Monday, September 10, 2012

THE RIGHT APPROACH 1961

I greatly miss the old days when late-night television used to be a film fan’s oasis of the great, near-great, and downright worst of what Hollywood had to offer. My lifetime love of film is a direct result of the broad assortment of old movies I had the opportunity to see nightly (non-school nights, anyway) on The Late Show and The Late Late Show. There were no high-flown demarcations of “classic” attached to films back then, they were all merely “old movies” or “reruns,” and as such, one could watch Geraldine Page in Toys in the Attic at 11:00pm, Mamie Van Doren in Girl’s Town at 1:00am, and see in the morning with Joan Crawford in Dancing Lady at 3:00am. TV stations had lots of airtime to fill, lots of used-cars to sell, and sizable packages of obscure and forgotten films of all stripes to do it with. In this “The Insomniac’s School of Film” I think I received a priceless education.
(The currently overused “classic” label as pertaining to film is really a post-video cassette/cable-TV marketing term designed to make difficult-to-move inventories of B&W films appear more appealing to the public. Just as the word “rerun” has been retired in place of the more market-friendly “encore presentation,” nowadays, every movie with whiskers on it is labeled a “classic.”) 
Frankie Vaughan as Leo Mack
"I learned a long time ago; nobody looks out for Daddy if Daddy don't look out for Daddy!"
Juliet Prowse as Ursula Poe
"You can marry a lot more money in five minutes than you could make in a lifetime!"
Martha Hyer as Anne Perry
"I'm not desperate. I like my life...I go where I want, when I want. Men aren't all that important."
Gary Crosby ad Rip Hulett
"You been beltin' that grape a little...eh, Daddy?"
David McLean as Bill Sikulovic
"It isn't always what a person gets that's important. It's what he gives up to get it!"
Jesse White as Agent Brian Freer 
"Y'know you're a very good lookin' boy in my opinion. A red-blooded, he-man type!"
Jane Withers (yes, Josephine the Plumber) as Liz
"Sue me, but whenever I meet one of those 'Personality Boys' I wanna hide the good silver!"
One particular favorite of mine that I had the chance to revisit via the Fox Movie Channel some years ago is The Right Approach; another one of those films that Hollywood seems to enjoy churning out that attempts, through overstated cliché and melodrama, to rip the lid off the garbage can known as showbiz and expose the ruthless backbiting and treachery that so often accompanies the climb to the top. These kinds of movies bank on show business having a sleazy allure for its audience, but in the interest of not creating an image so glamorous and unobtainable that people would go home and stick their heads in the oven, in the last act they always show how simple, decent values trump fame, fortune and privilege every time. Striving for up-to-the-minute daring, The Right Approach dates itself instantly (and hilariously) with its profusion of swingin’ Sixties, Rat Pack-era, “ring-a-ding-ding” hipster slang, and each turn of its defanged, What Makes Sammy Run? meets The Sweet Smell of Success plotline. Ranking high on my “so bad it’s good” guilty-pleasure trash-o-meter, The Right Approach simply begs for a DVD release.
Vaselined Vegas Lounge Lizard
No, that isn't Valley of the Dolls' Tony Polar, but it might as well be. Like a great many male singers of the day, the late British pop star Frankie Vaughan was fashioned in the mold of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin (complete with that weird, jaw-dislocating thing so favored by Sammy Davis, Jr. and Mel Torme.)  

This unaccountably forgotten camp treasure from 1961 has the look and feel of the bargain-basement, but it has a pretty snazzy pedigree: it’s based on an early, not very well-received play by Garson Kanin (Born Yesterday, Adam’s Rib) titled The Live Wire; it was adapted for the screen by Garson’s brother Michael Kanin and sister-in-law Fay (The Opposite Sex, Friendly Fire); it features a song by the award-winning songwriting team of Marilyn and Alan Bergman (The Way We Were, You Don’t Bring Me Flowers); and has a cast full of actors who all must have been under contract at 20th Century-Fox at the time. Oscar-nominee Martha Hyer (for Some Came Running) appeared in Fox’s The Best of Everything (1959); Liverpool crooner Frankie Vaughan was hot off of the lamentable Marilyn Monroe musical, Let’s Make Love (1960); and the ever-watchable Juliet Prowse had nearly caused an international incident by getting under Nikita Khrushchev’s skin in Can-Can (1960). Like most every film released by Fox between 1953 and 1967, The Right Approach was filmed in CinemaScope, but apparently Fox broke the bank with How to Marry a Millionaire, for this film is strictly economy class and shot in black and white...so atypical for a movie this light (with musical numbers, yet).
Because the system works; the system called reciprocity
Mitch (Steve Harris) clips the locks of Bill (David McLean) who ties the tie of Rip (Gary Crosby)
In a reversal of the usual all-girl formula of films like The Pleasure Seekers, Valley of the Dolls, and The Best of Everything; The Right Approach tells the story of five bachelor buddies rooming communally in a reconverted Hawaiian restaurant high in the Hollywood Hills. There’s med student, Bill; barber-to-be Mitch, aspiring set designer, Horace; jazz musician, Rip; and I-have-absolutely-no-idea-what-he-does, Granny (yes, Granny is a dude). What becomes instantly obvious is that all are at least a decade too old for this kind of boyish, clubhouse arrangement, with Bill, the most glaringly elderly of the bunch, the only one afforded a backstory (military service and familial self-sacrifice) explaining away his late-bloomer status.
At left, Rip (Gary Crosby- son of Bing and author of the illuminating Mommie Dearest-like tell-all memoir, Going My Own Way ) fixes his neck brace (don't ask) while at right, lanky beanpole Granny (Paul Von Schreiber) prepares for bed wearing only a pajama top - therein setting the stage for one of the most unappetizing and unwanted buffalo shots in cinema history.

Into this happy, pentamerous setting comes Mitch’s older brother, Leo, a caustic, wannabe singer /actor of near-supernatural amorality. A lying, cheating, self-interested, double-crossing, womanizing opportunist decades before these character flaws became standard equipment for reality TV stardom; Leo’s poisonous influence on The Hut (as the “boys” have dubbed their digs) and the lives of the ladies he comes into contact with provides both the drama and moral of The Right Approach. And, might I add, it also provides a great deal of the unintentional comedy. Bad boys and bad girls are the real heart of any showbiz drama, and in Frankie Vaughan’s Wile E. Coyote interpretation of Leo Mack, The Right Approach has one doozy of villain. Cross Patty Duke as Valley of the Dolls Neely O’Hara with Stephen Boyd’s Frankie Fane in The Oscar (1966) and you have some idea as to the camp histrionic heights this film can reach in its brisk 92 minutes.
The Pleasure Seekers' Gardner McKay (center) starred in the TV series Adventures in Paradise from 1959 to 1962. He appears as himself in a brief cameo in The Right Approach when Leo (left) lands a bit part on the series.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM:
We Americans are a celebrity-obsessed culture that loves to romanticize the lives and careers of the rich and famous while at the same time feeling the need to reassure ourselves (incessantly) that in spite of their looks, wealth, and notoriety, the famous are a shallow, amoral bunch without a shred of integrity or decency between them. Hollywood, an industry that’s always known what side its bread was buttered on, has been more than happy to feed this dysfunction with glitzy tales of fame idolatry disguised as cautionary fables designed to reassure us unwashed masses that all that unattainable, envy-inducing glamour we’ve been wallowing in for the last two hours is an unworthy pursuit born of heartbreak, treachery, and compromised ideals. That these lacerating indictments of Hollywood’s superficiality are made by individuals seeking fame and fortune in self-said industry doesn't strike anyone involved as a tad ironic probably explains why these films always feel so false and over the top. 
The Live Wire is the name of the 1950 Garson Kanin play upon which The Right Approach is based. It's also the title of the movie industry magazine at the center of the film's plot, symbolizing the Holy Grail of success.

PERFORMANCES:
I don't know much about UK star Frankie Vaughan and will probably have to appeal to Our Man in the UK (Mark at Random Ramblings, Thoughts & Fiction) to perhaps provide me with some history. All I know is that I so soured on him in Let's Make Love (not his fault, I just hated Marilyn and Montand so much in that one) that his deliciously nasty turn as the bad guy in The Right Approach came as something of a surprise. He's not much of an actor, but he is an energetic showman and has these great Snidely Whiplash eyes that dart about cartoonishly whenever he's about to do something underhanded. Fans of Let's Make Love will recognize that film's theme song as well as the title tune from Fox's The Best of Everything played frequently in the film's background.
Change Partners
That's Juliet Prowse, Robert Casper, Frankie Vaughan, & Martha Hyer.
The Right Approach would have been really gangbusters if its couplings had gone the direction the gazes in this screencap hint toward. (Martha Hyer's giving Juliet Prowse one of those Candice Bergen looks from The Group.)
I really got a kick out of Juliet Prowse in this. Playing a hard-boiled, gum-chewing hash-slinger even more amoral than Vaughan's character, she gives the film a lift whenever she shows up. Not as glacially classy as Martha Hyer (a Hitchcock blonde if there ever was one) Prowse has the lion's share of the film's smart-ass dialog, a terrific screen presence, that wonderful accent, and we even get to see her dance a little bit (albeit in a cramped, one-room apartment...but those legs!).
Ursula: We're in trouble.
Leo: You're in trouble.
Ursula: How's that again?
Leo: Who's the father?
Ursula: (Delivering a resounding whack across the chops) THAT'S who!!

THE STUFF OF DREAMS: 
With Russ Meyer dead, Paul Morrissey bitter, and John Waters gone corporate; it's growing near impossible for me to find good, enduring camp movies these days. The Right Approach has all the requisite bad dialog, weak songs, cliched plotting, exaggerated performances and self-serious moralizing to make it a classic of the trash-with-class genre, but it is soooo hard to find. I still have my old pan and scan VHS TV copy from I don't know how many years back, but I would love to see this in widescreen.
Up To No Good

In addition to all the above, nostalgia plays a small part in why The Right Approach is a favorite of mine.
Juliet Prowse's place of employment in the film, Sonny's Drive-In, is located on the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Vine in Hollywood. Just two blocks away from the Villa Elaine apartments (one-time residence of surrealist Man Ray); the site of my first apartment when I moved to L.A.
Nostalgia point #2:
For a brief time during the late 80s when I used to teach dance in Santa Monica, I had Juliet Prowse as a private client. She was so amazing and such a sweetheart. Here was this idol of mine who could dance rings around me in her sleep, taking funk dance lessons from me! Positively unreal!

So, if you're ever checking out the cable TV listings and happen to see The Right Approach scheduled, by all means fire up the DVR and give it a try. No "classic," it's just one of the most enjoyable good/bad films you've never heard of.


Copyright © Ken Anderson

6 comments:

  1. WOW, WOW, WOW!! I've never even HEARD of this film! It sounds right up my alley! What a cast! I need to seek this one out and watch it!

    Juliet Prowse was such a beautiful talented lady. I loved her in "Can-Can", she was so feisty and I rarely catch Elvis films for Elvis..I always watch them for his female co-stars and G.I. Blues is one of my faves because of her presence.

    Prowse also made another black and white camp classic opposite Sal Mineo and Elaine Stritch: WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR?..it has to be seen to be believed!

    Did you ever mention "The Right Approach" to her when she was one of your students? I would love to know what she thought of it!

    Thanks again for introducing me to another interesting film!

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    1. Ha! Yes, this movie is a doozy and it kills me that it has fallen though the cracks somehow. I keep checking about it on iOffer, but it's always the same TV copy I have. This really demands being seen in a widescreen version.

      I identify with what you say about those Elvis movies. Unlike Barbra Streisand's policy (to find the blandest male co-stars possible) Elvis was always outclassesd by his female stars. They were the only things that made his films watchable to me.

      And yes, I even own a copy of Who Killed Teddy Bear? I'm glad you've seen it. Isn't it the filthiest movie you've ever seen? I love it! It seems to come with its own film of scum on it.

      As for my days with Ms. Prowse...what a missed opportunity. I was young then and building my business. I had the notion (perhaps misguided, perhaps not) that celebrity clients don't like "fans"; that they like to be treated like regular folks. So I was always acting super professional and never showed her what a groveling, shameless, name-dropping celebrity hound I really was. I never spoke of all the things I'd seen her in. Can you believe it, I re-enacted this same scenario with Raquel Welch, Sigourney Weaver, Dyan Cannon and Rita Mareno!!! What a waste! These days I act like the aging fanboy I really am and I'm happier for it. Thanks CAL, and please let me know if you ever see this...would love to know what you think.

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  2. I don't know how you were able to contain yourself. Raquel Welch!? I woulda had a coronary!

    If I get my hands on this one I'll make sure to let you know what I think.

    And WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR *is* a filthy little movie...it was one step short of being pornographic! It's grimy. I love it!

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  3. Ken, regarding "Granny" as a male character:

    I know you're not big on sports films, but Harry Caesar played a character named "Granny" in the original version of "The Longest Yard" (1974). In this case, the name "Granny" is short for "Granville".

    Ken, you said:

    "That these lacerating indictments of Hollywood’s superficiality are made by individuals seeking fame and fortune in self-said industry doesn't strike anyone involved as a tad ironic probably explains why these films always feel so false and over the top."

    I've often wondered about this, too.

    One of my favourite movies is "Phantom of the Paradise", a film about people (literally!) selling their souls to make it in the music business, but it works because it's deliberately way over the top, doesn't even try to approach anything resembling a "straight" film, and the songs are brilliant.

    I had never read about "The Right Approach" before reading this review. I too, recall the days when late-night network television was full of old movies, prior to the infomercial era. You'd often get those Roger Corman and Corman-esque type movies, but now fortunately many of them are available on DVD.

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    1. Hey Mark
      I think you might to be onto something there with Granville or some such name being the source of the nickname, Granny! Pretty neat deducing there!

      I also like the film "Phantom of the Paradise" a great deal (big Jessica Harper fan) and have many of the songs on my ipod.
      I tend to think that movies trying to stick it to Hollywood and show business work best as satires rather than straight dramas ("For Your Consideration" we've already spoke of). People in the film industry don't seem to understand that their business often looks pretty ridiculous to the layman, and when they get all worked up over some life-and-death celebrity crisis, they need to remember that we common folk rarely look at what they do as the stuff of earth-shattering importance.

      Y'know your comment on those Roger Corman films makes me wish that some cable Tv programmer would create a network that the opposite of Turner Classic Movies: a network devoted to vintage B-movies and camp films like this.

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  4. Ken,
    Thank you for your lovingly rendered piece about this guilty treasure. I saw it this past Sunday morning while skipping church (only adding to the guilt and the pleasure) on -- you guessed it -- Turner Classic Movies. I literally shuddered at the train wreck that was Frankie Vaughn's acting during the first few scenes, then found that I couldn't look away. I watched the whole damn thing -- including Gary Crosby's singing and Granny's panty flash -- and was enthralled enough to go searching the Web for more, more, more for Daddy! Oh so happy that I ended up here.

    I have nothing much to add to your superb essay, except that Jesse White provided some welcome professionalism as agent Brian Freer. He and Juliet Prowse definitely were the high points for me.

    And one more thing: Maybe because it was shot in black and white, The Right Approach seemed to look more like a TV show than a movie. I then came to learn that David Butler directed episodes of many of my favorite TV shows in the early '60s: Leave It to Beaver, Wagon Train, even The Twilight Zone. Which makes me wonder how well he would have handled some current TV melotrash like Revenge & Nashville. Like a cool, cool cat, I'll bet.

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