Annie (1982)

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in Song & Dance | 0 comments

Annie1

Disclaimer: A few swears, some drunkenness, and a nonsensical plot.

My favorite moment in Annie comes about halfway through, when the cheerful orphan tricks her billionaire host into taking her to the movies. “It’s probably better not to know what you’re missing,” she says, claiming to have never seen one. After a drawn-out song and dance, the orphan, mogul, and his secretary head out to Radio City Music Hall for an evening show of the romantic tragedy Camille. As we watch the final moments of the movie within the movie, the music swells and lovers fade away as the camera pans to show the reactions of the three audience members. The secretary is dabbing her eyes after clearly getting sucked into the lovers’ story; the tycoon sits quizzically with wide open eyes as if to suggest that he doesn’t know what to make of what he just saw; and the little child lounges comfortably in her chair, fast asleep. Movies strike their audiences differently, as you should be well aware of by now, and Annie is a prime example of just that. It’s not often that a film garners two Oscar nominations and two Golden Globe nominations at the same time as four nominations for Razzies (the awards program established to recognize the worst in the year of cinema).

The character of Annie originated in a New York Times strip by Harold Gray, but it has very few ties to the film or Thomas Meehan’s Broadway musical. With music by Charles Strause and lyrics by Martin Charnin, the successful play ran from 1977 to 1983. The play, and the movie for that matter, doesn’t really have a recognizable plot so much as some mindless misadventures strung together by song and dance.

The scrappy and spunky Annie (Aileen Annie2Quinn, who was chosen, for some reason, out of thousands of girls) is the unofficial leader at an inner-city orphanage in New York during the Depression-era 1930s. As we first meet her, she’s looking out to the night’s horizon wondering where her parents are (through song, of course). While we feel sorry for most orphan characters (of which there are dozens in movies), we get the feeling that Annie can handle herself after beating up a group of older boys and asking, “All right, who’s next?” In charge of the orphanage is the oft-drunk and man hungry Miss Hannigan (played with spot-on goofballishness by Carol Burnett), whose wardrobe looks like Cher cast into a blender. She calls the lonely children pig droppings, feeds them mush, makes them slave away day and night, and mimics their desperate pleas. All in all, she’s a terribly awful lady.

Annie3Coming to Annie’s rescue is billionaire Mr. Warbucks (Albert Finney), who decides to invite an orphan to stay at his home for a week. His secretary selects the fiery redhead and invites her to his home, which includes a pool, helicopter, tennis courts, and the Mona Lisa. All the important people in the nation have Warbucks on speed dial, it seems, including FDR, whose New Deal takes center stage at one point. Though he initially wants to send Annie back (“I thought all orphans were boys”), Warbucks eventually grows to like her and wants to adopt her. To his dismay, Annie is holding out for her real parents, who promised to return one day. But when Warbucks puts up a $50,000 reward, it attracts Hannigan to draw up a scheme with the help of her brother Rooster (Tim Curry) and his girlfriend Lily (Bernadette Peters).

It’s fitting that Daddy Warbucks’ first name is Oliver, as Annie will no doubt spawn comparisons to Charles Dickens’s pickpocket orphan adapted into musical format in 1968. While Oliver! may have the Academy Award and better production value, Annie has equally elaborate dance sequences, more memorable songs, and is a bit more entertaining for kids. The film’s most noteworthy production numbers are It’s A Hard-Knock Life, which choreographs children sliding down banisters, fighting with pillows, and polishing dishes in sing-song, and I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here, which introduces Annie to the mansion’s pirouetting and flipping servants at the same time as its amenities. While You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile and Maybe are swell, I’ll bet my bottom dollar that viewers will no doubt remember Annie most for the politically uniting song Tomorrow (which plays three times in the film). Though the colorful film garnered mixed reviews, its legacy led to two made-for-TV movies, a stage sequel, Jay-Z’s Ghetto Anthem, a murder in Serial Mom, FDR’s speech in Reefer Madness, and loads of TV shows (including Family Guy).

It’s hard to tell if we’re supposed to laugh or cringe at Warbucks’ two racially disturbing bodyguards. Punjab, an Indian, has powers that include telepathy, healing, and putting animals to sleep. Asp, an Asian, beats up assassins and diffuses bombs, much like Kato in the Pink Panther series. Neither of them have much dialogue (in fact, Asp may have none).

The film is directed by John Huston, and is the only musical in the eccentric director’s repertoire (The Maltese Falcon, Key Largo, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Battle of San Pietro, and The Asphalt Jungle). I couldn’t think of a more suitable director for a film with such mixed sentiments, since such highly regarded film critics as Andrew Sarris and James Agee presented a similar dichotomy for Huston. “Most of the really good popular art produced anywhere comes from Hollywood, and much of it bears Huston’s name,” Agee wrote in 1950. “Huston is still coasting on his reputation as a wronged individualist with an alibi for every bad movie,” Sarris commented in The American Cinema.

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