Musical Monday: “Rock Rock Rock!” (1956)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.


rock rock rockThis week’s musical:

“Rock Rock Rock!” –Musical #384

Studio:
Vanguard Productions

Director:
Will Price

Starring:
Tuesday Weld, Fran Manfred, Teddy Randazzo, Jaqueline Kerr, Ivy Shulman, David Winters
Themselves: Alan Freed and his Rock n’ Roll Band, the Moonglows, Chuck Berry, the Flaningos, Jimmy Cavallo and His House Rockers, Johnny Burnette Trio, LaVern Baker, Cirino and the Bowties, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers,

Plot:
Dori (Weld) is in love with Tommy (Randazzo) and is worried new girl Gloria (Kerr) will try to steal her boyfriend. When she learns Gloria is wearing a blue (Tommy’s favorite color) strapless evening gown, Dori wants one too, but her dad won’t buy her one. Dori has to earn the money and decides to start a bank and make loans to her classmates to earn the money- which works about as well as you can image.
Sprinkled around the thin plot are 21 performances by early, popular rock n’ roll singers and groups.

Trivia:
-Connie Francis dubbed Tuesday Weld and even gets billing in the credits at the beginning with her picture.
-Actress Tuesday Weld’s first film, who was 13 when this was made.
-Actress Valerie Harper has an uncredited role as a girl at the prom.

Notable Songs:
-“Tra la la” by LaVern Baker
-“You Can’t Catch Me” by Chuck Berry
-“Lonesome Train” by The Johnny Burnette Trio
-“I Just Want to Rock” by Ivy Shulman and the Bowties (notable because she’s 7 years old and I thought it was dreadful)

My Review:
If you are looking for a movie with excellent acting and a strong plot, “Rock Rock Rock!” isn’t for you.
But if love mid-1950s music and early rock n’ roll, you will enjoy “Rock Rock Rock!”
The film wasn’t so much about the plot but showcasing big name performers of the day. This wasn’t a rarity either. Around this time, similar films included “Rock Around the Clock” (1956), “Shake, Rattle and Rock” (1956) or “Don’t Knock Rock” (1956). Later, this could be compared to Elvis, Beatles or Herman’s Hermits films. Those films usually had more of a plot but were made to capitalize off the popularity of the performers and their music.
I think the most interesting thing to me about this movie is Connie Francis dubbing Tuesday Weld. Dubbing was a common practice in movie musicals since the dawn of time. If an actress couldn’t sing (Rita Hayworth, Virginia Mayo, Cyd Charisse, Vera-Ellen, Lucille Ball, etc.) someone else would do the singing and the actress generally would get the credit.
What’s interesting about “Rock Rock Rock!” is the film lets us know in the credits that Connie Francis is doing Tuesday Weld’s singing. I’m sure it was to capitalize off of Francis’s popularity but Francis’s singing voice doesn’t blend well with Weld’s appearance. The dubbed performances are awkward and mildly painful.
Also, as a huge “West Side Story” (1961) fan, a big highlight for me was David Winters in a bit role- who played Arab in “West Side Story” and later choreographed films.
Though most of the songs are enjoyable, the worst was “I Just Want to Rock” by Ivy Shulman who is maybe 6 or 7 years old and singing about how she wants to rock. I’m sure it was supposed to be adorable, I just found it it annoying.
My favorite of all the performances was LaVern Baker.
Though I personally did not enjoy the movie and thought some of the acting was pretty bad (it was Weld’s first film and she was only 13, so I’m refraining from being harsh), “Rock Rock Rock!” is an interesting little time capsule into music history.

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Musical Monday: “Cabin in the Sky” (1943)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.


cabin-in-the-sky-movie-poster-1943-1020197555This week’s musical:

Cabin in the Sky” –Musical #379

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Vincent Minnelli, uncredited Busby Berkley

Starring:
Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Eddie “Rocherster” Anderson, Louis Armstrong, Rex Ingram, Kenneth Green, Butterfly McQueen, Ruby Dandridge, Duke Ellington, Mantan Moreland, Willie Best, John Williams Sublett, Juanita Moore (uncredited)

Plot:
In a “Faust”-like plot, Little Joe Jackson (Anderson) is a compulsive gambler and his wife Petunia (Waters) is trying to get him to repent his sins at church.
Little Joe is shot over his gambling debt. He dies and the Devil comes to take him but an angel from heaven steps in to give him six months to live and straighten his life out.
While Little Joe is on the right path, the Devil’s workers are doing everything they can to bring him back to a life of sin.

Trivia:
-One of six all black films made by a major Hollywood studio between 1927 and 1954, according to “Beyond Racial Stereotypes: Subversive Subtexts in Cabin in the Sky” by Kate Marie Weber.
Those films include “Halleljuah” (1927) by MGM, “Hearts in Dixie” (1927) by 20th Century Fox, “Green Pastures” (1936) by Warner Brothers, “Stormy Weather” (1944) by 20th Century Fox and “Carmen Jones” (1954) by 20th Century Fox.
-Vincent Minnelli’s first credited, solo directing experience. Minnelli also helped with “Panama Hattie” (1942), but is uncredited.
-A song performed by Lena Horne called “Ain’t It the Truth” was cut from the film. She was taking a bubble bath during the song and it was considered too sexy and immoral for a black woman to sing in a bath tub, Lena Horne said in an interview.

Lena Horne singing "Ain't It the Truth" in the scene that was cut from "Cabin in the Sky."

Lena Horne singing “Ain’t It the Truth” in the scene that was cut from “Cabin in the Sky.”

-The tornado in the tornado scene was footage recycled from “The Wizard of Oz” (1939).
-The story premiered on Broadway in 1940 with the same title starring Ethel Waters as Petunia Jackson, Dooley Wilson as “Little Joe” Jackson, Katherine Dunham as Georgia Brown, Rex Ingram as Lucifer Junior, and Todd Duncan as The Lord’s General.
Ingram and Waters are the only actors who reprised their role on screen.
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe” written by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Hamburg.

Lucifer, Jr. sends Georgia Brown to tempt Little Joe. The General tells Joe to stay strong.

Lucifer, Jr. sends Georgia Brown to tempt Little Joe. The General tells Joe to stay strong.

Highlights:
-Louis Armstrong, though it is a very small role.
-Eddie Rochester Anderson’s dancing during “Cabin in the Sky”

Notable Songs:
-“Taking a Chance on Love” performed by Ethel Waters and Eddie Rochester Anderson
-Happiness is a Thing Called Joe” performed by Ethel Waters
-“Life is Full of Consequences” performed by Eddie Rochester Anderson and Lena Horne
-“Shine” performed by John Williams Sublett

My Review:
“Cabin in the Sky” is an interesting film, maybe even unusual, for 1943.
As mentioned above, it is one of seven films made during a 30 year span produced by one of Hollywood’s major studios with an all African-American cast.
This film came as a response when the African-American community demanded better treatment in films. The federal government was involved in the drive for all black casting, according to The Films of Vincente Minnelli by James Naremore.
President Roosevelt’s administration advocated black actors in major film roles in Hollywood. This apparently was connected to the New Deal, hoping the roles would create more jobs for minorities in the film industry, according to Beyond Racial Stereotypes: Subversive Subtexts in “Cabin in the Sky” by Kate Marie Weber.
The NAACP also met with Hollywood executives, demanding better roles for blacks.
The result was “Cabin in the Sky” and “Stormy Weather.”

Petunia prays for Little Joe after he is shot over his gambling debts.

Petunia prays for Little Joe after he is shot over his gambling debts.


Though the musical was made in the Arthur Freed Unit-known for lavish and high quality films- it was the lowest budgeted musical he produced. Freed however fought for more funding for “Cabin in the Sky” but did not receive it, according to Weber.
Though the film was meant to better black roles in Hollywood, it did not eliminate racial stereotypes that were seen in many films made during this time.
Some characters were presented as naive, lazy and didn’t want to work, church goers, and lovers of jazz music. This also apparently disappointed director Vincent Minnelli in his first directorial effort.
Minnelli handpicked the cast and worked to make the film visually pleasing.
The film opened to positive reviews from the New York Times, though some Southern states unsurprisingly refused to show the movie.
While there are obvious racial stereotypes, “Cabin in the Sky” does showcase the talents of actor who generally were playing maids, sidekicks or specialty singers in films.
Eddie “Rocherster” Anderson shows off his acting chops as the lead performer. He carries the whole film well and is also hilarious. Rex Ingram, as Lucifer Jr., and Kenneth Spencer, as God’s General, also do great jobs.
Lena Horne, as Georgia Brown, and Ethel Waters fill the film with several wonderful songs. However, I do wish Horne had more screen time.
Another disappointment was how little Louis Armstrong was in the film. He was maybe on screen for 10 minutes. That was a real disappointment.
All of that being said, I really enjoyed “Cabin in the Sky.” Anderson and the Devil’s disciples are hilarious, the songs are great and I was entertained throughout.
Most classic films do have stereotypical elements. But rather than ignore them, I think it’s important to learn from it and keep in mind that these movies were made during a very different time. Pop culture and films are just another way to learn about our history- even the unpleasant parts.

Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington and director Vincent Minnelli on the set of "Cabin in the Sky" (1943). Source: A Certain Cinema

Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington and director Vincent Minnelli on the set of “Cabin in the Sky” (1943).
Source: A Certain Cinema

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Review: Star Reporter (1939)

Often while discussing films we rank their importance with the alphabet.

An A film is a mainstream, high dollar movie. A B movie is a low-budget commercial film that may have a quality story line and actors, but is less publicized. These films would be the bottom half of the double feature — sort of like the song on the 45 record that wasn’t the hit single.

“Star Reporter” (1939) would most likely fall under the “B movie” category.

star

Distributed by “poverty row” studio Monogram Pictures, this hour long film revolves around newspapers and crime.

Reporter John Randolph, played by Warren Hull, works for the Star Tribune newspaper but is also a “star” on the job. Considered bright and brilliant, his father was the owner of the newspaper and was recently murdered. Randolph believes his father was killed because he had information that could bring down the “underworld” of the town.

Randolph is also a big supporter of District Attorney William Burnette, played by Wallis Clark, and throws his support for the DA in each of his stories at the newspaper. Randolph happens to be engaged to the DA’s daughter, Barbara, played by Marsha Hunt.

But when a murder happens, secrets about Randolph and his mother Julia, played by Virginia Howell, are threatened to be dragged out.

It turns out that the deceased newspaper owner was not Randolph’s biological father. Mrs. Randolph was once married to Charlie Bennett, who disappeared and was believed dead. Bennett has now reappeared as the murderer using the name Joe Draper, played by Morgan Wallice.

Lawyer Whitaker tries to bargain with the DA.

Lawyer Whitaker tries to bargain with the DA.

Dirty lawyer Whitaker, played by Clay Clement, is defending Draper.  Whitaker knows Mrs. Randolph’s secret and threatens to reveal it, if she and the DA do not cooperate and close the case.

Draper already signed a confession with the DA, but it is stolen by a thief named Clipper, played by actor Paul Fix in a very small role.

The DA decides not to prosecute to protect the Randolphs. John, not knowing the family secret, turns against  his father-in-law-to-be. Now rather than backing the DA, he works to get him thrown out of office, which was Whitaker’s goal.

For an hour long movie, this is an awfully complicated and mildly confusing plot.

Unlike most newspaper films of the 1930s and 1940s, the majority of the film does not involve a reporter playing detective or getting in fights with gangsters.

I was pleasantly surprised by this, until the end. At the end of the film Randolph is in the same house as the gangster/his biological father with a gun pointing at him. Though as a reporter, it’s not terribly accurate. I wasn’t surprised by this plot development. In my experience as a reporter, I have never gotten in fist fights with gangsters, but then maybe it was different in the 1930s.

Reporter Randolph is engaged to the DA's daughter, played by Marsha Hunt.

Reporter Randolph is engaged to the DA’s daughter, played by Marsha Hunt.

I did like how some of the lines showed just how busy reporters are and how they frequently are on call or away from home.

“After we’re married you can furnish the pressroom as living quarters. That way I can run in and see you between murders,” Randolph said to his new fiancée Barbara.

“Our wedding guests were kept waiting because of a special edition,” Mrs. Randolph told Barbara.

These lines made me chuckle because anyone in newspapers know the words day off, weekend or quiet evening are almost laughable.

I discovered “Star Reporter” shortly after I started working at The Shelby Star in October 2012.

Over the last two years of working at the newspaper, I felt a special connection to the title, because I was (Shelby) Star reporter Jessica Pickens.

Now as I wrap up my last week at the newspaper, I felt it appropriate to finally review the film I’ve been meaning to write about for two years.

Is “Star Reporter” a great movie? No. The biggest names in the film are Paul Fix, who later went on to be in several John Ford films, and Marsha Hunt. Both actors are in the film for less than 15 minutes.

But it is mildly entertaining, especially if you are looking for a very brief film to watch.

In a year that released “Gone with the Wind,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “Wizard of Oz” –just to name a few of nearly 100 well received films- it is interesting to take a look at the B side of the year 1939.

In an age now where we only concentrate the blockbusters, these little hour long films are equally important to explore.

StarReporter1939

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Back to School Musical Monday: She’s Working Her Way Through College (1952)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.


This week’s musical:

She’s Working Her Way Through College” –Musical #395

college

Studio:
Warner Brothers Studios

Director:
H. Bruce Humberstone

Starring:
Virginia Mayo, Ronald Reagan, Gene Nelson, Phyllis Thaxter, Don DeFore, Patrice Wymore, Roland Winters, Phyllis Kirk (uncredited), Julie Newmar (uncredited)

Plot:
Burlesque star Angela Gardner (Mayo), who has a stage name of Hot Garters Gertie, saved up her money from working on the stage to get a college education. She was inspired to further her education by her high school teacher John Palmer (Reagan).
On her last night at the burlesque, Angela runs into John, who is now a college professor at Midwest. She decides to further her education at his college, as long as he keeps her secret that she was a dancer on the stage.

virginiamayo14Trivia:
-Remake of the 1942 Warner Brothers film “The Male Animal” starring Henry Fonda, Olivia De Havilland, Joan Leslie and Jack Carson.
-Don DeFore stars in both the original “The Male Animal” and the remake.
-Virginia Mayo was dubbed by Bonnie Lou Williams.
-Though the two films have no plot connection, She’s Back on Broadway is supposedly a sequel to “She’s Working Her Way Through College” (1952). The only connection is the Mayo and Nelson re-teaming. Comet reviewed “She’s Back on Broadway” in November.
-I think this film is somehow supposed to be connected to “She’s Back on Broadway”
-Gene Nelson is dubbed by Hal Derwin in the “That’s The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of” number, but he does his own singing in all the other numbers.

Highlights:
-Gene Nelson’s mix of dancing and athletics in the “Am I In Love” number in the gym.

Notable Songs:
-“We’re Working Our Way Through College” sung by Chorus, Virginia Mayo-dubbed by Bonnie Lou Williams and Gene Nelson
-“Plenty of Money and You” sung by (dubbed) Virginia Mayo
-“I’ll Be Loving You” sung by (dubbed) Virginia Mayo and Gene Nelson

Ronald Reagan and Phyllis Thaxter play husband and wife in "She's Working Her Way Through College."

Ronald Reagan and Phyllis Thaxter play husband and wife in “She’s Working Her Way Through College.”

My Review:
Both the play and 1942 film “The Male Animal” were comedies mixed with the issue of free speech.
In the original film, Henry Fonda plays an college English professor whose job is on the line when he wants to read Bartolomeo Vanzetti’s sentencing statement as an example of free speech.
But this musical remake is a white washed version of that story.
Rather than an English professor, Reagan plays a theater professor, and the controversy here is that he wants to put on a musical rather than a Shakespeare play.
While writing and playing the lead in the college musical, Virginia Mayo is trying to keep it a secret that she was once a burlesque queen.
When this secret is let out by jealous Patrice Wymore (why does she always play mean dames?), Reagan’s job is on the line because a burlesque star is starring in his play. It’s Reagan’s job to deliver the news that she is going to be expelled (for dancing on the stage?), which he refuses.
The real issue is that the dean offered Mayo a fur coat after a burlesque performance and she refused him, so now he’s seeking revenge.
But all of the drama and conflict doesn’t happen until the last 20 minutes of the film.
The rest of the hour and forty-five minute film is Gene Nelson trying to romance Virginia Mayo, Don DeFore romancing Reagan’s wife Phyllis Thaxter, Patrice Wymore being jealous and Mayo performing songs from the upcoming play.
The songs that sprinkle throughout the film include lyrics such as: “She’s working her way through college, to get a lot of knowledge, that she’ll probably never ever use again.”
The movie unsurprisingly pales in comparison to the original film. But the worst part is that it’s rather boring.

Cast photo of Ronald Reagan, Virginia Mayo, Don DeFore, Phyllis Thaxter, Gene Nelson, Patrice Wymore

Cast photo of Ronald Reagan, Virginia Mayo, Don DeFore, Phyllis Thaxter, Gene Nelson, Patrice Wymore

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Back to School Musical Monday: “Old Man Rhythm” (1935)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.


Old Man posterThis week’s musical:

“Old Man Rhythm” –Musical #267

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Edward Ludwig

Starring:
Charles “Buddy” Rogers, George Barbier, Barbara Kent, Grace Bradley, Betty Grable, Eric Blore, Erik Rhodes, John Arledge, Johnny Mercer, Donald Meek, Evelyn Poe, Joy Hodges, Lucille Ball (uncredited), Douglas Fowley (uncredited)

Plot:
John Roberts, Sr. (Barbier) hears his son John Roberts, Jr. (Rogers) is doing poorly at college. His grades dropped when he started dating Marion (Bradley), rather than Edith (Kent), who John’s father prefers.
To help get John’s grades back on track and together with Edith, John, Sr. enrolls at the college as a freshman.
But while studying at school, wealthy Roberts’s company begins to suffer.

Trivia:
-Johnny Mercer acts in this film and wrote the lyrics to all of the songs.

Highlights:
-Betty Grable tap dancing in toe shoes after the “Comes a Revolution” number.

Notable Songs:
-“Boys Will Be Boys” sung by Betty Grable, Evelyn Poe, Joy Hodges
-“Comes a Revolution, Baby” sung by Johnny Mercer and Evelyn Poe
-“There’s Nothing Like a College Education” sung by the whole cast

Charles Buddy Rogers, Barbara Kent and George Barbier.

Charles Buddy Rogers, Barbara Kent and George Barbier.

My Review:
“Old Man Rhythm” is an entertaining B-musicals with some actors who later became big names in Hollywood.
It’s hard to resist an old Hollywood collegiate film that makes you wish- Why wasn’t college really like this? The students ride on a train to school together, the dorm rooms like like a 4-star hotels and there is a weenie roast every night.
Of course all the while, the co-eds are singing songs that have lyrics like, “There’s nothing like a college education to teach you how to fall in love.”
This movie is also fun because you can spots stars who later became big names in Hollywood. Betty Grable is one, who has a couple of songs and close-ups in the film. Songwriter Johnny Mercer is also in the film, and not only does he sing, he wrote all of the songs in the film.
There is also an uncredited Lucille Ball as a student.
I would also say that the father, George Barbier, steals the show here-even though the film ends with him goofily beating on timpani drums-alluding that he is “Old Man Rhythm.”
I am also always happy to see actor John Arledge in most films.
This is a cute little film that could help occupy a dull afternoon.

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Review: “Hot Rods to Hell” (1967)

hot rods to hellWe all have at least one guilty pleasure film that is so terrible, but we inexplicably love it.

I have several, and one of them is the 1967 drama/thriller “Hot Rods to Hell.” It is one of those films where you laugh at the ridiculous lines and moments but have a desire to rewatch it constantly.

Originally made for TV but released in theaters, the camp film stars veteran Hollywood stars Jeanne Crain, as Peg Phillips, and Dana Andrews, as Tom Phillips.

This is one of four films Andrews and Crain made together during their Hollywood careers that spanned the 1940s through the 1970s.

Their first film together was movie musical “State Fair” (1945) where Crain plays a farm girl named Margy who meets Andrews, a reporter named Pat, and falls in love with him at the state fair.

“State Fair” ends with the two happily running towards each other and kissing in the street.

I like to imagine that “Hot Rods to Hell” is Margy and Pat 22 years later with their children.

The movie follows the couple and their two children Tina, played by Laurie Mock, and Jamie, played by Jeffrey Byron, as they move from their New England home to run a motel in California after Tom is in a serious wreck.

The film begins with Tom driving home from a business trip to celebrate Christmas with his family. A reckless driver causes the accident and leaves Tom with a back problem and some mental issues. Due to the wreck, he no longer wants to drive and can’t listen to Christmas music.

Tom’s brother arranges for the family to move to California to run the motel, believing it will benefit Tom’s physical and mental health.

Drag racing teens running cars off the road: Ernie, Gloria and Duke played by Gene Kirkwood, Mimsy Farmer and Paul Bertoya.

Drag racing teens running cars off the road: Ernie, Gloria and Duke played by Gene Kirkwood, Mimsy Farmer and Paul Bertoya.

As the family is driving through the desert in their station wagon, they encounter teenagers drag racing a modified 1958 Chevrolet Corvette.

“Run them off the road, Duke. Run them off the road,” shouts the teenage girl Gloria, played by Mimsy Farmer, as she is perched on the back of the car as they race.

The teenagers are children of local, wealthy farmers who don’t care what the teens do. The teenagers have a constant thirst to get their “kicks” but nothing will satisfy them.

“What kind of animals are those,” Tom shouts as they are nearly run off the road. “They are insane.”

Peg covers her face with her hands and screams, “Tom I can’t stand it!”

Tina, who desperately wants to be a hip teenager, defends them by saying that all the kids drag race.

The majority of the 92 minute movie involves Duke, played by Paul Bertoya; Gloria and Ernie, played by Gene Kirkwood, harassing the Phillips family on the road. They tailgate the family through small towns, try to run them off the road and follow them to a picnic ground, where Duke attempts to seduce Tina.

Tina is frightened but fascinated with the bad kids.

When the Phillips finally arrives at the motel, rather than finding solace, there is more trouble.

The motel and the adjacent a bar and grill are inhabited by the drag racers and other teens like them. The previous owner allowed the teenagers to drink and have trysts in the motel. It makes you wonder if Tom’s brother did any research on the spot before encouraging the Phillips to move there.

When the drag racers discover the Phillips are the new owners, they do all they can to make them leave; knowing Tom will sanitize the spot.

The family is terrorized by the drag racers.

The family is terrorized by the drag racers.

Frightened and disgusted with what they find, the Phillips decide to stay the night at the hotel before figuring out what their next move should be.

Tina, still fascinated with Duke, goes to see him at the bar, almost like she is thinking, “Oh these people have been terrorizing my family all day. I think I’ll go hang with them.”

Jealous Gloria tells Tom and who tries to strangle Duke.

“Tina how far would you have gone,” Peg yells at her daughter. “Are you going to end up in a motel room with any man?!”

The family leaves the hotel to get the police, and the drag racers continue to follow the Phillips family.

“Oh they’re back again,” Jamie screams. “They want to crack us up!”

After even more harassment, Tom finally and successfully stands up to Duke and Ernie.

Tom places his car in the middle of the road in a game of “chicken” and the family hides. Duke and Ernie swerves to miss the car and crashes.

The crash causes an immediate attitude change and the boys tell Tom they won’t give him anymore trouble. The film ends with Tom deciding to go back and run the motel properly.

“Hot Rods to Hell” is truly a terrible movie, but I can’t get enough of it.

Duke tries to seduce Tina, played by Laurie Mock.

Duke tries to seduce Tina, played by Laurie Mock.

The hilarious lines and the over reacting to the situations make it a true guilty pleasure and cult classic.

But at the same time, it’s sort of sad. To see 1940s and 1950s stars Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain late in their career and performing in this type of film is disheartening.

Crain was a top star at 20th Century Fox in the 1940s and 1950s and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in “Pinky” (1949).

Dana Andrews previously starred in top notch films such as the noir “Laura” (1944) and the post-war drama “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946).

However, Andrews had children in college so he had to work, said the Carl Rollyson biography “Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews.”

While the old glamorous and glittering Golden Era of film was fading, the top stars were retiring or resorting to cult films like this one to continue to make money.

To compare, Joan Crawford was killing people with an ax in “STRAIT-JACKET” (1964) and Lana Turner was drugged with LSD in “The Big Cube” (1969).

While I marvel at the beautiful films in the early careers of these stars, I also can’t get enough of their late careers. Classic Hollywood’s career downturns have turned into our guilty pleasures.

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Musical Monday: “The Time, the Place and the Girl” (1946)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.


This week’s musical:

“The Time, The Place, The Girl” – Musical #490

picture

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
David Butler

Starring:
Dennis Morgan, Martha Vickers, Jack Carson, Janis Paige, S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, Alan Hale, Donald Woods, Florence Bates, Angela Greene
Themselves: Carmen Cavallaro, dancer brothers Frank and Harry Condos

Plot:
Steven Ross (Morgan) and Jeff Howard (Carson) are trying to open a night club in New York.
However, problems arise when they realize their club is next door to classical conductor Ladislaus Cassel (Sakall) and his opera singing granddaughter Vicki (Vickers). Vicki’s stuffy manager Martin Drew (Woods) works to shut the club down with the help of Vicki’s equally proper grandmother (Bates), under the premise that the noise would bother the home’s high-brow performers.
Tired of being controlled by Martin-who also sets her bedtime and won’t let her go out, Vicki slips away form home and meets Ross and Howard. Becoming friends with them, she helps to keep their club open and finds a backer for their show.

Dennis Morgan shows S.Z. Sakall and Martha Vickers how to play swing on the flute.

Dennis Morgan shows S.Z. Sakall and Martha Vickers how to play swing on the flute.

Trivia:
-Martha Vickers was dubbed by Sally Sweetland.
-Nominated for Best Music, Original Score for the song “A Gal in Calico” written by Arthur Schwartz and Leo Robin.

Awards/Nominations:
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song for “A Gal in Calico” by Arthur Schwartz and Leo Robin

Highlights:
-Girls dressed as cows in the “A Gal in Calico” number. I just thought it was amusing. 
-Pianist Carmen Cavallaro appearing in the film. 

Notable Songs:
-“A Gal in Calico” sung by Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan
-“Through a Thousand Nights” sung by Dennis Morgan and performed by Carmen Cavallero
-“A Rainy Night in Rio” performed by Jack Carson, Dennis Morgan, Janis Paige, Martha Vickers (Sally Sweetland)
-“Oh, But I Do” sung by Dennis Morgan

My Review:
There is nothing remarkable about “The Time, The Place and the Girl,” but it’s fun.
I think the most notable thing about the film are it’s two leading men: Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson. The two actors starred in several films together. These days, I think they are often overlooked as a comedic duo.
Their film appearances together include: Wings for the Eagle (1942), The Hard Way (1943), Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943), Shine on Harvest Moon (1944), Hollywood Canteen (1944), Two Guys from Milwaukee (1946), One More Tomorrow (1946),Always Together (1947), Two Guys from Texas (1948) and It’s a Great Feeling (1949)
It’s also fun to see Janis Paige as a young Warner starlet. I feel that in the 1940s, she took over the goofy sexpot roles that Jane Wyman previously played for Warner Brothers.
S.Z. Sakall is always funny and adorable with his accent and mispronunciations (this time he calls Philadelphia “PhillyDilly”), and Florence Bates is good in nearly every film she plays.
Maybe what was slightly lacking for me was the leading lady. Martha Vickers was certainly lovely to look at, but not overly memorable for me. It seemed like she was stepping in to a Joan-Leslie-Like role but didn’t have the sweetness and shine that Leslie had.
One low point is when Jack Carson sings in black face. The theatrical makeup is always off-putting and (obviously) dated but not a stranger to any pre-1960 musical.
Overall, the film is colorful and has some great music. Maybe it would have raised in the ranks slightly for me if there was another leading lady.

Jack Carson, Janis Paige, Martha Vickers and Dennis Morgan during the "Rainy Night in Rio" number.

Jack Carson, Janis Paige, Martha Vickers and Dennis Morgan during the “Rainy Night in Rio” number.

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The First Lady of Baseball: Laraine Day

She was a perfect mix of sophistication and fresh-faced beauty.

Laraine Day was an All-American girl next door, who played Nurse Mary Lamont in the “Doctor Kildare” film series while under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Day co-starred with top Hollywood stars such as John Wayne, Cary Grant, Lana Turner and was directed once by Alfred Hitchcock.

Day and Durocher smitten on the set of "Tycoon" in 1947.

Day and Durocher smitten on the set of “Tycoon” in 1947.

The sweet-as-pie actress married the baseball infielder and manager, Leo Durocher. Nicknamed “Leo the Lip,” Durocher was a controversial figure in the sport, known for being outspoken.

During their marriage, Day became known as “The First Lady of Baseball.”

Durocher’s professional baseball career began in 1925 playing with the New York Yankees and continued on with the Cincinnati Reds from 1930 to 1933, St. Louis Cardinals from 1933 to 1937 and the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1938 to 1941, 1943 and 1945.

Durocher managed the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros and Taiheiyo Club Lions.

Durocher was the manager of the New York Giants from 1948 to 1955 while he was married to Day.

Day served almost as a mascot and public relations manager for the team. She was friends with the ballplayers, their wives and the sportswriters and their wives. She was said to have polished the rough Durocher.

Day even hosted a “Day with the Giants,” which was a 15 minute television broadcast before each Giants home game. She also wrote the books about the teams called “Day with the Giants” (1952) and “The America We Love,” though the books are also said to be ghostwritten.

While they were married, she would watch nearly 77 games each year.

Day cheers for the Giants in 1948.

Day cheers for the Giants in 1948.

“It’s making a nervous wreck out of me. I don’t feel like an average fan,” she said in a 1954 Associated Press interview. “Winning and losing affects our lives. It’s our future.”

She even adjusted her film career around his career, only making one movie per year and doing the occasional television show.

During the season, Day would go to spring training and attend every home game but stayed home with the children when the team went on the road, according to the article.

“Before I married Leo, I wanted to win an Academy Award,” she said. “Now all I want is for us to win a pennant. My work is secondary.”

But before meeting Durocher, Day wasn’t a baseball fan. She didn’t even know who he was.

Day, then married to musician Ray Hendricks, met Durocher at the Stork Club in 1944.

Everyone applauded when he entered and Day asked a friend who he was. The friend told her Durocher played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Day apparently asked, “What’s a Dodger?,” according to the book “The Victory Season: The End of World War II and the Birth of Baseball’s Golden Age” by  Robert Weintraub.

“I didn’t know who he was, but I certainly did dislike him,” she said in a 1954 Associated Press interview, “Laraine Day Now No. One Fan of Giants.”

But the ice melted two years later when Day met Durocher on a flight. She was on her way to Minneapolis and was delayed in Chicago. So was Durocher. By the time their flight left, Day was smitten, according to the book by Weintraub.

Durocher was a well-known ladies man, being seen on occasion with actresses Betty Hutton, Linda Darnell and Copacabana show girl Edna Ryan.

Hollywood’s nice girl started an affair with the rough baseball player, and eventually filed for divorce with Hendricks in 1946. She was granted an interlocutory divorce from Hendricks on Jan.  20, 1947, meaning she had to wait one year before remarrying, according to Weintraub.

However, on January 21, 1947, Day traveled to Mexico where she received a second divorce decree and joined Durocher in Texas to be married.

Leo Durocher and Laraine Day

Leo Durocher and Laraine Day

Day and Durocher were then surrounded by gossip and scandal, with Day being called an adulterer and bigamist.

It was deemed the Mexican divorce was not legal and her Texas marriage was illegal.

A year later, in February 1948, the two remarried and the Associated Press reported “Laraine Day, Leo Durocher to Wed Again.” Durocher was 42 and Day was 27, the Associated Press reported in the Feb. 14, 1948 article.

In 1955, Day found herself in another “scandal,” while she found herself in an unintentionally groundbreaking photo.

Center fielder Willie Mays played for Giants while Durocher was manager, and Day adored the ballplayer.

April 1955 Sports Illustrated cover with Willie Mays, Laraine Day and Leo Durocher. The cover sparked controversy in 1955.

April 1955 Sports Illustrated cover with Willie Mays, Laraine Day and Leo Durocher. The cover sparked controversy in 1955.

“While I interviewed many ballplayers, the favorite of all is Willie Mays, who suffers tortures in the air and yet wins the heart of everybody,” Day is quoted in “Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend” by James S. Hirsch.

Mays, Day and Durocher were featured on the April 11, 1955, cover of “Sports Illustrated.” Day stands between the two men with her hands on both of their shoulders.

But in 1955, it was an outrage that a white woman would have her hand on a black man’s shoulder.

Letters were sent to the magazine, now only a year old, from outraged readers and others asking to cancel their subscriptions, according to Hirsch’s book.

After 13 years of marriage, Durocher and Day divorced in 1960.

After their divorce, Day said she was done with baseball, according her New York Times obituary.

“When our relationship was over, so was my relationship with baseball,” the obituary quoted Day.

However, Day did return to baseball once more in 1994.

Durocher, who passed away in 1991, was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

Day attended the ceremony in 1994 on her former husband’s behalf.

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Musical Monday: “Jupiter’s Darling” (1955)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.


Jupiters-darling-1955This week’s musical:

“Jupiter’s Darling” – Musical #110

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
George Sidney

Starring:
Esther Williams, Howard Keel, Marge Champion, Gower Champion, George Sanders, William Demarest, Richard Haydn, Norma Varden

Plot:
A fabricated tale based on a historical event set in 216 B.C. when Hannibal (Keel) marched on Rome. Amytis (Williams) is the fiance to Roman dictator Fabius (Sanders). Curious and spirited Amytis hears Hannibal is attractive and wants to check out him, his troops and elephants that are stationed outside Rome. Amytis and her slave girl, Meta (Champion), are captured and brought to Hannibal. Amytis charms Hannibal, purposefully delaying he and his troops from attacking Rome.

Trivia:
-Remake of “The Private Life of Helen of Troy” (1927) which starred Maria Corda, Lewis Stone, Ricardo Cortez and Alice White.
-Esther William’s singing was dubbed by Jo Ann Greer.
-In the film, Esther Williams’ character rides a horse that dives off of a cliff into water. Esther Williams wrote in her autobiography, “Million Dollar Mermaid” that director George Sidney wanted her to do the stunt but she refused. Stunt man Al Lewin performed the stunt and broke his back in the process.
-Esther Williams’ last film made under contract at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
-The pool Williams swims in was modeled after William Randolph Hearst’s pool at his estate, San Simeon, according to Esther Williams’ autobiography.
-The “underwater statues” in the “I Have a Dream” underwater sequence were secured to the bottom of the pool wearing cleats, according to Williams’ autobiography.
-Williams broke her left eardrum, which had been broken five times before in films, while swimming in the 25 feet deep pool for the “I Have a Dream” sequence, according to her autobiography.
-The Hayes of Office, which dictated the moral censorship production codes, was uncertain about the scantily clad “marble statues” during the “I Have a Dream” sequence, Williams wrote.
-The movie opened to a disappointing box office. Williams wrote this was “not surprising.”
-Howard Keel said he felt this was the best film he and Williams made together and Hannibal was his best performance, he wrote in his autobiography “Only Make Believe.”
-In one scene, Keel and Williams walk in with a leopard. The director suggested Keel pick up the leopard and the animal bit his shoulder. Thankfully he was wearing leather armor, according to Keel’s autobiography.

Esther Williams swimming with a "marble statue" in the 'I Have a Dream" sequence.

Esther Williams swimming with a “marble statue” in the ‘I Have a Dream” sequence.

Highlights:
-The underwater, swimming “I Have a Dream” dream sequence with men painted like white marble statues. Notable mainly because it’s a bit odd, but it is staged pretty nicely too since it is all underwater. This includes swimming small children dressed as cherubs who shoot arrows.
-Husband and wife dancers Marge and Gower Champion to the song “If This Be Slavery.” The actual song is silly but this is the one dance in the movie that really show cases their talent. The dance with “The Life Of An Elephant” is a bit distracted by the actual elephants (though the babies are really cute).

Notable Songs:
-“Don’t Let This Night Get Away” sung by Howard Keel
-“I Have a Dream” sung by Esther Williams, dubbed by Jo Ann Greer

My Review:
Esther Williams is one of my favorite stars, but “Jupiter’s Darling” is just no good. And Williams knew it too, according to her autobiography.
“Jupiter’s Darling” is not just a turning point in Esther Williams’ career but also the movie musical at MGM.
This musical marks the end of Esther Williams’ MGM career. At one point, she was MGM’s top star. After 12 years at MGM, it’s sad that her career at the studio that made her famous was a bit of a dud.
To put it into context, gossip columns around this time were writing “The Mermaid on the Lot has been beached,” according to Williams’ autobiography.
She was originally supposed to star the musical “Athena,” but was replaced by Jane Powell (but if you ask me-that wouldn’t have been any better of a last MGM film than this one).
Led by studio head Dore Schary, MGM was suffering and many of it’s major stars were leaving. Greer Garson, Clark Gable and Van Johnson were already “jumping ship.”
At the same time “Jupiter’s Darling” was released, Lana Turner also suffered from bad reviews for her film “The Prodigal.” Trade papers were both saying Williams and Turner were losing their fan base.
After this film, Williams was offered the lead in “The Opposite Sex,” the remake of “The Women” (1939). Williams wrote in her autobiography she thought it was ridiculous to remake the classic and refused. Williams realized Schary was probably purposefully giving her terrible scripts and that this was the end of her career, so she left and broke her contract.
It had been over 10 years since I last saw this movie and in my mind it was the worst movie.
After revisiting it- while “Jupiter’s Darling” isn’t the worst film ever made- it’s simply not very good.
In the 1950s and 1960s, several ancient history films were being made such as “The Robe,” “Ben-Hur” or “Spartacus.” “Jupiter’s Darling” fits into that fad but it just doesn’t work. Probably because it is so historically inaccurate.
The songs are ridiculous such as “Never Trust a Woman” which has lyrics about decapitating or “Hannibal” which is simply “Hannibal, oh Hannibal we’re fighting men of Hanniabl.”
I will admit that the color is beautiful and Williams’ looks gorgeous in the Roman costumes. However, set dressing and costumes can not save this film.
It’s a shame that Esther Williams glittering career had to end with such a dud. If you have never seen an Esther Williams film, don’t start with this one.

Esther Williams and Howard Keel in "Jupiter's Darling"

Esther Williams and Howard Keel in “Jupiter’s Darling”

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Musical Monday: The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady (1950)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.


The_Daughter_of_Rosie_O'Grady_FilmPosterThis week’s musical:

“The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady” – Musical #387

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
David Butler

Starring:
June Haver, Gordon MacRae, S.Z Sakall, Gene Nelson, Debbie Reynolds, Marcia Mae Jones, Jane Darwell, James Barton, Sean McClory, Virginia Lee

Plot:
Set right at the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, overly protective father Dennis O’Grady (Barton) doesn’t want his three daughters (Haver, Reynolds, Jones) to be in show business. The vaudeville lifestyle is what caused his wife, Rosie O’Grady, to pass away. He also is wary of his daughters dating, though one is secretly married.
But Patricia (Haver)-the daughter of Rosie O’Grady- disobeys and walks through the theater district and meets Tony Pastor (Gordon). Tony takes a fancy to Patricia, and she starts a career in vaudeville and a romance with Tony.

Trivia:
-Debbie Reynold’s first speaking film. Previously she was in “June Bride” (1948) but did not have any lines.
-Gordon MacRae’s character plays Tony Pastor, who in real life was vaudeville performer and he owned a theater. He was known as the “Father of Vaudeville.” Though MacRae’s character shares a name with Pastor, there doesn’t seem to be any other similarity.

The O'Grady daughters: June Haver, Marcia Mae Jones, Debbie Reynolds

The O’Grady daughters: June Haver, Marcia Mae Jones, Debbie Reynolds

Highlights:
-Gene Nelson dancing. Nelson is one of the most underrated tap dancers of the Golden Era.
-Christmas is included in the movie. Christmas scenes always make me happy.
-Debbie Reynolds first time speaking on screen.

 

 

 

Notable Songs:
-“My Own True Love and I” sung by June Haver and James Barton
-“Winter” sung by June Haver
-“Daughter of Rosie O’Grady” sung by Gordon MacRae

june haverMy Review:
“Daughter of Rosie O’Grady” is visually beautiful in Technicolor and chock full of Warner contract players.
However, it does not seem to be in any way connected with the 1943 20th Century Fox film “Sweet Rosie O’Grady” starring Betty Grable. No, it doesn’t appear that June Haver is supposed to be Grable’s daughter.
While the film is pleasant, something falls short.
I think it’s possibly because I feel like some of the talents are wasted.
Gene Nelson, who plays dancer Doug Martin in the film, is probably one of the most underrated dancers of the Golden Era. But that superlative isn’t obvious in this movie.
He has one solo dance and a few partner dances with Miss Haver, and while his footwork is fancy, it wasn’t enough to show off his true talent.
Golden voiced Gordon MacRae also doesn’t sing enough songs in this film.
When June Haver started in Hollywood, she was dubbed the “Pocket Betty Grable” and pitted as a rival to the star with the Million Dollar Legs. But when I see Haver in films, something is lacking that is in every Grable film for me.
She is pleasant, pretty, dances well and I like her well enough, but I can’t put my finger on what is missing.
I think the most notable thing about this film is 18-year-old Debbie Reynolds in her first speaking film role. She already had the energy and wit she was later known for.
I also love seeing former child actress Marcia Mae Jones as a lovely adult. You may know her as the snobby rich girl in “The Little Princess” (1939) who Shirley Temple dumps ashes on.
Actor James Barton was also a former vaudeville star. At the end he performs a comedic ice skating routine-but not wearing skates. One has to wonder if that was an old routine from his days on stage.
“Daughter of Rosie O’Grady” is pleasant. I wouldn’t say avoid it, but I also wouldn’t say to go out of your way to watch it.

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