Step Lively (1944)
This musical remake of the Marx Brothers’ comedy Room Service (1938) was directed by Tim Whelan. Warren Duff & Peter Milne adapted the Allen Boretz-John Murray play of the same name.
To make it fresh and more fully utilize their top billed lead Frank Sinatra the story was changed a bit – he plays the Oswego writer Glen Russell that Frank Albertson played in the original but Sinatra’s character (low and behold) has a talent for singing which Gordon Miller (George Murphy not Groucho) recognizes even though he wasn’t producing the writer’s play in the first place. Miller and his two sidekicks (Wally Brown & Alan Carney in lieu of Chico & Harpo) are trying to produce a Broadway musical starring Christine Marlowe (singer/actress Gloria DeHaven who has a much bigger role than Lucille Ball did). But the producers have no money and while trying to find a backer they and their 20 cast members have run up a $1200 bill at the hotel whose manager Joe Gribble (Walter Slezak a more recognizable actor and a bigger role than Cliff Dunstan had) happens to be Miller’s brother-in-law. But time is running out for Miller and company because a hotel executive named Wagner (Adolphe Menjou takes Donald MacBride’s place) has caught wind of the arrangement and insists that the deadbeats be evicted! Wagner’s timing couldn’t be worse because the “boys” have finally found someone to bankroll their production a famous financier who wishes to remain anonymous so he operates through an agent named Jenkins (Eugene Pallette filling in for Philip Wood). The financier wants Miss Abbott (Anne Jeffreys whose mistress character is only alluded to in the original) to have a role in the musical and she after seeing writer Russell and hearing him (Sinatra) sing insists that Jenkins fund it. Brown as the musical’s director Binion (minion?) and Carney as Harry who plays a fake doctor part (that Chico did) are forgettable (as always). Grant Mitchell plays the hotel’s doctor (replacing Charles Halton).
Knowing that the law won’t allow Wagner to throw a guest out who’s sick Miller convinces Russell to fake an illness. Meanwhile Jenkins smells a rat and stops the financier’s check. Not knowing this Wagner agrees to allow Miller and company to charge everything to the hotel until it clears. When Miller learns of the stop payment knowing that the West coast bank’s check will take 5 days to bounce he decides to take advantage of the situation planning to start the production within that timeframe. The timing of Wagner’s realization that he’s been had is such that Russell has to fake a suicide to delay the hotel manager from ruining their opening night.
Sinatra DeHaven Jeffreys and even Murphy sing in what is a tight less than 90 minute musical that includes a romantic angle that the original also didn’t have – DeHaven’s character schmoozes Sinatra’s in order to distract him long enough to keep from selling his play to competition and in order to get him to sing in their show (although Albertson’s character also found love with Ann Miller the connection to the production was different). Of course the writer figures this out and is (temporarily) disillusioned but everything works out as expected in the end. This movie utilizes considerably more sets than the Marx Brothers one and the film’s B&W Art Direction-Interior Decoration received an Academy Award nomination.