Monday, May 10, 2021

Once and for all Bye Bye Birdie is Magic

The movie is dated 1963. Its source Broadway musical is dated 1960. The movie version introduces the song, Bye Bye Birdie, as well as the Speed-up drug, anticipating the switch in the music business from songwriting to chemistry, although, as the decade progressed, chemistry moved beyond amphetamines, into the LSD mixtures of Owsley Stanley. (Did the screenwriter know this when writing the movie version? He also wrote scripts for the Marx Brothers.) The script joke about how chemistry will impact society extends beyond music since junior (Ms. Margret's character's younger brother) is making bombs out of the fertilizer business, or is it just the screenwriter's way of explaining why his chemistry set includes the ingredients for speed-up, the new drug of choice for the future sixties? So it was not the book writer, Michael Stewart, but the screenwriter, Irving Brecher, who anticipated the bridge between the music business and chemistry, supplying speed-up to the conductor of the Moscow Ballet orchestra. We also see in 1963 fans camped out on the lawn of the ordinary Ohio home of the randomly chosen fan, which apparently means something to me. As for why we are able to have the Moscow Ballet in Ohio it makes sense because it is touring the country on a Kruschev mission of goodwill and it so happens its performances in Ohio coincide with Ed Sullivan's schedule for them to appear on his weekly show -- his Sunday night variety show, introducing to the US the greatest in entertainment, anticipating the appearance of the Beatles in February, 1964, but of course, providing glimpses of Elvis Presley's pelvis performances from the waist up. Elvis's draft notice was in 1957. However, Conrad Birdie's name is a mutation of Conway Twitty, also a popular rocker at the time. More on casting here: Stepping in for Broadway's Michael J. Pollard, the movie version features another popular rockish singer, Bobby Rydell as the undertaker's son who pinned the randomly chosen fan. We see Ann Margaret enamored of Conrad Birdie. She is soon to be cast by the same director on at least equal footing with her co-star, the actual Elvis Presley, in Viva Las Vegas, 1965. Vivian Leigh, stepping in as a Spaniard substitute for original Broadway cast member, Chita Rivera, plays the determined and devoted girlfriend of a man with mother complex. Movie character men with mother complexes were common then. Her 1962 movie, The Manchurian Candidate, victimized one and she was murdered by one in her 1960 movie, Psycho. Dick Van Dyke followed the production from Broadway, also appearing in Mary Poppins. He doesn't think he can dance or sing and he's incomparable. He just plays the role, singing to and dancing as instructed. I think neither Ann Margaret nor Dick Van Dyck had any idea at the time how naturally superlative they are. Oona White choreographed for director George Sydney (and for Carol Reed's Oliver!), Mr Sydney was a 1940's MGM musical director, as was Stanley Donen who took his 1960's independence to England. Two for the Road and his own Bedazzled are examples of Stanley Donen's accomplishments. This movie, Bye Bye Birdie, operates as an accomplishment for Mr. Sydney although to make it more personal, he took Ann Margaret to Elvis Presley himself in Viva Las Vegas, giving Presley a run for his talent, while here she plays the ordinary all American girl next door here, enamored of Conrad Birdie. As in the movie, the English Patient, where the English Patient is anything but English, Ms. Margaret is Swedish. Paul Lynde became the leader, the reappearing center box, of TV's celebrity bluffing game, Hollywood Squares. And that's all I can think of here. Whatever its prophesies, this movie will always be a demonstration of the musical greatness of its songwriters.

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