' ' Cinema Romantico

Monday, February 18, 2019

Green Book

Director Peter Farrelly became famous on the backs of comedies, like “There’s Something About Mary” (1998), in which no sacred cow was left deliberately un-tipped. And Farrelly’s “Green Book”, frankly, feels cut from the same universe, a joke in the background of “There’s Something About Mary” perhaps, with a fake TV movie trailer describing “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” meets “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Indeed, if “Green Book” frequently seeks comedy through its story of a white and black man on a road trip through the Jim Crow Deep South, the jokes are rooted to clichés Farrelly timidly refuses to upend. No, this is more like Farrelly as Stanley Kramer, a well-meaning, good-hearted liberal who in his last major film nevertheless revealed racial and political blind spots, making a film less challenging than cozily reassuring. That’s “Green Book” pretty much. It doesn’t deign to “solve” race, at least, nor even pretend that everything’s hunky dory. Rather it professes to have two points-of-view even if it really only sees things through one character’s eyes.


“Green Book” is about a white man, Frank Valleglona, better known as Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), becoming valet to a black concert pianist, Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), as the latter goes on a two-month tour through the Midwest and Deep South in 1962. This neatly defines “Green Book” as a movie of contrasts. Black and White; Uncouth and Refined; Rock ‘n’ Roll and Classical. The intention, then, is the characters’ respective journey to the middle ground, one drawn with the sort of unsubtle touch evoked in how Tony shoves a pastrami sandwich into his mouth, uninterested with getting grease all over his fingers and crumbs in his lap.

Not that this is simultaneously a criticism of Mortensen’s performance. If anything or anyone embodies the intended middle ground it is Mortensen. He is not so much a caricature as he is wholly committed, taking the advice of the character’s father to always gives 100% as his actorly guidance, playing the whole part in the manner of Tony folding up an ENTIRE pizza and shoving it in his mouth. And the way he has Tony throw a couple juice glasses in the trash that have touched the hands of African-Americans, denoting his racism, is the same way he has Tony eventually confront a few rednecks, a similar bearing marking his obligatory enlightenment as surprisingly natural.

If Mortensen takes his cues from how his character eats then Ali takes his cues from how Dr. Shirley sips scotch, deliberately and all alone. One of the film’s three writers, Nick Vallelonga, the real Tony Lip’s son, has said that Shirley saw himself existing on an island, a sentiment which Ali plays straight to, not putting on airs but remaining aloof, so much that you can sense an invisible sort of emotional wall between the front seat and back seat in the myriad car scenes. He is purposeful in every gesture and line reading, underlining a severe consciousness about how his character presents himself to the world. And though Shirley cites the necessity of “dignity”, it is less dignity Ali gets at than fear, emitting a sense of not so much sanding away rough edges as sanding away everything, an understanding of the mid-American 20th century truth that a black man had to subsist by not standing out.

“Green Book”, however, comes across oddly incurious about Shirley’s music, the thing theoretically driving the whole plot, with Tony saying he plays like “Liberace, but better” and mostly content with that as a descriptor. The problem is not so much that Tony teaches Shirley about rock ‘n’ roll and whether that is true to life, but that even as Shirley learns about rock ‘n’ roll, neither the film nor Tony take any interest in Shirley’s classical music, betraying the film’s odd insistence at only looking through the looking glass one way. The pianist might well teach his valet a few things too, such as playing de Bergerac for Tony in the letters the latter writes to his wife, but these scenes remain rooted to Tony’s point-of-view, a trait that defines the film. Though “Green Book” is nominally about two men, it opens not by cutting back and forth between them but by introducing only Tony and his work and home life, and only introducing us to Shirley when Tony is introduced to him too. And Shirley’s lessons are conspicuously colorblind whereas Tony’s rock ‘n’ roll instruction, never mind fried chicken eating etiquette, are not, inadvertently underlining prevailing post-racial myths.


“Green Book” was inspired by a true story, much like 1989’s “Glory”, Edward Zwick’s telling of the African-American 54th Massachusetts Civil War Infantry regiment that took heat for its main character being white. That criticism might well have been valid from a pre-production standpoint, but the screenplay, written by a white man (Kevin Jarre), did carve out space for scenes entirely from a black perspective. What’s more, as I have written before, the movie ultimately became about its white protagonist trying to find some way to see the world through his black soldiers’ eyes. “Green Book”, though, rarely makes this attempt, simply seeking reconciliation without true atonement, evoked in the closing sequence where a gaggle of white people look up, slack-jawed, at a black man suddenly in their presence and then go on like they weren’t just weirded out, pulling the wool over their own eyes.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Friday's Old Fashioned: Lifeguard (1976)

“Lifeguard’s” opening images of sun-splashed California beaches and girls in bikinis suggests a certain sort of movie, especially when the eponymous 32-year-old character, Rick Carlson (Sam Elliott), arrives at his lifeguard as the movie opens and summer begins and converses with a gaggle of horny pre-teens, not so much dressing them down as comically sympathizing with their aim. Rick is a pre-Apatow man-child, you think, one destined to confront adulthood’s inexorable truths when he receives an invite to his 15 year high school reunion where former classmates’ more traditional success will no doubt stare him straight in the face. But if “Lifeguard” never entirely usurps your expectations, an unanticipated and refreshing air of melancholy nevertheless gradually envelops the film, evoked in the lite FM soundtrack. What initially emits whimsy gradually becomes wistful without you, maybe even without Rick, noticing.


In a way, “Lifeguard” suggests a darker “Summer School”, the partially remembered 1987 comedy where Mark Harmon’s beach bum cum high school teacher is forced to square with his own arrested development. Of course, he also dates a student in a subplot the story refrains from scrutinizing as much as its dubious ethics suggest. Rick winds up in an underage relationship too. He meets Wendy (Kathleen Quinlan) on the beach, who is 16, and while the illegality is acknowledged, it is also brushed off, with Rick addressing it less gravely than in the tone of a man fed up with Big Government Regulations. (Note: It was not a differen time.) No, director Daniel Petrie forgoes examining behavioral standards to merely employ Rick’s dalliance with Wendy as a potential avenue to maturity, establishing Rick as a highly irregular father figure while also functioning as a counterpoint to a developing relationship with his high school ex, Cathy (Anne Archer), who he re-encounters at the reunion.

If Cathy, child in tow, suggests a future of settling down, so does a job offer from another classmate to work at a car dealership, trading in his rescue buoy for a stable 9 to 5. The dilemma is obvious but “Lifeguard” is impressive in staying true to its character. Even when Rick goes in for his job interview, he maintains the same disposition. If anything, he’s made with peace with who and what he is, even if that is at odds with the conventions around him, which gradually emerges as the real moral dilemma. In a scene where Rick has dinner with his folks, his dad, grousing about work and upset with his son’s supposed lack of purpose, hollers that life isn’t fair. Rick parries: “Who says life’s supposed to be fair?” That’s an obvious line, yes, but what is not obvious is who’s saying it. That line would normally be said to Rick; instead Rick is saying it to someone else. He resents being told his way of living is worthless, which Elliott plays straight to, his agreeably laconic air gradually giving way as the social pressure mounts.

The conclusion proves a little more welcomingly arty than I might have wagered, with Rick, weighing his options, plopping down on his lifeguard tower one California morning, not in his uniform, mind you, but denim, shirt and jeans, though barefoot, as if suggesting he is suspended between the two worlds. That’s how he looks too, the camera starting low, down on the beach, and then gradually lifting up and over the tower’s rail, finding Rick slumped and staring out at the water, a man who can barely bring himself to leave where he is. The sound of the waves in this moment assume a hypnotic quality, washing over him, lulling him into a false sense of security.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Shout-Out to the Extra: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again Version

Shout-Out to the Extra is a sporadic series in which Cinema Romantico shouts out the extras, the background actors, the bit part players, the almost out of your sight line performers who expertly round out our movies with epic blink & you’ll miss it care.

Spoiler: In “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”, Andy Garcia’s legendarily gravelly hotel manager Señor Cienfuegos has his name withheld nearly the entire movie because his name turns out to be Fernando, perhaps the most preeminent ABBA song not employed in the first “Mamma Mia.” We learn his name when he spies Ruby, mother to “Mamma Mia!” protagonist Donna, grandmother to “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” protagonist Sophie, and Señor Cienfuegos’s long lost love. And because this is a jukebox musical, when they spy each other, they sing “Fernando.”

As they sing, they cross a scenic terrace, meeting halfway, meaning they move through a convocation of extras. And yet, if these two stars make the scene, the nameless people on the periphery, as they so often do, enhance it.


Like this extra, who does not simply stand and watch but swoons.


Or these extras who, as Garcia passes them, turn to one another, raise their glasses and share a toast. These are extras not merely getting into the spirit of the scene but reveling in their good fortune to be part of it.


And then you have these extras, all of whom are like background snowflakes, each one special in her/his own way. You’ve got the guy sitting in the bottom right-hand corner who has decided to play this moment like he’s really hearing what Cher has to say, you know? You have the woman in the striped top just above the guy sitting down who looks as if she’s trying so hard to figure out what kind of face to make that her face has instead become frozen in impassiveness. But it’s the three women on the left hand side of the frame that really make it.

Moving from back to front, you’ve got the woman in the black skirt and colorful white top. She is not swooning, not like the woman up above, nor does she quite have the appropriate basking in the moment’s romance reaction like the extra in the striped head scarf. No, this extra seems to be bubbling up with glee that Cher is passing by. And the extra in the red top and white shorts, meanwhile, right next to her appears excited AF that Cher is passing by. And the woman in the black dress....oh my. She looks like the ghost of the Virgin Mary is passing by, which is totally right.

Cher is playing a character, of course, but really, she’s Cher, in countenance, in spirit. More than likely if you went to see “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” you knew Cher was in it and you were waiting for Cher’s moment and here it is, finally. And it is difficult – rightfully, respectfully – to take your eyes off her, or even off Garcia, who was, as many awards pundits have noted, snubbed for an Oscar nomination. As such, these extras transcend mere filler, becoming fill-ins for us, the audience.

Pour one out for the extras.....


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Actorly Cosmic Connections

Certain actors loom large in the landscape of film fanatics. Back in the halcyon days of movie blogging, I remember several younger colleagues expressing curiosity at the cult of Parker Posey which found me, thirtysomething elder statesman, explaining Posey’s place in the 90s pantheon, and how whenever she turns up in something now it’s a like a bolt of lightning from our pasts but also an affirmation of our presents, that we are still here. Ditto Winona, which is why I looked forward to something as trifling as “Destination Wedding” about as much as I looked forward to anything last year. The sway the late Bill Paxton held was similar since he appeared in so many 80s cornerstones and then kept on keeping on, both marking time and rendering it immaterial, which was why his death stung so, so much. Every Daniel-Day Lewis performance is like a cave painting meant to record a supernatural event.

But then, those are names on the marquee, the Hamlets and Macbeths and Othellos. If film fanatics step back and examine the panorama of their film fanaticism then they will eventually spy a few Rosencrantz and Guildensterns too, actors eternally on the periphery, perhaps not informing our cinephilia, not exactly, but placing a subtle stamp on it nonetheless. I thought about this the other night during a re-run of “Seinfeld.” It was “The Chicken Roaster” episode, most famous for Kramer’s Kenny Rogers Roasters obsession which, for reasons too convoluted to explain, prompts he and Jerry to swap apartments thereby causing Jerry to become Kramer and Kramer to become Jerry. Also contained within that episode, however, are the continuing misadventures of Elaine as President of the J. Peterman Catalog, as a spending spree leads to a visit from accounting. The accountant is the impeccably named Roger Ipswich.


Roger Ipswich was among the innumerable “Seinfeld” foils, a character tasked more with getting in the way than being truly funny, leaving any humor to rise simply from the respecrtive actor’s air. In this case the actor was Michael D. Roberts, who played the part with a muted glee that he was the one about to put the nail in this overmatched big cheese’s proverbial coffin. That might suggest Roberts as a member of the Actors I Know First and Foremost From “Seinfeld” Club. Debra Messing was never Grace Adler; she was Beth Lookner. Bryan Cranston was never Walter White; he was Tim Whatley. When I saw “National Treasure” in the theater with my friend Dan and Don McManus appeared on screen I (loudly) whispered, a la the California Angels fan in “The Naked Gun” spying the faux Enrico Palazzo, “Hey! It’s Duncan Meyer!”


But me and Michael D. go back a lot further than “Seinfeld”, all the way to the spring of 1984 and the front row of the Valley 3 where I sat with my mom for a Saturday afternoon matinee of “Ice Pirates.” You probably don’t remember “Ice Pirates” and its band of H2O swashbucklers in a dry sci-fi future. That’s ok. You shouldn’t. But that was around the time I was first forming movie-going memories and so this one, like “Ghostbusters” in the same year, resonated. And besides, I loved liked “Ice Pirates” for the rainy afternoon Planters® Cheez Ball potpourri it was. It aired on Turner Classic Movies a couple years ago and I recorded it and re-watched it and, well, while a movie like “Ice Pirates” doesn’t exactly hold up since it’s the sort of movie struggling to stay aloft in its own time, I still enjoyed the low-key exasperation of Roberts, playing something like Little John to Robert Urich’s Robin Hood, all ironic closed mouthed eye raises and weary eye rolls, which transfused my nostalgia into something more immediate. (Anjelica Huston also managed to come off legitimately cool amidst such low budget absurdity, no small feat.)

That brings me to “A Star Is Born”, nominated for Best Picture, among other categories, at the upcoming Oscars. There is a lot I liked about that movie, and some things I loved, most of them connected in one way or another to Lady Gaga, including the scenes of her home life where she lives with (cares for) [cleans up after] her father, played by a touchingly noisy Andrew Dice Clay. He is a limo driver and the few times we see him he is predominantly rooted to his own kitchen, wise-cracking with his fellow wheelmen, betting on horse races. Because he is her father, he is the one limo driver we mostly get to know, though we also briefly meet Little Feet, played by Barry Shabaka Henley. There are other drivers, however, including Matty. He is played by Michael D. Roberts.

He doesn’t really get a line, not an official one, or even a moment. But background commotion is essential to the atmosphere of these scenes and Roberts ably, imperceptibly does his part, and it’s what I couldn't stop thinking about as I watched him for the umpteenth time as Roger Ipswich, how he’s an actor who ensures any scene he’s in has all its I’s dotted and t’s crossed. And how’s he always done that, all the way back to 1984, two years before Lady Gaga was even born, and how he was here with her, of all people, now, cosmically connecting dots of my own life.


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Hearts Beat Loud

“Hearts Beat Loud” opens with Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman), record store proprietor, lighting up a cigarette in his own shop and telling off a customer who tells Frank to put the cancer stick out. The light confrontation is a feint, seeming to set up this widowed father of one as a malcontent when he proves to mostly be a music obsessed teddy bear, but it also establishes the fact that his record store is not long for this world when the irate customer goes outside and buys the album he was seeking to purchase through Amazon in a smartphone flash. The ensuing scene finds Frank’s daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) in a pre-med summer course, prepping for UCLA in the fall, illustrating Sam as being focused where her father is distracted. And if the record store signifiesFrank being bound to the past, his daughter’s class demonstrates her looking toward the future, and it is in the middle where they do not collide in this earnest musical comedy so much as haltingly, and then winningly, meet, if only fleetingly. A great pop song, after all, only lasts a few minutes.


The film’s kindling is a father/daughter jam session – him on guitar, her on keyboards – where he discovers she’s just written a song, suggesting Allison Russell fronting Frightened Rabbit, which they then quickly record in a lively montage. It’s the moment just before, though, when Frank first hears her synthesizer line and then finds the right guitar notes to accentuate it that really resonates. As this happens, as Frank drifts closer to Sam, the camera drifts closer to them both, underlining the musical harmony, a moving portrait of how father and daughter are drawn close over music even as life’s altering paths are pushing them apart.

He’s itching to use this song as the cornerstone of forming a father/daughter band, using it to spiritually delay his shop’s slow slide into oblivion, while she rightly yearns to focus on the future. Still, he uploads their track to Spotify and when he realizes it is the modern version of a hit for the Soundcloud age, the scene revels in a wonderful homage to “That Thing You Do!” where Frank magically hears his own tune not over the radio but in a coffee shop. And the way he tells taken-aback patrons “that’s my band” and then joyfully sprints down the street, a la Liv Tyler, my mind could not help but flash back to Offerman as the glorious crank Ron Swanson on NBC’s sitcom “Parks and Recreation.” There I never really noticed his blue eyes which in “Hearts Beat Loud” frequently pop off his salt and pepper beard, really making him look like a little kid, an exuberant Swanson opposite.

That’s the problem, of course, his adult pipe dreams set against the wariness of a reality his daughter preaches, an ancient script just with the ages flipped, though director Brett Haley’s easygoing presentation of this script overcomes its familiarity; he never hammers away at these ultimate truths, he just lets them simply, intrinsically arise. That also goes for Sam’s transitory summertime romance with a burgeoning artist (Sasha Lane) that both characters are adult enough to admit can’t last. Frank’s semi-romance, meanwhile, with his landlord Leslie (Toni Collette), has the one plot point, their second act relationship downturn, where the gears turn too obviously, though it’s offset by Collette and Offerman’s natural chemistry.

If the dialogue might be intended to represent a kind of lyrical anthemic quality, it nonetheless too frequently trends toward slogans nailed to the metaphorical wall and proves more successful when the words are nothing much yet invested by the actor in question with considerable quality, like Offerman declaring “It’s fine” in such a way that suggests it’s absolutely not fine. And for all the verbal exchanges between father and daughter, nothing resonates more than the smiles and laughs they share during their band’s lone performance.


It is a musical movie, after all, one in which scene after scene after scene is adorned with carefully curated pop music cues, honoring its record store roots, and so it concludes with Frank and Sam playing a short show for a sparse, inadvertent crowd the night his shop closes. At one point during their last song Haley switches to a shot of the camera looking up, the lights on the store ceiling bouncing off Frank and Sam in such a way that it appears as if they are on a stage, rock stars, a cheerier version of The Beatles’ rooftop concert, one last jam session before the currents of life carry them away.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Free Solo

“Free Solo” is hard to watch. This is not, however, simply because “Free Solo”, as the title implies, chronicles a free solo rock climber, 33 year old Alex Honnold, meaning one who climbs rocks well above safe heights without ropes or any other kind of protective equipment, comically yet terrifyingly described by one rock climber as akin to an Olympic Gold Medal event where failure to win the Gold Medal means death. It is hard to watch because of this, certainly, but “Free Solo”, directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, is not content with mere stomach-churning mountaineering spectacle. Whereas the similarly themed “Sunshine Superman” chiefly evangelized for its subject of BASE jumping, and whereas the superb “Man on Wire” romanticized its death-defying wire-walker to the extreme, “Free Solo” picks the notion of thrill-seeking apart. Hoary observations about cheating death being part and parcel to Honnold’s dream are not allowed to slide, transforming elementally rousing images of Honnold as a mere speck against imposing granite into emblems of deliberate isolation.


The documentary turns on Honnold’s attempt to become the first person to free solo Yosemite’s 7,500 foot El Capitan, which Vasarhelyi and Chinn do a nifty job of setting up before it arrives as the film’s climax by way of computer graphics and tagging along on their subject’s test climbs so that when Honnold makes his history making assault we are not struggling to keep up but able to sit back and not so much enjoy the ride as just figuratively hold on for our lives. That ride is relayed through aerial photography peering over the top of El Capitan that will make your stomach drop as well as you-are-there camerawork from the rocks right alongside Honnold. Throughout this sequence, Chinn and his camera operators are seen on screen, watching right along with us, which is not so much the filmmakers imposing themselves on someone else’s story as an extension of the overall story itself.

Chinn and his crew debate the ethics of filming Honnold’s climb given the real-life stakes. You might take umbrage with the ultimate decision given that the movie is a thing you are watching because it exists, but still. It’s nice to see the question wrangled with honestly on screen rather than perfunctorily at a Q&A. Chinn even asks Honnold if the climber wants his crew to stop filming, which comes across genuine rather than drama for the camera, and which Honnold parries by observing that, hey, he could just go off and conquer El Capitan in private. Philosophically, I found myself half-wishing that he would, leaving the doc as a kind of cinematic Sagrada Familia.

Honnold himself wrestles with the idea of whether his yearning to free solo El Capitan is an honest one or mere navel-gazing for the camera, a fascinating question given the state of our all-access world, and one where “Free Solo” might have been better to dig deeper. At the same time, Honnold willingly places himself under the microscope, having an MRI done all in the name of which leads to a fascinating moment where his thrill-seeking is lent scientific credence as we discover his amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for decoding emotions, requires great stimulus to be engaged. This revelation colors Honnold in a completely different light, his lackadaisical air snapping into focus, his eternal bed hair becoming a tonsorial symbol for sort of sleepwalking through regular life. And it illuminates his romantic relationship with Sanni McCandless, presented in refreshingly candid terms onscreen, her confessionals alternating between acceptance and exasperation. They genuinely seem to love each other even if there is a palpable sense that they cannot quite completely connect.


Indeed, as the El Capitan climb draws nearer, you can literally see him growing distant from her and shutting down in their conversations, given additional weight by the close confines of Honnold’s living situation in a motor home, the camera painfully close, establishing a photographic harmony with so many intimate mountainside shots. In the end, he pushes her away from what he sees as pure necessity to achieve his feat. It’s cruel, and the movie never acts like it isn’t, even undercutting his supreme moment of triumph by sort of turning the admission that he never smiles this much inside out, evoked in a solemn reaction shot of McCandless in the wake of this elation, leaving you with the unspoken truth that free soloing will always make him happiest.

At one point, in voiceover, Honnold cites the warrior mentality, “where you give something one-hundred percent focus because your life depends on it.” Vasarhelyi and Chinn underline observation with shots of a cloud-consumed El Capitan, suggesting the apexical (sic) conclusion of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” His words come across ridiculous; his words come across real.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Friday's Old Fashioned: The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933)

Midway through “The Prizefighter and the Lady”, when the aspiring heavyweight champion of the world Steve Morgan (Max Baer) is at peak fame, he joins a stage revue. And for almost six minutes, director W.S. Van Dyke stops the movie in its tracks to join this revue too, watching Steve and a dozen or so dancers as they sing and rollick their way through a variety of moving sets. It’s not hard to tell how much fun Baer the actor has during this sequence, and as I watched it, I thought about “Cinderella Man” (2005). After all, “The Prizefighter and the Lady” was released in 1933 and in 1934 the real Baer beat the real Primo Carnera (also starring in the film as a version of himself) for the Heavyweight Championship and in 1935 Baer lost the Heavyweight Championship to underdog James J. Braddock, “Cinderella Man” himself. And while The Depression was very much present in the latter, casting Braddock in the appropriate underdog light, you hardly feel The Depression at all in “The Prizefighter and the Lady”, which transforms its own fictional underdog story into a cautionary tale of excess.


“The Prizefighter and the Lady” opens with a broken down ex-boxing manager, The Professor (Walter Huston), drunkenly reminiscing about the past only to see the future right in front of his eyes when Morgan, a bar bouncer, demonstrates his right hook in ridding the place of some lout. The Professor convinces Steve to enter pugilism on the spot which the bouncer blithely rolls with, an attitude that Bear embodies with great aplomb. Even upon discovering before his first fight that his guiding hand might be throwing him to the wolves, Baer counteracts his initial malice by throwing his enomormous arm around The Professor with a distinct jocularity, rendering his imposing physicality in the name of humor. He’s not taking it that seriously, and he doesn’t take it that seriously inside the ring, clowning and boxin in equal measure, a reflection of the real Baer’s fighting style.

He takes boxing only slightly less seriously than he seems to take his (brief) relationship and subsequent marriage to nightclub singer Belle (Myrna Loy), who he rescues from a car wreck and falls in love with instantly, though she is already the squeeze of ganster Willie Ryan (Otto Kruger). She spurns Steve’s advances but he keeps at it, not so much winning her over as just sort of mystically marrying her. I say mystically because their marriage happens offscreen after, like, a day or two of pseudo-dating. That offscreen ceremony might yearn to drum up suspense involving the incensed Willie Ryan, still stung from Belle breaking up with him for this boxer, but aesthetically it seems to stem from the movie moving so fast narratively it doesn’t have enough time to render it believable. Even Loy, whose gloom when her character’s heart is broken moves the needle, struggles in these moments of falling in love, not least because Baer struggles as a scene partner, too stiff where romance is called upon, his lines sounding as if they are coming right off a script.

This makes the push and pull of Steve and Belle’s marriage a little less than credible, which makes the aforementioned cautionary tale, as Steve’s dalliances with other women threatens to break up their union, resonate far less. If you might think the real Baer would have read this script and come away thinking that between his bouts with Carnera and Braddock, he should not take his eyes off what really mattered, well, the way Baer goes through the marital motions but lights up in that stage revue foreshadows precisely what was to come.


Legend has it – or at least, Myrna Loy has it, according to an interview she apparently once gave – that Baer defeated Carnera on the strength of tips he acquired during filming of “The Prizefighter and the Lady.” Who knows if it’s true. But it does make for a good story. And the fight makes for a good piece of filming that is sort of staged half au naturale. That is to say, Van Dyke does not go straight into the boxing. No, if he cedes the film for six minutes to a song and dance, here he cedes the film for a few more minutes to the ring referee, who goes through a long list of special guest introductions, including former heavyweight champions Jack Dempsey and James Jeffries. These are not cameos with any kind of creative purpose; these are cameos for the crowd. And even if the fictional fight between Steve and Carnera, which concludes in the manner of “Rocky”, is tightly edited, it reminds you of the original purpose of the movies. Nowadays you can pull up a Baer right on YouTube, but back then if you couldn’t get a ticket to Baer vs. Carnerna, well, you could go see them fight in “The Prizefighter and the Lady” instead.