Wednesday, March 14, 2012

THE OPPOSITE SEX (MGM 1956) Warner Archive Collection

An utterly joyless and inexplicably vapid musical update of one of MGM's most sparkling vintage comedies, David Miller's The Opposite Sex (1956) burst forth in expansive Cinemascope and garish Metrocolor without even a hint of Clare Booth Luce's sheer cattiness that had absolutely dazzled audiences in George Cukor's The Women (1939). Throughout the 1950s MGM repackaged many of its stellar comedies into a fairly impressive array of big budget musical remakes. As example: The Philadelphia Story (1940) became High Society (1956) and the Garbo classic, Ninotchka (1939) the Astaire/Charisse sparkler, Silk Stockings (1957). But transferring Luce's wit to the musical mélange seems to have diluted its more acerbic pleasures; that, and introducing a gaggle of men into the mix that were NOT part of the original film.
Where to begin? Perhaps with June Allyson's colorless central performance as Kay Hilliard (Mary Haines in the original), so fraught with cosmic misfires that it makes Norma Shearer's star turn in the original all the more tantalizing and sadly missed. Allyson, known as the studio's 'most popular musical sweetheart' (a.k.a. the fresh faced girl next door) is entirely out of her element as the Park Ave. sophisticate who discovers that her husband, Broadway producer Steven (Leslie Nielsen) is stepping out with a common chorine from his latest show. Allyson’s performance is stiflingly unoriginal and even more uninspired. Worse, her trademark hoarseness has been badly dubbed for one of the film’s songs, but strangely, for none of the others Allyson commits to this film.
In the The Women, Joan Crawford had reshaped her 'shop girl makes good' image into that of a ruthless mantrap. Regrettably, Joan Collin's reincarnation of Crystal Allen in this remake is a simpering feline; a sex toy/spoiled bitch who throws tantrums and dishes whenever she doesn't get her own way. Frankly, she's pathetic! Rounding out 'the women' in the cast are Dolores Gray (as fair weather friend, Sylvia Fowler), Ann Sheridan (as Amanda, the writer {name inexplicably changed from Nancy Blake in the original), Ann Miller (Gloria {no counterpart in the original}), Agnes Moorehead (as Countess de Lave) and Joan Blondell (as baby maker, Edith Potter).
To this curious entourage, the misguided screenplay by Fay and Michael Kanin adds even more curiously dull male counterparts. In addition to Leslie Nielsen's tepid philandering hubby, we get Jeff Richards as singing cowboy Buck Winston, Sam Levin as Kay's former agent, Mike Pearl, and Bill Goodwin as Howard Fowler. As in the original, Kay discovers that Steven is offering stud services to Crystal via Olga (Alice Pearce); a manicurist at the posh day spa, Sydney's. Sylvia is only too happy to goad Kay into confronting Steven - which she eventually does. Kay files for divorce, despite the pleading of their daughter, Debbie (the too, too precocious Sandy Descher).
Amanda encourages prudence and convinces the mild mannered Kay that revenge - most sweet - is in order. With Mike's help, Kay makes a smashing comeback on the Broadway stage, leaving Steven regretting his decision to marry Crystal. Meanwhile, Sylvia has managed to land herself the catch of the day - Buck Winston, who is using Sylvia to finance his debut as a sort of pre-Elvis rock n' roll star. On the surface, Crystal and Sylvia are the best of friends. But behind closed doors Crystal has already moved on from Steven to Buck. Eventually, the whole nasty affair balls up with a spirited confrontation at one of New York's posh nightclubs. Kay entices Dolly(Barbara Jo Allen), a gossip columnist, to snuff out the details of Crystal's manipulation of Steven, before exposing Crystal's affair with Buck to Sylvia. Believing that Buck's singing debut will be a disaster - thereby making him entirely dependent on Sylvia for his livelihood, Sylvia feels her stake in Buck secure until he goes into his song. Unfortunately for Sylvia and Crystal, Buck ditches them both for his big break.
Remember, this is supposed to be a musical. To that purpose, and the film's everlasting detriment, there are several truly painful numbers interspersed throughout The Opposite Sex. Nicholas Brodsky, Sammy Cahn, Ralph Freed and George Stoll are given credit for the patchwork that includes a cameo by Harry James and his orchestra performing 'Young Man With A Horn' and June Allyson's lip sync to Jo Ann Greer's 'A Perfect Love'. Given that Allyson was a singing star throughout the 1940s with a unique voice and way with a lyric it is utterly perplexing why she did not sing this song herself, especially when she does perform another, 'Now Baby Now' - arguably of the worst.
Joan Collin's is paralytic in the laughably bad 'Yellow Gold' number, while Dick Shawn overwhelms. And then, there is Jeff Richard's doing an unconvincing Elvis in the surprisingly coy 'Rock and Roll Tumbleweed' - the right song inexplicably wedged into the wrong film. In all, the only remotely memorable tune is Delores Gray's title track under the opening credits. It sets a sizzling tone for all that ought to have followed but, in hindsight, plays more like a coming attraction for another movie that is never coming. If you are a fan of Cukor's The Women (1939) - and I am - it is virtually impossible to be even remotely amused by this terrible remake. The words that immediately come to mind after viewing it are 'disgusting', misguided and thoughtless.
The Opposite Sex is advertised as 'remastered' as part of the Warner Archive Collection. I would be interested to know who at Warner thinks simply by marketing these discs as such makes it so. Like their MOD transfers of 'The Swan', 'The Student Prince', and 'Tea and Sympathy' the widescreen image herein is softly focused with muddy, slightly faded colors, boosted contrast levels, and, an utter lack of fine details, with age related artifacts cropping up everywhere. That's hardly what I call 'remastered'! The audio is equally unimpressive: Dolby surround, not 5.1 Dolby Digital. (Aside: I am not even certain MOD is capable of reproducing 5.1. There are no extra features. Bottom line: The Opposite Sex is the complete opposite of a good movie.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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