Tuesday, April 03, 2007

170. In Medias Res, with Cheesecake

It's early in the morning, dawn or thereabouts, and I'm sitting in front of the TV, having watched the weather--thunderstorms; welcome to springtime in Illinois; later we will hear the monthly first-Tuesday testing of the tornado siren--odd timing, since the sky will be low, pressing its gray face against the wet ground, and many of us will assume it's time to hie ourselves to the cellar--but for now I flip to Turner Classic Movies, just for a sleepy look-see.

And I'm puzzled, because there's Joan Crawford (I think), young and in her slip, behaving strangely in bed with another woman, clothed. The scheduled movie was Mannequin (1937), and Joan Crawford does star in it, but this undergarment interlude seems too silly for Spencer Tracy to be involved--although, again, everyone is just a kid in this one, so maybe even Spence will suddenly enter, his baggy boxers flapping or Union suit paunching just a little.

So what am I watching? The other woman is sleepy, but is trying to remain conscious. She leaves the bed and sits nearby in a rocker, whistling to keep herself awake, rocking furiously. We get a wipe, and the chair is empty, and the camera pans to the bed, where Crawford's companion lies asleep next to her, on her stomach, her behind pointing skyward. And suddenly I realize they're in the window of a department store, and the "automatic shades" go up, and they already have an audience. There's a guy up front, hat askew, smile crooked--a bit tipsy still, and looking a little like the great Edgar Pangborn. But he's not the floorwalker this time, instead a sidewalk ogler, perched on a crate and waiting for the show. A few minutes of shocked squealing and imprecations follow, during which Crawford's (?) bedmate loses her housedress and is also now in her slip, and the two of them scatter and dodge, knocking over furniture and imploring their gleeful audience--95% male, of course--to avert their twinkling eyes. And then the obvious Authority Figure arrives on the sidewalk--the manager, I assume--and storms into the scene, firing them both--and both are glad to be rid of their situation, whatever the heck it was to begin with.

And it ends abruptly, and I hear--like a voice so familiar that, even if absent for decades, it would never be forgotten--that unmistakable Roy Shields music--happy little muted trumpets, almost wistful, but more in the mood for madcap--I've heard all my life at the end of Little Rascals shorts, and I realize--or at least I am led to believe--that I haven't been watching Mannequin after all, but an obscure short, there on the cusp of the hour, as one movie gives way to the next--a little cinematic puff of dust, a grainy little moment from who knows when.

Or maybe not, maybe that is how the movie ends. But where's Tracy? And why that Roy Shields theme? I may never know--and that’s fine--no, that's better: a small bundle of images and sounds, a humble viewing in the midst of things. And I am on the margin, barely noticed at that moment--but the margin is a free space, where four minutes of film and I can make up all kinds of half-waking dreams, as maybe-Crawford and her pal awake as I do, and they kick up their pretty stockinged legs and keep their audience piqued, all of us teetering on crates and rolling our eyes in innocent erotic transport. Hotcha, gang, another movie day begins.

And by the way: Happy, happy birthday, baby.

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