Musical Monday: Give a Girl a Break (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.

This week’s musical:
Give a Girl a Break (1953)– Musical #189

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Stanley Donen

Starring:
Marge Champion, Gower Champion, Debbie Reynolds, Dolly Sharp, Bob Fosse, Kurt Kasznar, Richard Anderson, Lurene Tuttle, Donna Martel, William Ching, George Chakiris (uncredited)

Plot:
When the star of a Broadway show walks out after a tiff with the show’s choreographer Ted Sturgis (Champinon), the show publicizes that they are looking for a newcomer to “give a girl a break.” Three girls with varying talents: professional Broadway dancer Madelyn Corlane (Champion), sophisticated ballet dancer Joanna Moss (Sharp), and young, inexperienced tap dancer Suzie Doolittle (Reynolds).

Trivia:
-Musical numbers staged by Gower Champion and Stanley Donen, though Bob Fosse coregraphed his own dances.
-Gower and Marge Champion dancing together
-Gower Champion was dubbed by Bill Lee

Highlights:
-“Give a Girl a Break” montage of various women wanting to audition
-“The Balloon Dance” performed by

Notable Songs:

-“Give a Girl A Break” performed by Marge Champion, Dolly Sharp and Debbie Reynolds
-“Applause, Applause” performed by Gower Champion and Debbie Reynolds
-“In Our United States” performed by Bob Fosse and Debbie Reynolds
-“It Happens Every Time” performed by Marge Champion and Gower Champion

My review:
“Give a Girl a Break” isn’t a film often discussed today. It’s colorful and fun, has great dancing, but I think that’s largely forgotten when it comes to MGM’s catalog of 1950s Technicolor musicals.

Why is that? It’s directed by Stanley Donen, co-stars Debbie Reynolds (post-Singin’ in the Rain), has costumes by Helen Rose and dances choreographed by Bob Fosse and Gower Champion.

Dancer Gower and Marge Champion

It’s probably because the film stars (then) husband and wife dancers, Marge Champion and Gower Champion as it’s leads. While Fosse and Reynolds are in the cast, they are very much secondary characters.

But don’t get me wrong, I love the Champions. I think they are likable on screen and are some of the best dancers to grace the silver screen. But for some reason they never caught on with fans. MGM signed the married dancers in 1951 for the film “Show Boat” with the hopes of making them the next Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. They only made three films with MGM and left the studio in 1955. “Give a Girl a Break” did poorly in the box office and lost MGM $1 million. After they left in 1955, they appeared on other TV shows but no more film roles to the significance that they had at MGM.

While they may not have been well liked by audiences, the Champions are some of my favorite dancers. In fact, I think Gower Champion is a better dancer and choreographer than Bob Fosse. There, I said it. I’m glad I got that off my chest.

There is even a dance that Champion and Fosse do together and I think Gower out dances him in the “Nothing is Impossible” number. Though I’ll admit that Bob Fosse’s “Balloon Dance” is of fun. I just don’t know why Gower is largely forgotten while Fosse is revered. Maybe it’s because Gower saw several flops in the 1970s while Fosse flourished with shows like Chicago and Pippin (which I star relevant today, I know). Or maybe people are enamored with the fact that Gwen Vernon and Fosse were married.

Anyways, I digress. I just would like to hear about Gower Champion occasionally, when great choreographers are discussed.

Bob Fosse, Gower Champion and Kurt Kasznar in “Give a Girl a Break”

One thing I like about this film is that it focuses on three women trying to get a role and we get to learn each girl’s story. That type of plot is more intriguing to me because, while Marge Champion is the most featured of the three, the “leading lady” is less defined. For me, it’s hard to decide which girl I would want to cheer for to be picked for the Broadway show, because each one has her traits that are interesting and could work.

Marge Champion, Dolly Sharp and Debbie Reynolds in “Give a Girl a Break.”

If you love colorful musicals, give this one a whirl. You may have never heard of it, but I think you will want to.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

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Musical Monday: I Dood It (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.

This week’s musical:
I Dood It” (1943)– Musical #176

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Vincente Minnelli

Starring:
Eleanor Powell, Red Skelton, Richard Ainley, Patricia Dane, Sam Levene, Thurston Hall, Butterfly McQueen, John Hodiak, Joe Yule (uncredited)
Themselve: Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Lena Horne, Hazel Scott, Helen O’Connell, Bob Eberly

Plot:
Pants presser Joseph Renolds (Skelton) is in love with Broadway star Constance Shaw (Powell) and attends every performance of her show. To get back at her cheating leading man, Constance married Joseph, thinking he’s rich. When she finds out Joseph just works at a laundry, she leaves him. In a subplot, actor in the Broadway show Roy Hartwood (Hodiak) is a Nazi spy who plans to blow up a warehouse next to the theater.

Trivia:
-Edited dance numbers from Born to Dance (1936) and Honolulu (1939)
-Eleanor Powell was knocked unconscious during the lasso number
-Loose remake of Buster Keaton’s Spite Marriage (1929)
-Eleanor Powell’s last star-billing film. Her last under contract with MGM film was Thousands Cheer (1945) where she was a specialty performance.

Highlights:
-Eleanor Powell tap dancing with lassos. She then jump ropes around a line of ropes
-Cameo by Tommy Dorsey watching his brother Jimmy Dorsey
-Hazel Smith’s performance

Notable Songs:
-“Star Eyes” performed by Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell
-“So Long Sarah Jane” performed by Bob Eberly
-“Jericho” performed by Hazel Scott and Lena Horne
-“Taking a Chance on Love” performed by Hazel Scott on the piano

My review:
Throughout the mid-1930s to the early 1940s, Eleanor Powell cemented herself as one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s top female tap dancers. But she doesn’t really get to exhibit it in “I Dood It” (1943).

“I Dood It” is seemingly a one man show starring Red Skelton with other characters occasionally popping in. He’s a pants presser with big dreams of living large and courting a famous Broadway star, played by Powell. His gags are funny, particularly a scene where he fills in for an actor in Powell’s Broadway show — love struck Skelton saw the show 63 times and could literally recite the lines backwards.

As a fan of Eleanor Powell, this film is a little disappointing. The character written for Powell isn’t terribly likable and you feel bad for Red Skelton as she uses him. As far as Powell’s dancing goes, she does one impressive western themed dance early in the film where she tap dances in lassos and jump ropes across girls swinging the lassos. But that’s where any “new” Powell dances ends. In one scene, Skelton doses off and dreams of Eleanor Powell dancing, but his dream takes us back to a tap dancing hula number from the 1939 film “Honolulu.” And again, at the end of the film when all problems are resolved, the grand finale is more MGM archived footage: Powell dancing in the grand finale of the 1936 film “Born to Dance.”

Eleanor Powell and Red Skelton in “I Dood It”

This is irksome to me. I’m not sure if MGM did this because of Eleanor Powell’s injury during the lasso dance, or if they decided they didn’t want to put more money into this film and reused old dances. While audiences in 1943 weren’t able to rewatch films like we are now, it’s still insulting to assume that these audiences wouldn’t remember that they had already seen these dances before. And that audiences wouldn’t notice that Eleanor Powell looked a little different in 1943 then she did in 1936 or 1939. Rather than dancing much, Powell is more Skelton’s “foil” for his jokes.

It’s also telling that this was Eleanor Powell’s last top billing film. After “I Dood It,” she had a small performance role in “Thousands Cheer” and then a cameo in “Duchess of Idaho.” Also in 1943, she married actor Glenn Ford and left films. It’s disappointing that Powell’s career fizzled with reused dance footage, and this magnificent dancer wasn’t able to end with a bang.

Since Eleanor Powell didn’t sing and Red Skelton’s voice isn’t strong, the musical numbers rely heavily on Jimmy Dorsey’s big band music and a musical interlude by pianist/singer Hazel Scott and singer Lena Horne. This is a really great number, but also sort of is random and thrown in taking you out of the plot. I almost think this was thrown in because the writers or producers weren’t sure what else to do.

Despite the disappointing dance numbers and some of my criticisms, “I Dood It” is an entertaining film and I do enjoy it. I like Red Skelton, and you also get to see John Hodiak in his third film. I’m just disappointed as a fan of tap dancing and Eleanor Powell.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Musical Monday: Higher and Higher (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.

This week’s musical:
Higher and Higher (1943) – Musical #563

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Tim Whelan

Starring:
Michèle Morgan, Jack Haley, Frank Sinatra, Marcy McGuire, Mel Torme, Leon Errol, Mary Wickes, Dooley Wilson, Barbara Hale, Dorothy Mcguire (uncredited)

Plot:
Cyrus Drake (Errol) is broke and hasn’t paid his servants in seven months. To make some money, he hatches a plan that his maid Millie (Morgan) should pose as his daughter (that he hasn’t seen in years) and marry a rich husband so the household can benefit from his wealth.

Trivia:
-Frank Sinatra’s first acting role in a full-length film. Prior to this, he only appeared in brief singing parts. His character’s name is “Frank Sinatra.”
-Michele Morgan is dubbed by Martha Mears
-Mel Torme’s first film
-Based on a 1940 Broadway play
-The film was shown in combat areas during World War II

Notable Songs:
-“It’s a Most Important Affair” performed by Mel Tormé, Marcy McGuire, Paul Hartman, Grace Hartman,
Michèle Morgan dubbed by Martha Mears, Dooley Wilson, and Ivy Scott
-“I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night” performed by Frank Sinatra and Dooley Wilson
-“I Saw You First” performed by Marcy McGuire

My review:
“Lower and Lower” was the title New York Times critic Bosley Crowther hilariously gave his Jan. 22, 1944, review of this film. And he wasn’t wrong.

The film opens with the hired help of a wealthy man joyously singing about their employer’s big plans for the evening. They’re happily ironing, cooking and preparing white carnations. I thought “Oh this will be a fun one!” And that was the last truly happy thought I had about this film.

When I saw that Leon Errol was in the billing, I was wary. He often gets on my nerves in the Lupe Velez “Spitfire” films. While wasn’t as irritating here as he is in the Velez films, he didn’t help the film either.

Frank Sinatra and Michèle Morgan

The musical has potential as a Cinderella story, but the character of the maid is so dizzy and annoying that it’s not funny. I really love actress Michèle Morgan, but the role she had to play was annoying. At one point, her character has a fit on the dance floor and shouts “No! No! No!” and shakes out all her hair pins. By the end of the scene she’s a mess: losing her hair style, dress and shoes.

If you are a Frank Sinatra fan, who is featured here in his first acting role and is named Frank Sinatra, you will probably be disappointed. He is rarely on screen, but does sing five songs during that number. This is also the first film of another crooner: Mel Torme.

We also get one tune from Dooley Wilson, who is my favorite character in this film. Unfortunately, his screen time is limited.

It’s also unclear and a little misleading who the Prince Charming of this Cinderella film is. It starts off as Frank Sinatra, but that relationship is a little complicated. Then (spoiler) Morgan ends up with someone different all together.

I swear I read that this was a charming movie but I really found it annoying.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Remembering Robert Osborne, a Friend to all Classic Film Fans

It was Thursday, April 25, 2013, and I had just flown into Los Angeles from North Carolina for my first Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival.

My first glimpse of Robert Osborne in person in 2013 (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

I was excited, tired and scared. It was my first solo plane trip, and I had unwisely flown into the festival the day it started, rather than the day before. I was momentarily homeless until my friend, Lindsay — who I was staying with — got out of class at UCLA. I stashed my suitcase in the hotel room of another friend, Jill, and went with her to the Roosevelt Hotel to get my film festival pass and for a press announcement.

I’m sitting at a small table, nervously saying hello to friends who I knew only from the internet before the film festival. And then film historian and Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne walks out on stage. Everyone else around me is calm and collected but I’m about to burst. I didn’t know if I should cry, laugh or faint. I had only been in Los Angeles for two hours and there was my hero standing 15 feet away from me!

Robert Osborne introducing “Desert Song” in 2013 (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

That Saturday during the festival, I was first in line for a rare screening of The Desert Song (1943), a Dennis Morgan and Irene Manning musical that isn’t often seen because of copyright issues. A volunteer confided that she heard Robert would be introducing the film. I excitedly sat in the front row so I could get a good picture.

Robert discussed the film and said that he had never seen The Desert Song and would be joining the audience to watch. While the Technicolor Warner Bros. film danced on the screen, I could barely focus; knowing Robert was somewhere behind me in the crowd.

After the film ended, I waited outside to see if I could get a picture and fulfil my dream of meeting Mr. Osborne. Another fan held Robert in conversation and it looked like I may not get my chance. When the fan left, I meekly approached him and asked for a photo.

“Yes, but we will have hurry because I have to meet Ann Blyth before Mildred Pierce,” he said.

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Musical Monday: Around the World (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.

This week’s musical:
“Around the World” (1943)– Musical #353

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Allan Dwan

kay2Starring:
As themselves: Kay Kyser, Georgia Carroll, Harry Babbitt, Merwyn ‘Ish Kabibble’ Bogue, Joan Davis, Mischa Auer, Marcy McGuire, Wally Brown, Alan Carney, Barbara Hale (uncredited)
Actors: Robert Armstrong (uncredited)

Plot:
Bandleader Kay Kyser (as himself) and his band go on a U.S.O. tour to entertain troops during World War II. Along the way, he and his team run into comedic mishaps. One of these includes Mischa Auer (as himself), who becomes interested in buying ancient relics,

Trivia:
-This film marked the end of Kay Kyser’s RKO film career
-Singer Georgia Carroll’s first credited role.
-Robert Armstrong plays an uncredited role as a general.

Highlights:
-Kay Kyser made a Hays office joke.

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Musical Monday: The Gay Divorcee (1934)

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.

divorceThis week’s musical:
The Gay Divorcee” (1934)– Musical #121

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Mark Sandrich

Starring:
Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Alice Brady, Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore, Erik Rhodes, William Austin, Betty Grable, Lillian Miles

Plot:
Mimi (Rogers) is traveling with her Aunt Hortense (Brady) and is looking for a

Trivia:
-This was Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ second film together (out of 10 films). Following their success in “Flying Down to Rio” (1933), RKO teamed them together again.

-“The Continental” lasts 17.5 minutes. This was the longest musical number until Gene Kelly’s ballet in “An American In Paris” (1951).

-The Academy Awards for 1934 were the first to include the category for Best Original Song. Con Conrad and Herb Magidson were the first to receive this award for “The Continental.”

-Based on the 1932 Broadway show “The Gay Divorce,” which starred Fred Astaire and Claire Luce. For the film, the title was changed to “Divorcee.” Fred Astaire’s autobiography “Steps in Time” says the change was to show that the film was about the amorous adventures of a woman.

-Costumes designed by Walter Plunkett

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Musical Monday: La La Land (2016)

t’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.

la-la-land23This week’s musical:
“La La Land” (2016)– Musical #561

Director:
Damien Chazelle

Starring:
Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J.K. Simmons, Tom Everett Scott, Rosemarie Dwitt

Plot:
Living in Los Angeles, Mia (Stone) is an aspiring actress who works as a barista in a coffee shop. Sebastian (Gosling) is an unemployed jazz musician who is bitter that he lost his previous jazz club and plans to open a new club. The two meet, fall in love and encourage each other’s dreams.

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Actress Beauty Tips #37: Exercising Debbie’s Way

This is the 37th installment of the classic actress beauty tips that I have read about and tested.

Comet Over Hollywood is no stranger workout videos. I grew up on Jane Fonda, Callan Pinckney’s Callanetics, and have even tried out actress Jane Powell’s Fight Back with Fitness.

debbie2

Debbie Reynolds in the 1950s

But none of them are quite like Debbie Reynolds’ 1983 “Do It Debbie’s Way.” Reynolds’ Hollywood career began when she was 16 in 1948 playing a bit role in the Bette Davis film “June Bride.” In the 1950s, Debbie became one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s top stars and she continued performing until her last film role in 2013. She passed away in 2016.

Debbie was unstoppable, energetic and unsinkable, and the fact that she jumped on the exercise video bandwagon isn’t all-together surprising. She was a dancer and was slim most of her life.

But her workout video isn’t quite the same as other videos you may be used to.

The always original and over-the-top Reynolds decorates her workout studio with a chandelier, a diaphanous pink backdrop curtain, and lights behind the curtain spelling “DEBBIE” in eight foot tall letters.

“My set, I hope you like it. Usually you would work out in a gym, but I was in MGM for years in musicals so I thought we would do it up sort of pink, not brown,” Reynolds said in the video.

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Musical Monday: Two Tickets to Broadway (1951)

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.

broadwayThis week’s musical:
Two Tickets To Broadway (1951) – Musical #130

Studio:
RKO Pictures

Director:
James V. Kern

Starring:
Janet Leigh, Ann Miller, Gloria DeHaven, Barbara Lawrence, Tony Martin, Eddie Bracken, Charles Dale, Joe Smith, Joi Lansing (uncredited), Vera Miles (uncredited)
Themselves: Bob Crosby

Plot:
Nancy Peterson (Leigh) is given a big send off from her hometown, Pelican Falls, as she leaves to get her start on Broadway. On her bus trip to New York, she meets three down-on-their-luck performers: Hannah Holbrook (DeHaven), Joyce Campbell (Miller) and S.F. Rogers (Lawrence). Their agent (and Hannah’s boyfriend), Lew Conway (Bracken) continuously sets them up with dead-end gigs. Nancy also meets (and falls in love with) another down-on-his-luck performer, Dan Carter (Martin). To save face, Lew Conway lies to Dan, Nancy and the three girls; telling them that they have a huge performance spot on Bob Crosby’s TV show. The crew forms an act and starts rehearsing, not knowing that they may not be performing the act anywhere.

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Musical Monday: All-American Co-Ed (1941)

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.

All American CoedThis week’s musical:
All-American Co-Ed (1941) – Musical #553

Studio:
Hal Roach Studios

Director:
LeRoy Prinz

Starring:
Frances Langford, Johnny Downs, Marjorie Woodworth, Noah Berry Jr., Esther Dale, Harry Langdon, Kent Rogers, Alan Hale Jr., Lillian Randolph, Margaret Roach (uncredited), Marie Windsor (uncredited), Dudley Dickerson, Claire James (uncredited)
Themselves: The Tanner Sisters- Mickey Tanner, Betty Tanner, Martha Tanner

Plot:
All-girls horticulture college Mar Bryn is failing to attract new students. They hold a contest to bring in beautiful female students. In an effort for publicity, Mar Bryn’s student newspaper makes fun of the Zeta fraternity at Quincton College. Out of revenge, the boys nominate one of their frat brothers to dress up like a girl and enroll.

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