Watching 1939: On Your Toes (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

Release date: Oct. 14, 1939

Cast: Vera Zorina, Eddie Albert, Alan Hale, James Gleason, Queenie Smith, Frank McHugh, Leonid Kinskey, Gloria Dickson, Donald O’Connor, Erik Rhodes, Berton Churchill, William Hopper (uncredited), Carla Laemmle (uncredited),

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Ray Enright

Plot:
Beginning in the 1920s, the Dancing Dolans (Gleason, Smith, O’Connor) is one of the top vaudeville performances. However, Mrs. Dolan wants her son Phil Jr. (O’Connor to Albert) to be educated and be a composer. The Dancing Dolans continue performing, but their acts are no longer well-received and vaudeville is dying. Phil Jr. meets Russian composer Ivan Boultonoff (Kinskey), and Phil composes “The Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” for the Russian Ballet. Phil reconnects with Vera (Zorina), a ballerina he knew from vaudeville, and she lobbies for the head of the ballet company (Hale) to use the music.

1939 notes:
• This was only Eddie Albert’s second feature film; the first was Brother Rat in 1938. While not one of Warner Brother’s top leading men (like Ronald Reagan, Humphrey Bogart, Dennis Morgan or Jack Carson), Albert was a steady comedic star for Warner. Eddie Albert was a lead character in “Brother Rat,” but “On Your Toes” was his first true leading role where the plot and camera mainly followed him.

• Vera Zorina is recreating her role from the 1936 stage production of “On Your Toes”

• This was also the second American feature film for ballet dancer Vera Zorina, who appeared in a total of eight films.

• While Donald O’Connor is only a child in this film, this was his 13th film as a child star.

Other Trivia:
• James Wong Howe was the cinematographer for “On Your Toes.” Sol Polito photographed the “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” ballet.

• Donald O’Connor plays young Eddie Albert

• Originally planned as a Fred Astaire vehicle, but Astaire turned down the film.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:

So far I have watched 179 films from the year 1939. None of them have been bad, but none of them

While “On Your Toes” has three ballet numbers and some vaudeville dances at the beginning, I wouldn’t consider it a musical. There is very little singing and the focus is much more composing music and dance.

Outside of the ballet dancing, the comedy featuring Eddie Albert, James Gleason, and Alan Hale, is not very different from what you would experience in another 1930s or early-1940s Warner Brothers film.

Vera Zorina in costume for the Princess Zenobia number in “On Your Toes” (1939)

The ballet numbers in it are gorgeously photographed by Howe and Polito. First, Vera Zorina dances beautifully in the Princess Zenobia ballet (photographed by Howe) as the audience is able to see a serious ballet performance. When Eddie Albert enters the Princess Zenobia number, the ballet scene turns away from serious dance to comedy. Albert’s character doesn’t know the dance and makes a ridicule of everyone else, but the papers think the comedy was intentional, giving the dance a good review.

“The Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” ballet is the climax of the film. This wonderful ballet scene is 13 minutes, mixing ballet and some vaudeville tap dancing.

“On Your Toes” is your standard 1930s Warner Brothers comedy. However, it’s unique in the fact that the audience is able to see a serious ballerina who danced for (and was married to) the great George Balanchine, co-founder of the New York City Ballet. Zorina was the prima ballerina in several performances for the Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo from 1934 to 1936.

With all the musicals I have watched, I can not recollect any other film before Michael Powell’s “The Red Shoes” (1948) that photographs a ballet performance to its full potential. For instance, in early sound films like “Broadway Melody of 1929,” you can see sloppy ballet dancing (I’m thinking specifically of the “Wedding of the Painted Doll” number).

I enjoyed “On Your Toes,” as it is a funny and entertaining film with some of Warner Brothers top comedians. It was a good mix of comedy and art with the ballet.

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: At War with the Army (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:
At War with the Army (1950) – Musical #581

Studio:
Paramount Pictures

Director:
Hal Walker

Starring:
Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Polly Bergen, Mike Kellin, Jimmie Dundee, Tommy Farrell, Danny Dayton, William Mendrek, Angela Greene, Jean Ruth

Plot:
Set on an Army base during World War II, Pfc. Alvin Korwin (Lewis) and 1st Sgt. Vic Puccinelli (Martin) were friends before the war and had a nightclub act. Private Korwin wants to go home to see his newly born baby and Sgt. Puccinelli wants to be transferred overseas. Confusion ensues when a pregnant old girlfriend arrives to visit Sgt. Vic Puccinelli.

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New Comet Over Hollywood series: 1939

For classic film fans, 1939 is a mystical year filled with perfect films.

Gone with the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” and “Ninotchka” are just a few of the greats that were released in 1939.

But in 2011, I decided I wanted to see beyond more than just the big-budget box office successes of the year and dig deeper to see what made this year tick. Were all the movies special or was it just a handful?

This included watching all the B and C movies – The 68-minute movies that star people like character actor Henry O’Neill as a lead character.

So seven years ago I set out to see every film made in 1939, a count that came roughly to 515.

Read more in my 2011 post “1939: Watching a Year” about how this all began.

To date after all this time, I’ve still managed to only watch 173 movies made in 1939. So to help propel myself further, I am beginning a weekly Comet Over Hollywood series focused on the films of 1939.

Every Thursday, I will review a film made during 1939. This could range from the top tier films to those B movies shown in a double feature.

Join me every week as I “Watch a Year.”

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

Musical Monday: Spinout (1966)

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:
Spinout (1966) – Musical #580

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Norman Taurog

Starring:
Elvis Presley, Shelley Fabares, Diane McBain, Deborah Walley, Dodie Marshall, Jack Mullaney, Warren Berlinger, Jimmy Hawkins, Carl Betz, Cecil Kellaway, Una Merkel

Plot:
Mike McCoy (Presley) is a carefree musician living a nomadic life with his band (Walley, Mullaney, Hawkins). Cynthia Foxhugh (Fabares) is a spoiled rich girl with her sights set on Mike. She uses her rich father (Betz) to try and get Mike. Her father also wants him to race his car. Cynthia isn’t the only one after Mike: Diana St. Clair is researching him for her book “The Perfect American Male,” and decides she needs to marry Mike. And tomboy band member Les (Walley) also likes Mike.

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Style on Display: Katharine Hepburn exhibit in South Carolina

Katharine Hepburn photographed by Alfred Eisenstaedt for LIFE magazine in 1938.

When it comes to classic film actresses, Katharine Hepburn placed herself far from the crowd of studio starlets.

Her characters were strong, she didn’t attend Hollywood events, and she didn’t present herself in a soft, feminine manner.

“Kate wasn’t someone you could mold easily, that you could control,” said director Dorothy Arzner, who directed Hepburn in Christopher Strong (1933).

And when you think of Katharine Hepburn, you think of her clothing—particularly her pants, something so innocuous now but an article of clothing “polite” women of the 1930s and 1940s weren’t seen wearing in public.

These pants and other items of Katharine Hepburn’s costumes and clothing are on display in the Upcountry History Museum in Greenville, SC, as part of the “Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen” exhibit, running through January 14. The costumes are on loan to the Upcountry History Museum from the Kent State University Museum. The Hepburn Estate donated Miss Hepburn’s collection to Kent State University Museum.

Costumes from the play version of “The Philadelphia Story” at the Upcountry History Museum.

“It was Miss Hepburn’s wish that her personal collection of her performance clothes be given to an educational institution. Her other personal effects were sold in a Sotheby’s Auction for charity,” said Jean L. Druesedow, director of the Kent State University Museum in an e-mail interview. “Her executors discovered the Kent State University Museum through friends of friends and Gladys Toulis, the first director of the Kent State Fashion School.”

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Musical Monday: Looking for Love (1964)

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:
Looking For Love (1964) – Musical #152

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Don Weis

Starring:
Connie Francis, Jim Hutton, Susan Oliver, Joby Baker, Barbara Nichols, Charles Lane, Jesse White, Chris Noel (uncredited), Madge Blake (uncredited)
Themselves: George Hamilton, Johnny Carson, Yvette Mimieux, Paula Prentiss, Danny Thomas

Plot:
Libby Caruso (Francis) has unsuccessfully tried to make it as a singer. Since she hasn’t made it, she decides to get a job so she can find a husband, get married and have babies. To help get ready in the morning, Libby invents the “Lady Valet” to hang clothes on. She meets Jim Davis (Hutton), who she falls in love with and he sees profit in the Lady Valet. While Jim tries to market the item, Libby mistakes his attention for love.

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Christmas Musical Monday: The Alcoa Hour presents The Stingiest Man in Town (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.

This week’s musical:
The Alcoa Hour presents The Stingiest Man in Town (1956) – Musical #577

Basil Rathbone as Scrooge and Johnny Desmond as nephew Fred

Studio:
NBC

Director:
Daniel Petrie

Starring:
Basil Rathbone, Vic Damone, Johnny Desmond, the Four Lads, Patrice Munsel, John McGiver, John McGovern, Martyn Green, Alice Frost, Dennis Kohler, Bryan Herbert, Keith Herrington, Ian Martin, Robert Weede, Robert Wright, Keith Herrington

Plot:
A musical retelling of Charles Dickens’ novel, “A Christmas Carol.” Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (Rathbone) is warned by the ghost of his friend Marley (Weede) that he needs to change his ways or he will end up chained to his sins. On Christmas Eve night, Scrooge is visited by ghosts to show him his past, present and future life to convince him to change.

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Ginger Rogers’s Christmas Cake

Over the summer, I was surfing eBay for film memorabilia and came across a recipe for Ginger Rogers’s Christmas cake in a small food magazine, A & P Menu, which is “dedicated to food, menus and recipes.” I bought the Dec. 17, 1936, menu so I could attempt to make this cake myself.

Note: The cover reads “Ginger Rogers, RKO Radio Pictures star soon to appear in “Stepping on Toes,” believes in bigger and better cakes.” “Stepping on Toes” was the working title for “Shall We Dance” (1937), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

In addition to the cake recipe, the rest of this issue of A&P Menu gives cookie recipes and gives suggestions on easy, inexpensive meals for your family leading up to Christmas.

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Christmas on Film: The Cheaters (1945)

Last Christmas I was wrapping presents and watching made-for-TV Christmas movies on YouTube when—after finishing Susan Lucci’s Christmas Carol— this film began autoplaying.

I was excited to find a new-to-me classic Christmas film (which I have previously mentioned can be hard to find).

“The Cheaters” (1945) most likely won’t be added to my mandatory list of Christmas season viewing, but it’s a fairly enjoyable film.

Wealthy James C. Pidgeon (Eugene Pallette) is about to go bankrupt while his wife Clara (Billie Burke), children (Ann Gillis, Ruth Terry, David Holt), and brother-in-law (Raymond Walburn) are all still happily living off what little money he has left.

To top off the financial issues, Pidgeon’s daughter Theresa (Terry) demands that the family invites a charity case to their home for Christmas. She wants to impress her soldier boyfriend, Stephen (Robert Livingston), because his mother always invites a charity case for Christmas.

For their charity case, the family selects Anthony Marchaund (Joseph Schildkraut), a has-been actor who was injured in car wreck at the height of his career. He now drinks too much and walks with a limp.

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Christmas Musical Monday: By the Light of the Silvery Moon (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:
By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953)– Musical #174

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
David Butler

Starring:
Doris Day, Gordon MacRae, Leon Ames, Rosemary DeCamp, Billy Gray, Mary Wickes, Russell Arms, Maria Palmer, Walter ‘PeeWee’ Flannery, Merv Griffin (uncredited)

Plot:
A sequel to On Moonlight Bay (1951), the story picks up in 1918 when Bill (MacRae) returns from World War I. Marjorie (Day) is anxious to discuss their wedding plans, as he promised when he left, but Bill doesn’t want to rush into wedlock. This causes a rift in their relationship. Marjorie’s brother Wesley (Gray) is still causing trouble in this film.

Trivia:
-The film is the sequel to On Moonlight Bay (1951)
-The fifth pairing of Doris Day and Gordon MacRae. The two starred in five films together.
-Loosely based on Booth Tarkington’s Penrod story
-Leon Ames was dubbed by Ray “Bud” Linn

Gordon MacRae returns home from World War I and Doris Day is ready to get married.

Highlights:
-Mary Wickes giving the introduction
-Thanksgiving sequence
-Christmas sequence

Notable Songs:
-“By the Light of the Silvery Moon” performed by Doris Day, Gordon MacRae, Leon Ames and
Rosemary DeCamp
-“Be My Little Baby Bumble Bee” performed by Doris Day, Gordon MacRae and Russell Arms
-“My Home Town Is a One Horse Town” performed by Gordon MacRae
-“Ain’t We Got Fun” performed by Doris Day and Gordon MacRae
-“Just One Girl” performed by Gordon MacRae

My review:
When it comes to some film sequels, it can be rare that the story flows from the first or that the actors play the same characters. The Gidget series is a good example: All three films had different actresses playing the title role of Gidget.

But in “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” -sequel to “On Moonlight Bay“-the lead and supporting characters are all the same and we pick up where the last film ended. In “On Moonlight Bay,” Bill, played by Gordon MacRae, goes off to fight in World War I, and “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” picks up with Bill returning home from the war. Margie is still a tomboy and is fixing cars at the beginning, so the writers didn’t omit that since it was a focus in the first film.

While I prefer the story of “On Moonlight Bay” more, I still really love “By the Light of the Silvery Moon.” It is just as colorful, cozy and sweet as the first film. And one complaint I had in the first film was that the antics of the younger brother seemed to take over the film, but in the sequel, it doesn’t seem so bad. The only part I don’t like is the King Chanticleer number, performed by Doris Day.

“By the Light of the Silvery Moon” doesn’t span a full year like the first film and mainly focuses on the fall and winter. Thanksgiving is near the start of the film and the film ends with Christmas. This is a bit longer than the first film too.

The film ends with a Christmas-y ice skating scene.

There are some silly plotlines like the children thinking their father was cheating on their mother with a French actress. Also Doris Day’s hair is really bleached compared to the 1951 movie.

As I said last week, I love Day and MacRae as a screen team so much. In these films, Gordon MacRae looks so sweet, fresh and young so I hate knowing that his personal life wasn’t always so sunny. His career dropped off after 1956.

By the Light of the Silvery Moon ends with a Christmasy scene when Bill meets the family at a skating pond and surprises Margie, and the two finally decide to marry after bickering about tit throughout the whole movie.

While not as fun as the first, “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” is a sweet, colorful movie.

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