Monday, 16 November 2015

Movie Review: The Gazebo (1959)


A sharp black comedy, The Gazebo nicely builds up to a healthy dose of laughs in the story of a television executive dealing with an inconvenient blackmail problem.

Elliott Nash (Glenn Ford) produces crime dramas for live television. His harried life is that much more stressful because Elliott is also being blackmailed by a mysterious man who goes by the name of Shelby. Elliott is married to budding stage star Nell (Debbie Reynolds), and he does not want her to know that Shelby is in possession of compromising photos that can threaten their relationship. Elliott turns to his friend and lawyer Harlow Edison (Carl Reiner) for some advice, but Harlow has eyes for Nell and is of little help.

In addition to trying to convince Nell to sell their house to raise money, Elliott starts to nurture the idea of killing Shelby to get rid of the problem once and for all. Things get more complicated when Nell decides to buy a large gazebo for their backyard, and crusty construction crew chief Sam Thorpe (John McGiver) becomes an intermittent visitor around the house. But the gazebo's concrete foundation presents an opportunity, and Elliott's dabbling in a possible murder plot will also include the unlikely involvement of none other than Alfred Hitchcock.

An underrated and often forgotten gem, The Gazebo works its way to often hilarious levels of farce. Director George Marshall adopts a measured pace in the first 30 minutes to set up the premise, and then unleashes the laughs to good effect. The George Wells script (an adaptation of the Myra and Alec Coppel play) delivers a compact 100 minutes of fun, with likeable protagonists who are sympathetic despite all their foibles.

Good as the film is, there are some weaknesses, notably performances that are very much overly theatrical. While Debbie Reynolds almost manages to find the right tone, Glenn Ford is guilty of going over the top early and often. Ford is funny as the frantic everyman digging an ever deeper hole of trouble for himself. But he doesn't even attempt any level of circumspect nuance, instead going for the all-flappy, all-the-time stance more appropriate for the stage than the screen. There are also a few issues with timing, with some plot events happening at unlikely hours just to feed the laugh-o-meter.

But the film adds to the fun quotient by cleverly keeping many of its surprises hidden from view. The exact nature of the blackmail takes some time to become apparent, and the various bad guys who will get involved in the plot as Elliott's nightmare spirals out of control are not exactly who he thinks they are. Every time Elliott starts to think that he's gaining a measure control, another twist sends him on a new frenzy of uncertainty. Ironically, the calmest presence is a plucky pigeon, saved by Elliott early in the film and intent on hanging around and returning the favour in the unlikeliest way possible.

The Gazebo includes a loud-talking house maid, a wild shooting leading to a ridiculously funny and prolonged death scene, an inopportune rain storm that spoils the all-important gazebo concrete base, and hideous curtains that can conveniently serve to hide a crime. It's the worst possible combination of events to assemble a staid backyard gazebo, but a terrific recipe for madly enjoyable revelry.






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