The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, May 31, 2010

The French Line

In a time where everyone and everything has to be politically correct, it can be funny to look back on other times and see what was then considered censurable-material.  Where better to start than the 1950s where TV shows like Leave it to Beaver and Happy Days have helped convince the world that the decade was flawless with no imperfections?  The movie is 1953's The French Line, a musical -- a logical place to censor -- that now over 50 years later seems tame.

Who knows though, those 50s censors must have been pretty fast with the old trigger finger.  The main issue here by the censors and the Catholic Legion of Decency was star Jane Russell and the outfits -- or lack of -- she wore in the movie originally released in 3-D format.  The flick's tagline even said 'Jane Russell will knock both your eyes out!'  Pretty subtle if you ask me.  From the time she was introduced in The Outlaw, studios wanted to flaunt what God gave her, especially mega-millionaire and film producer/director Howard Hughes, and her roles typically had her in the skimpiest/tightest outfits around.  But now watching this in 2010, it seems tame to say the least.

With oil fields and millions of dollars to her name, Mary Carson (Russell) can't seem to find a husband.  All the men she meets are intimidated by her piles of money, including the latest fiance who bails days before the wedding.  She goes to New York to visit a friend, Annie(Mary McCarty) and thinks up a scheme to meet a man who will like her for her, not her money.  Mary's going to pose as a model while a model will pose as May. Her protector and ranch foreman, Waco Mosby (Arthur Hunnicutt), is worried somebody will take advantage of her and hires a Spanish/French playboy Pierre DuQuesne (Gilbert Roland) to tag along and keep an eye on her. But uh-oh, that crafty plan has an impact when Pierre confuses model for millionaire.

I typically avoid musicals like the plague unless they're holiday-themed or involve Bing Crosby in some way, but I liked the cast here so I gave it a try.  It plays like any number of 1950s comedies with plots so thin yet so ridiculous that they come across like extended episodes of I Love Lucy with Mary and Annie filling in nicely for Lucy and Ethel.  The 'find me a husband' story also feels very dated, very 50s, with feminists ripping their hair out at the very thought.  There's also one sticking point.  A rich woman who looks like Jane Russell can't find a husband?  I'll believe that when I see it.

Now whether I liked the cast or not, I always have an issue with musicals.  I know they're supposed to sing and do extravagant numbers every 10 or 15 minutes, but it never fails to make me laugh how they transition from conversation to a song and dance number.  Then, what do they do afterward. "Oh, so the song's over? What should we do now? Wanna get some dinner?"  That said, the numbers here aren't bad.  Russell was a pretty decent singer and even released several songs on top of her acting career.  Roland, not so much, who is an odd choice and a little old to play Russell's romantic interest.

As for the censors who were worried about Russell revealing too much, it's just funny.  Here's the non-edited version of this offensive scene.  The TCM version moves the camera back about 20 feet, and you can barely make Russell out.  I guess the censors didn't want Russell to actually knock people's eyes out in theaters across the country, but who knows for sure?  Check out the edited cut of that scene HERE. There's also this scandalous scene where she *gasp* takes a bath with plenty of split-second timing to actually avoid seeing anything you shouldn't see.  Pretty sneaky, movie editors and censors!

Extremely tame by today's standards, The French Line is still a mess of a movie.  Watch Roland make women swoon and get them drunk at the same time -- classy, huh? -- and Hunnicutt overact and scream to the point where you just want him to shut up.  A reviewer said this movie was made so moviegoers could check out Russell's anatomy, and that's about as dead-on a description as I can think of.  Russell is beautiful and not a bad actress/singer to boot.  Other than that, this one is a bomb.

The French Line <----trailer (1953): **/****

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