Just lately both large and small screens seem to have been offering me a diet very heavy on gritty realism, horror and steamy sex. But not everyone wants to be depressed, frightened or titillated all the time, with only turgid slabs of overdressed historic royalty or bonnet-wearers for relief. The other evening I found a corrective in a splendid bit of good-natured tosh from more than half a century ago: Call Me Madam.
The topical jokes mean nothing now (who remembers that Harry S Truman's daughter Margaret had a singing career?), but this was the second most successful of Irving Berlin's Broadway musical scores and the film is still a treasure: it's got Ethel Merman belting it out with much more style than Streisand, and, above all, it's got Donald O'Connor. Never mind about his cheeky, wholesome image, when he was not fooling about he had Astaire's kind of ineffable grace as a dancer: like Mozart and Gielgud, he was the type of artist which Nietsche called the Appollonian*: "the classic whose deepest and saddest utterances can never take a form that is not shapely and rounded".
*As opposed to the Dionysiac, "the blows of whose gigantic hammer and chisel are still visible on the marble of his noblest masterpieces" (Beethoven, Olivier).