Thursday, April 2, 2020

Deep In My Heart (1954)

MGM, 1954
Starring Jose Ferrer, Merele Oberon, Helen Traubel, and Doe Avedon
Directed by Stanley Donen
Music by Sigmund Romberg; Lyrics by various

This was the last of the MGM "semi-revues" revolving around a famous composer of earlier in the 20th century. Sigmund Romberg did do pop or jazz-oriented music, but then and now, he's mainly known for the series of lush operettas he wrote from the late 10's through the 1930's. With operettas frequently turning up on early TV, MGM producer Joe Pasternak opted to air his "life story," with many MGM stars who specialized in operetta. How does the story of Romberg and how he went from ragtime to the concert halls look now? We join Romberg (Ferrer) as he looks for a job in a New York cafe and find out...

The Story: "Romy" really wants to write romantic operettas, but his lush music doesn't fly in newly ragtime-crazed America. With the help of Anna Mueller (Traubel), the owner of the restaurant, he composes "The Leg 'O Mutton Rag" and creates a dance sensation. He's hired by the Shuberts, who use his jazzier compositions in a series of nonsensical revues, but what he really wants is to have an operetta on Broadway. Lyricist and playwright Dorothy Donnelly (Merle Oberon) helps him whip his Maytime into shape and convinces Ziegfeld (Paul Henried) to give it a chance.

The show is a smash, but its follow-up fails. Romberg and his songwriting partners end up back writing girlie shows for the Shuberts. It's not until he meets the lovely and intelligent Lillian Harris (Doe Avedon) at a mountain resort  and falls for her that he's able to gather the inspiration to write some of the most beloved operettas of the 1920's, including New Moon and The Desert Song.

The Song and Dance: And "song and dance" are the operative words. Once again, the story is really more of a framework to hang elaborate routines based around songs done by the composer. That said, Ferrer does make a charming and energetic Romberg, and Avedon isn't bad as his love interest and eventual wife. Oberon also goes over well as Donnelly, one of the few female songwriters of the early 20th century. The lavish Technicolor production and costumes provide some truly fine eye candy, especially in the first half.

Favorite Number: Traubel and Ferrer lay into the catchy "Leg 'O Mutton Rag" at the cafe shortly after he comes looking for a job. He also gets to join his then-wife Rosemary Clooney for, appropriately, "Mr. and Mrs" in the revue medley. Gene Kelly performs with his brother Fred for the only time on film in the vaudeville beach spoof "I Love to Go Swimmin' With Wimmin'." Vic Damone and Jane Powell share two gorgeous duets from Maytime, "Road to Paradise" and "Sweetheart, Will You Remember?" Cyd Charisse and James Mitchell perform a pas de deux to "One Alone" that's sexier than anything in the 1953 Desert Song.

The movie does boast some genuinely rare tunes. Ann Miller gets to perform a comedy number from The Desert Song, "It," with a Roaring 20's-clad chorus. Howard Keel leads the male chorus through the rousing "Your Land and My Land" from the Civil War operetta My Maryland.

But the number for the record books is a truly amazing solo for Ferrer. He shows off for Lillian and her mother (Isobel Elsom) by performing all the roles in the Al Jolson vehicle he and his partners are currently working on. He sings three songs, "Goodbye Girls," "Fat, Fat Fatima," and "Jazz-a-Doo" and is such a ball of energy, he really must be seen to be believed.

What I Don't Like: Another biography with absolutely nothing to do with the composer in question. Romberg did come from Hungary, he did write pop songs for the Shuberts' Al Jolson vehicles and fluffy revues, he did hit it big with Maytime, only to return to the Shuberts, and it really was The Student Prince that finally broke him free of the grind and allowed him to stick entirely from operetta. He really did have bad luck on Broadway in the 30's, with a string of flop shows. He did better in Hollywood, writing several standards for film operettas, before making a comeback in New York in the 40's with Up In Central Park.

Almost every character besides Romberg, Donnelly, Lillian, and the big producers are fictional. His writing partners at the resort and Anna are composites of the many people he worked with throughout his career. Romberg married at least once before Lillian, and he was Hungarian, not Viennese. The songs are all out of order and often listed to be from shows other than what's claimed. Frankly, the whole movie is just one big cliche. And as with most MGM musicals of this era, once they get to the 20's, historical accuracy goes out the door. Once we get past the first half-hour or so, it looks like the 50's for the rest of the movie.

The Big Finale: Critics were rough on this one when it came out, but it's actually worn pretty well. Worth seeing for the musical numbers alone if you're a fan of operetta, the stars, or Romberg's work.

Home Media: Easily found in all formats; the Blu Ray and DVD are currently available from the Warner Archives.

DVD
Blu-Ray
Amazon Prime

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Cult Flops - The Shocking Miss Pilgrim

20th Century Fox, 1947
Starring Betty Grable, Dick Haymes, Anne Revere, and Gene Lockhart
Directed by George Seaton
Music by George Gershwin; Lyrics by Ira Gershwin

We end Women's History Month with this unusual story of a female typist determined to make it in the man's world of business just as typewriters debuted. The movie didn't do well at the time, but does it have something to say to us now, in a world where more women are taking over men's jobs and pushing for equal rights? Let's head to the Packard Business College in New York City to see their first graduating typist (typwriter) class and find out...

The Story: Cynthia Pilgrim (Grable) graduates at the top of her class and is delighted to take a job at a shipping firm in Boston. The head of the firm, John Prichard (Haymes), believes that the world of business is for men only and turns her away. His Aunt Alice (Revere), however, is an ardent supporter of women's suffrage and tells her nephew to hire Cynthia or else. The men, including office manager Mr. Saxon (Lockhart), make fun of her until she gives them a curt answer back, earning their respect.

Cynthia has less luck winning over the rest of Boston. No boarding house will accept a woman typewriter...except the one owned by Catherine Dennison (Elizabeth Patterson). Dennison specializes in lodgings for "outcasts," artists and musicians whose work gets them turned away by stuffy Bostonites. Cynthia quickly befriends artist Michel Michel (Arthur Shields), poet Leander (Allyn Joslyn), and music teacher Herbert (Charles Kemper), all of whom share her feelings about the stuffy citizens of Boston.

John Prichard, however, has become smitten with her after seeing her attractive legs. He tries to get her out on a date, but she refuses at first, until he agrees to go to a Women's Suffrage meeting. The women, including Alice Prichard, want her to speak for them as a representative of women in the workforce. John continues to press his point, but he can't deter Cynthia from her cause, not even when he takes her to a ball and introduces her to his equally independent mother (Elizabeth Risdon). They get engaged, but call it off when she won't give up her job. Now John has to find a new secretary...and has begun to realize just how much The Shocking Miss Pilgrim's efficiency and common sense has come to mean to him and his buisness.

The Song and Dance: I've never seen a Grable musical quite like this one. For all the comedy with Cynthia's artist buddies, it actually has some fairly serious discussions of what a women is capable of and whether or not they belong in jobs normally held by men. In fact, with women pushing for greater representation in the workplace once again in the news, it may be more relevant now than it was in the late 40's. Grable actually does quite well as the very determined Cynthia, and Elizabeth Patterson and the artist gentlemen are hilarious as her greatest supporters. The Technicolor production and gorgeous costumes add to the lush feel.

I also appreciate that this one ends with Grable running her own business. It doesn't take the obvious route of her giving everything up for him.

Favorite Number: Grable gets the best song from this one, the sprightly "Changing My Tune" after she gets her room and makes her first friends in Boston. The ladies of Boston prove that they're not the frustrated spinsters John thinks they are in the rousing "Stand Up and Fight." Grable and Haymes share three nice duets, "Waltzing Sitting Down" when John's pursuing Cynthia at the ball, "Aren't You Kind of Glad We Did?" after the women's suffrage rally, and "For You, For Me, Forevermore" when he asks her to marry him.

Trivia: This started out as a far-more serious story about a suffragist secretary who kills her boss when she shoves him downstairs and goes on trial for murder. The original author was furious that they turned it into a boy-meets-girl musical and criticized the music and the results.

And yes, you read the songwriters correctly. George Gershwin died in 1939, but his brother Ira chose songs they'd written but never used and tailored them to the film.

What I Don't Like: First of all, Haymes is stiff, smarmy, has no chemistry with Grable, and is less believable as a tough sexist businessman than Grable is as a "typewriter." The costumes are lovely but historically inaccurate - bustles were a lot bigger than that in 1874. The movie occasionally waffles on it's premise and whether or not women actually should be in the workplace or not. The Gershwin songs are lovely - the Gershwins couldn't write a bad one - but not as memorable as some of their earlier ones.

Also, if you're looking for one of Grable's more typical legs-and-laughs tropical vehicles, you'll likely be as disappointed as many audiences were in 1947.

The Big Finale: Unique and interesting Grable vehicle is a nice find for fans of her, the Gershwins, or 40's musicals.

Home Media: Alas, this one is out of print on DVD. Streaming is your best bet.

DVD
Amazon Prime

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Animation Celebration Saturday - The Aristocats

Disney, 1970
Voices of Eva Gabor, Phil Harris, Liz English, and Sterling Holloway
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman
Music and Lyrics by various

This movie came out at a time of great turmoil for the Disney Studios. Walt Disney died in 1966, and no one was really sure how to continue without him. It would be the last film he personally approved before he passed on. How does the story of a mother cat and her kittens who are cat-napped by a jealous butler look today? Let's head to Paris around 1910, as Madame Adelaide (Hermoine Baddley) is preparing to make her will, and find out...

The Story: Madame is a retired opera singer who lives alone with her cat Duchess (Gabor) and Duchess' kittens Toulouse (Gary Dubin), Berlioz (Dean Clark), and Marie (Liz English). Madame adores her talented feline companions and intends to leave them her fortune. Her butler Edgar (Roddy Maude-Roxby) is incensed that he didn't get the money first. He drugs the cats' milk and takes them out to the countryside to dump them...at least until he's attacked by a pair of hound dogs with a taste for tires, Napoleon (Pat Buttram) and Lafayette (George Lindsay).

The cats end up stranded in the nearest river. An alley cat, Thomas O'Malley (Harris), helps them back to Paris and introduces them to his jazz-loving international cat buddies. Duchess, however, can't bring herself to leave Madame and insists on going home. Edgar, however, hasn't given up on eliminating the cats. It'll take a combined effort from every animal in Madame's household to stop Edgar from sending the cats on a one-way ticket across the globe.

The Animation: Typical of Disney's sketchy style of the time, it's at least colorful and cute, with some nifty designs for the animals and decent effects on the rainstorm Dutchess and the kittens are stranded in and in "Evry'body Wants to Be a Cat."

The Song and Dance:  Not bad, considering all the trouble they ran into making it. Though there's some good songs, it's primarily a comedy, with Buttram and Lindsay standing out as the hounds determined to catch anything on four wheels. Gabor and Harris are adorable as the mother cat and gallant tomcat, and the three kids are hilarious as the talented sibling kittens. There's also some good bits from Holloway as sweet mouse detective Roquefort, who is the one who ends up seeking his lost cat friends.

Favorite Number:  "Scales and Arpeggios" and the bouncy title song were the last songs written by the Sherman Brothers before they left Disney. "Scales" is a charming duet for Duchess and Marie as they practice their singing, while the very French Maurice Chevalier performs "Aristocats" over the credits. Terry Gillkyson did "Thomas O'Malley Cat," Thomas' smooth and laid-back introductory number as he strolls down the road in the countryside and finds Duchess and the kittens in distress. Madame and her doddering lawyer Georges (Charles Lane) get an adorable tango to an instrumental "Habenera" from the opera Carmen in the opening.

By far the best known song from this one is the big jazz number in Paris, "Evr'body Wants to Be a Cat." Harris, Scatman Crothers, and a group of international stereotype cats throw their all into a big jazz dance routine that literally brings down the house. It's by far the best and catchiest song in the film.

Trivia: Louis Armstrong was originally going to play the second-in-command of the alley cats, but had to bow out for health reasons.

The film began development in 1961. It was originally going to be more of a mystery, but was reworked to get closer to adventure-rescue aspect of 101 Dalmatians. In early drafts of the script, a maid played by Elsa Lanchester helped Edgar get rid of the cats and had a comic love duet with him, but she was dropped to simplify the plot.

There was to have been a direct-to-home-media sequel in the mid-2000's that had Marie and her brothers foiling a jewel heist on an ocean liner, but John Lasseter canceled all sequels after taking over the animation studio to focus more on other projects.

What I Don't Like: Edgar is definitely not one of the better Disney villains. While he does manage a little bit of menace towards the end when he captures Duchess and her kittens, he's mostly a bungling idiot who can't even get past a pair of hound dogs. The story is a mess of cliches mainly taken from Lady & the Tramp and 101 Dalmatians, the slapstick with the dogs and animals towards the end can come off as a little too juvenile, and those international stereotypes in "Evry'body Wants to Be a Cat" may offend some audiences today.

The Big Finale: Cute enough time-passer for younger kids who'll enjoy the animal antics and those who grew up watching it on cable or video.

Home Media: This one was a late arrival to video, but it's now easily found on all formats, often for under 10 dollars.

DVD
Blu-Ray 
Amazon Prime

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Duchess of Idaho

MGM, 1950
Starring Esther Williams, John Lund, Van Johnson, and Paula Raymond
Directed by Robert Z. Leonard
Music by Al Rinker and others; Lyrics by Floyd Huddleston and others

Esther Williams was at her peak as one of MGM's top stars when she appeared in this romantic comedy. This was her fourth time with Van Johnson as her leading man, who'd also reached his peak as a favorite. How does this tale of shenanigans at the popular Sun Valley ski resort look nowadays? Let's head to the theater where shy Ellen Hallett (Raymond) and her bolder sister Christine Riverton Duncan (Williams) appear in a show and find out...

The Story: Ellen is crazy about her handsome boss, Douglas Morrison Jr. (Lund), but can't bring herself to tell him. Christine helps her by following Douglas to Sun Valley and making a play for him. She's hoping he'll call for Ellen, who often pretends to be his fiancee when he has a woman in love with him that he can't fend off. Trouble is, not only does Douglas fall for her, but so does the handsome, cocky band leader Dick Layn (Johnson). Trouble is, she finds herself in love with Dick, while Douglas falls for her. Now she has to steer Douglas to Ellen, while not losing Dick's attentions.

The Song and Dance: With a story that light, the song and dance are the main attractions here. Williams and Johnson always did work well together, and this movie is no exception. They're relaxed and have decent chemistry together, making the silly story more believable than it might have been otherwise. The Sun Valley setting allows for some colorful costumes and sets, especially on the slopes. The Technicolor glows here, even when it's obvious that the backgrounds aren't real.

Favorite Number: Williams sneaks in two water ballets in the beginning and the end, including the elaborate opening number with wide red slides. Lena Horne shows up to sing a decent ballad, "Baby Come Out of the Clouds." Eleanor Powell, in her final film, shows off her still-decent dancing legs with a sparkling solo late in the film. Williams and Johnson get a cute dance with a potato that involves a lot of leaning over and bumping noses.

My favorite song from this one is the jivin' "You Can't Do Wrong Doin' Right." Johnson and Connie Haines join his orchestra for a spoof of academics, with Johnson as a hep cat professor. The song is catchy, and the duo perform it with a great deal of vigor.

Trivia: Along with being Powell's last movie, this was Lena Horne's last film at MGM and one of Skelton's last MGM films.

What I Don't Like: Did I mention that fluffy story? Like most of Williams' vehicles, it's barely noticeable. This really isn't the place for people looking for something more dramatic or meatier. Lund and Raymond are smarmy and dull respectively as the second couple. Also, Williams is only in the water in the beginning and the end. Most of this movie was designed to show off her comedic talents rather than her swimming.

The Big Finale: This is a pleasant enough way to pass an hour and a half if you love Williams, Johnson, or big-band music.

Home Media: Currently only on DVD via the Warner Archives.

DVD

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Music In My Heart

Columbia Pictures, 1940
Starring Tony Martin, Rita Hayworth, Edith Fellows, and Alan Mowbray
Directed by Joseph Santley
Music and Lyrics by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest

Before they really figured out what to do with her, Rita Hayworth was one of the busiest actresses at Columbia. She made five movies in 1940 alone, including this one. How does this B-movie about a singer who stays with a young woman and her family to avoid being deported look today? Let's start with a disappointed Patricia O'Malley (Hayworth) in a cab and find out...

The Story: Patricia shares her cab with Robert Gregory (Martin), a singer on the run from the authorities. Seems his parents never applied for citizenship and they want to deport him. Patrica's hoping to meet Charles Spencer Gardner III, a rich man she wants to marry. Thanks to a cab accident, they both miss the boat. Patricia invites Robert to stay with her family, to the delight of her younger sister Mary (Fellows). Mary thinks Patricia and Robert are perfect for each other and is determined to play matchmaker. She proves to be right, as Patricia and Robert fall for each other and become engaged. Robert, however, has had an offer for a Broadway show, and Charles and his butler Griggs (Eric Blore) aren't as gone as she thought. Griggs brings a paper that claims Robert's married, which pushes Patricia back into Charles' arms, even as Robert gets a shot at radio stardom.

The Song and Dance: A sweet little B movie with decent performances and some nice music. Hayworth does well enough as the young woman who thinks she knows what she wants, and Fellows steals the show as her sister who knows better. The real focus, though, is on Martin, who does as well as he can with the odd deportation story. Blore provides a few good gags as the fussy butler who will do anything to make his employer happy.

Favorite Number: "It's a Blue World" was nominated for an Oscar, and Martin gives it the right sell. He also gets the romantic duet "No Other Love" with Julietta Novis in the opening operetta number and performs the 1890's standard "A Bird In a Gilded Cage" in a charming little routine with Fellows. Hayworth gets a brief dance routine in the kitchen a little later.

What I Don't Like: First of all, with immigration again in the news, the deportation story seems almost quaint nowadays. They never do say why his parents didn't get their citizenship or what country he's fleeing from. Second, I really wish it was longer. Hayworth has little to do besides switch between beaus and do a few songs.

The Big Finale: There are worse ways to pass an hour if you're a fan of Hayworth or Martin.

Home Media: Currently only on DVD as a solo film and part of that Musical 20 Movies set from Mill Creek Entertainment.

DVD
DVD - Musical 20 Movies Collection

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Family Fun Saturday - The Slipper and the Rose: A Story of Cinderella

Universal, 1976
Starring Richard Chamberlain, Gemma Craven, Michael Horden, and Annette Crosbie
Directed by Bryan Forbes
Music and Lyrics by The Sherman Brothers

We head across the Atlantic to England for tonight's review. This musical was a huge hit in England in the mid-70's, and while critics largely dismissed it at the time, it went over relatively well over here as well. How does this lengthy version of one of the most beloved fairy tales in the world fare now? Let's make our way to the castle in the country of Euphania, where the Prince Edward (Chamberlain) has recently returned home, and find out...

The Story: The King (Horden) and Queen (Lally Bowers) are in despair that their son Edward (Chamberlain) refuses to take a bride. He wants to marry for love, but his parents want him to wed a princess who will help fortify their borders. Meanwhile, Cinderella (Craven) was just banished to the kitchen by her domineering stepmother (Margaret Lockwood) after her father's death. She goes to the local cemetery to place flowers at her parents' grave and is caught watching the Prince and his bodyguard John (Christopher Gable).

The king and his advisers suggest a ball to keep the countries on their borders from invading. When less than half the princesses they invite agree to come, they extend the invitations to local nobility. Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters are delighted to go, but refuse to allow her to join them. Her fairy godmother (Crosbie) first helps her make gowns for her family for the ball, then makes her appear in a gorgeous dress of her own. She and Edward fall for each other at first sight, but even after he finds her and her glass slipper, there's still the fact that his parents want that political alliance with a real princess to deal with.

The Song and Dance: This is one of the most gorgeously filmed musicals of the 1970's, with Craven romping in fields against soft-focus photography and singing "When He Danced With Me" in moonlit shadows. Though she and Chamberlain aren't bad as the put-upon servant girl and the frustrated prince, the supporting cast really shines here. Horden and Bowers are hilarious as the royal parents who don't understand their son's desire to marry for love, Lockwood is suitably haughty and obnoxious as Cinderella's stepmother, and Crosbie makes an unusually tart and sensible Fairy Godmother. Stunning costumes and sets, too, especially at the royal ball, where Cinderella's creamy white pops against the purples and greens and oranges worn by the other guests.

Favorite Number: The film kicks off well with two songs revealing the royal family's differing viewpoints on marriage. Edward laments "Why Can't I Be Two People?" when his parents pester him about finding a bride, while the king and queen ask "What Has Love Got to Do With Getting Married?" The King and his advisers insist that the kingdom has to be "Protocolligorically Correct" to avoid war in one of the big chorus routines, while John and the servants explain about their place in the world in "Position and Positioning." "Suddenly It Happens" is the Fairy Godmother's song as she transforms Cinderella's dress...and her life..in preparation for the ball. Edward and Cinderella recall their magical night, one in the ballroom, one in stunning moonlit shadows, in "She/He Danced With Me."

What I Don't Like: Like most big film musicals of the 60's and 70's, this one goes on for way too long. The entire subplot with the prince having to marry a princess from another kingdom and the final 20 minutes where Cinderella is convinced to leave him is dull and depressing filler. They probably could have stuck a little closer to the original story without all the political trappings and been fine, or at least trimmed some of it.

The Big Finale: Perfect remedy for home-bound, princess-crazy girls who are looking for a new version of one of the most popular fairy tales in the world, or fans of Chamberlain or the Sherman Brothers' other work.

Home Media: It was re-released last year in all formats. Streaming service Tubi currently has it for free.

DVD
Blu-Ray
Tubi

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The 'I Don't Care' Girl

20th Century Fox, 1953
Starring Mitzi Gaynor, David Wayne, Oscar Levant, and Bob Graham
Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Music and Lyrics by various

We've seen serious takes on biographies of famous performers in the last few weeks, but this oddity is really more of a spoof. Though Eva Tanguay was a major vaudeville headliner in the late 19th and early 20th century, by the early 50's, she was largely forgotten by all but nostalgia buffs and stage historians. They try to get around this with a comic story that has the three men in Eva's life come to Hollywood to relate very different stories of how they met her and she became a star. How does this unusual approach work today? Let's head to Hollywood, as producer George Jessel (himself) prepares for a biopic of Tanguay, and find out...

The Story: Three men come to Jessel and his team, all claiming to have the real scoop on the vivacious, publicity-loving vaudeville headliner. Ed McCoy (Wayne) says he met here when she was a waitress in a bar and they became a team. She goes on when another vaudeville team, Charlie Bennett (Levant) and Larry Woods (Graham) fight over her. Later, McCoy convinces Bennett to be her accompanist in her first big number. Nonsense, says Bennett. She was really a singer with an alcoholic partner who was dropped when the management gave her part to major star Stella Forrest (Hazel Brooks). Flo Ziegfeld (Wilton Graff) discovered her to spotlight in his Follies. Woods has still another version, about how they fought when she thought he was going to give his operetta to Stella...at least until he went away to World War I, and she went after him.

The Song and Dance: This strange, goofy musical is as bright and wacky as Tanguay herself was said to be. Gaynor gives it her all in the truly oddball numbers, kicking up her heels and shaking Tanguay's signature feathers and having a ball. I do appreciate that they tried for a different approach with the story, with the Rashomon-style device of having each leading man tell a different version of Tanguay's life. Some of the costumes and sets are downright amazing, especially in the "Beale Street Blues" and "Johnson Rag" numbers on stylized Technicolor stages.

Favorite Number: The first version of "I Don't Care" on a bare stage has Gaynor climbing all over the audience in the boxes and shaking her tail feathers with abandon. It probably gets the closest to what was reportedly the real Eva Tanguay's wild performance style. Wayne joins Gaynor for "Pretty Baby," which starts out with them courting on a bench and ends with them dressed as a nanny and a baby, and then her swirling around the stage. "Beale Street Blues" is a colorful and gritty finale, with dancers slinking around a bar in bright pinks and blues and Gaynor in a feathered headdress. Levant gets to show his stuff on the piano with two solo Liszt numbers.

Trivia: Renown Broadway choreographer Jack Cole did the dances for "Beale Street Blues," "Johnson Rag," and the second version of "I Don't Care." Long-time Hollywood choreographer Seymour Felix staged the smaller numbers. Broadway dancer Gwen Verdon can be seen in "Beale Street Blues." She also did the dive into the circle of water in "I Don't Care" because Gaynor couldn't swim.

None of the men's stories get remotely close to the real Tanguay. She was born in Canada, but her family ended up in Massachusetts, where she started singing at local music halls as a child. She made her Broadway debut in a Broadway musical in 1901; by 1905, she was one of the biggest stars in vaudeville, famed for her brassy, sassy self-confidence. She did appear in the Ziegfeld Follies in 1909...but she took a number from Sophie Tucker. No one took a number from her. She became best known as one of the earliest celebrities, coming up with stunts to keep her in the news well into the 1930's.  Her marriages to a dancer in 1913 and a pianist in 1927 were brief... and neither bore any resemblance to the men in the film.

What I Don't Like: What on Earth does any of this have to do with vaudeville, Eva Tanguay, or the early 20th century? The big opening number under the credits stops to tell us that there's something wrong with Eva...but we never find out what, or how it fits in with the rest of the story. Cole's abstract numbers are truly weird, especially the ridiculous Renaissance-themed "Johnson Rag," and has nothing whatsoever to do with anything. Ironically, the numbers staged by Felix mostly come closer to the real style of the era.

It's also obvious that 20th Century Fox messed around in the editing room. The movie is way too short. You don't really get to know anyone, including Eva, and the story lurches along with no real rhyme or reason. Levant's his usual self, but Wayne and Graham are so bland, you have no idea what "bad girl" Eva would be doing with either of them.

The Big Finale: Ultimately, it's too weird and disjointed to be a favorite. Worth seeing once for Gaynor and the really strange Cole chorus routines.

Home Media: Currently available only as part of the 20th Century Fox Cinema Archives made-to-order DVD collection.

DVD