Archive for the 'CHICAGO MOVIES' Category

“Gaily, Gaily”

The Front Page, the 1928 play about Chicago newspaper reporters, has been made into a movie several times. The most celebrated version is His Girl Friday (1940).  The original play was written by two Chicago reporters, Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht.

During the early 1960s, Hecht wrote a series of fictionalized memoirs about his days as a young Chicago reporter titled Gaily, Gaily.  Those stories are the basis for a 1969 feature film of the same name.  Though not as famous or as well-done as the various “Front Page” adaptations, the cinema Gaily, Gaily is worth a look.

The film is directed by Norman Jewison. In 1969 he had just finished The Thomas Crown Affair, a caper story, before taking on the Hecht project.   Before that, Jewison had scored consecutive Oscar nominations for two decidedly different types of movies.  The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! was a 1966 comedy. In the Heat of the Night was a 1967 murder mystery with an underlying racial theme.  To say that Jewison was a versatile director is an understatement.

Starring in the movie is Beau Bridges. He’d been acting since he was a child, often working with his father Lloyd.   Now in his mid-twenties, the younger Bridges was taking on a lead role for the first time.

Gaily, Gaily opens with a Hecht quotation—“If you did not believe in God, in the importance of marriage, in the United States government, in the sanity of politicians, in the wisdom of your elders, then you had to believe. . . in art.”  That statement tries to set the tone for the movie, telling us that what we’ll be seeing is irreverent and witty and profound. Actually, much of the film is played for slapstick.

The year is 1910. It’s the Fourth of July, in small-town Illinois. Here we meet Hecht’s alter-ego, 19-year-old Ben Harvey (Bridges). He has come down with a mysterious malady that the local doctor can’t identify. Ben’s grandmother offers the simple, earthy answer—“His juices are all damned up!”

So Ben set off for Chicago. The proverbial rube from the sticks, he’s soon relieved of his money. Ben is on the point of starving when rescue comes in the person of Queen Lil (Melina Mercouri). She gives Ben food and shelter in what he believes is her rooming house.  He doesn’t realize Lil’s place is the biggest brothel in Chicago.

Francis Xavier Sullivan (Brian Keith) works at the Chicago Journal, and is a friend of Queen Lil. Sullivan gets her innocent protégé hired as a reporter. Ben has various adventures in yellow journalism, and has his eyes opened. Typical is the wisdom dispensed by one of the editors. “What does a sex maniac do?” he asks Ben, before supplying the answer—“A good sex maniac sells newspapers!”

The movie moves on. Ben begins a tentative romance with one of Lil’s young ladies named Adeline (Margot Kidder, in her breakout role). Meanwhile, this being Chicago, there’s a power struggle between two crooked politicians—the hypocrite reformer (George Kennedy) versus the unapologetic crook (Hume Cronyn). Ben winds up in the middle of it. Pursued in a frantic chase, he falls into the river, and . . .

Gaily, Gaily was budgeted at $8 million. That was a sizeable sum in 1969, and it shows. The movie is a visual treat. The production earned three Oscar nominations—Costume, Sound, Art Direction/Set Direction—though it would be shut out in all three categories.

United Artists released the movie in December, hoping for a holiday-season blockbuster. The reviews were mixed, and the box office disappointing. Jewison, Bridges, and the rest went on with their lives, and tried to forget Gaily, Gaily.

One small scene sums up the movie. A young man is reciting his new poem to some friends. “Hog Butcher for the World,” he begins. “Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads—“and after a few lines he stops, saying he hasn’t finished it yet.

Of course, the young man is Carl Sandburg. The scene doesn’t have anything to do with the plot, but for a few minutes, it’s entertaining. And that’s the best way to watch Gaily, Gaily. Don’t think about whether it makes sense. Just enjoy the ride.

—30—