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Saturday, February 13, 2016

HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS (1960)

One-of-a-kind Backstage-Western from director George Cukor (it's an enchantment or a shrug depending on your POV) follows a traveling theatrical troupe as they skip from town to town in the old West, stopping for dramatic engagements, on-the-road catastrophes, threats from displaced Indian scavengers and lovesick killers-for-hire. Loaded with incident, if not much traditional plot, its script was being rewritten by Walter Bernstein from Dudley Nichols’ draft during filming which probably accounts for the loose structure & lively spontaneity that gives it so much charm. Everyone (well, everyone but a miscast Antony Quinn*) turns in blissed-out comic perfs, no one more so than Sophia Loren as the troupe’s star, spectacular in a series of wasp-waist corsets & an unexpectedly becoming blonde wig. But what really holds everything together is the seemingly paradoxical mix of stylized art design & earthy naturalism of the film. Technically, cinematographer Harold Lipstein, art director Gene Allen & color-coordinator Hoyeningen Huene out-dazzle each other even if the current VOD could do with a color-corrected restoration. Cukor seems to be sharing his delight with us. Out of his fach, but in his element both on and off the stage, reveling in opportunities for sophisticated mise-en-scène wherever he finds it. The final climax is exceptionally well worked out, with a visual slapstick wit to it, and the earlier scenes of marauding Indians uniquely convincing, scary & unsettling. It adds up to very special treat.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Maybe the producer simply called the wrong ‘Tony.’ Curtis is the ‘Tony’ they should have tried.

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