Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory Vol. 3
Hit the Deck (1955) is an MGM CinemaScope musical that bears a striking resemblance to the studio’s earlier hits Anchors Aweigh (1945) and On the Town (1949) without having any memorable songs or dance sequences of its own. Originally, it was a Broadway smash that was filmed in 1930 by RKO, which later adapted it for the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers vehicle Follow the Fleet (1936) using Irving Berlin’s music. This one (directed by Roy Rowland) was written by Sonya Levien and William Ludwig (Interrupted Melody (1955)), based on the Musical Play ‘Hit the Deck’ by Herbert Fields presented on the stage by Vincent Youmans (Flying Down to Rio (1933)) from ‘Shore Leave’ by Hubert Osborne; Lyrics by Leo Robin (The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938)), Clifford Grey and Irving Caesar. It features Tony Martin, Vic Damone and Russ Tamblyn as the three sailors-on-leave that hook up with Ann Miller, Jane Powell and Debbie Reynolds (respectively). Tamblyn and Powell play brother and sister that are the son and daughter of a Rear Admiral played by Walter Pidgeon, a fact that’s not in evidence throughout most of the movie for the others. This and the fight that the ‘boys’ get in with a headlining actor/backstage cad (played by Gene Raymond) to defend Powell’s honor is the cohesion for the story that runs between the musical numbers. J. Carrol Naish appears as a love interest for Damone’s mother (played by Kay Armen), Richard Anderson is Pidgeon’s resourceful lieutenant, Jane Darwell his maid, and Alan King & Henry Slate play the shore patrolman that pursue the seamen buddies.
Deep in My Heart (1954) – is an MGM biopic musical based on the life and the melodies of Sigmund Romberg; José Ferrer plays the Vienna-inspired foreign-born Broadway songwriter composer. Directed by Stanley Donen, it was based on the book by Elliott Arnold and features a screen play by Leonard Spigelgass (Mystery Street (1950)). Merle Oberon plays (the Madame X actress that wrote The Student Prince) Dorothy Donnelly who, according to the film, both discovered and grounded the artist as his lifelong friend; Helen Traubel’s Anna Mueller played a more maternal role in Romberg’s life. The movie is loaded with stars who perform song & dance scenes from the various stage productions that featured the artist’s work, including: Rosemary Clooney (The Midnight Girl), Gene Kelly with brother Fred (Dancing Around), Jane Powell and Vic Damone (Maytime), Ann Miller (Artists and Models), Cyd Charisse and James Mitchell (The Desert Song), Howard Keel (My Maryland), and Tony Martin (The New Moon), among others; leggy Tamara Toumanova appears early on. Midway through the story, Romberg meets his eventual wife (Doe Avedon; Isobel Elsom plays her mother). Walter Pidgeon plays J.J. Shubert and Paul Henreid plays Florenz Ziegfeld, but it’s Paul Stewart (with Jim Backus, as a writer with few words) that appears most frequently as Bert Townsend, the moneyman behind the majority of the productions that featured Romberg’s music. Ferrer does what he can to breathe life into the overlong production, giving the artist a colorful personality with lots of energy and sentimentality.
Kismet (1955) – is a musical founded on Edward Knoblock’s play that was directed by Vincente Minnelli and written by Charles Lederer and Luther Davis. It stars Howard Keel as ‘The Poet’ whose fate leads him from beggar to magician to Emir in an Arabian Nights story that also features Ann Blyth as his daughter Marsinah, who’s ‘discovered’ by The Caliph (e.g. prince), played by Vic Damone. Dolores Gray plays Lalume, the wife of the cruel Wazir (Sebastian Cabot) that keeps order throughout the kingdom; Monty Woolley plays the Caliph’s advisor Omar. Unrecognizable under a long white beard is Jay Flippen as the notorious thief Jawan, and Mike Mazurki plays Wazir’s chief policemen; Jack Elam also appears. Extremely colorful and shot in CinemaScope, its soundtrack’s most famous song is “Stranger in Paradise” which plays throughout this rather mild and average adaptation of the story about young lovers (Blyth and Damone); Keel and Gray are also brought together (from lust and for convenience as must as anything else).
Nancy Goes to Rio (1950) – is a remake (of It’s A Date (1940), starring Deanna Durbin) that was directed by Robert Z. Leonard (The Great Ziegfeld (1936)) which features a screenplay from Sidney Sheldon (The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947)) that was adapted from the story by Jane Hall, Frederick Kohner (Mad About Music (1938)) and Ralph Block. It stars Ann Sothern as widowed Broadway singer Frances Elliott who unknowingly competes with her 17-year-old daughter Nancy Barklay, played by Jane Powell, for a part in a (Fortunio Bonanova) play and Paul Berten, a coffee executive played by Barry Sullivan. Berten makes an incorrect assumption that young Nancy (who was playacting) is pregnant and without a husband which provides the romantic comedy elements that moves this musical along. Louis Calhern plays Sothern’s father (Powell’s grandfather) Gregory, an over-the-hill fool that’s constantly reliving his glory days. Former child actor Scotty Beckett appears as Powell’s boyfriend in the opening scenes. Because the rest of the story plays out before some rather poorly constructed backdrops of the Brazilian title city, the insufferable Carmen Miranda is also in the cast; she mugs for the camera and performs a couple of forgettable numbers. Glenn Anders plays the talented women’s agent and Hans Conried provides his usual humorous support as a servant.
Two Weeks With Love (1950) - full review!
Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935) - full review!
Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937) – with some of the same actors, the director and writers from the similarly titled edition two years earlier, this third of the four MGM musicals featuring the title song lacks the charm and originality of its predecessor, but makes up for it historically because it contains Judy Garland’s first appearance in a full length film. She sings "You Made Me Love You (I Didn't Want to Do It)" to a picture of Clark Gable (among other things). Director Roy Del Ruth, writers Jack McGowan and Sid Silvers, actors Robert Taylor, Eleanor Powell and Buddy Ebsen are joined by George Murphy, Binnie Barnes, Sophie Tucker, Raymond Walburn, Robert Benchley, Charley Grapewin and Billy Gilbert (among others). Robert Wildhack’s monologue about sneezes is too long and tiresome in this one and the whole racehorse back story is uninvolving and predictable. After being billed third behind headliner Jack Benny and Powell in the 1936 movie, Taylor’s name jumped to the top following his turn opposite Greta Garbo in Camille (1936). Again, he plays a young show producer; this time he wants it star an unknown hoofer (Powell) until his financial backer’s (Walburn) wife (Barnes) interferes for jealous spite. Murphy and Ebsen play out-of-work performers who befriend Powell’s character; Tucker plays Garland’s stage mother, a former star herself. Benchley is Taylor’s agent, Grapewin a horse trainer, and Gilbert a barber-come-investor in Powell’s horse.
Born to Dance (1936) - full review!
Lady Be Good (1941) won an Oscar for the Best Original Song “The Last Time I Saw Paris”, by Jerome Kern (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics) even though it wasn’t actually written for the movie. More light comedy than musical, it was directed by Norman Z. McLeod and written by Jack McGowan (based on his story), Kay Van Riper and John McClain. Though Eleanor Powell was top billed, it’s really a story about an on-again, off-again marriage between a lyricist played by Ann Sothern and a tuneful Robert Young. In fact, there are several divorce court sequences featuring Lionel Barrymore as the judge (and Tom Conway as an attorney). John Carroll plays a singer of the couple’s songs, and Red Skelton plays their song promoter. Dan Dailey appears briefly as does Reginald Owen and Phil Silvers, as others in the business. There are a couple of George and Ira Gershwin numbers (including the title song) contained within, otherwise there’s not much to recommend in this one besides the Busby Berkeley choreographed finale with Powell.