Selasa, 08 Maret 2011

Lady in the Dark (1944) - Mitchell Leisen

Lady in the Dark is a 1944 Technicolor musical film directed by Mitchell Leisen and starring Ginger Rogers. It was nominated for three Academy Awards; for Best Cinematography, Best Music and Best Art Direction (Hans Dreier, Raoul Pene Du Bois, Ray Moyer).

The film was based on the 1941 Broadway musical Lady in the Dark, written by Kurt Weill (music), Ira Gershwin (lyrics), and Moss Hart (book and direction). The film version cut most of the Weill/Gershwin songs from the score. "The Saga of Jenny" and "Girl of the Moment" remained, and part of "This Is New" is played by a nightclub band in the background. Part of "My Ship" was hummed by Ginger Rogers, but the song itself was never sung.

The film made an alteration to the play that many would find extremely offensive now. Although the basic conclusion, with Liza finally deciding which of three suitors to marry, remained basically the same, a line of dialogue was inserted in which she is told by Charley Johnson that her problem is that she, a fiercely independent magazine editor, is in psychological turmoil because she wants a man to guide her and make the decisions for her, a judgement that Liza accepts and embraces wholeheartedly in the film. This line is not found in the play, changes the whole character of the final scene, and quite likely would have been severely criticized even in 1941, when the play opened.


Lady in the Dark was the peak of both Ginger Rogers and director Mitchell Leisen's career. Neither of them would ever make as successful a film again. Ira Gershwin, who did the song lyrics, had not collaborated with anyone since his brother George's death two years before. And Kurt Weill had been in the US for nearly a decade. He needed a hit and was ready to compromise some of his compositional austerity to get it.

Playwright Moss Hart had been going through a long psychoanalysis with Dr. Gregory Zilboorg, who had analyzed George Gershwin and many other prominent show business figures. The result was a desire to end his successful playwriting partnership with George S. Kaufman and strike out on his own. Hart had been boring all his friends with stories about his analysis, and he finally decided to write about it. One critic was to remark jokingly after the show became a Broadway smash that it was one way of getting back all the money Hart had given to Dr. Zilboorg.

Gertrude Lawrence dazzled in the Broadway version as Liza Elliott, but was nearly upstaged by Danny Kaye as gay fashion photographer Russell Paxton, played (somewhat) straighter in the film by Misha Auer. In the circus dream, Kaye sang a patter song which became one of his trademarks, "Tschaikowsky and Other Russians" in which he speedily recites the names of 49 Russian composers. At the preview, thunderous applause greeted the conclusion of the song, and the authors worried that their star, about to sing "The Saga of Jenny" couldn't top him. But, Lawrence rose to the challenge, bumping and grinding it to the complete devastation of the audience. In the film, "Jenny" is the only song to survive translation to the screen.

All the music in the play was in three dream sequences, like three little operettas, clearly differentiating between fantasy and reality. But, by the time Paramount was finished with it, very little of Weill's score made it to the screen. The love duet, "This Is New" is heard only as played by a nightclub band. A major loss was the song, "My Ship" which is hummed by ghostlike choirs, but never sung, even though it represents the breakthrough of Liza Elliott's analysis. The song was recorded, but the producer, Buddy DeSylva was a songwriter himself; he hated Weill and hated that song. You might well ask why he was producing the film version of a Weill musical, and I have no answer. By the time the film came out, "My Ship" had become a standard, and its omission seemed a stupid mistake.

This gorgeous film version has many pleasures, but I don't think I will be alone in saying Ray Milland needs a good shaking. He constantly criticizes Liza for working (and even worse, for being successful) and of course Freudian analysis backs him up. At the North Carolina Museum of Art screening of Lady in the Dark, this film really riled up audience members unable to place Milland's character's attitudes firmly in the dustbin of psychiatric history, where they belong. But, if the three men in this film, as in Cover Girl represent money, love and career, must we grit our teeth and consider this a mixed-up feminist tract, after all? Dark _1944.avi

no pass

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