Musical Monday: The I Don’t Care Girl (1953)

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-i-dont-care-girl-movie-poster-1953-1020701174This week’s musical:
“The I Don’t Care Girl” –Musical #491

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Lloyd Bacon

Starring:
Mitzi Gaynor, David Wayne, Oscar Levant, Bob Graham, Craig Hill, George Jessel (as himself), Hazel Brooks, Barrie Chase (uncredited), Julie Newmar (uncredited), Gwen Verdon (uncredited)

Plot:
Biographical film on vaudeville performer Eva Tanguay who sang the song “I Don’t Care.” Though the film is a biographical film about Tanguay, the film starts in present time with George Jessell trying to plan the film. They find Tanguay’s old partners and friends and the story is told through their inconsistent memories.

Trivia:
-The real life Eva Tanguay was born in 1878 and died in 1947 at the age of 68. Tanguay was good friends with performer Sophie Tucker. Tanguay dubbed herself “the girl who made vaudeville famous.”
-Produced by George Jessel and played himself in the film.
-Jack Cole was the choreographer and Gwen Verdon was Gaynor’s dance in.
-In a TCM interview with Mitzi Gaynor, during the fire scene Gaynor said everything was fireproof except with her.
-Max Showalter was originally supposed to play the Oscar Levant role. However, Jessel saw Levant in “An American in Paris” and cast him instead, according to Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Flashbacks by Tom Weaver.

The real Eva Tanguay and a publicity portrait of Mitzi Gaynor in costume as Tanguay for "I Don't Care Girl"

The real Eva Tanguay and a publicity portrait of Mitzi Gaynor in costume as Tanguay for “I Don’t Care Girl”

Highlights:
-Jack Cole’s choreography

Notable Songs:
-“I Don’t Care” performed by Mitzi Gaynor- since it’s the title song
-“As Long As You Care, I Care” performed by Bob Graham
-“Kiss Me My Honey, Kiss Me” performed by Mitzi Gaynor and Bob Graham

My Review:

Performer Eva Tanguay

Performer Eva Tanguay

I started “The I Don’t Care Girl” knowing nothing about vaudeville actress Eva Tanguay and ended the hour and 18 minute biographical film still knowing next to nothing about Tanguay, other than the fact that she existed and made the song “I Don’t Care” famous.

Obviously, most biographical films- particularly of the musical nature- are not very accurate. However, you leave with at least a sense of why the person was important. But I didn’t feel that with Eva Tanguay after watching “The I Don’t Care Girl” until I did some independent research.

Tanguay was known for being energetic and robust and often wore flamboyant costumes. When the Lincoln penny was released, she wore a dress completely made of pennies. She later wore a 45 pound dress made out of greenback dollars. Tanguay was close friends with Broadway star Sophie Tucker and later lost her millions in the 1929 stock market crash. All of these would have been interesting things to add to the plot.

I think part of this is because the movie is so brief. I think it’s also because the format of the film. Producer George Jessel plays himself saying,”What are we going to do about this Eva Tanguay movie?” and proceeds to hear three different sides of the story about Eva Tanguay.

Mitzi Gaynor is always lovely, energetic and fun to watch. Her musical numbers in this film are great, but her acting is slightly frantic. However, this could have been direction, and maybe she was trying to show Tanguay’s energy. Jack Cole’s dance numbers are always fantastic too. However, the numbers were modern 1950s dance and not things that would have been seen in the Ziegfeld Follies at the turn of the century. Again, this may be because they felt the audience would enjoy this more, but other biographical films (The Dolly Sisters, Look for the Silver Lining) seem to attempt to stay true to the era.

Overall, while the basis of the movie is “What are we going to do about his Eva Tanguay film?” It feels like 20th Century Fox actually felt this way and then threw it up on screen.

Bob Graham and Mitzi Gaynor in "The I Don't Care Girl"

Bob Graham and Mitzi Gaynor in “The I Don’t Care Girl”

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Musical Monday: The Harvey Girls (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.

harvey girlsThis week’s musical:
“The Harvey Girls” –Musical #43

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
George Sidney

Starring:
Judy Garlands, John Hodiak, Angela Lansbury, Ray Bolger, Cyd Charisse, Virgina O’Brien, Preston Foster, Marjorie Main, Kenny Baker, Selena Royale, Chill Wills, Ruth Brady

Plot:
Set in the 1890s, the film is a fictional story about the real life Harvey Girls who worked at Fred Harvey’s Harvey House restaurants that aided westward expansion and civilization. The restaurants offered civilization and clean service to trains who stopped in the area.
Susan Bradley (Garland) travels on the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe railroad from Ohio to Arizona to get married to a man she only knows via letters. Also on the train are “Harvey Girls.” The Harvey Girls are from all over the country and are traveling to work as waitresses in the newly opened Harvey House Restaurant.
When the train arrives, Susan’s husband-to-be is not exactly what she expected. She calls off the marriage and she ends up working as a Harvey Girl.
However, the owners and girls who work at the local saloon don’t take kindly to their business being taken by the new Harvey House and set out to drive them out.

Trivia:
-“The Harvey Girls” originally was going to be a straight western movie starring Clark Gable. MGM worked on the script for many years until it was sent to the Arthur Freed Musical Unit. Judy Garland and Gable were originally going to be cast as the stars, but they didn’t think the audience would accept the pairing. The age difference between the two stars would have made the story difficult especially when Garland sang “Dear Mr. Gable” as a young girl according to George Sidney during the director commentary., according to George Sidney during the director commentary.

-Based on a historical story on the Fred Harvey restaurants called the Harvey House.

-George Sidney interviewed girls from all over the country to get girls from each state. One of the Harvey Girls was New York model, Ethel Brady.

Judy Garland during "The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" number

Judy Garland during “The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” number

-The number “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” was done in one take with Judy Garland. The number was shown to Garland and after seeing it once she said “I’m ready,” Sidney said in the commentary. It was “one of the longest musical numbers in a motion picture all done in two shots,” Sidney said.

-Judy Garland and John Hodiak were going to sing a duet called “My Intuition” written by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer. The song’s purpose was to “advance their relationship” in the film. The song was right after their first meeting in the valley when John kisses Judy. The song was cut after the first preview because it was thought to slow down the film, according to notes on the DVD.

-“March of the Doagies” and the “March of the Doagies Reprkise” are two others songs that were cut from the screenplay, along with four other musical numbers, according to the DVD notes. The number took place during the Harvey Girls party. They leave the party and Judy leads the party, skipping down the town, carrying torches and into the prairie as she sings. The “March of the Doagies” number was huge and took many evenings to film on the MGM backlot. The footage of the number was not seen until it showed up in 1994 in “That’s Entertainment III,” according to DVD notes.

-Actress Virginia O’Brien isn’t in the film after her “In the Wild, Wild West” number, because she was pregnant. She “had her own little Harvey Girl,” Sidney said.

19-year-old Angela Lansbury and John Hodiak in "The Harvey Girls"

19-year-old Angela Lansbury and John Hodiak in “The Harvey Girls”

-John Hodiak had the measles and shooting was held up, Sidney said.

-President Franklin Roosevelt died during the filming of “The Harvey Girls” and shooting was called off for a few days, according to George Sidney.

-Grandson of Fred Harvey, who started the Harvey House Restaurant, Byron Harvey Jr. played an uncredited role as a train conductor.

-Cyd Charisse’s second film. Her first movie was “The Ziegfeld Follies.”

-Angela Lansbury was only 19 when she was in this film. Ann Sothern was originally supposed to play this role, according to director George Sidney in the commentary.

-Another song called “Hayride” with Ray Bolger was cut, but only the vocals remain.

-Angela Lansbury was dubbed by Virginia Rees

-Cyd Charisse was dubbed by Marion Doengnes

-Shot some of the scenes in Monument Valley where many John Wayne films were made.
-The first film for costume designer Helen Rose.

Actress Virginia O'Brien, who had to drop out of filming after the "Wild Wild West" number.

Actress Virginia O’Brien, who had to drop out of filming after the “Wild Wild West” number.

Awards: 
-Won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Score for “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” written by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer.
-Nominated for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture written by Lennie Hayton.

Highlights:
-The 8 minute “Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” number
-In an effort to close the Harvey House, men from the saloon steal every steak from the restaurant. Outraged, Judy Garland goes to the saloon with two guns telling them to “stick ‘em up.” She is successful in getting the steaks back, but the whole scene is hilarious.

Judy Garland going into the saloon with guns to steal back the steaks in "The Harvey Girls."

Judy Garland going into the saloon with guns to steal back the steaks in “The Harvey Girls.”

Notable Songs:
-Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe performed by Judy Garland and most of the cast
-The Wild, Wild West performed by Virginia O’Brien

My Review:
“The Harvey Girls” is such a fun movie.
The cast is stellar, costumes are gorgeous and the Technicolor backdrop of the Old West looks like a postcard.
My only real issue with the film is “The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” is Judy Garland’s strongest song and Ray Bolger only gets a chance to show off his dancing in one number- but he only sings a bit at the beginning.
Many of the songs that did showcase Bolger or Garland ended up being cut.
It’s a shame that the “My Intuition” song was cut, because it gave Judy Garland a higher quality song than the others to sing. I also love hearing John Hodiak’s singing voice which isn’t trained but is pleasant. “March of the Doagies” isn’t a very good song, but it also showcased Judy’s voice very well.
However, it’s easy to look back now and say “I wish that song was still in the movie,” but I’m sure it was the best decision in 1946.
Of the songs in this movie, “The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,” is the stand out number by far. It’s eight minutes long, but it is engaging and interesting the whole time. We get the perspective of the people in the town who are excited about the train arriving, the conductor, the Harvey Girls and where they came from, and then Judy Garland who is traveling for the first time.

The three female leads: Cyd Charisse, Judy Garland and Virginia O'Brien after singing "It's a Great Big World"

The three female leads: Cyd Charisse, Judy Garland and Virginia O’Brien after singing “It’s a Great Big World”

There are also so many large names in this movie that it is hard for the secondary leads to get enough screen time. But somehow it works out. Virginia O’Brien and Cyd Charisse are in two songs, and Charisse has a dance number. Kenny Baker (aka the poor man’s Dick Powell) also has a song, and Ray Bolger has his tap dancing number.
One of the real highlights for me is Marjorie Main. She’s consistently funny in most of her comedic roles and continues to be hilarious in the “Harvey Girls.”
Another huge bright spot in this film is John Hodiak as the leading man. He’s one of my top Hollywood heartthrobs.
I do think it’s interesting that this originally was going to be a non-musical film. I’m sure it would have been entertaining, but we wouldn’t have had the colorful and lovely piece we have today.

The Harvey Girls

The Harvey Girls

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Classic films in music videos: “Express Yourself” by Madonna

This is September’s edition of Comet Over Hollywood’s film references in music videos.

metropolisMadonna has always mixed pop culture into her music and music videos- especially classic films:
-Frequently wearing clothing and bleached blond hairstyles reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe
-Paying homage to Monroe’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” number from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953) in her “Material Girl” music video.
-Listing several classic actresses in the lyrics of “Vogue” including Rita Hayworth, Bette Davis and Lana Turner.

Madonna’s 1989 music video for “Express Yourself” is no exception.

The music video pulls inspiration from the 1927 silent film “Metropolis.” Directed by Fritz Lang, the German Expressionist styled and futuristic film was a pioneer for the science fiction genre. In the film “Metropolis,” the futuristic city has a strong divide between the working class and the planners of the city.

Similarly in the music video, Madonna plays a glamorous lady with muscular men as her workers and she picks one of them to “express his self” with her. Futuristic like factories and skyscrapers with a German Expressionism tone are the backdrop.

A city scene from "Metropolis" and "Express Yourself."

A city scene from “Metropolis” and “Express Yourself.”

“All the imagery we wanted—and I had a few set ideas, for instance the cat and the idea of Metropolis,” Madonna said in an interview. “I definitely wanted to have that influence, that look on all the men—the workers, diligently, methodically working away.”

The music video ends with the phrase: “Without the Heart, there can be no understanding between the hand and the mind. This is a reference to a very similar quote from “Metropolis, “There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator.”

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Review: Meet Me in St. Louis (1959) CBS TV Special

It’s difficult to improve on perfection.

While this two-hour CBS 1959 TV Special may not be a remake, it pales when compared to the original.

The first “television special of 1959” was an adaptation of  the 1944 film “Meet Me In St. Louis” starring Judy Garland, Mary Astor, Leon Ames, Margaret O’Brien, Marjorie Main, Tom Drake and Lucille Bremer.

(L) Judy Garland and Tom Drake in the 1944 "Meet Me in St. Louis." (R) Jane Powell and Tab Hunter reprising their roles in a 1959 TV Special.

(L) Judy Garland and Tom Drake in the 1944 “Meet Me in St. Louis.” (R) Jane Powell and Tab Hunter reprising their roles in a 1959 TV Special.

Adapted from short stories written by Sally Benson, the story follows the Smith family who lives in St. Louis. The story begins in the Summer of 1903 and is broken into segments: Summer, Fall of 1903 with Halloween, Winter of 1903 with Christmas and Summer again in 1904. The story ends as the family goes to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

The lead, Esther, falls in love with the boy next door named John Truitt and the oldest sister Rose is a flirt who likes older men. The younger daughters Tootie and Agnes cause mischief.

The main conflict in the story is when the father announces the family has to move to New York for his job.

In the film, Garland plays Esther and Bremer plays Rose. O’Brien plays Tootie, and Ames and Astor are the parents. Tom Drake plays John Truitt, Marjorie Main is Katie the Maid, and Davenport plays Grandpa.

The 1944 film has a steller cast, but the 1959 cast is equally impressive:

Jane Powell as Esther, Jeanne Crain as Rose, Patty Duke as Tootie, Tab Hunter as John Truitt, Myrna Loy as Mrs. Anna Smith, Walter Pidgeon as Mr. Alanzo Smith, Reta Shaw as Katie the Maid, Ed Wynn as Grandpa and Kelly Brown as Lon Smith.

Many of the scenes and lines are similar to the 1944 film, if not identical, but there are some subtle differences in the film and the TV version:

-In the 1944 version, the brother Lon doesn’t have a great deal of screen time. The TV special version of the “Skip to My Lou” number at Lon’s going away party is much more elaborate. Lon becomes the star of the show. He leaps and jumps over girls. The number almost comes across more like the Barn Raising from “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” than a carefree, casual dance at a party.

-In the 1959 version, Esther’s whole family ribs her about her crush on John Truitt, and Mom even helps her pick out a hat suitable for “catching a man.” I found this pretty hokey. And who’s Mom would really do that?

-The iconic “Trolley Song” number from the 1944 film is obviously shot while the singers are on the trolley and the trolley is (supposedly) moving. The teenagers are riding the trolley to the swamp to see what progress has been made on what will be the 1904 World’s Fair grounds. In the 1959 version, the singers and dancers aren’t actually on the trolley for the majority of the song. However, I’m sure this had to do with limitations of a television studio. Also in the TV special Esther isn’t as surprised when John Truitt arrives on the trolley, they had a date to go to the swamp together.

Tab Hunter and Jane Powell in the trolley song (yes this is about how the quality is.

Tab Hunter and Jane Powell in the trolley song (yes this is about how the quality is.

-Unlike the 1944 version, we see the characters at the swamp in the television special. It’s fun but not entirely necessary. During their time at the swamp, Hunter sings “Boys and Girls Like You and Me” which was dropped from the 1944 print.

-In the Halloween scene, Tootie said John Truitt “tried to kill her” and Ether goes and hits him (and later apologizes when she learns the truth) to defend her little sister. In the 1959 version, Hunter sings “When Did This Feeling Begin” after this scene- giving John Truitt’s character two songs in the special. Truitt doesn’t sing at all in the film.

-After Esther sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” in the film- Tootie goes berserk and knocks down snowmen in the backyard. On TV, Tootie digs up her “dead” dolls from the backyard.  Mother comes to comfort her rather than Esther.

-The TV Special ends with the family walking off the porch to go to the World’s Fair, rather than them actually going to the fair like in the film. Again, this probably had to do with television limitations.

While I love every actor in the 1959 TV Special something is just severally lacking.

Jane Powell sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" to Patty Duke.

Jane Powell sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to Patty Duke.

Jane Powell is one of my favorite actresses of all time, but let’s face it, she just isn’t Judy Garland. Comparing the two is really like trying to compare apples and oranges.

Garland brought a bit more sass and warmth to the role, while Powell could have easily been doing a continuation of her awkward, coming-of-age character in “Two Weeks with Love.”

Powell and Garland have very different singing styles, but they are equally pleasant. Hearing songs like “The Boy Next Door” and “The Trolley Song” sung more operatically is a bit different if you are used to hearing the songs performed the way Garland does.

Myrna Loy is another one of my favorites, but I didn’t care for her as the mother in this special. Maybe it was the script, but she was a bit dreamy and sweet. Mary Astor’s role was more of a strong mother, in my opinion.

Jeanne Crain’s Rose was less snooty than Lucille Bremer. Though it might be unbelievable, Patty Duke’s Tootie was sometimes as annoying or worse than Margaret O’Brien’s. Mainly because Duke would flat out screech, like how “John Truitt tried to kill” her. O’Brien’s specialty was tears rather than screaming.

I think the only casting I flat out disagreed with was Tab Hunter, who was an odd John Truitt to me. However, I don’t have any other suggestions for a “Boy Next Door” type in 1959.

The one actor I loved the most in the TV role was Walter Pidgeon. He has a fatherly warmth but is also a good curmudgeon.

With top-notch actors in the roles, I’m not sure what fell flat for me with the TV special. It wasn’t bad or terrible, just different.

The 1944 film is charming, colorful, nostalgic and poignant. It makes you laugh, sigh, cry and you don’t want the film to end. I wasn’t sad when the 1959 special ended. I was maybe even slightly relieved. The story was again reused in 1966 non-musical television pilot starring Shelley Fabares as Esther, Celeste Holm as Mrs. Anna Smith and Morgan Brittany as Agnes.

While I wouldn’t call the CBS “Meet Me in St. Louis” a remake, it didn’t improve upon what was already in place. With a new cast, adding extra songs and originally deleted scenes, you just can’t improve on perfection.

 If you want to watch the 1959 CBS TV Special sponsored by West Clocks, you can find it here on Youtube. The quality is terrible but watchable.

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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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