Thursday, October 15, 2020

Cult Flops - The Opposite Sex (1956)

MGM, 1956
Starring June Allyson, Joan Collins, Leslie Nielson, and Dolores Gray
Directed by David Miller
Music by Nicholas Brodszky and others; Lyrics by Sammy Cahn and others

By the mid-50's, spurred by the popularity of the genre on TV and the stage, musicals became bigger, brighter, and bolder. This all-star retelling of the play and classic 1939 movie The Women features some of the most popular female musical stars of the stage and screen, and it's big in every way possible, from the colorful sets to the brassy numbers to the ladies' catfights. How does this story of how a group of New York socialites deal with the divorce of one of them look now? Let's head to Sydney's, a favorite hair salon among New York's wealthiest - and most gossipy - women, and find out...

The Story: Former singer Kay Hillard (Allyson) is married to wealthy stage producer Steven Hillard (Nielson). They're about to celebrate their tenth anniversary when Sylvia Fowler (Gray), a gossipy friend of Kay's, tells her Steven is having an affair with gold-digging chorus girl Crystal (Collins). Angry and hurt, Kay gets a Reno divorce, leaving him free to marry Crystal.

She joins two other divorcees - the Countess de Brion (Agnes Moorehead) and Gloria Dahl (Ann Miller) - at a ranch for divorcees. While there, they're all wooed by handsome cowboy Buck (Jeff Richards). He ends up with the newly-divorced Sylvia, but neither he nor Crystal are being faithful. Kay's little daughter Debbie (Sandy Descher) lets it slip that she heard Crystal having a phone conversation indicating that she's hardly a doting little wife. That gives Kay the ammunition she needs to get her husband back...and get even with the conniving, catty witches who ruined her marriage.

The Song and Dance: You can't fault the cast in this tale of marital infidelity and what women will do to get - and keep - their men and their security. Some of the biggest film and stage stars of the mid-50's can be found here, along with the up-and-coming Joan Collins (way before she portrayed a more calculating gold-digger in Dynasty). My favorite sequence by far is the hilarious cat fight between Miller and Gray after the latter learns that the former ended up with her previous husband. It builds up well to a very funny ending. The Metrocolor production is stunning, with gorgeous, glittering sets and costumes representing the highest echelons of New York society and the down-home world of the Reno ranch for divorcees.

Favorite Number: "Yellow Gold" is the number performed by the chorus - including Collins - featuring hundreds of bananas that makes pregnant mother Edith Potter (Joan Blondell) so sick. Allyson sings "Now Baby Now" backed by a male chorus playing purple base cellos at her radio show as she revels in her newly-free status. "Rock and Roll Tumbleweed" is Buck's big number at the club, and it's given a relaxed workout by Richards, backed by a country combo.

Trivia: This was the last movie for Charlotte Greenwood, who played the owner of the divorcees-only ranch, and would be June Allyson's last role at MGM. 

Jo Ann Greer dubbed June Allyson on the ballad "A Perfect Love." 

Yes, that is Dean Jones, who later starred in several Disney comedies in the 1960's and 70's and the stage musical Company, as the assistant stage manager and messenger in the beginning. 

Grace Kelly, Eleanor Parker, and Esther Williams were all considered for Kay Hillard.

What I Don't Like: First of all, the dubbing on "A Perfect Love" is badly done and way too obvious. It doesn't sound like Allyson's voice at all. Second, the only people who get to do what they're good at are Allyson and Collins. Miller doesn't dance, Gray only sings over the opening credits, Blondell is hardly the mother type, and Greenwood and Ann Sheridan (as Kay's sympathetic best friend) have little to do. The songs are either performed by Allyson or the chorus, other than the one song for Richards. I would have liked to have heard from other characters, too, including the other divorcees. 

The original film and play are all-female...and maybe the musical should have been, too. The men don't really add much to the proceedings besides Richards' "Rock and Roll Tumbleweeds" number and as hunks of meat to fight over. If they had to be there, there should have been a duet in there somewhere. And this whole thing really goes on for way too long. The chorus numbers are nice, but once again serve to pad the story, rather than move it along.

The Big Finale: Despite the excellent cast, I can understand why this one didn't do well when it came out. Only recommended if you're a huge fan of any of the ladies here or the MGM musicals of the 40's and 50's.

Home Media: On DVD and streaming, the former in a remastered edition from the Warner Archives.

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