Thursday, May 19, 2022

Cult Flops - Glorifying the American Girl

Paramount, 1929
Starring Mary Eaton, Dan Healy, Edward Crandall, and Sarah Edwards
Directed by John W. Harkrider and Millard Webb
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin and others

Of course, operettas were far from the only - or the most popular - musical genre during the it's first flush of popularity in 1929-1930. Backstage films, which had existed even in the silent era, really exploded in 1929. Every studio rushed to make use of the new medium with tons of songs, dances, and acres of girls in plumed headgear and skimpy sequined costumes. Paramount and a cash-strapped Ziegfeld had been trying to get this one off the ground since 1928 By the time they settled on this mish-mash of cliches, it had been switched to all-talking. How does the story of a shop girl who learns how tough it can be to get "glorified" look almost a century later? Let's start with a nifty montage of women traveling across the country to New York to become the next Ziegfeld Girl and find out...

The Story: Gloria (Eaton) is a shop girl peddling sheet music in a department store who wants nothing more than to become the next big dancing star. Enter Danny Miller (Healy), half of a vaudeville dance team who just broke up with his partner. He meets Gloria at an employee picnic and, after doing a tap routine with her, convinces her to be his partner. She leaves behind her boyfriend Buddy (Crandall) and best friend Barbara (Olive Shea) to follow him to New York, only to discover that his real interest in her lays more in casting couches than her talent. Her conniving mother (Edwards) convinces her to sign a five-year-contract with him anyway. She does manage to get out of it, and even audition for the Follies...but she loses her Buddy in the process.

The Song and Dance: For all the elaborate dance routines and Two-Strip Technicolor, this is a pretty damn depressing movie, especially in the first half. It's surprisingly dark for the era, with it's small-time characters and low-down numbers contrasted with the more glamorous Ziegfeld image Gloria wanted so much to be a part of. It being filmed at Paramount's Astoria studios in Queens means there's a lot of location shooting at authentic New York landmarks, including Grand Central Station and on Broadway.

The second half is a lot more interesting. The Technicolor is a bit grainy, but it still adds a lot of spark to the Follies scenes. At the very least, it's easier to tell who everyone is in color. "The Lorelei" sequence, with dozens of actors (including Johnny Weissmuller) flitting about in various states of undress, is a lot easier to take and a bit less static in color, too. There's also Eddie Cantor's non-musical tailor skit. Other than a few Jewish stereotypes that may offend some folks, it mostly works pretty well today.

Favorite Number: The opening montage, set to "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody," really is nifty, with young women from all walks off life coming across a map of the US and dreaming of becoming a glamorous showgirl in feathers and ruffles. Gloria tells everyone how there's "No Foolin'" about what she wants as she sells sheet music to department store customers. One puts in a request for "Baby Face," which she gives him cheekily. Danny Miller and his partner Mooney (Kaye Renard) sing about "Spooning With the One You Love" at the company picnic, but they aren't feeling very romantic and spend the number arguing. Healy and Eaton do better with their tap routines to "Sam the Old Accordion  Man" at the picnic after Mooney stomps off and "Hot Feet" at the vaudeville house.

The film ends with those Technicolor Follies revue sequences. Eaton performs an elaborate ballet, flitting among showgirls in feathered animal costumes in a tutu. Rudy Vallee performs his signature "I'm a Vagabond Lover" with his orchestra. Helen Morgan comes off far better with her impassioned "What I Wouldn't Do for That Man!" Eaton finishes the film with the sad and bluesy "There Must Be Someone Waiting for Me In Loveland" while surrounded by showgirls in the most amazing glitter-and-feather costumes and headdresses. 

Trivia: Among the many real-life celebrities seen at the Ziegfeld Follies premiere are Noah Beery, then real-life New York mayor Jimmy Walker, Irving Berlin, producer Charles B. Dillingham, nightclub hostess Texas Guinan, and Ring Lardner. 

The most expensive movie made on the east coast at that time, it wound up being too costly to earn its money back and was a fair-sized flop for Paramount.

What I Don't Like: Edwards is the only member of the cast who makes even the least bit of an impression as Gloria's conniving, manipulative stage mother. Everyone else is either bland (Shea and Crandall) or obnoxious (Healy). Eaton tries hard, but other than showing a little spunk at her Ziegfeld audition, she mostly comes off as dull and vapid. No one is especially likable, not even Gloria, making it hard for you to root for her rise to the top the way you should. 

The plot is supreme melodrama of the most annoying and cliched type, and it contrasts badly with the glamorous Follies in the finale. Most current copies of the film don't include the color sequences or run them edited and in black and white. For the love of heaven, find those color sequences. The black and white copies look and sound terrible, tinny and blurry. The color, while not perfect, is still better than the black and white TV prints.

The Big Finale: Too dull to be for anyone but film historians or major fans of the movies made during the early talkie era. 

Home Media: If you're really interested in seeing this, look for the DVD or Blu-Ray Kino Lorber released in 2019 with the original blue tint and color sequences fully intact. The thorough bonus features alone make it worth checking out. All prints streaming online, including the one for free at Tubi, are the black-and-white TV versions.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Cult Flops - Golden Dawn

Warner Bros, 1930
Starring Vivienne Segal, Walter Woolf King, Wallace Beery, and Alice Gentle
Directed by Ray Enright
Music and Lyrics by various

Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I give you one of the worst film musicals ever made. It's in such jaw-dropping bad taste, it was a monumental flop even in its time. Having had success with their 1929 version of The Desert Song, Warners committed to making more operettas. Unfortunately, they didn't always commit to making them good. Golden Dawn is considered to be the rotten apple in a mostly bad batch. Just how terrible is this romantic action tale of a white goddess among natives and English and German soldiers in Dutch East Africa? Let's head to a camp, where Dawn's mother Mooda (Gentle) describes her daughter's marriage to the local god, and find out...

The Story: Dawn (Segal) is fair-skinned native girl who is in love with British rubber planter and prisoner of war Tom Allen (King), but is promised to the tribal god Muuglu. Big Shep Keyes (Beery), the black leader of the tribes, wants Dawn for himself. The Germans aren't overly thrilled with Tom chasing after a girl they believe to be half-native and send him back to England. That only works until the British retake Dutch East Africa. Keyes incites the tribe against Dawn, claiming she's angry he loves a white man. Tom needs to find some proof that Dawn isn't as "native" as her mother claims, before she's turned over to their gods as a sacrifice.

The Song and Dance: can't say this isn't original. Warner Bros does have a point with the blurb on the back of the DVD case that it's about as far from the backstage stories and weepy Al Jolson sob-stories of the early sound era as you can get. Beery's heavy, booming bass more than matches his insane performance. Cracking his whip and beating up anyone who gets in his way, his black makeup melting onto his white shirt, with an inappropriate southern accent, he's a like an action film villain from Marilyn Manson's fever dreams. Other cast members have more fun, including British comic Lupino Lane and his amazing rubber-limbed dance routine, feisty Marion Byron as the only other woman at the camp, and Lee Moran as the guy she's after. 

Favorite Number: We kick off with Mooda, singing about the changes to her homeland and how "Africa Smiles No More." Dawn tells the soldiers in the camp how she feels about "My Bwana," her Tom, in a lovely waltz. Beery booms a homage to "My Whip" that makes macho villains in 80's action films look tame by comparison. Joanna describes how she wants the man she loves to be "A Tiger" who treats her rough. Her man Blink claims he's looking for the same...but then she does actually push him around! Lupino Lane sings about what happens "In a Jungle Bungalow" and does an incredibly acrobatic dance, with some crazy splits and flinging around.

Trivia: This was originally filmed in color. Only black and white prints are currently available. A short fragment of the original color film was discovered in England in 2014. 

Golden Dawn premiered on Broadway in 1927, where it ran for three months, actually pretty decent for the time. Needless to say, it's never been heard from again, not even by light opera companies that specialize in older operetta. It's only surviving vestiges are a script, lobby cards and Playbils, and this film.

Wallace Beery's singing was so praised, he actually recorded "My Whip" for Brunswick. 

If Woolf King looks and sounds familiar to Marx Brothers fans, he'd do far better five years later as the villainous Italian singer who tries to push around them around in Night at the Opera

What I Don't Like: Hoooo boy. Where to begin? How about that flagrantly racist plot and all the hoopla over whether Dawn is white or light-skinned black? Or the white and British-skewered colonialism that claims the natives were in "peaceful subjunction." Or Joanna and Blink throwing each other around in a way that today would be considered domestic violence? Or there being no explanation for what two very obvious Americans are doing in the middle of Dutch East Africa in the first place. Or how stiff King is, and how laughably awkward his dialogue in particular comes off. 

There's also the terrible makeup and obvious sweating from the hot Technicolor lights on everyone, most obviously on Beery. Or the cheap sets and silly Muuglu totem that more closely resemble a kid's toy than a fearsome god. How about Lupino Lane not really having much to do besides his "Jungle Bungalow" dance and a few gags with King, or the dull choreography on the big native dance. 

The Big Finale: Everyone should have one incredibly, flagrantly, amazingly so-bad-it's-hysterical movie in their collection. This is mine. It may be terrible filmmaking and even worse racial politics, but you certainly can't say it's dull. It even has a few fans who enjoy the Viennese-style music and ignore the story. I say, mildly recommended only for historians of the early sound era, operetta fans, or those who want to see just how wildly off-the-rails a bad movie musical can get.

Home Media: DVD only as one of the earliest Warner Archives titles.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Animation Celebration Saturday - Make Mine Music

Disney, 1946
Voices of Jerry Colona, Nelson Eddy, Dinah Shore, and Andy Russell, among others
Directed by Jack Kinney and others
Music and Lyrics by various

This was the third of six anthologies of animated shorts Disney released during the 40's when they lost animators to World War II, then had financial difficulty. It's also the hardest to find complete today, thanks to some darker or dated content. How does this collection of extremely varied shorts look today? Let's start on the farm with a pair of feuding Ozark families and find out...

The Story: This being a "package" film, there's actually ten stories here, beginning with...

The Martins and Coys: Retelling of the infamous hillbilly feud and how two members of the families fell in love. 

Blue Bayou: Originally intended for Fantasia with different music, this soothing piece has two egrets flying against a flowing, watery background. 

All the Cats Join In: A teen girl prepares for a night at the local malt shop with her boyfriend, dancing the night away to Benny Goodman and His Orchestra. 

Without You: Haunting ballad of a lost romance, set against a blue backdrop, sung by crooner Andy Russell. 

Casey at the Bat: Jerry Colona sings and recites the famous poem about the cocky star batter for the Mudville Nine who doesn't do as well at the plate as his team had hoped. 

Two Silhouettes: Ballet dancers David Lichine and Tania Rianbouchinskya are rotoscoped silhouettes gliding against a romantic backdrop as two little cupids frolic around them. 

Peter and the Wolf: Retelling of the classical piece for children about a Russian boy and his animal friends who hunt for the title wild canine. 

After You've Gone: Benny Goodman and His Orchestra are back, this time providing the music for a short but jazzy segment with line drawing instruments frolicking across a backdrop of musical notes.

Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet: Two hats fall in love in the window of a New York department store. He's devastated when she's sold and spends the next few years searching for her on various heads.

The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met: Real-life opera singer Nelson Eddy finishes things off with the tragic story of a sperm whale whose dreams of singing grand opera are dashed by a short-sighted and disbelieving impresario. 

The Animation: Like the shorts, it's all over the map, from the dreamy, haunting watercolors of "Blue Bayou" to the cartoony "Peter and the Wolf," "Casey at the Bat," and "Johnny Fedora." The three ballads are downright gorgeous to look at, with their dreamy watercolors and the simple but elegant pastel lines on "Silhouettes." "Whale" even has some nice effects with Willie on the water, the fire where he's playing Mesophiles during the opera montage sequence, and when he's in heaven in the finale. Love the pen "drawing" the bouncy line artwork for "All the Cats," too. 

The Song and Dance: By far the most varied of the package films, with stories ranging from dark comedy in "The Martins and the Coys" to romance in the ballad and ballet shorts to high tragedy in "The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met." Kudos to Disney for trying some unusual material for them. "All the Cats" may be their first depiction of normal teens, "Johnny Fedora" is a charming and slightly bittersweet historical romance, and there's that sad finale in "Whale" and all the guns being slung around in "Martins and Coys." "Whale" is probably my favorite segment, with its unique story, followed by "Johnny Fedora" and "Two Silhouettes." 

Favorite Number: "All the Cats Join In" and "After You've Gone" are bouncy, bubbly swing tunes, with Goodman and his musicians as bright and energetic as the teens bopping to "Cats." "Two Silhouettes" is a sweet ballad performed by Dinah Shore depicting two ballet dancers gliding against a soft, misty pastel backdrop. Sterling Holloway narrates the adorable "Peter and the Wolf," which even retains the traditional showing of which instrument performs which character. The Andrews Sisters sing the charming "Johnny Fedora" as Johnny searches for his Alice all over New York. Jerry Colona sings and recites the more comic "Casey at the Bat," with its goofy players and all the build-up to Casey's big miss. 

The big one is "The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met." Nelson Eddy uses Disney's experimenting with recording  to let him sing all of the roles, from Willie's baritone to Tetti-Tatti's bass to the soprano who performs Isolde to his Tristan. His "Shortnin' Bread," Eddy's real-life theme on radio, is too fun, and the medley showing Willie's dream of Met success has a couple of great gags, including Willie nearly singing his Isolde off the stage!

Trivia: An extended version of "Blue Bayou" was originally planned as a segment for Fantasia to be scored to "Claire de Lune," but it was cut when Disney thought the movie was running too long. It exists in full and can be found included on The Fantasia Anthology set. 

The only Disney Animated Canon film to not be on Disney Plus at press time. 

What I Don't Like: First of all, I can sort of understand Disney's problems with this one nowadays. "Martins and Coys" is awfully violent for them, with its deaths, gun battles, and hillbilly stereotypes. That's probably why it's cut from the current video and DVD copies. Ironically, "Peter and the Wolf," the one segment that had a bittersweet ending in the original composition, doesn't retain it here - the duck is spared. (It's especially odd since they do retain the downer ending on "Casey at the Bat.") "Blue Bayou" and "Without You" are lovely to look at, but a bit dull to listen to, with their so-so ballads and meandering animation. 

The Big Finale: While this is slightly better than Melody Time, they're still only recommended for major Disney fans or fans of this era of animation.

Home Media: DVD-only in the US, and in an edited version missing "Martins and the Coys" and some bits of "All the Cats." The Blu-Ray was released exclusively through the Disney Movie Club; it's expensive secondhand and was also edited. "Martins and the Coys" can currently be found on YouTube (with Spanish subtitles). 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Gay Divorcee

RKO, 1934
Starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Alice Brady, and Edward Everett Horton
Directed by Mark Sandrich
Music and Lyrics by various 

Astaire and Rogers were such a sensation in Flying Down to Rio, they were rushed into an adaptation of a stage hit Astaire also starred in...and this time, they were the leads. It was called Gay Divorce on Broadway in 1932, but by the time this was in production, stricter censorship standards were already coming into effect. A divorce could never be light and carefree...but a divorcee could. (Nowadays, I don't think either title would work.) Under any title, how does this light-as-air confection look today? Let's begin in at a nightclub in London and find out...

The Story: Dancer Guy Bolton (Astaire) first encounters Mimi Glossop (Rogers) at a hotel in Brighton, England. Mimi's looking for a divorce from her rarely-seen husband Cyril (William Austin), an archeologist. Guy's best friend Egbert (Horton) happens to the the lawyer for her and her Aunt Hortense (Brady). He hires co-correspondent Rodolfo Tonetti (Erik Rhodes), or someone who aids in a legal proceeding, to make it look like he's having an affair with Mimi and have photos taken by private detectives. 

Not only do the detectives never arrive, but Mimi thinks Guy is the co-correspondent. When Tonetti turns up, he holds them in the room, but they escape. Even after that, there's still trouble...until the waiter at the nightclub under their room (Eric Blore) reveals that Cyril isn't as blameless as previously suspected.

The Song and Dance: And with a plot that lightweight, "song and dance" are the operative words here. Astaire and Rogers are a delight in their first starring showcase together. This comes a lot closer to their later movies than Flying Down to Rio, with a sparkling supporting cast, impressive Art Deco sets (check out the huge multi-level nightclub!), and terrific dance numbers. I also appreciate that they kept most of the original plot of the Broadway show (which Astaire also starred in), changing Guy's career from writer of smutty novels to dancer.

Favorite Number: We open with the very strange "Don't Let It Bother You" at the nightclub. Chorus girls in stockings, garter bows, and not a lot else make little finger dolls in tutus "dance." Astaire and Horton try it next. Astaire can get it; Horton has more trouble. Astaire finishes the number with a quick tap routine for the audience. A very young Betty Grable insists to Horton "Let's Knock Knees" at the resort's restaurant. Soon, they have the whole dining room knocking knees - and occasionally, into each other. Astaire's other big solo in his room when he's looking for Mimi is "Needle In a Haystack."

The big one - in every sense of the word - is "The Continental." At almost 18 minutes, the number is the longest in film history until Gene Kelly's ballet in American In Paris. Dancers in black and white whirl over those long staircases and across curving balconies, until they come down in black and white gowns. Among all this are singer Lillian Miles, who takes the song over from Erik Rhodes, and Fred and Ginger, who start things off with a great comic tap routine and do a quick one to end it. 

But the one most associated with Fred and Ginger nowadays is also the only Cole Porter song retained from the original show. Fred sweeps Ginger into "Night and Day" when she still thinks he's a co-correspondent. By the end of the song, she's thoroughly enchanted and in love...and so are we, thanks to their fine footwork and off-the charts chemistry.

Trivia: Ginger Rogers drives her own 1929 Duesenberg during the chase scene. It still exists and has turned up in car shows. 

Gay Divorce first appeared on Broadway in 1932. It went over equally well in London, with most of the original cast, including Astaire. Like many older shows, it's only New York runs since then has been in off-Broadway concerts.

"The Continental" won the first Academy Award for best song. It was nominated for Best Picture, Sound, and Art Direction. 

What I Don't Like: Too bad the story is so annoying. The whole co-correspondent thing is more than a little confusing. Not mention, divorce and adultery tend to be taken a lot less lightly nowadays. And why on Earth didn't they keep Cole Porter's original score, which also includes the standard "After You, Who?" The other songs by Harry Revel and Mack Gordon are ok, but certainly not at the level of "Night and Day." 

The Big Finale: As the first Astaire-Rogers film to really show their later style, this is a must for fans of them, Grable, or the big musicals of the 1930's. 

Home Media: DVD and streaming in the US. It's on HBO Max with a subscription. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Flying Down to Rio

RKO, 1933
Starring Dolores Del Rio, Gene Raymond, Fred Astaire, and Ginger Rogers
Directed by Thorton Freeland
Music by Vincent Youmans; Lyrics by Gus Kahn and Edward Eliscu

We return to the bubbly Art Deco dance world of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers this week with their first two vehicles. Astaire's only making his second film, but he's as at ease before the camera as Rogers, who had been appearing in films since 1929...but they're not the main couple here. That honor goes to fiery Latin movie temptress Del Rio and up-and-comer Raymond. How well do Fred and Ginger fit in this south-of-the-border backstage tale? Let's head to Miami, where Roger Bond (Raymond) and his orchestra are being scolded for their untidiness by fussy Hammerstein the hotel manager (Franklin Pangborn), and find out...

The Story: Bond sees the beautiful Belinha De Rezende (Del Rio) while leading the orchestra. He leaves his post to dance with her, but despite his assistant leader and accordionist Fred Ayres (Astaire) trying to warn him, Hammerstein and her chaperon Dona Elena (Blanche Friderici) catches him and fires the band. Bond is so crazy about her, he gets the band a gig in Brazil at the Hotel Atlantico just to find her. 

Turns out that her father (Walter Walker) owns the hotel and is having problems with gangsters who want him to sell it. Bond takes her out in his plane to find out more, but they end up stranded on a deserted island. She does say she loves him...but she's also engaged. And not only that, but engaged to his best friend Julio (Raul Roulien). The orchestra is out on its ear anyway when the gangsters convince the Mayor (Paul Porcasi) to deny the hotel an entertainment license...which convinces Roger to take the show to the air!

The Song and Dance: No wonder Fred and Ginger became major stars here. They really liven up this unusual South American romance. Fred has a few funny bits in addition his song sequences, including his attempt to tell Belinha how his buddy felt about her and how they were fired at Miami that leads to him being thrown out. Del Rio isn't bad as the flirtatious beauty and certainly looks the part, especially on that desert island. The lavish sets and costumes are redolent of Rio and Brazil, with their ruffled dresses and flowered outfits in "The Carioca" number and old Portuguese architecture and palm trees everywhere. 

Favorite Number: We don't get our first number until almost ten minutes in, but it's "Music Makes Me." Ginger Rogers has a great time shimmying for the orchestra in a see-through gown that definitely screams "pre-Code." The big hit was the ballad "Orchids In the Moonlight." Roulien sings this to Del Rio as backdrops of orchids fall around them. Astaire sings the title song on the ground, but it's Rogers and the chorus who do the death-defying dance stunts on the wings. One girl even falls and is caught by a plane under her. Astaire also gets a short but memorable tap solo earlier, when he's teaching the chorus how to dance.

The big one here - literally and figuratively - is "The Carioca." Fred and Ginger introduce the Latin dance craze that involves touching heads...and even here, we can see sparks flying. They dance like they've been together for years, and indeed, Fred did teach Ginger a dance for the Broadway Girl Crazy the year before. The chorus, wearing see-through gowns, pick up the dance all around that massive hotel set. Then opera singer Etta Motten, dressed as a local in a floral dress and Carmen Miranda fruit headgear, comes in to lead a similar dance with chorus members in native dress. It's big, bold, and goes on for too long...but Astaire and Rogers are what you remember.

What I Don't Like: Raymond's a little stiff as Roger, but at least he has a few good moments in his plane and on the desert island. Roulien is dull in a thankless "other man" role. Wish we could have seen more of Pangborn and Blore, who have some fun gags in the first half in Miami. And while Fred does get a few good moments of his own and the solo tap routine, other than her numbers, Rogers has a lot less to do as the band's sassy singer. 

The Big Finale: Fred and Ginger may not dominate this to the extent of some of their other films, but it still has things to recommend it for fans of theirs, Del Rio, or the Busby Berkeley imitation backstage movies of the early-mid 30's. 

Home Media: Like all of the Fred and Ginger films, easily found in most formats. The solo DVD is from the Warner Archives.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Happy Mother's Day! - My Blue Heaven (1950)

20th Century Fox, 1950
Starring Betty Grable, Dan Dailey, David Wayne, and Jane Wyatt
Directed by Henry Koster
Music by Harold Arlen; Lyrics by Ralph Blane

Mother Wore Tights wasn't the last time Betty Grable and Dan Dailey played singing and dancing parents. This modern story of a dancing team who want to adopt a baby was Grable and Dailey's third of four films together. In addition to being a rare musical family drama, it's also one of the earliest film musicals to be set around television. TV was already starting to make headway as the latest up-and-coming medium, and far bigger threat to movies' pop culture dominance than radio. How does one couple handle all these changes? Let's start as radio star Kitty Moran (Grable) learns she's going to have a baby and find out...

The Story: Kitty and her partner and husband Jack (Dailey) are thrilled, and so are all of their friends. Sadly, their dreams of parenthood are shattered when Jack gets drunk at the baby shower and his wife is hurt in a car accident and miscarries. They try to adopt a child on the suggestion of their producer and sponsor Walter Pringle (Wayne) and his wife Janet (Wyatt), but can't due to their status as performers. 

Even as their show moves to television, things seem to be turning around, and they find an orphanage willing to let them adopt a boy...until the priggish head of the home Mrs. Bates (Minerva Urecal) sees their friends having a wild party at their apartment to welcome the baby and decides they aren't fit parents after all. Kitty's devastated, until Walter finds a woman who wants to give away her child. Kitty insists on taking care of the baby herself...but first she has to fend off her understudy Gloria (Mitzi Gaynor) when she takes her place on the show, then the child's father turns up and wants it back...

The Song and Dance: I give this one credit for originality. Musicals don't often go into domestic drama, and there's even fewer that involve adoption and how difficult the process is. There's also its discussion of early live television. Movies were mostly trying to ignore this upstart rival at this point; this may have been one of the first film musicals to use it as part of the plot. Daily and Grable make just as believable a couple in modern dress as they did in the early 20th century, and Wayne and Wyatt more than match them as the goofier couple who already have six kids, three adopted. 

Favorite Number: We begin with Grable and Dailey clowning on their radio show, singing about tax season and how "It's Deductible," even every member of the family. Wayne and all the men from the show joke about "What a Man!" Dailey is for conceiving a child, as they all get drunk and raucous at the baby shower. They sing about "Halloween" dressed as scarecrows for the Pringle kids after losing the baby. Grable and Dailey are servants dreaming of a night on the town in their masters' clothes and how "I Love a New Yorker" during their TV show. 

"Live Hard, Work Hard, Play Hard" starts off with Dailey as a gambler singing about his personal motto and Gaynor as the moll who wants him to pay more attention to her...until we cut to Grable's apartment and see her watching the show. The number finishes with her as she dances her part, claiming she could do better than Gloria ever did. "The Friendly Islands" is an obvious spoof of then then-major Broadway hit "South Pacific," with Dailey attempting to sing bass like Enzio Pinza, Grable in bad dark makeup as the native girl he falls for, and "islanders" and sailors swaying all around them. 

Trivia: Film debut of Mitzi Gaynor.

What I Don't Like: I appreciate them tackling difficult subjects like adultery and adoption in a movie musical....but I wish they'd actually figured out if they wanted to be a domestic drama or a slightly dark comedy. There's enough mood whiplash in this film to give you neck cramps. It goes right from the car crash - which we don't see much of - and her recovery into the "Halloween" sequence. Jack looks like he's dallying with Gloria...and then Kitty shows up quickly to lay down the law. On one hand, I am glad they didn't linger over a messy subplot...but it also makes me wish the film hadn't passed over this so quickly. The ending is fairly abrupt and a bit too obvious and happy-ending for the somewhat darker story before it.

Frankly, none of the musical numbers are all that memorable, either. The music is dull, and other than the novel integration of "Live Hard, Work Hard, Play Hard" as Grable wishes she was one performing, mostly don't have anything to do with the film and slow it down. 

The Big Picture: While I give 20th Century Fox credit for trying something different with Grable's vehicles, it's still best for fans of her, Dailey, or the big musicals of the 1950's. 

Home Media: Easily found on DVD and streaming.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Holiday In Mexico

MGM, 1946
Starring Jane Powell, Walter Pidgeon, Roddy McDowell, and Ilona Massey
Directed by George Sidney
Music and Lyrics by various

We jump over the border from Southern California to Mexico to celebrate Cinco De Mayo and honor Mexico's independence with this story about a teenager trying to show her father how independent she is. This was Jane Powell's first movie at MGM, and it would set the standard for most of her vehicles through the rest of the decade - teen in exotic location helps her single parent find romance, while looking for love of her own. How well does the formula work south of the border? Let's begin with two animated birds who wonder why the telephone line at the home of Ambassador Jefferey Evans (Pidgeon) is always busy and find out...

The Story: The phone is always tied up because his teenage daughter Christie (Powell) is usually gossiping on it about her father and her friends. He has high hopes that she'll her old friend Stanley Owen (McDowell) as boyfriend material, but she thinks he's too babyish and considers herself to be too busy running her father's household. He shoves her into attending Stanley's sixteenth birthday party; she retaliates by giving Stanley one of his pipes. She's more interested in setting up a party for her father and the French Ambassador (Mikhail Rasuhmny). Yvette, the ambassador's daughter (Helene Stanley), has a crush on her father and begs to come.

Christine gets her own first crush on an older man when she asks pianist Jose Iturbi (himself) to play at the party. She also invites lovely Hungarian singer Countess Toni Karpathy (Massey), not realizing her father once had a relationship with her. The party is a success, other than she's so busy, she forgets to dress herself and misses half of it. She's not happy when her father starts spending more time with Toni and even drags Stanley to a nightclub to spy on them. She's thrilled when Iturbi is so impressed with her ability to run a household, he asks her to sing at his concert. She thinks he loves her, but learns the hard way that not every first romance turns out like we expected.

The Song and Dance: Powell's first vehicle at MGM is a charming confection, beautifully showing off not only her gorgeous soprano, but Massey's as well. McDowell matches her well in one of his earlier roles as the slightly nerdy teen boy who wishes Christine would see him as more than a friend. Pidgeon is far more personable than the men who usually play Powell's fathers in these films; you really do feel his genuine affection for her, and their relationship is lovely and believable. MGM spared no expense on her first production, either, with lavish gowns for the ladies and stunning Technicolor sets.

Favorite Number: We start off with Christine singing "Italian Street Song" over the phone, not knowing it's the French Ambassador listening in. Xavier Cugat, his little dog, and his Orchestra play "Yo Te Amo Much - And That's That" amid swirling dancers in pink and green peasant dresses and tall hats. Massey sings the traditional folk song "Csak Egy Szep Lany" in peasant costume at a nightclub in Pidgeon's first flashback sequence, and she's ravishing enough to make you understand why she fell for her. 

Iturbi's first solo number is the "Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor." It's done artfully, with the orchestra and Iturbi reflected in the smooth instrument. He and his real-life wife Amparo perform "Polonaise In A Flat. Opus 53" together for their grandchildren. "I Think of You" is the song Christine sings with Iturbi that causes her to fall for him. They later do "Les filles de Cadiz" together. "Ave Maria" is her number at the concert. For a kid singing with a hundred-piece orchestra in front of a huge audience, she performs beautifully.

Trivia: "Why So Gloomy?" a number Powell sings with a grumpy Asian boy, was filmed but cut. It exists in full and can be found on the "Musical Jukebox" disc with the 2004 That's Entertainment box set.

Powell and McDowell became close friends while making this movie; Powell later said McDowell was one of the only friends she had at MGM at this point. 

One of two movies with Fidel Castro as an extra; he supposedly is in the crowd scenes. 

What I Don't Like: Like most of Powell's vehicles from the late 40's, this is lightweight romantic comedy fluff that doesn't pretend to be anything else. It might be a little more realistic if Powell fell for any musician but Iturbi, who is a rather dull man with no personality beyond his piano playing. He's also old enough to be her grandfather (and has grandchildren), as several characters point out. Not to mention, all the Iturbi and Cugat in the world can't give this more than a drop of real Mexican flavor. It probably could have been set anywhere, swapping out Iturbi and Cugat for other localized orchestras and older musicians, without changing a beat. It's also way too long, with too many numbers that do nothing but pad out the story. 

The Big Finale: Charming way to pass two hours on TCM if you're a fan of Powell, McDowell, Pidgeon, or the MGM musicals of the 1940's. 

Home Media: Currently DVD-only from the Warner Archives.