Today's Noise is Tomorrow's Hootenany

on June 19, 2008 by Steve Simels

You'll pardon me if I'm a little woozy this morning; I made the mistake of staying up late last night to catch my favorite entry in Turner Classic Movie's month-long Sophia Loren film festival. Specifically, I murdered sleep to see Stanley Kramer's meshugennah 1957 epic The Pride and the Passion, co-starring Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and the biggest (and obviously not symbolic) goddamn gun in the world.

What's it about? Well, as Wikipedia succinctly puts it: "Set in the Napoleonic era, it is the story of a British officer who leads a force of Spanish guerrillas hauling a huge cannon across Spain to help in the capture of �?vila from the French, while evading the occupying French forces as well." It's worth noting that Mad Magazine's famous parody of the film was titled simply Pull the Cannon!, which manages to reduce the above synopsis to a pithy, and absolutely accurate, three words.


pride and the passion.jpg



Basically, it's an extremely silly film, although its production history is quite a lot more interesting than you might think. From Wiki, again:


Shot on location in Spain, rumors persist that Sinatra only took a part in the film to be near his wife Ava Gardner, during a time when they were having marital problems and she was shooting The Sun Also Rises in various locales around Europe, including Spain. When there was to be no reconciliation, Sinatra hurriedly left the production, asking director Kramer to condense all of his scenes for as brief as possible shooting schedule for his part. Kramer obliged. Conversely, Grant was happy to get away from his failing marriage to Betsy Drake when he met his young Italian co-star Loren. Although romantically involved with producer Carlo Ponti, who had refused to marry her, Loren found herself working with the actor who had been the subject of her schoolgirl fantasies. Despite about a 30-year age difference, they were soon having an affair, but it was Grant who fell madly in love with Loren. He decided that he would marry her after filming ended and as soon as he could divorce. To further complicate matters, Ponti chose that moment to tell Loren that he loved her and would finally agree to marry her. After some soul-searching, the actress finally chose Ponti. Grant was lovesick and heartbroken and barely made it through the filming of their next movie together "Houseboat", which ironically depicted their characters' wedding ceremony.


Actually, the most interesting thing about the movie is the composer credit: the score for this humongous bag of gas was written by none other than the once notorious George Antheil, a/k/a The Bad Boy of Modern Music. Back in the 20s, Antheil's Ballet Mecanique -- originally scored for player pianos, airplane propellers, and electric bells -- was probably as big and controversial a sensation as Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring had been a few years earlier. Here's an excerpt of the score along with the epater le bourgeois avant-garde film by Fernand Léger it was designed to accompany.

By today's standards, of course, it sounds roughly as threatening as an average Spike Jones record, and you may not be surprised to learn that by the 30s the former enfant terrible was comfortably ensconced in Hollywood, where he spent the rest of his life composing various comforting accompaniments for all sorts of Tinseltown product, perhaps most memorably the theme music for the long-running Walter Cronkite-hosted CBS TV documentary series The 20th Century. Antheil's music for TPATP, in that context, is particularly hilarious; it's overripe echt-Spanish Romanticism to the point of almost being a parody of overripe echt-Spanish Romanticism. Basically, if the score was a person, it would come with castanets in both hands and speak in an accent reminiscent of Antonio Banderas as the bee in those Nasonex commercials.

Like I said, I'm a little woozy this morning, so I think I'll take a nap. While I'm gone, if you're interested in any of the above, you can get a very handsome widescreen DVD of the film here. You can also get the Ballet Mecanique music, in first-rate modern sound, here, while this excellent fan website is your one-stop destination for All Things Antheil.


Tags: Sophia Loren, The Pride and the Passion, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Pull the Cannon!, The Sun Also Rises, Ballet Mecanique, Spike Jones

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