Current mood: accomplished
Trying to find an analogy to best describe this entry is a challenge. What I came up with was this: Imagine the Jack Benny-Fred Allen "feud" had been real, not two stars having fun with their personas. Now imagine a tribute to Allen taking place at something named in Benny's honor.
That's essentially what you'll have later this month at UCLA, as director Mitchell Leisen (shown with Carole Lombard, Fred MacMurray and Charles Butterworth on the set of "Swing High, Swing Low") will be paid tribute from Nov. 16 to Dec. 16 in a 16-film series called "That Signature Style: The Films of Mitchell Leisen." What adds a weird twist to all this is where it will be held:
The Billy Wilder Theater.
Wilder was a writer before turning to directing; Leisen directed several of his scripts, and to say that Wilder was displeased with what he did with them was an understatement. He accused Leisen, a former set designer, with being more concerned with style than substance. (Another writer-turned-director, Preston Sturges, registered similar complaints.) Now, a theatre named for Wilder is hosting a Leisen retrospective; if you hear some rumbling at Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Park, it's likely coming from Wilder's grave (he died in 2006).
Recognizing Leisen's skill as a director in no way diminishes the accomplishments of either Wilder or Sturges -- it's merely an acknowledgement that he was at the helm for a number of fine films, including two of Lombard's top Paramount movies, "Hands Across The Table" and "Swing High, Swing Low." He was especially at his best with stories revolving around women. As the introduction to the series states, "Leisen was a consummate filmmaker whose technical mastery freed him to focus on performance, building fluid compositions around story and character. His films exude a grace and humanity missing in the work of some of his more acerbic collaborators, Wilder and Sturges." That doesn't necessarily make him a better director than either Wilder or Sturges, merely that his style was different.
"Swing High, Swing Low" will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30, along with "Hold Back The Dawn" (1941).
Two weeks later, at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14, the twin bill is "Hands Across The Table" and the holiday-themed favorite "Remember The Night," the first of four distinctly different teamings of MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.
The series is worth checking out if you're in southern California; it opens Nov. 16 with "Midnight" (1939), written by Wilder, and the 1937 comedy "Easy Living." On hand that night will be David Chierichetti, a close friend of Leisen's before his death in 1972 and author of "Mitchell Leisen: Hollywood Director," a fine biography.
The entire schedule can be found at http://www.cinema.ucla.edu/events/2