Do Dooni Chaar (1968)

Mention Shakespeare and Hindi cinema, and most eyes light up. Vishal Bhardwaj’s tragedy trilogy—Omkara, Maqbool, and Haider—come immediately to mind for those who cannot think back further than the 1990s, if that. Those who belong to a certain generation (my own) will probably remember fondly the delightful comedy, Angoor, based on A Comedy of Errors.

Fewer, perhaps, will know that Hindi cinema’s tryst with Shakespeare is much older than Angoor. In 1928, a Hamlet adaptation called Khoon-e-Nahak was released; the same play was adapted for screen again in 1935, this time as Khoon ka Khoon, starring Sohrab Modi in the title role opposite Naseem Banu as Ophelia. In 1941, The Merchant of Venice was adapted as a film named Zaalim Saudagar. And in 1954, Kishore Sahu produced, directed and acted in Hamlet, an interesting and unusual film for Hindi audiences since it was a fairly faithful enactment of the play—down to the costumes, the names, etc.

Along with Hamlet (which seems to win hands down when it comes to popularity among Hindi film makers), another popular play for adaptation seems to be A Comedy of Errors. In 1969, it had been made (though with many departures from the original plot, and with no twin servants) as Gustakhi Maaf, with Tanuja in the double role, opposite Sanjeev Kumar. It’s interesting to note that while Sanjeev Kumar would go on to act in another adaptation of the play (Angoor), Tanuja had already acted in yet another version. Do Dooni Chaar, released in 1968 and quite clearly the inspiration for Angoor.

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Calamity Jane (1953)

The irrepressible Doris Day—star of such hits as Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back, the woman who pretty much embodied the wholesome girl next door, the voice that mesmerized millions—passed away earlier this week. At the ripe old age of 97, Doris Day had gone on working till well into her 80s: her album, My Heart, released in 2011, made her the oldest artiste to feature in the UK Top Ten.

On Dustedoff, it is not just Doris Day’s music, but also her acting skills that I wanted to pay tribute to. When I was told about Doris’s passing (by blog reader Hurdy Gurdy Man, who left a comment on my blog shortly after her death was announced on May 13, 2019), I felt a wave of nostalgia for Doris Day—because I heard and loved her voice long before I knew who she was. My mother used to sing Que sera sera to me when I was a toddler, and there were some songs of hers on various LPs in our house. I don’t know which was the first Doris Day film I ever watched, but I do remember going on a Doris Day spree, and watching several of her most popular films pretty much one after the other. There are several reviews of her films on this blog, including Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, Send Me No Flowers, That Touch of Mink, and Midnight Lace.

As tribute, I decided to watch and review a film whose lead character Doris Day described as her own favourite character, because Calamity Jane was closest in nature to Doris herself. “I was such a tomboy growing up, and she was such a fun character to play,” Doris said in an interview recorded in April 2019.

And yes, you get a taste of what sort of character this is, as soon as the credits have finished rolling in Calamity Jane.  The story begins with a song: a stage coach is racing along towards the town of Deadwood in the Dakota Territory, and riding shotgun is Calamity ‘Calam’ Jane (Doris Day). ‘Riding shotgun’ is perhaps not quite the mot juste here; Calam sings, dances about, jumps around, swings over the side and onto the step, where she is joined in the chorus by the passengers…

When they arrive in Deadwood, Calam sings about not just all the stuff—everything from gingham to hair restorer—which she’s brought back for the people of Deadwood—but then goes on to introduce us to her best friends in Deadwood. One of these is the owner/manager of a theatre/bar/saloon called The Golden Garter: Henry Miller (Paul Harvey) looks prosperous enough, but also somewhat harried.

Another—with whom Calam has as many run-ins as she does agreements—is Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel), who is one of the few people who sees right through Calam’s tall claims of killing off hostile Indians left, right and centre. He is also the man in whom Calam confides about her disappointment that the man she is in love with, Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin (Philip Carey) didn’t even come to greet her when the coach arrived.

As it happens, Danny couldn’t have come. A couple of battered-looking men arrive in the saloon moments later, bringing with them bad news: Danny was one of several men who were ambushed by the Indians and killed. Calam is shocked, and refuses to believe it.

Before anyone can stop her, or even accompany her on this mad chase, Calam has rushed off by herself into the woods, where she’s able to frighten away a handful of Indians and rescue Danny , who is (much to Calam’s relief) alive. She unties him, gets him onto her horse, and back to Deadwood, where she boasts of all the Indians she killed in the process of rescuing Danny.

Wild Bill Hickok is, as to be expected, scornful: he doesn’t believe a word. Calam is not one to be put off by Bill’s scorn, and she gives back as good as she gets: I can do without you, they tell each other.

In the meantime, disaster strikes The Golden Garter. This establishment has a huge male audience, all of them clamouring to be shown good shows, great acts. Actresses like the gorgeous Adelaid Adams (Gale Robbins), for instance, who is so popular that her photograph, found free in a pack of cigarettes, is highly prized. (Not by Calam, who is disapproving of women who consent to be photographed in their underwear).

The famous Adelaid Adams is way out of Henry Miller’s league, but he’s managed to book an actress named Frances Fryer… only, now that Ms Fryer arrives, it turns out this is a Mr Fryer. Francis Fryer (Dick Wesson).

Henry Miller is so appalled and so worried—there is no time, the show is on in a very short while from now—that he can only think of one thing: disguise Francis Fryer as a woman and send ‘her’ on. Fryer doesn’t like the idea one bit but is forcibly pushed on—and, surprisingly enough (perhaps much of the audience is too sozzled to notice?) is actually able to draw some very leering looks from some of the patrons:

… though the more level-headed, clear-sighted, (and, in Calam’s case, sarsaparilla-swigging) ones can see something’s not quite right.

The farce falls through when Fryer’s wig accidentally comes off—and then it’s disaster for Henry Miller, who has to face a very irate mob. They feel cheated, they feel used, they demand reparation. Calam, jumping up onto a table to calm the men down (Henry Miller being her friend, her loyalty won’t let her sit back and see him getting lambasted). Calam’s way of calming the men down is to promise them grand spectacles, fabulous shows—oh, Adelaid Adams herself!

This goes down well and serves to defuse the situation, but when everybody’s gone away, Calam and Henry and Bill sit down to discuss it. There’s no way Henry can get Adelaid is going to leave Chicago and come to Deadwood (which is very aptly named). So Calam, who’s made this rash promise, had better attend to it.

Calam, therefore, all ragged and rough, clad in her deerskin clothes and ready to whip out her gun at the slightest provocation (or no provocation) goes to Chicago.

As it happens, on the night Calam arrives in Chicago, it is Adelaid Adam’s last appearance. She is going off to get married.

After the show, Adelaid goes to her green room, where her meek maid Katie (Allyn Ann McLerie) helps her change. Adelaid is busy talking about her plans to go on her honeymoon and beyond—in Vienna, Paris, London—and wondering what she’ll do about all her costumes. She thinks of throwing them all out, and then on a whim decides to gift them all to Katie. This it is that prompts Katie to ask diffidently if Adelaid might put in a word for her… after all, Katie can sing, and she can dance a little. Maybe in the chorus?

Adelaid is dismissive. Katie just doesn’t have it in her. Leaving Katie to her own devices, Adelaid now rushes off, gone forever to marry, to roam Europe… and Katie, resentful of the put-down she’s received at the hands of her late employer, decides to comfort her by proving—to herself, even if she can’t to anyone else—that she does, in fact, have it in her. So she dons the costume Adelaid wore for her last performance, and dances about the green room, singing the same song Adelaid sang.

This is when Calam, who had managed to catch a glimpse of Adelaid performing onstage, arrives outside the door. She hears the song, she opens the door and comes in, and after some initial panic (Katie mistakes Calam for a man), the two women get down to talking.

Katie soon realizes that the dress, the song, the dancing, and the very fact that there is a superficial resemblance between herself and her former employer means that Calam has mistaken Katie for Adelaid Adams—and now Calam invites ‘Adelaid Adams’ to come to Deadwood to perform, because Deadwood is crowded with men who’re yearning to see her dance and sing for them.

Katie, whose one desire has been to go onstage, is very tempted. She asks Calam about Deadwood: where is the nearest railroad? How far is it from civilization? (That’s the gist of her queries, and she’s pleased to find that it’s very far). And, having heard Calam talk about a photo in a pack of cigarettes, she also discovers that that obscure little photo—not a close-up of Adelaid Adam’s face—is all the audience at Deadwood knows of the famous actress.

Katie—or ‘Adelaid Adams’, as Calam thinks she is—agrees. Calam takes her back to Deadwood, and drives in in great style. Katie receives an extremely enthusiastic welcome.

And the stage is set for a pretty much complete turnaround of Calam’s life. Because before her horrified eyes, not just Bill but also her beloved Danny go off, starry-eyed, in the wake of ‘Adelaid Adams’. Plus, an industry insider—Francis Fryer—still being around means that Katie’s identity isn’t exactly safe.

How will it all pan out? For Calamity Jane, and for Katie?

Martha Jane Canary, ‘Calamity Jane’, was a real person. Like the character Doris Day portrays in this film, Calamity Jane was a rugged scout and frontierswoman who was illiterate and loved to boast of her exploits—boasts which were not (again, as in this film) believed by those around her. She lived in Deadwood for a good while, and was friends with Wild Bill Hickok. While Calamity Jane claimed (in her autobiography, which she dictated) that she had married Hickok, the general opinion seems to be that this is an example of one of her tall claims.

Calamity Jane, however, takes that historical character and the very basics of her character, and uses it to spin an entertaining yarn that’s full of humour, song and dance, and some romance.

What I liked about this film:

The entire package, which is lots of fun.

The story (by James O’Hanlon) is simple but well put together, there’s plenty of humour, and the songs are good. But, what I especially liked:

Doris Day. She’s really good as Calamity Jane, leaping about, dancing, swaggering with her chest thrust out, speaking out of the side of her mouth, being mannish and very physical—and always holding centre stage. This was one film where, whenever the leading lady came onscreen, I couldn’t help but watch her. Doris was a gem as Calam.

The songs, all of which are pleasant (the music was by Sammy Fain and the lyrics by Paul Francis Webster). Some, however, stand out for me: the opening The Deadwood stage, which has a very infectious beat is one. I can do without you has delightful lyrics, and Doris Day and Howard Keel enact it brilliantly: not just singing, but dancing about, clowning around.  The black hills of Dakota is dreamy and beautiful, and My secret love, a childhood favourite of mine, is not just a lovely song but also a great example of Doris Day’s singing talent. (It also got the only Oscar Calamity Jane won).

And yes, I must make special mention of the dialogues, which are often delightful. Here’s an example. Calam and Katie are going off in a horse-cart to Calam’s cabin, where Calam has invited Katie to stay. Various admirers have congregated to say a rueful goodbye to Katie, and Bill is at the forefront.

Katie to Bill, smiling: “And Mr Hickok, please feel free to drop in any time.”
Bill: “Thank you kindly, Ma’am.”
Calam (who’s been listening in on this conversation): “Feel it, but don’t try!”

What I didn’t like:

The blossoming of the romance is all too sudden to be believable. Yes, I’ve seen enough Hollywood musicals to know this is more the rule than the exception, since it’s a tough ask to fit lots of songs, a coherent storyline, and a believable romance into what’s usually below even two hours,  but still.

 

Despite that, though, a good film. And an appropriate one with which to remember Doris Day.

 

RIP, Doris. May your films continue to live on, may your voice continue to charm generations to come.

Cat Ballou (1965)

As a child, I was surrounded by music. On the radio, on the LPs my parents played so often. The LPs, thanks to the fact that my maternal grandfather had worked with HMV for many years, were a very mixed bag, ranging all the way from Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia to Runa Laila and Geeta Bali to The Golden Gate Quartet, Harry Belafonte, Jim Reeves, Engelbert Humperdinck…  and one of my absolute favourites, Nat King Cole.

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Two for the Road (1967)

Life has been very hectic the past few months. I’ve been working on several writing assignments, switching from one novel to another; the LO, now poised to leave kindergarten and progress to Class I, requires a good deal of attention, and various lit fests or other book events have entailed (and are going to entail) some travelling.

So, when British actor Albert Finney passed on February 7th this year, while I did notice the news article about his death in the newspaper, I passed it by without it really registering who Albert Finney was (Poirot, in the 1974 version of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, just in case, like me, you were clueless too). It was blog reader Hurdy Gurdy Man who, a few days later, reminded me of Finney’s death and asked me if I was meaning to review a film of his by way of tribute. I thought I would: Two for the Road, I told Hurdy Gurdy Man in an e-mail.

But, the sad irony of fate: just a couple of days back, I got another e-mail from Hurdy Gurdy Man, informing me that the director of Two for the Road, Stanley Donen, had passed away as well. Stanley Donen (who died on February 21) had directed some of Hollywood’s most popular musicals, such as Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, before he directed Indiscreet and then moved to the UK, where he directed (among other films) The Grass is Greener, Charade, and Two for the Road, an important landmark in the history of British cinema—a classic film of the British New Wave.

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Tamasha (1952)

When you are as devoted to the pursuit of old Hindi cinema as I am—and you assiduously discuss old cinema with other like-minded souls—you keep getting recommendations. Some recommendations I take with a certain amount of leeway automatically assigned, since I know that the recommender has his or her own biases that are likely to be reflected in the film in question. Others I tend to blindly follow, because over time, I’ve realized that these are people who pretty much share my own ideas of what comprises watchable cinema.

One of these is Anu, who blogs at Conversations over Chai. We have our differences (Raj Kapoor is one), but by and large, Anu and I tend to agree about cinema. So when Anu, chatting with me during my trip in August to meet her, recommended Tamasha, I immediately made a note of it. After all, Dev Anand, Meena Kumari, Ashok Kumar, Kishore Kumar—and a comedy? That certainly sounded like something I wanted to watch.

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Le Grand Restaurant (1966)

Or, in English, The Restaurant. Though, personally, I think the ‘grand’ of the original French title suits this film better, because the very grandness and importance of Septime—the eponymous ‘grand (or great) restaurant’—is what makes it the site of a very high-profile abduction…

I watched this film because I found it in a list of ‘food films’ and got very excited at the thought of an old food film. As it happened, there’s not that much food in Le Grand Restaurant, after all. Despite that, it’s a film worth watching.

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The Odd Couple (1968)

RIP, Neil Simon.

I read about the death of Neil Simon, playwright and scriptwriter (among other roles—including producer and director) on August 26th, admittedly with some level of blankness. The name sounded familiar (or was I simply mixing him up with Neil Diamond?) but I couldn’t, without help, associate Neil Simon with any film.

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La Femme du Boulanger (1938)

Or, in English, The Baker’s Wife.

Recently, across a period of about three months, I’ve had to watch a slew of films from across the world (for an article I needed to research). While making my way through films from the US, Brazil, Spain, France, Mexico, Japan, China, Taiwan, Vietnam… and of course, closer home, Hindi cinema—it came home to me rather forcibly just how much of a gap there often is (and has been, for many years) between Hollywood and much of the rest of the world.

The Hays Code, applied to Hollywood productions between 1930 and 1968, imposed restrictions on the scenes shown—the sex, the violence, etc—as well as the language, the themes, the messages and more. But even later, after the Hays Code was no longer applicable, I’ve realized how much more tame Hollywood is when compared to other cinema (for instance, from France, Spain, or Mexico, to name just three countries, recently-watched films of which were far removed from what Hollywood would make). Hollywood’s risqué is often tame for Europe. (And Indian cinema, across regions, seems to faithfully follow Hollywood in this matter, though it’s much tamer even than Hollywood).

Anyway, on to one of the films that highlighted this point for me. La Femme du Boulanger is a French film about a middle-aged baker who sets up a bakery and patisserie in a sleepy village in the French countryside, along with his pretty wife to help him out—and within a couple of days, the wife has run off with a local buck. In Hollywood, this would have been probably treated quite seriously; in France, it becomes more a comedy than anything else. All anybody is really worried about is that their baker has gone off his desire to bake, so they’re not getting bread any more…

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A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

Blog reader Hurdy Gurdy Man gave me a slew of Beatles-related information some weeks back. More specifically, information related to a film—A Hard Day’s Night—which starred the Beatles and was about them. Not a bio-pic, not a completely fictitious story (as many of Elvis’s films were, with him playing characters in no way related to his real self). But something in between. Fact and fiction.

Hurdy Gurdy Man informed me that the Beatles’ album A Hard Day’s Night had released in the UK on July 10th, 1964. Just four days earlier, on July 6th, 1964, the film of the same name had also been released in the UK (it was released in August in the US). Also, other than Paul McCartney (whose 76th birthday was on June 18th), the only other surviving Beatle—Ringo Starr—has his birthday today.

In celebration, therefore, a review of this very watchable little film about four wildly successful young men who—in the course of a mere decade (they teamed up as a quartet in 1960, and fell apart in 1970)—changed the way pop music sounded and was perceived. The legendary Beatles, acting as themselves, in a film about themselves.

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Hoří, má Panenko (1967)

Or, in English, The Firemen’s Ball.

I came across this film some months back, and since its description sounded enticing, I got it. Ever since, I’ve been meaning to watch it; finally, about a week back, having written up the post for a landmark anniversary I wanted to celebrate (William Holden’s birth centenary), I figured it was finally time I got around to watching The Firemen’s Ball. And it was then, just a few days back, that I discovered that the film’s director, Miloš Forman, had passed away, on the 13th of April.

To Hollywood audiences, Forman is known for Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, both of which won him Oscars for Best Director. But before he left his homeland Czechoslovakia and moved to the US, Forman was a well-established director in Czech cinema too, being generally acknowledged as a important personality of Czech New Wave Cinema. His first Czech-language colour film was The Firemen’s Ball, a comedy that satirized the corruption pervading Communist Eastern Europe at the time.

The film begins sombrely. In an office at a fire department, a group of senior firemen have gathered to discuss something important. A finely crafted and engraved piece (a fireman’s axe) is being passed around the table and admired by all. The annual firemen’s ball is coming up, and this item is to be presented on the occasion of the ball to the fire department’s ex-President, who is going to be turning 86.

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