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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Drama > FIlmmaking > My Geisha (1962)

My Geisha (1962)


Picture: B     Sound: C+     Extras: D     Film: C+



Intended as a lush comedy/drama, cinematographer Jack Cardiff again took the director’s chair for My Geisha, a 1962 release from Paramount that was intended as a high-profile production that had mixed results.


In it, a married couple (Shirley MacLaine and Yves Montand) in the world of filmmaking are about to have a new project in front of them, but Paul (Montand) wants to make a name for himself and make a film in Japan with roles his wife Lucy cannot fill.  However, the studio and their studio friend Sam (Edward G. Robinson) do not think he can do it without her box office clout.  As a result, the studio cuts the budget and Paul is off to Japan.  However, Sam is joining him and secretly brings Lucy, who pretends to be a Geisha as a joke to fool him.  When it works too well, Sam agrees to help her try for the lead in the film and she gets it!


In today’s politically correct environment, Miss MacLaine pretending to be Japanese would be highly criticized.  However, even for the period, the idea that she could fool anyone with her lame disguise and especially her husband for the entire length of a big film production is absurd.  When Paul’s best friend Bob (Robert Cummings) joining him in Japan falls for her in her “Yoko Mori” persona, the film slowly implodes.


By naming MacLaine’s red-headed character Lucy, screenwriter Norman Krasna wants to at least suggest some qualities of Lucille Ball and having a show business husband who tries to keep her out of his latest project smacks of many an episode of I Love Lucy, but this is more serious at many points and often more dysfunctional than you’d ever imagine.  Cummings has a moment where he visits “Yoko” to become more involved as he falls in love with her is much more like date rape than a visit and since he gets in with a stolen key, terms like stalking come to mind.


Since Montand’s Paul cannot even recognize his own wife for most of the film, you wonder if he is an idiot and if he deserves to stay married, but the narrative reveals some confused sexism when she is 100% guilty of anything that goes wrong and the strange (and if you think about it, absolutely impossible) conclusion is reached.  You have to see that to believe it too.  My Geisha great cast and production is only matched by its many failures, problems and issues.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image was shot by cinematographer Shunichiro Nakao in the Technirama format on location in Japan, though there are obvious sets and as a sort of interesting in joke, the film may be shot in Technirama, but the film within the film is shot in VistaVision.  That large-frame format was Paramount’s superior competitor to CinemaScope that lasted in regular use until 1963 when it became too expensive.  Along with Visconti’s The Leopard (1963), Mervin LeRoy’s Gypsy and Guy Hamilton’s Best Of Enemies, this was one of the last productions shot in Technirama for 35mm release only.  After these, only productions intending to issued 70mm prints shot in the format until it was retired in 1968, though Disney revived it in 1985 for The Black Cauldron including 70mm release.  Both were therefore phased out in the same year for standard 35mm release use.


Color and detail here are often impressive, both by design and because the film was released in three-strip dye-transfer Technicolor and Cardiff was a master of that format to begin with.  The costumes by Edith Head are of her usual top rate Classic Hollywood form, to the point that she received an Oscar nomination for color costumes.  Geisha was one of 41 such Technirama productions to be issue in IB (imbibition dye-transfer) prints.  The transfer is very comparable here to the Criterion DVDs of Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus and Visconti’s The Leopard, as well as the HD-DVD we looked at of Kubrick’s Spartacus.


The sound was originally theatrical mono, but the Dolby Digital sound here is available in 2.0 Mono and a 5.1 remix that is a bit better than the mono, if not spectacularly so.  The original music is by Franz Waxman outside of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, which is prominent here in spots and offers the best fidelity of the 5.1 mix.  There are no extras, though I bet the promotion and publicity material alone would be interesting to unearth, while Miss MacLaine and Mr. Cardiff might have had something to say.


Even with its problems, it is worth a look simply due to its ambition and production values.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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