Friday, November 23, 2007

MAME


This 1974 film adaptation of the 1966 Broadway smash starts with the reading of the will of Patrick Dennis' late father, by his trustee, Mr. Babcock. We see our first glimpse of Patrick in his damn short pants as well as various photographic portraits of stodgy relatives - concluding with a soft focus photo of Auntie Mame! The will states that Patrick is to be left in the care of his aunt, Mame Dennis (Lucille Ball).

Patrick and his nanny, Agnes Gooch (Jane Connell recreating her Broadway role after Madeline Kahn was fired by Lucy) take a train ride to live with Mame.The train ride gives way to a migraine-inducing montage of an art deco MAME logo super-imposed with stock footage of sex, violence and depravity from the WB film archives. Accompanying this visual assault is the song "St. Bridgette" song by Connell.

When they arrive at Beekman Place, they walk into a big cocktail party at Mame's palatial NYC apartment. Underneath a portrait of Lucy by Gustav Klimt, Mame is doing an awkward shimmy on her baby grand piano wearing a red velvet pantsuit and a giant diamond-encrusted crucifix. Lucy then proceeds to warble out a horrorific rendition of "It's Today", thus setting the tone for many musical atrocities to follow. Then Lucy does the Charleston and young Patrick introduces himself by asking if he may slide down her bannister!

Mame announces his arrival to the crowd and then offers him a martini. We soon meet Mame's buddy, stage actress and lush, Vera Charles (deliously played by Bea Arthur, creating her stage role under the direction of her husband Gene Saks). Lucy (in a soft focus close-up) reprises "It's Today" as Patrick gets to slide up and down the long bannister!

The next morning, Patrick wakes up Mame (who sleeps in full make-up) with his bugle. After learning that "Auntie Mame is hung" she tells that she is enrolling him a very non-traditional "School Of Life." Then she gives him a pad and pencil in order for him to write down words he doesn't understand like "libido," "bastard" and "vocal coach." Vera then wakes up in Mame's bath tub and for no good reason, mean-spirited Mame turns the shower on, drenching her best friend.

Then we are treated to Lucy shrieking out "Open a New Window" as a montage shows Mame and Patrick riding a pony, going to a museum, attending a womens' rights rally, going to see a burlesque show, visiting a firehouse, parachuting, sitting on the crown of the Statue of Liberty (huh?), arriving at the clothing-optional School of Life, praying at St. Patrick's Cathedral, studying the Torah at a temple and doing the tango at a speakeasy! All seems to going well until the police arrive and it's a raid!!! Everybody gets off though because the judge is one of Mame's society pals. She is apparently very well-connected.

Mr. Babcock arrives to check on Patrick, running into vindictive Vera, who is blabbering on about Coco Chanel, and leads the trustee right to the controversial school- causing Patrick to be taken out of Mame's custody!!! At that same exact moment, Mame learns that the stock market has crashed and she's wiped out. This is not a good day to be Mame Dennis.

To make amends to Mame, Vera offers her a very small role in her new show - an extremely modern operetta about a woman astronomer. "The Man In The Moon is a Lady" (sung by Bea) climaxes with a total Lucy Ricardo moment as Mame is still backstage admiring herself in the mirror when she is supposed to be onstage delivering her one line - which she eventually flubs and causes chaos when she falls off of a crescent moon and is beaten by Vera with a telescope!! The show is a fiasco, but the audience seems to enjoy it. Mame begs Vera for her forgiveness, but Vera declares "The Man In The Moon is a Bitch" and then slaps a little old lady who is trying to help her with her costume. I wonder if Bea improvised that.

Patrick, who was in the audience, reassures Mame that she's that he still loves her by singing "My Best Girl" - Lucy responds by croaking "My Best Beau" back to him. Poor little guy. Meanwhile, back at Beekman place - the repo men are taking her piano, her artwork, etc. Mame soon gets a job working selling rollerskates in a department store, For some reason, she's wearing a nun's habit (sans veil) with a big black bow. Mame demonstrates a pair of rollerskates by for a customer named Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside the 3rd (Robert Preston). However, Mame gets herself fired because she doesn't know how to write up a cash sale. Huh? After first skating around the entire store, Mame proceeds to rollerskate all the way home.

When she gets home, Patrick is visiting and Mame decides to lift everyone's spirits by giving early Christmas gifts. The boy gets a pair damn long pants- and her servants Ito (George Chiang) and Gooch also get something. Lucy then leads the foursome in a rousing version of "We Need A Little Christmas", while they decorate Gooch up as if she was a an Xmas tree and throw fake snow at her. Lucy then dons the most horrifying Santa Claus mask ever created. Agnes and Ito surprise Mame by telling her the butcher bill has been paid up till next September! How'd they know how much meat they're gonna want all the way into the future??? Patrick then gives her a kiss "on account" whatever that means. Ewww.

Just then, Beau shows up at the front door and invites everyone to dinner!!! Christmas has come early!

Before you know it, Beau takes Mame and Patrick to to visit his peach plantation in Peckerwood, Georgia - where they meet sugary-sweet, but wicked by Sally Cato. (Joyce Van Patten). Beau's grotesque mother, a Jabba the Hut lookalike, Mother Burnside greets Patrick with a belch. Mame, newly-blonde arrives dressed as a southern belle, complete with an embarrassing accent. Sally Cato signs Mame up to ride sidesaddle in a foxhunt- riding the "mad" horse named Lightning. The following day, Lucy's stuntwoman works overtime as she rides the crazy horse, passing the other hunters, passing the dogs, passing the fox and jumping over Mother Burnside's car! Mame is thrown from the horse and catches the adorable little fox, and impresses everyone by NOT killing it. This prompts several dozens of peoplee to serenade her with the titular, rousing and bombastic theme song, "Mame".

Mame and Beau, are soon married and on world tour. Robert Preston croons "Loving You" as they slow dance on a cruise ship, in a Japanese garden, in soft focus and in front of a fountain. Meanwhile, Patrick goes through puberty, goes to college and starts dating debutantes. Bruce Davison takes over the role at this point. A ski trip to the Alps leads to an avalanche which kills Beau, leaving Mame widowed and alone again, naturally.

Mame then returns home and is reunited with Patrick, who is dating a snobby bitchy girl named Gloria Upson. A post-funeral reunion with her old friend Vera leads to the fun duet "Bosom Buddies", a song which once led a friend of mine to declare (90 minutes into the movie) that "the one on the left can't sing". It took him THAT long to notice!!!

Mame and Vera then decide to give frumpy Agnes a makeover and send her off into the world because "Life is a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death." Six months later, Agnes returns home, pregnant - just as Mame is dining with Patrick and the dreadful Gloria. Patrick sees Agnes, who's been hiding in the kitchen, and decides be a good idea for Mame to visit the Upsons at their home in Connecticut.

What follows is my favorite sequence in the whole film, as Mame visits the Upsons (Don Porter and Audrey Christie) at their home, Upson Downs. After meeting all the various Upsons, Mame learns that Patrick and Gloria are engaged! The Upsons entertain Mame in their rumpus room (a former slave quarters) and introduce her to their black maid Bertha ("so many of them are so snotty these days"). Then they serve her appetizers made of tuna, clam juice and peanut butter. They ask Mame to help pay for a piece of property next door to so that the newlyweds could live there, as opposed to "the wrong kind of people."

They Upsons then show Mame home movies of Gloria - but Mame can't be any less interested. When Mame leaves, she confronts Patrick about her dislike of the Upsons, proclaiming him a snob (which he is) after he tells her that he's ashamed of her and her "crazy" friends. She tells him that the Upsons are bigots and he tells her to forget she ever knew him. This is where my favorite part ends, because as heartbroken Mame drives back home to NYC, Lucy butchers the beautiful ballad "If He Walked Into My Life". Where is Eydie Gorme when you need her???

Apparently Mame and Patrick have patched things up off-screen because the Upsons are now visiting Beekman Place. Patrick soon meets Mame's pretty new maid, Pegeen (Bobbie Jordan). The Upsons arrive, all pissed off because the property they'd wanted had been bought thanks to "some Jew lawyer." Then Mame serves them some baked monkey and Vera makes a grand entrance into with a quintet of nameless men wearing tuxedos singing "It's Today ". Vera then toasts to the new couple, mistaking Pegeen for Gloria. At that moment, pregnant Agnes crashes the party and is invited her to sit with everyone. Suddenly, a bus full of unwed pregnant women barge in, singing "Open A New Window" as Mame reveals to the Upsons that she bought the land next door to Upson Downs in oder to build the Beauregarde Burnside Memorial Home For Single Mothers. The Upsons have total fit, exclaiming that Mame isn't "one of them," dragging Gloria with them - just as Patrick makes eye contract with Pegeen! Hmmmm....

Flash forward, Patrick and Pegeen are now married and have a son, Peter. Mame, sporting gray hair, is off on a trip to Russia, and asks if Peter could join her. Although Patrick and Pegeen resist at first, Peter tells them off and they relent. Huh? Mame and Peter wave goodbye and board the plane. No luggage - I guess they will shop for long pants in Siberia. Music soars as the plane takes off. What follows is a montage of Mame hugging Vera, Gooch, Beau, adult Patrick and finally young Patrick! The End!

Whew! What a way to start the holiday movie season! I have to say that MAME is one of my favorite films of all time. I know Lucy's singing was atrocious, her dancing wooden, her comic timing is off at times, and at age 63 she was way too old to be playing a character in her 40s - but all I know is that when I saw MAME at Radio City Musical Hall as a child - I had a great time - and that's all that mattered.

Of course, IF Angela Lansbury was allowed to star in the film version - it may have been critically acclaimed, it might won some Oscars and might also have been a box-office hit. But that never happened. What did happen was Lucille Ball as Mame - and I relish ever minute of it. 10 outta 10 "Huhs?" and worth every one of 'em.

3 comments:

Auntie Rob said...

You missed a "huh" - In the "Mame" number, one of the chorus boys in a fox hunting red jacket is Bruce Davison!

Anonymous said...

My first introduction to musical theater was the stage version of Mame so I eagerly awaited the movie version and was also disappointed that Angela didn't get her part. Lucy was awful but I LOVE this movie if only because it is Mame.
By the way, Douglas, Beekman Place is not in Greenwich Village. It is between 49th and 51st Street at the East River

auntie bob said...

Wow! What an incredibly funny revi-huh. I feel (mostly) the same way you do, in that I love this film to bits, despite ALL its flaws. In fact, I love it so much that I have transferred the opening scene ("It's today") to my mobile telephone, and can view it any time :-) That scene is a hidden gem, by the way, of various dance styles and of hysterical bloopers!