Thursday, August 30, 2018


MGM, 1937
Directed by W.S Van Dyke
Starring Nelson Eddy, Eleanor Powell, Frank Morgan, and Ray Bolger
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter

The Story: Dick Thorpe (Eddy) is the Army's biggest football star. He's not as popular with Vassar College student Rosalie (Powell), who finds him to be conceited. She changes her mind when he starts courting her and singing at her window, with the help of his bench warmer buddy Bill Delroy (Bolger). They've barely started dating when Rosalie is called back to her home country of Romanza for its big festival. Turns out that Rosalie is actually the princess of Romanza, and is engaged to marry Prince Paul (Tom Rutherford). No one is happy with the arrangement but the dour Queen (Edna May Oliver). Paul is more interested in the Queen's lady-in-waiting Brenda (Illona Massey), and the King prefers working on his ventriloquist act to ruling a country. Dick takes off when he learns of Rosalie's engagement, but Bill knows he's unhappy. It'll take a revolution - and Rosalie and the King learning to speak for themselves - to finally reunite these lovers back at West Point.

The Song and Dance: Let's get things out of the way first - this movie is BIG. MGM was trying to outdo Warners' Busby Berkley musicals and it's own earlier spectacles, and they succeeded at that. Almost every musical number seems to be accompanied by hundreds of extras and sets that could probably dwarf four of the football field Eddy and Bolger played on early in the film. Only the biggest, most popular movie factory in Hollywood could have put together something like this at the height of the Great Depression.

Eddy's notorious for being rather stiff, but he actually comes off well enough as the dashing quarterback. Bolger's less believable as a football player, but he does get a good solo later in the film and a couple of nice scenes with Eddy and Powell. Morgan and Oliver are really fun as the flustered ruler who would rather be performing, and the haughty queen who just wants him to pay attention to his country.

Trivia: Cole Porter reportedly wrote the title song as a joke when MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer asked him to write a song with a girl's title. Porter came up with the drippiest song he could imagine...then saw Mayer have the last laugh when it became a hit.

Rosalie was originally a Broadway musical in 1928, with music by George Gershwin and Sigmund Romberg and lyrics by Ira Gershwin. While most of the original plot (and Frank Morgan) were retained, the songs were dropped.

According to Richard Barrios in his book A Song In the Dark, this was actually MGM's second try at filming Rosalie. The first was in 1929, with Marion Davies as the title character. William Randolph Hearst finally decided it wasn't working out and pulled the plug, and the studio shelved the script for nearly a decade.

Favorite Number: The second version of the title song is amazing, with literally thousands of extras watching Powell's incredible tap dance on giant drums. It must be seen to be believed. No wonder Eddy looked so amazed. Speaking of Eddy, his "In the Still of the Night" was so darn hot, I'm surprised Powell wasn't a puddle on the soundstage when he finished. His "It's All Over but the Shouting" is also nice, as is another big dance routine for Powell and the chorus late in the film when she's posing as a cadet at West Point.

What I Don't Like: Down-to-Earth Powell is too American to be anyone's idea of a Balkan princess. The story is a rather awkward mix of standard 20's operetta and standard 20's musical comedy, with a fairy-tale kingdom and Eddy's operetta ballads stuffed alongside a college musical with military overtones and Powell's huge tap routines. The movie can be too big at times, to the point of completely overwhelming its fairy-tale story. Critics then and now carped about the lightweight plot collapsing under the sheer size of it all.

The Big Finale: Worth seeing for the "Rosalie" drums number and "In the Still of the Night." Look for it at the Warner Archives and on TCM if you're a fan of the cast or Porter's music and can get around the overblown production.

Closing Credits: DVD

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Guys and Dolls

Samuel Goldywn/MGM, 1955
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Starring Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, and Vivian Blaine.

The Story: Nathan Detroit (Sinatra) runs an illegal crap game on Time Square in New York. He needs money to find a place to hold the game for major player Big Jule (BS Pully) from Chicago. Sky Masterson (Brando) is the biggest gambler on Broadway. He'll make a bet on anything...including whether he can take pretty young missionary Sarah Brown (Simmons) on a date to Havana. Meanwhile, Nathan has his own doll problems. Miss Adelaide (Blaine), his fiancee of 14 years, is telling him between psychosomatic sniffles that she wants to finally tie the knot and for him to give up gambling.

Sky and Sarah do make it to Havana, and after an incident at a nightclub, they do fall for each other...until they catch Nathan and the guys using the mission for their crap game. Adelaide's even angrier that Nathan's still playing, too. Sky's willing to risk it all to prove to his mission doll that he's willing to change...and that if she can go to Havana, maybe he and Nathan can give being "respectable" a try.

The Cast: Ironically, it's the non-singers who give the best performances. Brando's only so-so as a crooner, but his Sky Masterson is both intense and likable. Simmons is even better as Sarah, the uptight religious woman who learns to let loose and maybe even love a criminal. Blaine played Adelaide on Broadway, and she's not bad, especially in her "Adelaide's Lament" on her chronic cold. Sinatra wanted to play Sky Masterson badly...and as good as Brando was, maybe he had a point. He was obviously stiff and uncomfortable as perpetual loser Detroit. Stubby Kaye and the other gangsters are much better, especially Pully as tough-guy Big Jule.

Favorite Number: Simmons has a sweet singing voice that did well by "If I Were a Bell" and "I'll Know." She and Brando didn't sound too bad on "A Woman In Love," either. Brando's "Luck Be a Lady" is a high point, beautifully capturing Sky's feelings on his need to win this bet. There's some great choreography in the crap game dance routine right before "Luck Be a Lady" and in the famous "Runyonland" opening number. Stubby Kaye has a blast with the gospel spoof "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat."

What I Don't Like: Sinatra's bitterness over losing the role of Masterson carries over to his performance. "Sue Me" and "Adelaide" are stiff when they should be warm and funny. He sounds better in chorus numbers like the title song. I wish they'd kept some more of the songs from the stage version. I would have especially liked to have heard Brando's take on "My Time of Day."

The Big Finale: Required viewing if you're a fan of Brando and Simmons or the musicals of the 1950's.

Home Media: DVD
Blu Ray

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Animation Celebration Saturday - The Swan Princess

Nest Entertainment/Rich Animation Studios, 1994
Voices of Michelle Nicastro, Howard McGillin, Jack Palance, Sandy Duncan

The Story: Princess Odette (Nicastro) and Prince Derrick (McGillin) have been pushed together since their childhood by their parents, who who hope they'll someday marry and unite their kingdoms. They hate each other as kids, but when they meet as adults, they fall instantly in love...until Derrick says he's only in love with Odette's beauty. She leaves him, but falls into the clutches of the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart (Palance), who transforms her into a swan. In order to change her back, Derrick has to make a vow of everlasting love. He invites Odette to the ball his mother Uberta (Sandy Duncan) is holding the next evening. Von Rothbart, however, has no intention of allowing the real Odette to attend that ball, but her friends are determined to help her get to her prince.

The Song and Dance: What makes this one is sprightly Odette and her very funny companions. Steve Vinovich as Puffin and Steven Wright as Speed the Turtle are good, but my favorite is a hilarious John Cleese as Jean-Bob the frog who thinks he's a prince. Their "No Fear" number as they retrieve a map from Von Rothbart's castle is a highlight of the movie. I also love Mark Harelik as the supremely sarcastic Lord Rogers, who gets most of the film's best lines. Palance digs into his role of the sorcerer obsessed with taking over the kingdom with relish.

The Animation: According to Wikipedia, this movie used hand-painted cells for it's animation. That may have taken forever to do, but it sure worked for the finished project. The colors are vibrant and rich, the backgrounds lush and dense. It's very much in the mold of the Disney movies of the time period, which makes sense, since most of the people who worked on this were apparently former Disney animators. Some of the effects animation is beautifully done, especially Odette's transformations.

Favorite Number: Along with "No Fear," I'm a big fan of the opening song "This Is My Idea." It charmingly depicts how Derrick and Odette grow up visiting one another in a way that seems realistic and surprisingly natural for an animated fairy tale. The Busby Berkley homage/beauty pageant spoof "Princesses On Parade" is also a lot of fun. Jack Palance can't sing worth a darn, but he gives it his all on the uptempo villain song "No More Mr. Nice Guy" anyway.

What I Don't Like: Derrick is bland, dull, and a bit of a jerk. I have no idea why Odette changed her mind about him so quickly. Their big love duet "For Longer Than Forever" is cliched and drippy. It hasn't dated as well as "Eternity," the lovely pop ballad that plays over the second half of the credits (and in a music video included on 90's VHS releases). Like The Little Mermaid, this doesn't retain the tragic ending of (or much of anything at all from) the fairy tale that inspired it, Swan Lake.

The Big Finale: It's a shame that this was trounced by a holiday season re-release of The Lion King when it originally came out. It eventually became a best-seller on home video that spawned seven direct-to-home-media movies to date. I haven't seen any of them and have no intention of doing so. If you're a big fan of the Disney imitations of the 90's or are looking for a upbeat animated fairy tale for girls, this gem deserves to be far better-known.

Home Media: Unfortunately, I believe the original Swan Princess is currently out of print on DVD and has yet to make it to Blu-Ray...but the DVD can be found for cheap, and it available for rent or purchase on Amazon.

Amazon rent/buy

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Hello Dolly!

20th Century Fox, 1969
Directed By Gene Kelly
Starring Barbara Streisand, Walter Matthau, Michael Crawford, and Marianne McAndrew
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman

The Story: Dolly Levi (Streisand) is a matchmaker (and pretty much everything else) in 1890 New York City who has been engaged by wealthy feed store owner Horace Vandergelder (Matthau) to find a husband for his niece Ermengarde (Joyce Ames). Horace has his own interest in Irene Malloy (McAndrew), who runs a hat shop with her friend Minnie Faye (E.J Peaker). They're not the only ones visiting New York, either. Dolly encourages Horace's clerks Cornelius (Crawford) and Barnaby (Danny Locklin) to close the feed store and head to the big city in search of excitement and their first romances. She also brings together Ermengarde with her artist sweetheart Ambrose (Tommy Tune).

After a disastrous afternoon at Irene and Minnie's shop, everyone finally ends up at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, Dolly's old favorite stomping grounds. A friend of Dolly's (Judy Knaiz) keeps Horace from fleeing while Dolly makes her big entrance. He's not as happy when she ends up judging a dancing contest...and his clerks and niece are involved in it. Dolly has to figure out how to bring all these couples together...including Horace and herself.

The Song and Dance: Let's get the elephant out of the room. Yes, Barbara Streisand was probably too young to be playing Dolly. Honestly, she's having so much fun (especially in "So Long, Dearie"), it doesn't really matter. Walter Matthau is even better as the cranky object of her affections. This movie was so expensive, it almost bankrupted Fox, but it was money well-spent. There's so many wonderful details of 1890 New York and Yonkers bursting from every frame, you can spend a viewing alone trying to catch them all. The cinematography's nice too, especially on some of the bigger numbers like "Dancing" and "Before the Parade Passes By."

Favorite Number: Kelly and choreographer Michael Todd are at their best in vigorous ensemble pieces like "Put On Your Sunday Clothes," "Dancing," and the title song. "Before the Parade Passes By" features a powerhouse performance from Streisand and one of the most expansive and realistic parades ever on film. Crawford's lovely "It Only Takes a Moment" and the hilarious "Elegance" are also fun.

What I Don't Like: Crawford's American accent keeps going in and out and is distracting at times. Like many musicals of the late 60's-early 70's, it's too big, with too much going on. Pretty much everyone working on the film, from Kelly and Kidd to Streisand and Matthau, clashed, making this a troubled production all around, and the tension does show on occasion, especially during the second half.

The Big Finale: Critics have been rough on it since it came out, and it took it being one of the first movies released on home video in 1978 for it to recoup it's costs. (Despite it being one of the biggest hits of 1969, it still lost money.) I think they're too rough on it and am more inclined to agree with big Dolly fan Wall-E. This is a charming romp if you're a fan of Streisand or Matthau or like your musicals as big and bold as possible.

Curtain Calls: DVD
Amazon Prime

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Double Feature - Born to Dance and The Broadway Melody of 1940

Hi, folks! Today, I have not one, but two classic musicals from MGM in the 1930's and early 40's. Both feature star dancer Eleanor Powell tapping to music by Cole Porter (with two hit ballads from each), great supporting casts, and spectacular final numbers. Hope you've strapped on your dancing shoes!

Born to Dance
MGM, 1936
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
Starring Eleanor Powell, James Stewart, Buddy Ebsen, and Virginia Bruce

The Story: Nora Page (Powell) arrives in New York with not a cent to her name, hoping to become a Broadway star. She's given a place to stay by Jenny Saks (Una Merkel), who runs a boarding house. Jenny got married to a man she barely remembers in a marathon dance contest, and now she's a single mother with a very inquisitive child (Juanita Quigley). Her husband turns out to be Seaman "Gunny" Saks (Sid Silvers), who just left the Navy with his buddies Mush Tracy (Buddy Ebsen) and Officer Ted Barker (James Stewart). Tracy and Barker waste no time courting waitress Pepper Turner (Frances Langford) and Nora respectively.

The three couples are coming along quite well...until Broadway star Lucy James (Virginia Bruce) and her pekingese board the ship where the trio of Navy officers work. Ted rescues her dog when it jumps overboard, making him a sensation. Neither he nor Lucy are overly thrilled when her agent (Alan Dinehart) insists on splashing their non-existent "romance" on the front page of every paper in town. Ted gets Nora the understudy role in Lucy's Navy-themed show to prove he has no interest in her. All the publicity is unnerving Lucy, who lashes out and orders Nora fired. It doesn't help that Nora, trying to stand up for Jenny, has lied and said that Jenny's daughter was hers. It takes intervention from their friends to finally get the two together and onstage, where they belong.

The Song and Dance: Like The Boy Friend, this movie's at it's best when it focuses on the romances and the cast. Powell and Stewart have a charming, down-home chemistry that makes their scenes together really adorable, even when the plot contrivances in the second half kick in. Ebsen doesn't have much to do, though he does get two good dance solos in. Merkel and Silvers are also fun as the comics, in a plot line that actually seems a little racy for the mid-30's.

Favorite Number: "Hey Babe Hey," the number where the three couples meet for the first time, is a lovely group dance number that shows off Ebsen's eccentric dancing and feels spontaneous and fun. "Swingin' the Jinx Away," the huge finale with Powell tapping like mad around thousands of Navy seamen and two big guns, is probably the most famous routine from this movie, and one of the numbers Powell is most associated with. It really comes off as a little too much of everything today, going on for at least five minutes or so too long. This movie's two standards are far better-served. Stewart serenades Powell in the park with "Easy to Love" (and doesn't sound too bad, despite his protests otherwise in That's Entertainment), while Bruce introduces a languid "I've Got You Under My Skin." ("Under My Skin" was nominated for an Oscar.)

What I Don't Like: Bruce was fine when singing the goofy "Love Me, Love My Pekingnese" with the crew, but she's less believable as a spoiled diva later in the film. Her ranting is more stiff than passionate. Most of the plot is pretty much piffle, especially in the second half, when a couple of explanations would probably fix everything well before the fade-out.

The Big Finale: I believe it's out of print now, but if you love the cast, Cole Porter, or the Busby Berkley imitations of the 1930's, it's worth tracking down.

The Broadway Melody of 1940
MGM, 1940
Directed by Norman Taurog
Starring Eleanor Powell, Fred Astaire, George Murphy, and Frank Morgan

The Story: We change things up a bit here by making Powell the diva and her leading men the ones looking for their big break. King Shaw (Murphy) and Johnny Brett (Astaire) are doing their act for free in a dance hall when producer Bob Casey (Morgan) catches the show. He thinks Johnny would be perfect to compliment his star Clare Bennett (Powell). Johnny mistakes him for a bill collector when he shows up at their door and tells him he's King, making Casey offer King the part. Johnny still wants to help out, but ends up falling for Clare when she has lunch with him. It doesn't help that all the attention is giving King a big head, making him miss rehearsals. He's so drunk on opening night, Johnny goes on for him, but lets King think he did it. An angry Clare reveals the truth. Now King has to get his partner back and put the right man onstage.

The Song and Dance: Powell's a bit less believable as a tough-minded diva than as a starry-eyed dreamer, but her leading men more than ably pick up the slack. This was Astaire's first role at MGM since 1933's Dancing Lady, and he works quite well with both Powell and Murphy.  Morgan gets some nice moments when he realizes his mistake and while squiring an attractive but empty-headed southern belle to a night club.

Favorite Number: Two of the most amazing dance routines ever committed to celluloid can be found in this film. "Jukebox Dance" was Eleanor Powell's own favorite of her numbers, and she and Astaire go to town in a challenge routine that reveals which partner is really the better dancer. This movie's most famous routine is the finale, "Begin the Beguine." No flash, no guns, no chorus. Just two of the top tap dancers in the world and a platoon of mirrors, giving us perfection from every angle. Other standards include Astaire's solo "I've Got My Eye On You," danced with Powell's compact, and "I Concentrate On You."

What I Didn't Like: While slightly more substantial than in Born to Dance, the plot is still more of an afterthought than anything. Though he pairs well with Astaire, Murphy's cockiness can be harder to take, especially when his ego is inflating later in the film. (No wonder he went into politics later.)

The Big Finale: Unlike Born to Dance, this one is easily found on DVD (currently via the Warner Archives). If you're a fan of Astaire, Powell, or dancing in general, this is one beguine you'll most certainly want to begin.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Animation Celebration Saturday - Alice In Wonderland (1951)

Welcome to Animation Celebration Saturday! On Saturdays, you get a review of an animated (or live-action family) musical to brighten your weekends. Sit back with a big bowl of cereal and enjoy the show!

Alice In Wonderland
Walt Disney, 1951
Voices of Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn, Sterling Holloway, and Verna Felton

The Story: Alice (Beaumont) is getting bored, sitting by the river and listening to her sister (Heather Angel) read. She's daydreaming in a field of flowers when she sees a rather nervous white rabbit (Bill Thompson) hurrying into a rabbit hole. She follows him, falls down the hole, and finds herself in a fantastic underground world. The kid is curious to know where the Rabbit is going at first, but after her tea party with the Mad Hatter (Wynn) and March Hare (Jerry Colonna) gets out of hand, she just wants to get out of this weird place and go home.

After being lost in a dark wood, she's directed to the Queen of Hearts by the odd Cheshire Cat (Sterling Holloway). The Queen (Verna Felton) turns out to be a bad-tempered biddy who screams "off with your head" at anyone within firing range. Now Alice has to figure out how to get back to where she started while her head is still on her shoulders.

The Song and Dance: There's other versions of Alice that are probably closer to the book in letter...but I think this one at least has the right spirit. Beaumont is the perfect foil for a collection of beloved radio and early TV actors who are having a fine time hamming it up as Lewis Carroll's crazy creations. Thompson, probably best-known as the original voice for Droopy the Dog, is a perfectly hen-pecked White Rabbit, while Ed Wynn carries his original "Perfect Fool" persona from radio and the stage to animation as a hilarious Mad Hatter.

The Animation: This is some of the most creative work Disney ever put on-screen. The images are often so surreal, the film became surprisingly popular on college campuses in the 70's. The slanted lines and brilliant colors were the work of Disney artist Mary Blair, who also did the Donald Duck In Latin America anthology films and Cinderella and would later do the designs for the It's a Small World ride. There are odd monsters that you won't see anywhere else, like the cage-bird and walking glasses in Tulgey Wood.

Favorite Number: While the most famous song from this is probably "The Unbirthday Song" at the mad tea party, my personal favorite is Alice's introductory number, "In a World of My Own." Alice's longing as she sings of finding a special "wonderland" of her own is as touching as it is lovely. It perfectly sets up all the lunacy that comes after it.

What I Don't Like: This is not the Disney movie for you if you're looking for a typical boy-meets-girl romance or a more linear story. It's pretty much just Alice bouncing around from kooky character to kooky location. The extras on my 2-disc DVD set from 2004 indicate that a lot more characters and songs were considered and discarded. Despite having worked on it since the 30's, I don't think Disney quite knew what to do with it. Many literary critics then and now have complained about it being "Americanized" and about the deviations from the books.

The Big Finale: Walt Disney thought this film lacked "heart"...but what it lacks in a heartfelt storyline, it makes up for with creative animation, unique characters, an all-star cast, and some fun songs. Those college kids in the 70's were right - this is a fun experience, and one of my top-10 favorite Disney films of all time.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Boy Friend

MGM, 1971
Directed by Ken Russell
Starring Twiggy, Tommy Tune, and Christopher Gable
Music and Lyrics by Sandy Wilson

The Story: Sweet little Polly (Twiggy) is the assistant stage manager for a struggling musical in a small English town in the late 1920's. She's almost literally thrust into the spotlight when the real star (Glenda Jackson) breaks her ankle. The poor girl really has no idea what she's doing. The only cast members who seem at all eager to help her are the handsome leading man (Christopher Gable) whom she as a crush on, and her eternally tap-dancing guy friend Tommy (Tommy Tune), who has a rather melodramatic backstory for such a cheerful fellow.

It turns out that Polly's sudden promotion isn't the only excitement going on behind the scenes. The Hollywood director DeThrill (Vladek Sheybal) is in town and has stopped to watch the show. Everyone in the cast tries to outdo each other in the hope of going to Hollywood to become a star. The director, Max Manville (Max Adrian), wishes they had a bigger budget to do more elaborate blockbusters like what the US was churning out during the early talkie era...and his dreams and the cast's become the basis for some truly weird Busby Berkley homages.

The Song and Dance: While the Busby Berkley pastiche numbers can be fun, the movie is at it's best when it concentrates on the talented cast. Twiggy made her debut in this film after leaving modeling, and it's no wonder she and Tune would go on to do another 20's spoof in 1983 on Broadway, My One and Only. They have a charming chemistry together that contrasts well with the eccentricities and hamminess from everyone else, especially Adrian as the starry-eyed director and Antonia Ellis as gold-digging Maisie. 

Favorite Number: "I Could Be Happy With You" is a lovely Busby Berkley homage, and probably the film's single best number, just Gable and Twiggy and chorus girls. The first half of their "Room In Bloomsbury" duet is also adorable. Adrian also gets to have fun with one of the chorus girls in "It's Never Too Late to Fall In Love." He's expecting her to be a demure nun while he sings, but she eventually shucks her habit for something a tad racier...and more appealing to DeThrill.

What I Didn't Like: Like many musicals from the late 60's and early 70's, this one gets way too big for it's britches and for both the stories it's telling. It was originally cut down to 109 minutes when it was released in the US, but was restored to the original two hours in the 90's. Some of the numbers go on for way too long; the second half of "Room In Bloomsbury," with dancing gnomes and elves and flowers, is just weird and totally unnecessary. "Won't You Charelston With Me?" is marred by frantic editing that makes it look more like a recent "found footage" movie and barely lets you see the actual dancing. A ballet mid-way through the film that takes everyone outside and dresses them as gods and satrys comes totally out of nowhere, is never spoken of again, and stops the film cold.

The Big Finale: For all this movie's problems, I have to admit that it's grown on me since I originally found the video of the restored film in 2011. I've since picked up the Warner Archives DVD release, and I think it's now on Blu-Ray as well. If you're a fan of Busby Berkley or Ken Russel's work or Twiggy and Tune, you could be very happy giving this neglected charmer a look.

The Boy Friend On DVD 
On Blu-Ray

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A Dreamer, A Photographer, and a Funny Face - Welcome to the Blog

Hi there, everyone, and welcome to Musical Dreams, my home for my musical movie reviews! I've loved musical film all of my life. One of the first movies my mother took my sister and me to see in the theater was the 1983 version of Annie with Carol Burnett. When I went looking for movie blogs online, I found tons of general movie reviews sites, and sites that specialized in other genres, like horror or sci-fi, but none for musical film. I'd like to fill that gap.

I'll post every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday with a review of a musical.You'll find all kinds of musicals here. Old musicals from as far back as the dawn of sound in film. The latest movie musicals just out of the theater. Animated musicals, originals, and musicals based on stage shows. Musicals that were hits, musicals that flopped, and musicals that are now considered to be "cult" oddities. I may even review the occasional television musical.

So slip into your dancing shoes and warm up your vocal chords, because we're going to explore the wide world of musicals, in all their forms, fantasies, and foliables.

And speaking of fantasy, that brings us to our first review...

Funny Face
Paramount, 1957
Directed by Stanley Donen

The Story: Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn) is shocked when Quality Magazine invades her quiet Greenwich Village bookshop, looking for an intellectual backdrop that'll make their models appear more intelligent. She's more interested in philosophy than fashion and sees them as shallow. They finally shut her out...but Dick Avery, the photographer (Fred Astaire), sees a spirit and freshness in her that their other models lack. He convinces her to come to Paris for a big shoot. She's only interested in meeting her idol in "empathicalism," Professor Flostre (Michel Auclair), and hanging out at the local cafes with other radicals.

As Dick takes her from landmark to landmark, she becomes more self-assured, even giving him suggestions for the final shot. She and Dick seem to be enjoying one another's company and the fruits of their work...until she learns that Flostre's giving a lecture the night of an important gala event. She's late for the event and argues with Dick, then leaves when their fighting turns the gala into a disaster. He and Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson), the editor of Quality, go to Flostre's in search of her. Flostre, however, is not as noble as Jo believes him...and Dick may understand empathy a little more than she thinks.

The Song and Dance: This is partly what we today would call a "jukebox" musical, in this case for George and Ira Gershwin. Four of the songs were taken from their original 1927 Broadway Funny Face, but absolutely nothing else. (Including the remaining three songs, which were written by musical arranger Roger Edens.) Audrey Hepburn uses her own voice here, and while no opera diva, she sounds just fine, especially pairing with the equally imperfect but ageless Astaire on "He Loves and She Loves." It's also a joy to see Thompson, who was usually a musical arranger for MGM and today may be best-known as the author of the Eloise children's books.

Favorite Number: As someone who has always loved color, my favorite part of it may be how it's used to contrast the bright world of fashion with the dressed-down, drab world of the philosophers and beatniks. "How Long Has This Been Going On," with Hepburn swirling around the monochromatic book store in a brilliant green and yellow picture hat, is a prime example. "Clap 'Yo Hands," with Astaire and Thompson doing a wacky gospel spoof in a smoke-filled cafe while wearing the only colors in the place, is another. Hepburn gets to show off her early ballet training in a trio with two fellow philosophers in a smoky cafe.

What I Didn't Like: The parody of philosophy and what most would now call "hipsters" comes off as a bit dated today. While I find that the similarities in Astaire and Hepburn's airy personas transcends any age limitations, some may find the pairing of the 58-year-old dancer and the 20-something starlet to be a bit creepy.

The Big Finale: If you're a fan of Astaire, Hepburn, the Gershwins, Donen, or fabulous 50's fashion, this is one of the best non-MGM movie musicals of the 50's, with some lovely dance numbers an a few iconic Hepburn shots. Highly recommended.