AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ (1975 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, March 1975 (Vol. 42, No. 494). — J.R.

Ain’t Misbehavin’

Great Britain, 1974 Directors: Peter Neal, Anthony Stern

Cert–X (London). dist–Focus. p.c–Al0K Pictures Ltd. p–David

Speechley. ed–Peter Neal, Misha Norland. m/songs–”Please Be Kind”

performed by Django Reinhardt; “The Man I Love” by George Gershwin,

Ira Gershwin, performed by Django Reinhardt; “Honeysuckle Rose”,

“Ain’t Misbehavin’” by and performed by Fats Waller; “Adagio in G

Minor” by Albinoni; “Don’t Be a Baby” performed by Ahmed Rai,

Betty Underwood; “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Dog” by and performed by

Meade Lux Lewis; “Cabaret Echoes” performed by Anthony Parenti’s

Famous Melody Boys; “Charlie Is My Darling” performed by Black

Dyke Mills Band; “No One But the Right Man Can Do Me Wrong”

performed by Sophie Tucker; “Animals’ Ball” performed by Lizzie

Miles; “My Canary’s Got Circles Under His Eyes” performed by Elsie

Carlisle; “Shy Guy” performed by Nat Cole Trio; “Londonola”

performed by Roy Fox; “Boogie Woogie at the Civic Opera” by and

performed by Albert Ammons; “My Old Man” performed by Lilly

Morris; “With My Little Ukelele in My Hand” performed by George

Formby; piece by Ivy Benson Orchestra. titles–Ray Cowell, Freeman

May Studio Ltd. sd. ed–Trevor Williamson. sd. re-rec–Malcolm

Bristow. 7,650 ft. 85 mins.

There is so much interest and fascination in the bulk of the

extremely varied material included in this compilation film that it

may seem churlish to object to some of the ways that it is used. The

makers’ apparent ambitions, after all, are exploitative only in a

modest way, and considering the mainly gentle ambience of nostalgia

and camp that pervades their assembly, Peter Neal and Anthony

Stern clearly cannot be charged with launching a candidate in the

Mondo Cane sweepstakes. The basic formula is simple enough:

intercutting ‘blue’ movies from the first four decades of the century

with clips of popular music and dancing and excerpts from newsreels

and other shorts — most of the latter restricted to ‘topical’ features

involving women — drawn from roughly the same period. Beginning

with an undated early clip of nude girls cavorting on a rocky hill and

beach, the film passes directly to footage of women in fancy clothes.

Next comes Famille ldéale, a 1907 stage film set in a classic bourgeois

household (husband, wife, butler, maid, military man) executed

with an antic liveliness that is dampened only by the obtrusive

addition of sound effects (including laughter and applause) which

imply something of an insult to the capacities of both the audience

and the material. This is followed by a wonderful Thirties

performance by Fats Waller of his “Honeysuckle Rose”, delivered in the

characteristic style of his jukebox shorts — with at least seven women

perched on or around his piano and a general impression that,

simultaneously, he is wooing each of them with lewd winks and

bulging eyes, carrying on a running commentary about all of them

with the audience, teasing everyone with his lyrics, and playing the

most spirited piano of the decade. (His performance of the title tune

at the end of the film is no less magnificent.) The title “Meanwhile . . .”

introduces us to silent shots of women vacationing, with the use of

Albinoni conveying a sense of historical pathos that is abruptly

broken by a comic glimpse of a woman sliding across an ice-skating

rink. A female wrestling match, Hollywood starlets modeling

bathing suits, a stag film from the Thirties involving Santa Claus

and a dildo, another from 1907 featuring a masturbating nun

and Danish titles, elaborate dancing exercises and all-women

orchestras are among the subsequent esoterica offered, as well as

performances by a poker-faced and portly Meade Lux Lewis (in a

wonderfully jivey number, complete with cast and mini-plot),

Sophie Tucker, Nat “King” Cole in his piano trio days, Lou

Abelardo, George Formby and others, which are occasionally

fragmented. and intercut with other footage. There’s also an

exceptionally cruel demonstration of how to turn an ugly girl

into a salon beauty, grotesque physical contortions by a female

performer while playing a violin out of tune, and a badly shot

French stag film from the Forties about bondage. The problem

with Ain’t Misbehavin’ is that its very uneven and unequal

collection of material is mixed and juxtaposed in a way that

often undermines the singularity of the individual pieces,

casting them into an essentially ahistorical context inviting

complaisant comparisons and easy platitudes which a more

consistent identification and dating of clips might have partially

avoided. But apart from its undebatable musical pleasures, the film

can at least be credited for eliciting that same historical curiosity

that it frequently frustrates.

JONATHAN ROSENBAUM

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