to have caught the tail end of this cinema experience. I think it’s pretty cool that whoever assembled this DVD included these other things to take us back to those thrilling days of yesteryear.

Musical Movieland (1944) This twenty-one-minute featurette is pretty amazing. A group is being taken on a studio tour by a perky, singing guide. She shows them into eight different sound stages to see numbers from a cowboy picture, an Indian picture, a musical set in Holland, another in England, and several others being filmed. These are big Technicolor production numbers, and would not have been cheap to stage. There were enormous sets, lots of costumes, at least fifty (count ‘em, 50!) chorus girls who were meticulously rehearsed. I understand that most of these numbers were recycled from earlier shorts, but still, they were large, and very good.

Desi Arnaz and His Orchestra (1946) A Warner’s Melody Master short, starring Desiderio Alberto Arnaz ye de Acha the Third, AKA Ricky Ricardo (though that was later). It starts off low-key, with a hat dance and then a woman singing “Easy Street,” then shifts to high gear as Desi brings out the conga drum and starts wailing on it. He actually shouts “babaluuuuuuu!” He reminds me of Cab Calloway, with his call and response riffs, and the way he throws himself around the stage, hair flying in all directions.

The Big Snooze (1946) One of those delightful Looney Tunes where the characters are aware of being movie stars. Directed by Bob Clampett (uncredited). Elmer Fudd is fed up with being left hanging in mid-air after he has run off a cliff. He tears up his contract with Mr. Warner and vows never to go hunting wabbits again. He’s going fishing instead. Bugs realizes that if Elmer retires, his own career will be in the toilet. So he sneaks up on Elmer taking a nap and invades his dreams, turning them into nightmares. There is a surrealistic touch to a lot of this. One of the better ones.