Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ann-Margret is Super Video

My tribute to Hollywood's enduring (congrats on that recent Emmy), mega-talented hyphenate is up over here at YouTube. I was able to keep the music, so the visual imagery plays out as intended.

Bye, Bye Birdie was the only videocassette I owned that eventually wore out, primarily from my watching the opening and closing of the movie non-stop, which features the overwhelming Ann-Margret commanding that blue-backgrounded screen using an awesome combination of talent, beauty, vigor and eroticism rarely seen on-screen. No sweet, unassuming starlet, Ann-Margret was an attention-getting original, rumbling her way through musicals, dramas and comedies with a mischievous leer and an unsurpassed vitality. In 1966 Pauline Kael, in a review of Stagecoach, wrote "Ann-Margret comes through dirty no matter what she plays. . . (she) gleams with built-in innuendo. She's like Natalie Wood with sex, a lewd mechanical doll." So what? John Forsythe may perform with more professional restraint, but who the hell's watching him when Ann-Margret's flouncing around and teasing him with assertive, charismatic abandon in the trash classic Kitten With a Whip? And who wants to see a demure Ann-Margret opposite Steve McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid? Her vampy Melba, getting hot and bothered at a cock fight or just about anyplace else, is a lot more fun and entertaining. And Ann-Margret definitely was an entertainer from the get-go. A couple of years ago, I was able to finally gain access to her star-making appearance on the 1962 Academy Awards (big thanks to May at the Academy Archives for making this happen) and all the elements of a first-class performer are already there as Ann-Margret alluringly charges her way through "Bachelor in Paradise" with an alarming degree of confidence and skill, rousing even the stodgiest Academy member to applaud the gifted newcomer's eye-catching efforts.

Concurrent to the Oscars, she made a similar impact on-screen performing a truly sizzling "Isn't it Kind of Fun" in the otherwise polite, old-fashioned State Fair update. Major stardom came with 1963's Birdie and was solidified the following year via her iconic teaming with Elvis; Viva Las Vegas should be another standard travelogue-type vehicle for the King, but sparks keep flying between the enamored costars, and the heat is on. After a couple good years, the Sex-Kitten formula began to grow tiresome, and TV and Vegas appearances, along with trips to the boys in 'Nam, sustained Ann-Margret until Mike Nichols offered her a chance for big-screen redemption and her first serious recognition as an actress of merit via her fragile, emotionally beat-up yet eerily sensual Bobbie in Carnal Knowledge.

Ann-Margret has nicely counterbalanced dignified roles (Who Will Love My Children? was a high point) with her formerly-established saucy, high-wattage persona during the last several decades, and sometimes combines the two elements- her alternately flamboyant and defeated Nora Walker in Tommy successfully showcases both her dramatic and musical talents. However, for me the image of Ann-Margret twisting and undulating through the final moments of Birdie with a passion for performing that rivals Streisand's still offers the best example of her unique, valuable gifts as a performer. Not to lessen her achievements, but I could see other performers pulling off some of her later career roles with a comparable impact. However, in the early stages of her career, Ann-Margret's feats on-screen, especially in musicals, are more singular. Sure, she's great in Knowledge, but the many glowing reviews from clearly surprised critics suggested she'd previously shown little if any ability as a performer. Does Ann-Margret's incredibly vivid work in the early-mid 1960's really pale in comparison to her fine, mature performances in straight dramatic roles? Or does this lack of respect stem from the traditional bias that dramatic work outclasses musical and comedy performances? When it comes to pinpointing an example that best illustrates Ann-Margret's impressive talent, I'm posting my tent in the Birdie camp, with its image of a bold Ann-Margret miming a kiss smack into the camera maintaining a place high on my list of perfect movie moments.

I've been out and about during the last few months taking in several special events in the LA area, and filming what I could for posterity using a Flip camera. Here are links to these interviews:

All good wishes go to Kim Novak as she faces a serious heath issue. Last July, Ms. Novak made a compelling, rare public appearance at the Egyptian Theater in conjunction with the release of Sony's "Kim Novak Collection" DVD set. Check out the interview here.

Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner also appeared at the Egyptian in July. I was able to get one of the last available seats in the balcony's front row. The image is pretty much washed out due to strong lighting and distance issues, but the audio is good. Click here for the link.

I've also been to Santa Monica a lot, to catch special events at the wonderful Aero Theater. First up was a Don Murray appearance last July, between showings of The Hoodlum Priest and Bus Stop, featuring a brief appearance in the audience by Murray's onetime costar, Eva Marie Saint.

In September, after a sold-out showing of North By Northwest, Ms. Saint made it to the stage at the Aero for a great interview of her own.

The talented, incredibly likable Paula Prentiss also made it to the Aero in August for an interview. Unfortunately, my Flip camera went dead midway through the Q&A, but I did capture about fifteen minutes of an entertaining interview.

Prentiss' husband Richard Benjamin was on deck a couple nights later at the Aero to discuss his noteworthy career.

Finally, the personable Barbara Rush vividly discussed her life on and off the screen during an appearance at the Aero.


At 6:28 AM, Blogger Herf said...

Great write up!

And that first photo at the top, what is that from? It's an amazing expression on her face. :)

At 10:00 PM, Blogger Vertigo's Psycho said...

Hello Herf,

Thanks for commenting. I believe the first picture is a candid, rather than a shot or still from a movie. The middle picture is from "The Cincinnati Kid," and the final shot comes from her awesome rendition of "Bye, Bye Birdie" at the close of the film.

At 9:38 AM, Blogger Waldo said...

A great look back at some brilliant classics. Thanks for the reminder. Makes me want to re-watch some of the ones you've mentioned in this blog =)~


At 10:38 PM, Blogger Kathi L. said...

Love your blog. I have to ask about the 1962 Academy Award appearance of Ann Margret singing "Bachelor in Paradise" I've looked for it and so have a lot of other people (from what I've read) and now that I've read you were able to view AM on the Oscar show, I wondered IF you knew how to find and view the video online? You know how you read some things about favorite stars and it is late at night and you just have to Find That Video Performance? It's driving me crazy because I feel as though I saw at least a part of the performance or at least Bob Hope's (sort of borderline rude, IMO) reaction to it right after she finished. He said something like "I thought it was a dancing pony" Gosh. I'm a 64 year old woman and feminist but I just adored Ann Margaret. I always thought to look like her would be just heaven. So thank you ahead of time if you ever can help fans like me to see that star making Oscar singing performance. Peace. Kathi L.

At 11:14 PM, Blogger Vertigo's Psycho said...

Kathi, I had to go to the Academy Archives years ago and request to see the 1962 Oscar broadcast there- I was placed in a room with a DVD of the show and given time to watch the broadcast at the Archives. I've hoped over the years Ann-Margret's fantastic performance of "Bachelor" would be posted, especially after the Academy started a channel on YouTube and posted abundant clips from Oscar shows, but this iconic moment in Oscar history and Ann-Margret's career remains largely unseen- too bad.


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