Wednesday, November 19, 2014

ANNIE 1982

After seeing so many billboards, bus shelters, and mega-posters around town heralding the forthcoming release of the latest screen incarnation of Annie – that pint-sized, ginger juggernaut of Broadway 1977 (and for those keeping score, this marks adaptation # 3) – I figure I’d better get around to covering John Huston’s 1982 mega-budget, mega-hyped, mega-merchandised movie version before public reaction to the remake (pro or con) influence my memories.
Motivated as they are (more often than not) by income rather than ideas, remakes are an irksome Hollywood inevitability I'm prone to dismiss on principle alone. The remaking of iconic films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or Brian De Palma’s Carrie is an obvious fool’s errand; the inevitably substandard results forgotten before they even get a DVD release. But I can't say I feel the same about remaking flawed films. In fact, affording as it does a genuine creative opportunity for a filmmaker to "get it right" the second time around; it's the only kind of remake that does make sense to me.
The 1982 movie version of Annie took a while to grow on people. Regarded as a beloved classic by many today, Annie on its release was greeted with a mixed critical reception (nominated for 5 Razzie awards, winning one for Aileen Quinn as Worst Supporting Actress); was trashed in the press by the show's lyricist, Martin Charnin ("Terrible, terrible, it distorted everything."); and though it emerged one of the top ten moneymakers of the year, its steep budget ($40 to $50 million), hefty marketing campaign ($10 million) and the record $9.5 spent on acquiring the rights, meant it wouldn't come anywhere near breaking even or showing a profit for many years.
While I wouldn't go so far as to call Annie a classic, neither would I label it the out and out flop its detractors make it out to be. Sure, at times the script is uneven to the point of feeling erratic (Hannigan's 11th hour character redemption will give you whiplash), but I still find its changes to be a marked improvement over the theatrical production. And, thanks to its bouncy score, boundless - if unharnessed - energy, and capable, hardworking cast, Annie manages to be entertaining in spite of never really gelling into the kind of touchstone movie musical event its Broadway success (and producer Ray Stark's investment) augured.
Aileen Quinn as Annie
Albert Finney as Oliver Warbucks
Carol Burnett as Miss Agatha Hannigan
Ann Reinking as Grace Farrell
As every living human must by now know, Annie is the significantly retooled movie version of the Tony Award-winning musical phenomenon based on Harold Gray’s comic strip, “Little Orphan Annie.” Set in the Depression-era New York of 1933, Annie is the story of a spunky, unflaggingly optimistic little orphan who, while dreaming of finding her parents, manages to rescue and adopt a bullied, stray mutt; win the heart of a billionaire industrialist; play cupid for his devoted secretary; thwart a bilko scheme cooked up by the villainous orphanage matron, Miss Hannigan and her partners in crime, Rooster and Lily; and by fade-out, appears poised, with the help of FDR, to take on the Great Depression itself.
Bernadette Peters as Lily St. Regis, Tim Curry as Rooster Hannigan
The estrogen answer to 1962s Oliver (what DID little girls do in dance recitals before this show?) Annie is notable – before “Tomorrow” took on a life of its own as one of the most overexposed (and in turn, annoying) songs ever written – for representing something of a 70s pop cultural turning point. In a social climate reeling from inflation, the oil crisis, post-Watergate disillusionment, Vietnam fallout, and the hedonism-as-religion retreat into sex & drugs that typified the disco era (it opened mere months before the release of the bleak Looking for Mr. Goodbar): Annie was among the first non-ironic, unapologetically hopeful entertainments to emerge from a decade noted for its cynical self-criticism. Annie’s assertively retro, “corny is cool” aesthetic rode a nostalgia zeitgeist which embraced the intentional camp of TVs Wonder Woman, Star Wars' updating of the 1930s movie serial, and fueled the comic book-mania behind 1978s Superman and Robert Altman’s musical, Popeye (1980).

While Annie’s overwhelming success guaranteed it a movie sale (then the highest price ever paid for a theatrical property), media over-saturation in the intervening years made it a prime target for parody. When producer Ray Stark (Funny Girl) made known his plans to mount a big screen version, industry naysayers wondered how 1982 audiences would respond to what many saw as the show's machine-driven sentimentality. Questions arose as to the issue of overexposure (Annie was still running on Broadway, and would until 1983) and wondering if the public was up to weathering yet another shrill rendition of “Tomorrow” sung by a red-tressed, brass-lunged moppet.
Instead of turning Annie's most well-known song into a potentially wince-inducing showstopper, director John Huston (or Ray Stark, depending on the source) wisely gets the song out of the way by having Quinn sing a traditional version over the opening credits. Later she performs a subdued, a cappella rendition when she meets FDR. As Eleanor & Franklin join in (Lois De Banzie& Edward Herrmann), Warbucks' comic, schmaltz-resistant reluctance works to effectively diffuse similar audience reaction.

As a West Coaster with access to only those Broadway shows successful enough to have touring companies, I’m one of those guys who’d rather have a poor movie adaptation of a Broadway musical than none at all (see: A Little Night Music); so I was on board for a movie version of Annie from the get-go. But what really made it a must-see film for me was the unusually high caliber of talent Stark engaged both in front of and behind the camera.

What he assembled was a dream cast for Annie; actors who not only visually fit their roles to a T, but bravely bucked then-current Hollywood musical tradition by actually being able to sing and dance. Albert Finney, while acquitting himself very nicely in the 1970 musical, Scrooge, would be the first to admit he’s neither a singer or dancer, but Carol Burnett, Ann Reinking, Bernadette Peters, Tim Curry, Geoffrey Holder (Punjab), and Roger Minami (the Asp) all had their start in musical theater.
By 1982, Andrea McArdle, Broadway’s original Annie, was roughly the right age to play Lily St. Regis, so a massive, year-long, publicity-baiting global search was launched to find the perfect little orphan. Cute 9-year-old Aileen Quinn beat out 9,000 crestfallen (if not scarred for life) Annie applicants, winning the title role in what was then the most expensive musical ever made. 
She & Sandy Make a Pair, They Never Seem to Have a Care. Cute Little She...it's Little Orphan Annie
Aileen Quinn was paid the exact same salary as Bingo (one of three dogs portraying Sandy) 
Now, this is where things started getting weird. Broadway veteran Joe Layton (Thoroughly Modern Millie) was on hand to create the musical numbers (which makes sense), but the choreographic chores for this 1930s period musical - an innocent, if not naive, family entertainment swarming with children - fell to Arlene Phillips (which makes no sense at all). Certainly not if you're even remotely familiar with Phillips' hypersexual choreography for the Eurosleaze dance troupe, Hot Gossip, or if you've ever seen her patented brand of disco/aerobic writhing in the films The Fan and Can’t Stop the Music. I'm personally a huge fan of Phillips' work, but even I had to scratch my head on this one. However, nothing raised eyebrows higher than the news that Annie, now known as Ray Stark’s baby (“This is the film I want on my tombstone”), was to be directed by Oscar-winner John Huston: a Hollywood veteran of forty years, making his first musical at age 75.
If "Easy Street" falls short of what one would expect for a rollicking number featuring the likes of Bernadette Peters (who looks absolutely gorgeous), Carol Burnett, and Tim Curry - and it does - it's because it was shot two months after the film was completed (and by the looks of it, in a hurry) after it was decided to scrap the full-scale, already in-the-can version which is rumored to resemble the "Consider Yourself" number from Oliver.
Theories abounded as to the soundness of such a decision (Mike Nichols, Herb Ross, and Grease's Randal Kleiser had all been attached to the project at various times), but insiders likened Stark's handing over a lavish musical to a veteran director best known for gritty dramas (Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, The Misfits) to a similar situation back in 1960 when uber-serious director Robert Wise (I Want to Live!, The Haunting) hit major league paydirt when he took on as his first musical projects, West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965).

Radio personality Bert Healy (Hollywood Squares host, Peter Marshall) is joined by the lovely Boylen Sisters in a rendition of "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile"
After months of the kind of strenuous prerelease hype that turns critics against a film before it even opens, Annie premiered here in Los Angeles at Mann’s Chinese Theater in May of 1982. I was in line opening night (fewer kids at evening shows), having by now fairly whipped myself into a veritable frenzy of enthusiastic anticipation. With that cast, director, choreographer, and score; I was certain Annie was going to be every bit “The Movie of Tomorrow” its ads promised.
A photo I took of the Burbank lot which Warner Bros. and Columbia Studios shared since the mid-70s.  Behind this wall is Annie's $1 million New York outdoor street set 
Maybe…
I love that I get excited by movies (seriously, I gave myself a nosebleed at the SF premiere of Thank God It’s Friday), but I had double reason to be worked up over Annie. First, as one of the biggest movie musicals to be released since my Xanadu epiphany (read here), Annie represented the first musical I’d be seeing since taking up dance as a profession. Second, I knew a couple of the dancers in the film who were hired for reshoots of the Radio City Musical Hall sequence and the since-jettisoned, grand-scale, “Easy Street” number; and both assured me that Annie was going to be a bigger hit than Grease
Annie's Orphan Pals
Captured in one of the rare moments one of them isn't staring directly into the lens
or glancing distractedly at something off camera 
Primed for Annie to be more of an event than a movie (it was one of the first films to charge a then-record $6 admission price), my first viewing was so ruled by my desire to like it, I can't attest to really having seen the actual film at all. As I recall, my first look at Annie was an exhausting evening of willful self-deception and near-constant internal cheerleading. I laughed too loud and hard at bits of business that barely warranted a grin, and I gasped in delight at predictable plot developments which must have seemed ancient back in the day of Baby Peggy. My only reactions that weren't artificial and inappropriately oversize were for the showy musical numbers, which were indeed pretty spiffy. Still, I’d literally worked up a sweat trying to stave off disappointment...all in an effort to convince myself that I was having a good time.
And the weird thing is, I really I did have a good time. I just didn't have a great time, which is what I expected of a $40 million film that took two years to make. Which leads me to ponder the double-edge sword of hype. When it comes to movie marketing, there’s sell and there’s oversell: the former being when you give the public information, the latter is when you give them ammunition.
Seeing the film a second time convinced me that Annie's problem wasn't that it failed to live up to expectations; it's that it failed to live up to its own potential. 
Make a Wish
A victim of its own success, Annie was torn between the simple charm of its storyline
and the Hollywood dictate that it be a larger-than-life musical extravaganza

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS MOVIE
As I’m fond of saying on this blog, a movie doesn't have to be perfect in order to be enjoyable or somebody's favorite. Annie's a glowing example of that principle in that it's a movie I never recommend to people, yet one I revisit often when I need my occasional overproduced movie musical fix. Straight dramas and comedies require cohesion in order to work. Not so with musicals. Musicals (happily) are by-design, broken into singing and non-singing interludes which, if need be, can be appreciated table d'hôte or à la carte. Annie is arguably at its best when experienced as separate scenes and isolated dance numbers. This way, the effectiveness of certain scenes (such as when the confounded Warbucks watches Grace put Annie tenderly to bed) aren't handicapped by clumsy adjoining sequences; and the musical numbers that click ("We Got Annie") get to stand alone and apart from those that fizzle ("Easy Street," to my shock and amazement).
I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here
When Annie gets something right, it does so spectacularly. Annie's first look at the Warbucks household ("Is this a train station? Are we going on a train?") is one of my favorite sequences. The member of the staff upon whose shoulder Annie is riding is dancer Don Correia (ex Mr. Sandy Duncan) one of several A Chorus Line alumni in the cast
PERFORMANCES
One of the more fascinating things about those old Our Gang comedies of the 30s is how natural all those kids were. No matter how often they were called upon to mimic grown-up behavior, the charm was in their essential, unaffected childishness shining through.
In Annie, the little girls cast as orphans are all experienced troupers culled from Annie productions all over the world, and it shows. While the film is desperately in need of an Annie with the kind of screen magnetism of a young Patty Duke, Hayley Mills, or Jodie Foster - something to set her apart from the other orphans and justify an audience's concern for her welfare - Aileen Quinn is a perfectly swell Annie (to use the vernacular). While not over-blessed with talent, she is has an earnest, winning quality, a pleasant voice, and best of all for an old grouch like me, fails to grate on my nerves.
This is in stark contrast to the rest of the orphans who are literally children working like Trojans to act like children…and they don’t succeed! Annie was my first exposure to this kind of Disney Channel, plastic child-actor aesthetic that seems to have become the norm these days: old-before-their-years showbiz kids who can only impersonate (badly) the behavior of real children.
"You step on my cues Molly, and you'll find your close-ups on the cutting-room floor."
Had Quinn been a star, no one would fault her had she pulled a Helen Lawson
in regard to her scene-stealingly cute co-star, Toni Ann Gisondi.
I’ve no real quarrel with the performances of Annie’s grown-up cast. Finney is amusingly broad and cartoonish as Warbucks, Reinking is at her most eloquent when she lets her lithe body do the acting, and, the always-fabulous Carol Burnett is left to do all the comedy heavy-lifting as the perpetually pickled Miss Hannigan - a role she’s ideally suited for. Perhaps too much so. Burnett is a lot of over-the-top fun and never less than fascinating and spot-on. But watching her I can’t help thinking, as I often do watching Maggie Smith on Downton Abbey, she could do this kind of role in her sleep.
Carol Burnett made her Broadway musical debut in Once Upon a Mattress in 1959. Annie marks her very first movie musical appearance
THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Annie’s musical numbers always put a smile on my face. Sometimes because they’re so good, sometimes because the lip-syncing is so poor or the execution is so unpolished, I have a hard time believing they made it into the completed film. Six songs from the Broadway show failed to make it into the film and I honestly can’t say I miss them. And of the four songs written expressly for the film, the only two I could have done without are “Dumb Dog/Sandy” (in which the lyricist commits the Sondheim-wouldn't-do-this crime of putting the word "residing" into the mouth of a little girl we'd previously heard say "piana" for piano); and the entire Rockettes section of “Let’s Go to the Movies.” 
We Got Annie
In one of my favorite numbers, Roger Minami, Ann Reinking, and the late great Geoffrey Holder
dance together all-too briefly, but its pure magic. 
"I guess I'll never know the feeling of running fingers through your hair..."
Burnett's delivery of this witty lyric from the duet, "Sign" got one of the film's biggest, most spontaneous laughs 
It's The Hard Knock Life
Can we please pause a second and appreciate Annie's amazing horizontal split jump?
I Don't Need Anything But You
Annie gets it right in the charming finale, which gives Quinn the closest thing to a Shirley Temple moment 

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Mimicking the fate of many beloved children's movies that were not exactly hits when first released (The Wizard of Oz and the aforementioned Willy Wonka being the most famous examples), Annie may have had to take her lumps back in 1982, but, true to her optimistic credo, she's weathered a great many more "Tomorrows" than her more critically-revered peers.
Meanwhile, my own feelings about Annie have remained roughly the same, with time adding (in equal measure) a degree of nostalgia and cheesy camp to my revisits to it, making for a win-win situation whatever mood I'm in. So, whether it's to laugh at the baffling amateurism of some scenes (what must the outtakes of the orphan's rendition of "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" look like if this one, with its poor lip-synching and self-conscious "fun" was chosen?); ponder the possibility that perhaps all those up-the skirt-shots and peeks at women's underwear are part of a visual motif; or merely marvel at how impossibly young everybody looks... Annie may no longer be the movie of Tomorrow, but it offers a pretty pleasant look at yesterday.
I wish the 2014 remake of Annie all the best. We have yet to have our quintessential big screen Annie.


BONUS MATERIAL
Want to watch a grown woman (Arlene Phillip) yelling at a bunch of overworked kids? Want to catch a glimpse of the deleted "Easy Street" number? Check out Lights! Camera! Annie! a 1982 PBS "making of" documentary on YouTube.

Tony Award-winner Andrea Martin portrays a grown-up Annie in this classic SCTV parody.

Life After Tomorrow, a fascinating 2006 documentary about the lives of former Annie orphans is available for viewing on Hulu.

IMDB notes in its Trivia section that the sound effects man during the Iodent radio broadcast is actor Ray Bolger in an unbilled cameo. As you can see from the photo above, the actor in question does indeed bear a resemblance to the Wizard of Oz star, but is NOT Ray Bolger. A call out to film buffs to identify this character actor.

Disco touched everything in the late 70s, and sunshiny anthems by mop-topped orphans were no exception. In 1977 disco diva Grace Jones performed what can best be described as a confrontational version of "Tomorrow" HERE.

Speaking of disco, did you know Aileen Quinn released a solo album? Me neither. Her album, Bobby's Girl, was released in 1982 to take full advantage of the Annie media blitz. Although disco was fairly dead by this time, that didn't stop Quinn from driving at least one child-sized nail into its coffin by performing an ill-advised cover of Leo Sayers' 1976 boogie anthem, "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing."   "Arf!" goes Sandy.

"I love you, Daddy Warbucks"
Copyright © Ken Anderson

27 comments:

  1. My first exposure to Annie (hey, at least I never exposed MYSELF to Annie! LOL) came late. I think around 1996 or so, because I'd just seen a local stage production. Naturally, it was in hideous, blurred, pan 'n scan VHS. I think I ought to revisit it in widescreen high-def.

    Anyone who knows me knows I was goggle-eyed at Ann Reinking's wafting yellow chiffon dress in the dance number you mention, but my favorite thing was "I Think I'm Gonna Like it Here." I think any person who was raised from poor-to-lower-middle-class probably has some sort of fantasy about being taken away from it all into the lap of luxury and that number is infectious on that count.

    I have a similar loathing of "cute" kids as you and, like you, Quinn doesn't bother me at all. She's really rather remarkable and it was rude of them to nominate her for a Razzie. Trust me, there were far worse people on film out there that year, I'm positive!

    Strangely, one thing I recall about the stage version was the "Tomorrow" reprise being done in FDR's office and the lady playing Perkins singing a really high note during the harmony that I loved. Of course, that didn't happen in the movie and I recall at the time thinking that Huston was more than curmudgeonly about that particular song.

    Lastly, I thought that, in general, the TV remake of this was very good (and I tend to DESPISE them - "The Music Man," in particular.) Kathy Bates can rarely do any wrong and that little girl wasn't bad as "Annie," either. It seemed pretty polished (and faithful to the source) for a TV-movie.

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    1. Ha! You didn't have to expose yourself to Annie, there's plenty of footage in this film of Annie exposing herself to you (it was surprisingly hard to find screencaps of the musical numbers where someone wasn't flashing their 1930's panties at the screen).
      And yes, like you I'm a sucker for long-legged dancers who wear chiffon that appears to come with it's own choreography. I think a more dance-educated directed than Huston might have realized what he had in her (and Bernadette Peters) and used them better. They are the only "glamour" the film has, and they give the film a boost of old-fashioned MGM musical elan each time they appear.
      The TV movie version didn't really stick with me, although I have strong memories of the wonderful Kathy Bates and the beauty of Audra McDonald.
      I think a person's response to any adaptation depends a great deal on how much affection they harbor for their first exposure to it. I saw this Annie before I saw a stage show, so when I saw a theatrical production, some of the film's flaws didn't seem so bad (That's my experience of "Gypsy"...the movie looks better with each stage incarnation I see.
      Lastly, you're right about what grumps the Razzies were to award Aileen Quinn...she had hefty competition from Dyan Cannon screaming and little else in "Deathtrap."
      Thanks, Poseidon!

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    2. I grew up with this film--however, as happened occasionally, it was a taped off tv version that was edited (I know Dumb Dog as well as Easy Street were cut,) so it was quite a revelation when I finally saw the full thing (and in widescreen.) I admit to having a lot of affection for it, even if lots of it also makes me cringe. I like some of the ways they went back (kinda...) to the comics--the over the top action/adventure finale, Punjab being in it, etc. I admit I always loved Welcome to the Movies--but that seems to be an unpopular opinion (though as a kid it pissed me off that she fell asleep before even seeing the end of Camille, the movie she was so excited to see... And that seems like an odd movie to take your orphan ward to.)

      I was really sick for a few weeks when I was five or so, and I can remember watching this back to back with Oliver! (a better movie I think now,) over, and over...

      The Rob Marshall TV movie is pretty good--it suffers most from being 90 minutes. I will say NYC is a better song than Welcome to the Movies (I also miss the kinda cynical We'd Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover out of the cut stage songs but it wasn't in the TV movie version either...)

      I mainly know Arlene Phillips from Starlight Express--I never realized she choreographed this... Odd. (Especially since the original musical staging of Easy Street as performed by Loudon and all on the Tony Awards is so spectacular https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZU2ZaaDQOag )

      Great review--although I'd minus some points due to your comment about how superior you find the Roz Russell film of Gypsy (ugh) ;)

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    3. Hi Eric
      I'm with you on the choice of "Camille"...very odd. And given that Annie takes place in 1933 and Camille had not even been made then, I wonder why they even went that route. Maybe it was a favorite of Ray Stark or something.

      Thanks for the link to the Tony Awards. That "Easy Street" is everything the film version int...and with next to zero production values, to boot!
      It's nice to hear that this film has a sentimental appeal for you. I would have adored this film at age 5!
      Thanks so much for another terrific contribution. I'll see if I can catch up with your other posts.

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  2. Hi Ken! Another wonderful write-up!
    You mentioned SEVERAL comments that mirror my attitude towards ANNIE '82 - as you said, WANTING to love it...willing myself to react more strongly to the various scenes and numbers - and yet.....

    When it came out in 1982, I saw it several times. As I posted on FB earlier, I was thrilled to have an old-fashioned movie musical based on a Broadway show on theater screens again. However, I started seeing flaws (some of which you mentioned) - "Easy Street" was a disappointment (onstage, it stops the show), and the newsongs were "eh". I did enjoy the movie song and the "Sign" number though. But sorely missed (to me) were "NYC", and "Hoover". The choreography seemed "weird" - and now I know, from your article, that Arlene Philips was more of a rock-video / suggestive nature choreographer. The tone of the direction seemed a bit "un-movie-musical", and they altered the plot in places (The helicopter/bridge rescue?)

    Yet, the CAST WAS EXCELLENT. I loved watching them all, and the songs were performed well. I do own it on blu-ray, and the stage show is one of my favorites (so that kind of carries the film version across the finish line for me into my list of favorites), but I so wish - SO WISH - it were better. As you said - not a bad film, just didn't meet its potential.

    Thanks again for the enjoyment your blog provides!!

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    1. Hi Mike
      Like me, it sounds like you were willing to give "Annie" the benefit of the doubt, but in spite of your enthusiasm, you found yourself hit with one small letdown after another.
      I don't tend to mind when a movie adaptation deviates from the source material (like the whole helicopter ending felt to me like one of those Orphan Annie cliffhanger comic strips you might find serialized in packets of Ovaltine), but if the choices seem more market-directed than story directed (Arlene Phillips was hot at the time, the only reason I can imagine they chose her over, say, a Broadway style choreographer like Tommy Tune) things can fall apart.
      Although I was no fan of the song "NYC" I can well imagine what fans of the show might have imagined a $40 million dollar movie could do with that number and the freedom to shoot in the actual city.
      And I love the cast too. (I'm sure you've read online, but people as diverse as Cary grant, Sean Connery, and Jack Nicholson were considered for Oliver; Bette Midler was a first choice for Miss Hannigan).
      The cast assembled here carries such good will and are so talented, too bad they were so poorly served. I even think Carol Burnett could have been more effective. My hunch is she was given free rein to do what she wanted.
      Still, I have the DVD, I watch it, mourn for lost opportunities, but happy that it has some elements in it I enjoy. Thanks for commenting, Mike!

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    2. I agree! I enjoy what there is to enjoy :) ... I *did not know* about the potential Connery/Grant/Nicholson ideas! but MAN...Bette as Hannigan! I love Burnett in the role, but imagine Better in that part? wow!!!!

      I'd love you to do an article on GYPSY, since you mentioned it. I never saw a problem with that film at all - in casting, direction, or any other way. Yet it gets knocked around a lot.

      Thank again Ken!!! :)

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    3. Yes, I think Midler would have made a wonderful Miss Hannigan! I wasn't thrilled by her "Gypsy", but I'm a HUGE fan of the Rosalind Russell film and plan on writing about it sometime.
      When you said that this was an old-fashioned movie, that reminded me of another reason i was so hyped by it - after so many terrible disco musicals (The Apple) rollerskating musicals (you know what) it was great that someone was going to return to the kind of musical I grew up watching.

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  3. Well written yet again, thank you Ken.

    I have to say that I hated this movie until I saw the smile of my then very young niece, 'that mean old Miss Hannigan.' This movie is now a classic for me. The number of Saturdays where Michelle would ask the simple question, "Auntie Cathy, do you want to watch Annie?" who could refuse the little face holding the laser disc cartridge. Now I can recite important parts as well as know the songs.

    Movies through the eyes of a child - so it is a classic, how do you stop from loving a movie that by any other measure is straight cheese?

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    1. Hi Cathy
      I'm so glad you brought up the issue of how children respond to this film, especially little girls. In researching this post, I see that this "Annie" is magic to some kids. They don't know who Carol Burnett its, know nothing of the budget, all they see is a big-scale adventure with no CGI, and a little girl at the center. They just love it. The adult women who grew up on listening to the album, the kids they now share it with...this film is critic proof for them.
      The attitude of children toward this film differs so strongly from adults, it should be sold with a 3-foot "You have be no more than THIS tall to enjoy this movie" tape measure.
      I remember once watching "My Fair Lady" (a movie I'm not overly enamored of) with my nephew when he was really small. I was certain he was going to get bored, but he was SO enchanted by it all, I started watching it though his eyes.For days after he kept marching around the house singing "With a Little Bit of Luck", only to his ears it was, "We're the Little Bits, a Lot" ...which I thought was far wittier than the actual lyrics.
      Thanks for providing the kid's perspective, Cathy!

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    2. When I saw this I had to comment. I love the idea of a 'no higher than' stand with the movie; classic! Another great show (PBS) that hooked Michelle and later, the skeptical Stephanie was Anne of Green Gables; such a special series (the original, not the hacks).

      The number of movies I own because of the emotional connection while watching them with family is amazing, thankfully most are good. But yes, I own Annie and it takes me back to the laser disc mornings :)

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  4. Hi Ken,

    Enjoyed reading your take on this as I always do on any film. I'm not a fan of the movie, I've never been a fan of the source stage show either, so my expectations were not high when I watched.

    For the most part I found it a glue footed mess even with the talented cast, most of whom I think are wonderfully gifted. I've never understood Ann Reinking's appeal, she seems talented but I find her flat. Perhaps onstage where I've never seen her she connects in a different way.

    When I watched I did notice the out of synch dubbing and thought who directed this? I was shocked it was Huston. He's usually so meticulous but he wasn't suited for the material so perhaps he lost interest and didn't keep as close an eye as was his standard.

    As for the new version of Annie from what I've read it looks just as irksome, if not more, as the original. Thank goodness it won't star Will Smith's kid who had the good sense to tell her father she wanted to be just a kid and not pushed into the spotlight as he did with his son. The girl playing Annie Quvenzhané Wallis appears to be a talented actress although I don't know about singing or dancing however I loath Jamie Foxx so that's a big drawback.

    Something totally unrelated to the movie but your mention of Baby Peggy caught my eye. I just, yesterday as a matter of fact, saw an interesting documentary on her called Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room. They ran it on TCM in conjunction with a showing of one of her films. I was familiar with the adult Baby Peggy, or Diana Serra Cary as she is now known, from her appearance in various documentaries on old Hollywood or child stars but knew nothing about her actual career. The documentary, made with her involvement, was fascinating although the exploitation of her as a child is sad and distressing. Well worth seeking out if you haven't seen it.

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    1. Hi Joel
      I love the term "Glue-footed"!
      I did see that somewhat depressing Baby Peggy documentary on TCM, something i sought out after seeing my first Baby Peggy films a while back on the same station. Had never heard of her before.
      I was going to write something in this blog about how one should never see a Baby Peggy, Shirley Temple, or Our Gang film before watching "Annie" because you'll find yourself bewildered by the de-evolution of child talent.
      Ann Reinking I think is poetry in motion, but I agree she doesn't come off the best as an actress. I suffered through the dreadful "Micki & Maud" film she did with Dudley Moore (what was up with the 70s?. Dudley Moore, Paul Williams, Richard Dreyfuss - the era of the anti-leading man) and she proves that dancers should dance and leave the acting to actors.
      As for the forthcoming "Annie," I'm mostly grateful it doesn't have Will Smiths daughter (Your comments lead me to believe she's abandoned her "singing"? Please, please let this be true).
      I have to say, after initial resistance to the idea, it's growing on me. I think what swayed me has been reading about how excited so many African American little girls are at the prospect of seeing someone who looks like them at the center of a big Hollywood musical (instead of on the periphery or as the sassy best friend).
      Anyway, if little children's affection for this "Annie" is any indication, the actual quality of the film itself won't play too strong a factor.
      Glad you enjoyed reading about a film that's not your favorite, I certainly enjoyed reading your comments!

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  5. This is a movie that I think is such a mess, but every time it's on TV (which is often) I can't help but watching. You hit the nail on the head about some parts being so bafflingly bad for the budget/talent/hype the movie had, but other parts actually being quite wonderful.

    I came to know Annie through the '99 TV version, which I think is about the best take on the material. It trims some of the cheeseball and fluff from the stage show but keeps the aspects that work and makes it seem pretty relatable as opposed to this version which trims a ton but often replaces it with more fluff and outlandish plot points (helicopter rescue anyone??). I do think the stage show is pretty solid for what it is though.

    The best scene is probably the wonderfully clever addition "Sign." It's such a no-brainer for a song, full of lyrics and jokes better than a lot of material from the stage show, and as you said Carol Burnett is a brilliant Miss Hannigan. The rest of the additions I could do without. Even though "We've Got Annie" is a great number to watch, I think it's pretty pointless and "Let's Go To The Movies" is a pale knockoff of "NYC." I won't even mention the daft Sandy number.

    I also love the ingenious radio scene. The way Annie looks down while Bert Healy is "tap-dancing" is priceless and the bored and disgusted attitude of the Boylan sisters between their lines is a great gag. They took a pretty boring song that was just setting up the Annie parent search plot point and the orphan showcase in the next scene and made it into a clever moment.

    It's definitely the epitome of the over-bloated Hollywood musical, in that wonderfully bad way. The joyous way the orphans sing of their "Hard-Knock Life" is the perfect case in point.

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    1. Hi Tom
      Your comment "This version... trims a ton (of cheeseball and fluff) but often replaces it with more fluff and outlandish plot points" is very close to the core of what feels so off about this Annie. The decision to make so much room for "Let's Go to the Movies"...a sequence which outside of the bookend bonding opportunity it affords Warbucks/Grace/Annie just grinds the film to a halt and pads out an already long running time. Likewise, those two odes to the pooch -Dumb Dog/Sandy seem like needless filler.
      I like the number "Sign" as well, but so much is a mixed bad. The movie brings you up, then knocks you back down.
      Very cool of you to note the IODENT radio sequence which I think is one of the best-staged bits of comedy in the film. It amuses me how Warbucks gets carried away with his own bombast and inadvertently does a commercial, and as you cited, Annie's reactions (to the tapping as well as her excitement in hearing about the reward offered) are very close those radio scenes Shirley Temple has in "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm."
      And while I know the intention was to show that the orphans find ways of entertaining themselves given their sad lot in life, the cheeriness of the singing in "Hard Knock Life" is REALLY at odds with the words.
      That you are able to enjoy the good in "Annie" in spite of the bad or merely ill-advised, is one of those things filmmakers have never been able to explain. Why are some flawed films still so watchable?
      Wonderful comments, Tom. Thanks!

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  6. I love this article! And I am a big fan of the film, too. I was 10 when it came out and it was my introduction to the character. I didn't fall in love with the show until several years later when I played Daddy Warbucks in my high school's production. I went back and watched Finney's performance a good many times, and have appreciated this movie ever since. I love Burnett's Hannigan -- the definitive take on the character, in my opinion, even with that "whiplash" redemption you mention. To me, that's one thing that gives the film more depth than the stage version; and certainly the whole action-oriented closing sequence makes it feel much truer to Harold Gray's original strip than the stage show does. Even loving both versions, not much of anything happens in the falling "action." Anyway, I really like your comments here and now feel all ready to go pop in the Blu-ray and watch this one again!

    I am looking forward to the 2014 version, as well -- too much autotune in the soundtrack, to my ears; but I like the fresh take on the material and think it looks like it'll be a lot of fun.

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    1. Hi Mike
      Well, I have to say I love your comments! You have such an even-handed perspective on a show you have affection for, grew up with, yet don't regard as an untouchable sacred cow. In internet land, that's pretty rare!
      Had i seen "Annie" as a child, I'm sure it would have been one of my lifetime favorites. Also, I love that you played Daddy Warbucks in high school! Was Annie actually a little girl or did they cast a freshman and you were a senior? I have an image of an Annie and Daddy Warbucks who are exactly the same height and age.
      Finney I think is the best Warbucks I've seen so far.
      The whiplash aspect of Miss Hannigan is (I think) more a fault of the screenplay, because, unlike in the play where Hannigan lords over at best, 7 orphans, in the expanded fil it seems positively inhumane for one woman to be saddled with what appear to be dozens of orphans who terrorize her as much as she brutalizes them.
      What I mean is that you feel sorry for her circumstances, and she doesn't come off as evil (except for never telling Annie she knows her parents are dead), so you don't want to see her come to a bad end. And it's Carol Burnett...the filmmakers must have known no one would want to see anything bad happen to a comedy institution.
      Finally, as per the new Annie soundtrack, I listened to it driving to work, and as i am not a fan of much contemporary music nowadays, i didn't know if the "autotune" thing is common (doesn't Katy Perry wear it out?), but that was the hardest thing to get used to. I actually love what they do to the material. Change the songs entirely in some cases. So much so that I can't help but get excited about seeing it.
      Thanks very much for sharing your memories and comments on this film!

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  7. Wow, what a great review of this film. Your enthusiasm for "Annie" is making me want to see it again. I remember seeing the musical as a child in London and then playing the cast album over and over again until my parents knew every lyric. I was thrilled to find out that the musical was going to be filmed. I saw the movie version and then stopped playing the record. I haven't played the LP or seen the film since. I thought that the film was too sprawling and sentimental.

    I now think that by 1982 I was growing too old for such shameless glee and by that time I was starting to want more adult and contemporary glamour. I've read over the years that the film was a flop and I am surprised to find that this movie version has a large fan base. I'm starting to wonder if I missed the good aspects of the film.

    I loved the song "Easy Street" from the musical. I'm fascinated to read that there was a big scale production of that number. I wonder why they filmed it again. Have you seen the full version they left out of the movie? I love Bernadette Peters and Tim Curry (from Rocky Horror) so I am very tempted to see this film again. Thanks again Ken!
    -Wille

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    1. Hi Wille
      I actually laughed aloud at the line: "I saw the movie version and then stopped playing the record." Now THAT'S disappointment!
      i think the movie left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths when it came out, seeing that it was kind of the soundtrack to a lot of little kid's formative years.
      I don't know what adults think of it coming to it for the first time, but like the movie version of The Wiz, Annie has become a movie a lot of kids grew up on, and it has a huge fan base that feels a great deal of affection for it.
      It's like when i was a kid and saw "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". No one, but no one I knew could stand the film, adults and kids alike...now it's regarded as a children's classic too.
      Do you know that John Huston quote from "Chinatown"? -; "Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough."
      Well, I think he could add family musicals to that list.
      I never got to see any of that originally filmed "Easy Street" number, save for a brief glimpse in that "making of Annie" documentary of YouTube. Rumor has it that it was both too long (!) and that the tone of it was "sour". Not sure what that means, but Columbia would make many a fan's day if they would release a Blu-Ray with that extra scene reinserted (along with a lot of extra footage from the "Let's go to the Movies" number, glimpses of which are also in that documentary).
      I wonder what you would think of the film seeing it now after so many years? risky business, that! Thanks, Wille!

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  8. Hi Ken--great post and conversation here...I totally agree with Mike W's comment that Annie is so much more effective onstage than in any screen adaptation...it's a great score and onstage is so exuberant, yet the film is so canned and unexciting, even with the amazing Ms. Burnett and Ms. peters in the cast. It is the same trouble with 90 percent of all screen adaptations of great musicals...the directors are unable to capture the essence of what was originally designed as a live performance, they basically end up with a filmed stage play.

    I can only think of two or three musical adaptations that are BETTER than the stage productions, and they succeed because the directors/producers had a cinematic vision and used the original material as a jumping- off point to create a fresh new movie experience---my short list would include The Sound of Music, Grease and Cabaret...

    As always, I love the discussions and thought provoking essays that fire up a cinephile's passions!! Hats off to you, Professor!!

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    1. Hi Chris
      I must have got hold of a bad batch of orphans. My stage experience of "Annie" was soooo eclipsed by the movie (although, admittedly, I saw the show several years after the film).
      It still is kind of puzzling how a film can so water down so many assembled talents.
      You bring up an interesting a point about the few films that manage to improve upon or be better than their stage productions. I totally agree with you on Sound of Music and Cabaret. I have to see if I can think of others. I know I prefer the film Bye Bye Birdie to the play. Sounds like an interesting article idea.
      Glad you enjoyed the essay, Chris, and I too love the thought provoking contributions of people like you and the others who have taken the time to comment. Fascinating stuff! Thanks, Chris!

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  9. Loved the article Ken. I never grew up watching any version, so I came to it with the mediocre reviews given by just about everyone, but I found myself enjoying it more than I thought I would, especially considering my knowledge of musicals is pretty much nonexistent. I'm hardly of the age to have seen the stage version or the movie when it came out, but is it wrong of me to honestly see the movie as informed nostalgia for 1982 rather than 1933? Maybe that's why I can enjoy the rock-style choreography more than those wanting to see more stage-driven stuff.
    The movie is a mixed bag when you get down to it, especially since the stuff going on behind the scenes could really make for a movie itself. I think it went through more cinematographers than the Runaways went through bassists. Basically the whole beginning was reshot as well in addition to the "Easy Street" number. (Some of the old footage with different angles is in the trailer on Blu-ray.) You can tell because Carol Burnett had jaw surgery (to fix her chin) between principal photography and the reshoots. When directing the new "Easy Street" number, John Huston told her to come out of the utility closet "looking determined" :)
    In one of her books Burnett discussed the old "Easy Street" and how expensive it got (at least a mil to shoot I believe), with real fish wrapped in newspaper as part of the details as well as an organ grinder with a live monkey (which unfortunately bit her). A couple of photos of that sequence are on the internet if you look hard enough (one even snapped by William Eggleston).
    Probably my favorite thing about the movie is the whole cast. No question I'm in love with Burnett's Miss Hannigan, but it also introduced me to Ann Reinking, whom I do think should have done some more movies (musical or otherwise), since I'm way too young to have been there when she was on Broadway. Maybe my only complaint in terms of the cast is that Burnett isn't on screen long enough, but again that's just me :)
    Of course, if one is a purist of the stage version, they will certainly not like the way the songs (in number and length) were handled. I know someone on here said "We Got Annie" was fun to watch, but ultimately pointless in terms of the plot, though personally I liked it. And it was Burnett who wanted to sing a song with Albert Finney, and thus "Sign" was born :)
    Ihe main problem I have with the music is the two-song focus on the dog, since we never really see it do anything afterwards. It really does irk me.
    Seriously, there were so many changes from the stage version that it provided ample material for a skit I wrote in school. (Basically the musical is a thread of its former self and the studio head keeps objecting until the Burnett expy is mentioned, then all is well. That would explain why Miss Hannigan went good in the end, even though the screenwriter denied it :P)
    The movie was definitely trying to be a movie musical big in scope in an era when the musical genre was really choking out, and when it works, it's fantastic, when it doesn't, well, there's always the great sets to look at.
    I too am interested to see your thoughts on "Cabaret", considering the huge amounts of changes made for the movie, but in contrast to "Annie" was a critical and commercial success. Again, great job Ken!

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    1. Hello The Chick (that seems odd to write!)
      What an amazingly informed and enjoyable comment! I love your youthful perspective, especially the film being "informed nostalgia for 1982,) which is rather ingenious and terribly on-point.
      I loved the BTS Carol Burnett stuff about the shooting of "Easy Street" which I'd never heard of (the biting monkey!).
      Your comments offer great insight into what I've enjoyed observing in all these comments: that the filmgoing experience is never neutral or objective. We all go in with our lack of expectations or our hopes for a strict adherence to the source material, and these all influence our experience.
      I'm truly of a mind to believe that a film is a wholly different medium from the stage and that a film transfer of a beloved musical can deviate a great deal from the original if the director has a vision that is perhaps true to the source in an entirely cinematic way.
      That's why, on the topic of "Cabaret" I really like that Fosse and company created a stand-alone film interpretation of the stage show that was true to its themes while deviating from the source material.
      I think your enjoyment of "Annie" is distinguished significantly in that you accept it for what it is (both the good and bad) and not for what it was hyped to be, or what the stage production was.
      In that way your youth is a definite asset in appreciating this film with fresher eyes than someone who lived through it from stage to screen.
      Lastly, I think your school skit borders on documentary. Everything I've ever read (a pre-production issue of People magazine claims Burnett put the kill on Jack Nicholson for Warbucks because she read a piece on him in which he extolled the virtues of drugs).
      You sound like a fan of Burnett, so I'm sure you know, perhaps better than I, what a feather in Columbia's cap her casting was, and that she had quite a bit of pull.
      Thank you so much for your compliments and for taking the time to share your thoughts of this movie with all of us in such eloquent voice!

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    2. Oh, and I SO agree with you about the "Dumb Dog/Sandy" thing. You nail it in saying that there is no real payoff in Sandy getting two songs when (albeit cute and something of a watchdog) he figures so minimally in the proceedings.

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    3. Thanks! Burnett putting the kill on Nicholson doesn't surprise me in the slightest. Her eldest daughter Carrie had relapsed and during filming was doing drugs again. By the time the movie came out, though, she had gotten clean for good (and even accompanied her mom to the movie's cast luncheon) :)
      I do appreciate Dorothy Loudon's contributions to the character, since it formed the basis for Burnett and others. The same thing would happen ten years later for "Noises Off". (Though Loudon did replace her on "The Garry Moore Show", so there you go.) Thanks again!

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    4. i remember all that stuff that was going on with her daughter at the time (a client of mine went to school with her), having it make total sense that she wouldn't look lightly upon Nicholson's drug permissiveness.
      And I never made that Loudon/Burnett connection before! No one else I know seems to like ti, but I got a big kick out of the movie "Noises Off."

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  10. I found it okay overall, though I did find it hilarious that Christopher Reeve and Michael Caine were once again in a movie about a play XD

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