Saturday, September 09, 2006

Artists And Models (1955)

One scene encapsulates the varied glories of Artists and Models, a Frank Tashlin beauty from 1955. Let's deal with backstory first: Jerry Lewis plays Eugene Fullstack, an aspiring (poor) writer obsessed with the "Bat Lady" comic book. Shirley MacLaine plays the sprightly Bessie Sparrowbrush, who models for the creator of "Bat Lady" (Abby: Dorothy Malone) - and who decides Eugene should be her husband based on his astrological sign.

OK - after Fullstack's roommate Rick Todd (Dean Martin) woos Abby on the roof by pretending to be Dean Martin (always self-reflexive, our Tashlin) - Bessie decides to take his lead and do the same with Eugene. She enters the apartment - and picks up Todd/Dean's lyric from "Innamorata", clumsily posing herself cheesecake style on the stairs. Then Fullstack walks in, holding the remnants of a day at the beach: folding chair, bucket, sunscreen, etc. When Bessie hits the chorus - he drops everything. And it begins - a stunningly choreographed symphony of awkward motion - all done on a staircase and its landing. Bessie swings under the rail, to block Eugene's exit - he scurries off - she hits the chorus - he drops everything again. The timing is astounding - it's a perfect inversion of the lovestruck ballad in musicals with woman pursuing man and the body an impediment of and not the cause of union. And yet it creates the same feeling of euphoria that it's template does. A testament, I think, to the limitless likability of Shirley MacLaine in her prime.


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