Musical Monday: Three Little Words (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.

This week’s musical:
Three Little Words” (1950) — Musical #280

three little words


Richard Thorpe

Fred Astaire, Red Skelton, Vera-Ellen, Arlene Dahl, Keenan Wynn, Gloria DeHaven, Debbie Reynolds, Carleton Carpenter

Set in the early 1920s, the movie is a biographical film about Tin Pan Alley songwriters Bert Kalmar (Astaire) and Harry Ruby (Skelton).
Kalmar and his partner Jessie Brown (Vera-Ellen) have a vaudeville act, but he has ambitions of being a magician. After failing at that, Brown and Kalmar have a successful routine until Bert hurts his knee and can’t dance for a year.
Bert hears a song written by Harry Ruby and the two team up to write more music together, eventually writing popular songs, music for films and Broadway plays.

-Actress Gloria DeHaven makes a cameo playing her mother, Flora Parker DeHaven. Flora acted on stage and screen with her husband Carter Davis during the 1920s.
-Songwriters Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar were friends with Fred Astaire, who played Bert Kalmer, during his vaudeville days. Kalmer died in 1947, before the film was made but had agreed to it before his death. Ruby died in 1974. 

The real Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar.

The real Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar.

-Arlene Dahl plays real life actress Eileen Percy. Percy was in films 1917 to 1933. In the film and in real life, Percy and Harry Ruby were married from 1936 until her death in 1973.
-In the film Jesse Brown and Bert Kalmar marry. They did in real life as well but eventually divorced.
-The real Harry Ruby makes a cameo in one of the baseball scenes with Red Skelton.
-The dress worn by Gale Robbins in the “All Alone Monday” number is the same dress worn by Ann Miller in the “Girl on the Magazine Cover” in Easter Parade (1948).
-Debbie Reynolds has a cameo in the role of real life actress Helen Kane. Kane dubs Reynolds’s singing.

Debbie Reynolds dressed as Helen Kane with Carleton Carpenter singing "I Wanna Be Loved By You."

Debbie Reynolds dressed as Helen Kane with Carleton Carpenter singing “I Wanna Be Loved By You.”

-Vera-Ellen is dubbed by Anita Ellis

-Gloria DeHaven plays her mother in the film. B
-Debbie Reynolds acts in the role of Helen Kane-who was later the voice of Betty Boop. Reynolds’s singing voice is dubbed by Kane.

Notable Songs:
-“All Alone Monday” sung by Gale Robbins. My favorite song in the film. Though 1930s recordings of the song I came across later were more upbeat and happy sounding, Robbins sang it with a bluesy and mournful feel.
-“Three Little Words” sung by Fred Astaire. The title song isn’t sung or written until the very end of the film but it is the most memorable and leaves you humming after the movie is over.
-“I Wanna Be Loved By You” sung by Debbie Reynolds who is dubbed by Helen Kane, who originated the song. Personally, Kane’s voice grates on my nerves but it is a memorable and famous song.

My Review:

Though parts of this film are fictional-such as the conflict between Bert Kalmer and Harry Ruby- is a good movie as far as biographical pictures go. In many biographical films, the love interest is made up of several different people that the main character had relations with during their career. The love interest also sometimes different name to protect the real life person-examples of this could be Jayne Mansfield’s character in the “George Raft Story” who is supposed to be Betty Grable, or Evelyn Keyes’s character in “The Al Jolson Story,” who is supposed to be Ruby Keeler.
In comparison, both men in this movie were represented with wives that they were involved with in real life.
I also liked the added cameos of people like Gloria DeHaven who plays her mother in the film.
My only beef is that the clothing worn by the female leads isn’t period appropriate and looks more suitable for 1950 and not the 1920s.
In all, “Three Little Words” is an excellent mix of gorgeous Technicolor, excellent dance numbers with Vera-Ellen and Astaire, comedy from Red Skelton and catchy songs.

Red Skelton, Vera-Ellen and Fred Astaire in "Three Little Words"

Red Skelton, Vera-Ellen and Fred Astaire in “Three Little Words”

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Take my pulse, Lew Ayres: Medicine in Old Movies

One summer Turner Classic Movies showed almost all of the 15 “Dr. Kildare” movies from the 1930s and 1940s…and of course I had my mother tape every single one. So for a a couple of weeks my family sat down and fell in love with Dr. Kildare (Lew Ayres), Mary Lamount (Laraine Day), Nurse Molly Byrd (Alma Kruger), Hospital Admin Dr. Carew (Walter Kingsford) and of course Dr. Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore).

Each movie was cute, somewhat suspenseful and always had a bit of comic relief from Dr. Gillespie-who was wheel chair bound due to Barrymore’s arthritis.

The most interesting thing about the Dr. Kildare series is seeing how much medicine has changed. Part of me is thankful to live in contemporary time with up to date medical technology, but I still want to live in the 1940s.


It is also interesting to see the way they cure some of the medical cases. For example, in “Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case” (1940), a man is found on the street who was seemingly out of his mind. As it turns out the man had schizophrenia and they cured it. (Also notice how they pronounce the word in old movies: Ski-zo-FREE-nia)

Yes that’s right. Dr. Kildare cured schizophrenia. Amazing since even today it is incurable. The man was unconscious and given a shot that makes him go back to a “primate state and go through the stages of man until he is himself again.” And it works. The man is better, finds his wife (he also had a case of amnesia) and lives happily ever after.

However, the Dr. Kildare series isn’t the only movie that suggests schizophrenia can be cured. In the film “Bewitched” (1945), sweet Phyllis Thaxter has a voice inside of her head telling her murderous things such as to kill her fiancé. At the end of the movie, her psychiatrist helps her see which personality wins out.  She is cured and back to normal.

Moving away from schizophrenia, in “The People vs. Dr. Kildare,” Dr. Kildare performs an emergency surgery on ice skater Bonita Granville at the scene of a bad car accident. Granville then finds that she can’t walk (though her leg healed properly) and sues Dr. Kildare.  I may not be a med student, but I find it questionable that Kildare performed the surgery outside in an area that was not sanitary.

I will say I appreciate the bluntness of Dr. Gillespie. Doctors would be sued if they talked to their patients the way Gillespie barks at his, but they are usually cured and he gets the point across.

Here is an example of Dr. Gillespie’s doctor tactics:
Dr. Gillespie: Well, Mr. Ingersoll, good morning, and how are you feeling today?
Patient, Rufus Ingersoll: Never felt better in my life!
Dr. Gillespie: Oh ho, that’s fine. That’s fine…because your system’s in a state of collapse. Sit down before you fall down!

“Emergency”-My favorite TV show

Though the medical practices of Dr. Kildare might seem archaic by today’s standards, they certainly seemed up to date for the standards of the 1940s. The doctors were in New York City -not the country doctor seen in many other movies of the 1930s and 1940s.

Actually, the medical practices you see 30 years later in the television show “Emergency!” (1972 to 1979) aren’t much different. Nurse Dixie McCall, Doctor Bracket and Doctor Early seem like they are the only employees at Rampart General Hospital. My family and I always joke that those three doctors were the only doctors in the hospital because they did it all: Deliver babies, perform surgery and general practice.

Regardless of the questionable terminology and medical methods of the “Dr. Kildare” series, don’t let it turn you off. After watching all 15 movies, you will feel like Laraine Day, Nat Pendleton, Lew Ayres and Marie Blake are part of your family.

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