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Friday, August 21, 2009

ONE TOUCH OF VENUS (1948)


Dante forgot to include a Circle in Hell for all the Hollywood adaptors who turn solid Broadway musicals into films so bad they permanently spoil the reputations of the original well-received shows. The outstanding original creative team of Kurt Weill, Ogden Nash, S. J. Perelman, Elia Kazan & Agnes De Mille (working off a Ferenc Molnar story about a statue of Venus who comes to life and causes romantic havoc) must have wondered what hit ‘em when this film came out. The basic plot is more or less intact and the Hollywood cast seems eager (and even able) to handle the witty script, sophisticated lyrics & gorgeous score as heard on B’way. But they never got the chance. Everything’s been dumbed-down & bowdlerized while the stunning Weill score has been reduced from over a dozen numbers and a couple of ballet suites to a bare three songs. One of the survivors, ‘That’s Him,’ about knowing when you’ve found the perfect ‘him,’ shows what might have been as Eve Arden, Olga San Juan and the blissfully beautiful Ava Gardner toss it around. ("He’s like a plumber when you need a plumber. That’s him.’) On the boys’ side, Robert Walker, Dick Haymes & Tom Conway do what little they can in a hopeless cause. A few years back, NYC ENCORES! did a concert version that showed what all the fuss had been about, but a charmer like VENUS is probably too gentle to survive a full stage transfer/revival. Still, there’s something sad about a world that doesn’t get to know a song as enchanting & sexy as ‘I’m A Stranger Here Myself.’ Naturally, it’s not in this film.

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