Monday, August 3, 2009

Bye Bye Birdie



Look, just because I'm not focusing exclusively on movie tie-ins anymore doesn't mean I don't enjoy a good novelization now and then. And this really is a good novelization. It was enjoyable to read and made me want to see the movie again, which is really all you can ask from one of these things.

Now, as you may know, Bye Bye Birdie is a musical. That means that they had to decide how to handle the songs. As you may remember, the novelization of Grease just incorporated all the songs into dialogue, with predictably disconcerting results. This book goes a different route: most of the songs are just ignored or mentioned in passing. For example:

At that moment, Kim McAfee, humming softly about how great it was to be a woman, floated rather than walked into her blue-and-white bedroom.


And that takes care of an entire musical number in which Ann-Margret changes clothes while concealing her nakedness under a fuzzy sweater. The telephone song is dismissed entirely!

Now, the songs that are actually sung by Conrad Birdie (the Elvis-knockoff whose name, for some reason, is taken from Conway Twitty) appear in the book. But for the most part, this is just a novelization of "what would have happened if the characters didn't keep bursting into song." With one exception! The "Kids" song appears entirely in dialogue, possibly because it actually reads relatively normally:

"Kids," McAfee said sourly. "I don't know what's wrong with these kids today."

Doris nodded slowly. "Who can understand anything they say?"

"Kids! They're disobedient, disrespectful oafs! Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy loafers! And while we're on the subject..."

Mama took her head from the oven and chimed in: "Kids! You can talk and talk until your face is blue!"


And so on. It works pretty well, although I have to point out that Doris is not, in fact, in this scene in the movie. There are a few differences between the book's events and the movie's, but almost all of them are entertaining. Like the scene where Conrad Birdie talks about going out on the town and finding himself a filly. Oh my!

Having read the book, I rewatched the movie. It retained its most mystifying element, namely "Why does the title song go 'Bye Bye Bir-HEE' instead of having a 'D' in there?" I also have decided that Conrad Birdie's resolute dopiness is probably on purpose. I guess we're supposed to be laughing at those dopey kids, swooning after this gumbo just because he's dressed in gold lamé. Apparently they wanted the actual Elvis Presley to do the movie, but Colonel Tom Parker wouldn't let him. That's a shame, because you have to assume he and Ann-Margret had some pretty good chemistry.

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