Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday afterword

I didn't include a caption to the Jimmy Durante/Mrs. Miller clip because I wanted it to stand on its own before I started pontificating. I loved the clip but felt guilty about it: was I just another of the clever Harries in the audience hooting with derision at the singing of Mrs. Miller? Yes, of course I was. That made me feel uncomfortable: I can't stand hypocrisy but I can usually make an exception in my own case.

So I went away for a while and came back for another luck. And this time I watched the clip, rather than just listened. And I was wrong: the laugh was on me and the rest of the audience. This is two old troupers having a ball.

Mrs. Miller's having a whale of a time, and why not? She's in the spotlight, doing what she loved to do: singing in her own special way. I can't believe that she did know just how bad a singer she was, she sings with such innocent gusto. Jimmy Durante, for all the usual mugging and pointed patter, is treating her with all the old world courtesies. For all intents and purposes this could be Peggy Lee he's dealing with. And she's enjoying to bits; the fit of giggles at the end tells it all.

And as for Mr. Durante, well it looks like he's hardly having to work here. But he's ruthlessly working the audience throughout the clip without breaking into a sweat. The muscle memory of his comedy experience is doing the business. The stumbles of the tongue when teasing patter is starting to take an edge that could spoil the mood. The knowing glances to the audience whenever it's going off the boil. I have a great admiration for people who know their craft.

And it is a hoot!


Gadjo Dilo said...

On a similar subject, I've heard that Margaret Dumont rarely understood the humour when she was acting with Groucho Marx, but it's hard to believe when you see the two of them working off each other.

scarlet-blue said...

Yes I read that Mrs Miller believed she could sing. She was upset when she was told that people thought she was a comedian, but then she played along with it. She does look like she's having fun though..

Kevin Musgrove said...

Gadjo: I'd heard that, too. That could be part of the magic: I've seen her in a few films and she works best as a foil to Groucho Marx and W.C.Fields. Both seemed to be relying on her ability to be stolidly imperious in the face of their verbal pyrotechnica.

Scarlet: this is true.