A Gooden Worsted Double Feature
What to do while watching: Become frisky.
What to eat while watching: Lobster.
I must tell you about a very strange Italian film: Swept Away. I’m still puzzled and perplexed by it, but watching it was actually rather fun.
The double feature this week is brought to you by Mrs. Worsted, my true love and partner. Whereas I walk into a video store with some idea about what I want to see--a friend’s recommendation, a Filthy review, a director or actor in mind--my wife tends to go to a shelf and let something call to her. It’s mind-boggling to me. How can a person hope for a good viewing experience when choosing at random, or, at best, judging a video by its cover? And yet, she put Children of Heaven into our VCR, one of the best films of 1999 and a fixture on my top movie list.
This week, the Mrs. was inspired like I’ve never seen her inspired. She had two recommendations from friends at her workplace, a high-caliber dinner-theater venue. She walked into First Choice Video and DVD with an actual clear notion of what she wanted to watch. I was impressed with her, even more than I was with the movies.
Though both Swept Away and King Creole proved very timely films--for their own times--the experience of watching them was greatly enhanced for me because we rolled our teevee into the bedroom, snuggled under the blankets and watched while cuddling.
Swept Away, originally filmed 28 years ago, has been remade recently with Madonna. I would believe that she fit the role of the rich bitch pretty well. This capitalist blonde has rented out a boat for her swinger friends. She’s extremely fussy and continually belittles the boat’s crew with demands for pasta that’s more al dente, wine that’s more chilled, and waiters that don’t smell of sweat (though they’re also the sailors). She’s all about the luxury that her money can buy.
A hangover one morning means that she doesn’t get to her afternoon swim until nearly evening. Though a storm is brewing, she takes one of the crewmen--the one she’s most disparaging of, partly because he’s openly communist--and sets out to the swimming cove. Well, they get lost at sea and eventually find their own Gilligan’s. Capitalist Cutie is still trying to bossing around Socialist Sailor, but on the island, Mr. Macho Commie quickly switches the tables. Now that they’re alone, he makes it clear that he owes her nothing and that she’s going to have to work if she wants to eat.
It takes her a long time to get the lesson, a lot longer than it takes for him to fashion a shelter, procure good eats, and get comfortably situated. At last, her will is destroyed from hunger, and she begins to understand that money isn’t all powerful when there’s no society around it. Her gradual learning under Popeyeski’s brutal tutelage begins to ferment into lust and passion. From rough and tumble sex grows an emotional plant that’s part tenderness and part caveman. Finally, they fall in love.
Act III begins when they are rescued at long last and their desert-island love is put to the test of social reentry. Though dated, there’s something fun about seeing the exaggerated characterizations and far-fetched adventure of this movie. I think it gets to the desert-island fantasy in us all. In sum, you might not run out and rent either this film or its contemporary counterpart, but if you were stranded on an island with nothing but a solar generator, a television, a VCR, and Swept Away, you would be well entertained at least the first time through.
King Creole (1958)
What to do while watching: Come on, everybody! Let’s talk like Elvis!
What to eat while watching: Lobster.
Where the Mrs. earns her living, Lillian Montevecchi guest starred for a spell. Though in her seventies now, the Parisian starlet of stage and screen is still a firebrand, singing, dancing and looking good. Forty-five years ago, she appeared in King Creole opposite Elvis Presley, for about three minutes. Her presence is a good complement to his though, since she plays a character who is essentially herself, as does Presley, himself.
As in so many of his early works (those between 1956 and 1970), Presley starts as a nobody who can sing well, gets discovered in one context or another, and makes good as a singing star. In King Creole, he’s a high school student named Danny, just trying to support his small, difficult family in The Big Easy. When mother died, dad went into a depression that’s kept him from working, forcing Danny into a life of after-school jobs cleaning up bars. Work has kept Danny from graduating high school for two years in a row, and he decides it’s time to pursue a career.
His father wants Danny to stay in school, and their altercations presage the moodiness of Saturday Night Fever and every other generation-gap film to come. But what career is Danny pursuing? Singing, of course. Early in the movie, the plot stretches around itself trying to give him the opportunity to sing. Thugs in the bar where Danny is cleaning up mistreat Ronnie, leading lady Carolyn Jones. To keep their minds off abusing her some more, Elvis sings his alma mater. Later, he has to parlay that song into his first live-on-stage number “Trouble” in order to assuage the dislike of Walter Mathau, playing a sleazy, but powerful gangland leader. Mathau’s competitor, who owns the King Creole club down the street, hires Danny to sing, and also woos Danny’s sister, some twenty years younger than he.
It’s good versus bad in a few ways: will Danny stay with the good nightclub or succumb to the pressures of the bad guys? Will he cling to Ronnie with the checkered past or woo his goodie-goodie blonde girl? Will he have to live a life of crime, or can he be a legit singer?
Mainly, though, the plot careens in every direction, trying to fit in the dozen or so musical numbers, none of which are among Presley’s most memorable (unless you are a hard-core Elvis fan, in which case every musical number is among his most memorable). Still, there’s The King with his floppy pompadour shaking, his hips and elbows moving helplessly to the music, his winsome smile breaking out on his strikingly handsome face. Elvis fans should see this, but, of course, they already have. Non-Elvis fans might get more out of Viva Las Vegas or Jailhouse Rock. Lillian Montevecchi fans may be disappointed.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.