Thursday, September 3, 2020

Lullaby of Broadway

Warner Bros, 1951
Starring Doris Day, Gene Nelson, SZ Sakall, and Billy DeWolfe
Directed by David Butler
Music by various

After the war, Broadway remained as important as ever, helped by new inventions like the long-playing LP that could preserve almost an entire show's worth of music and excerpts of shows performed on early TV. The movies tried to regain their previous dominance with audiences by showcasing new performers and technologies. One of those new performers was Doris Day, who rose to prominence in the late 40's and early 50's in frothy musicals after a stint as a big band singer. She and another newcomer, dancer Gene Nelson, joined old hams like Sakall and De Wolfe for this tale of an English performer who comes to America to find the mother she never knew. We begin on-board a cruise ship bound for the US, as Melinda Howard (Day) prepares for that long-desired meeting...

The Story: Melinda thinks her mother, Broadway singer Jessica Howard (Gladys George), is a major star who lives in a New York mansion. The mansion is really owned by kindly businessman Adolph Hubbell (Sakall). Jessica is an alcoholic who performs at a saloon in Grenwich Village. Adolph's butler Lefty (DeWolfe) lies and says Jessica is away on a tour. He offers Melinda a room and reveals that many Broadway performers will be at a party that night. Among them is dancer Tom Farnham, whom Melinda met - and brushed off - on her trip to the US.

Adolph isn't happy about Melinda being there at first, until Lefty tells him what's going on. After Jessica fails to arrive at the party (she was really in the hospital), Adolph offers to take her to dinner. He also brings her to the attention of the producer of the Broadway show Lullaby of Broadway, who takes her as his female star alongside Tom in order to get Adolph as his backer. Adolph buys Melinda a fur coat...but then his wife thinks it's for her. When she learns who it was really for, she names Melinda in a divorce suit. Not to mention, Tom thinks Melinda's relationship with Adolph may be more than it seems. It'll take Lefty and his fiancee Gloria (Anna Triola) to bring mother and daughter together and keep Melinda from leaving the country.

The Song and Dance: Better than you'd think from the fluffy story. Nelson and Day make a cute couple, and De Wolfe and Triola may be even cuter as the former vaudevillians who are determined to help at least one person make it to the big time. Nelson has a few amazing dance routines, especially near the end of "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart." Gladys George is also excellent as Melinda's blowzy mother who thinks she's better off hiding her sordid past from her angelic daughter. Their eventual meeting in the last ten minutes is melodramatic but still heart-rendering.

Favorite Number: Day gets a perky rendition of the classic Cole Porter song "Just One of Those Things" in the opening seconds, wearing a tuxedo while singing onstage. De Wolfe and Triola have two hilarious duets, "You're Dependable" at the party, and "We'd Like to Go On a Trip" later on. Nelson shows off that amazing split while jumping off a piano at the party during "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart." He and Day join the chorus for the charming courtship number "I Love the Way You Say Goodnight" that includes some odd slow-motion special effects towards the end and the big title song finale, with Day in a flowing golden gown.

What I Don't Like: Did I mention that story? Alternatively fluffy and melodramatic, it's very predictable and can get kind annoying, especially towards the end. It also seems like kind of a mish-mash, almost a jukebox musical for previous Warners musical films. There's only three new songs - everything else is mostly from Warners musicals of the 1930's.

The Big Finale: Charming backstage tale with several decent numbers is worth checking out for fans of Day or Nelson.

Home Media: Easily found on streaming and DVD from the Warner Archives.

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