Musical Monday: Scrooge (1970)

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.

scroogeThis week’s musical:
Scrooge” (1970)– Musical #399

Studio:
National General Pictures

Director:
Ronald Neame

Starring:
Albert Finney, Alec Guinness, David Collings, Michael Medwin, Kenneth More, Edith Evans, Kenneth More, Suzanne Neve, Richard Beaumont

Plot:
A musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ story of “The Christmas Carol.” Bitter, old Ebenezer Scrooge (Finney) has no time for happiness and good cheer on Christmas. A series of ghosts visit him in the night and take him on a journey of self exploration of his past, present and future.

Awards and Nominations:
-Nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration by Terence Marsh, Robert Cartwright, Pamela Cornell
-Nominated for Best Costume Design by Margaret Furse
-Nomitnaed for Best Music, Original Song for the song “Thank You Very Much” by Leslie Bricusse
-Nominated for Best Music, Original Song Score, Leslie Bricusse, Ian Fraser, Herbert W. Spencer

Trivia:
-Richard Harris was originally cast as Scrooge. He had to bow out due to the film “Bloomfield” (1971). The role was then offered to Rex Harrison, who also had to back out, according to Behaving Badly: Richard Harris by Cliff Goodwin
-Albert Finney was 34 when he played the elderly Ebenezer Scrooge
-Alec Guinness’ Jacob Marley had a large number called “Make the Most of This Life” which was cut from the film
-It took three hours to put on Finney’s his Scrooge make-up
-This musical version was adapted into a stage musical in 1992 starring Anthony Newley as Scrooge

Young Scrooge with old Scrooge, both played by Albert Finney

Young Scrooge with old Scrooge, both played by Albert Finney

Notable Songs:
-“I Hate People” performed by Albert Finney
-“December the 25th” performed by the chorus
-“Happiness” performed by Suzanne Neve
-“You…You” performed by Albert Finney
-“I Like Life” performed by Albert Finney and Kenneth Moore
-“Thank You Very Much” performed by Anton Rodgers & Ensemble

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My review:
Since 1901, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” has been adapted for film 20 different ways: from silent shorts, to animation with Mickey Mouse and featuring Muppets (Note: not spoofs like Scrooged, but following the Dickens story). On television, nearly 30 different TV specials and plays have aired since 1944, and more than 60 TV and film parodies have been made: from “Scrooged” to “My Little Pony.”

This 1970 film version takes Dickens’ story and adds music. This version and “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992) are the only two feature film versions of “A Christmas Carol” that are musicals.

Starring Albert Finney, this 1970 film comes at the tail end of musical era, which began to die in the mid-1960s. There are a few show stopping numbers, such as “Thank You Very Much” while everyone is dancing down the street and a finally that recaps most of the songs. I have actually had “Thank You Very Much” in my head since I re-watched this on Saturday.

I don’t feel Albert Finney isn’t the strongest film characterization of Ebenezer Scrooge — my pick is George C. Scott — but his Scrooge is a little different from those played by the likes of Reginald Owens and Alistair Sim. I felt sorry for Finney’s Scrooge. We get a better sense of Scrooge’s unhappy and painful life through his unhappy childhood, which ultimately drove away his love Isabelle.

Albert Finney as Scrooge

Albert Finney as Scrooge

We see how much Isabelle leaving Scrooge hurt him, as older Scrooge cries about the incident after reliving it with the Ghost of Christmas Past (Edith Evans). I was struck with a thought about the Dickens story for the first time: Is Scrooge a person who handled a breakup really badly and let his life and home deteriorate to this?

Finney’s Scrooge isn’t a very old man with white hair. He is probably in his 50s or 60s and we get a sense that his aging is due to bitterness. I also feel the set in this film truly depicts how rundown and desolate Scrooge’s home is. Almost as bad as Miss Haversham in Great Expectations, with curtains so old and dirty the fabric is practically crumbling and cobweb’s caking the wall.

Finney’s singing isn’t amazing. It’s more of a talk/grumble to the tune than singing, similar to Rex Harrison’s talking style. I do enjoy Finney singing “I Hate People.” His talking can also be hard to understand with his “old man voice,” which can grate on my nerves at times. Richard Harris was originally set to play the role of Scrooge, which I would have been interested in seeing. I almost feel Harris would have done a better job, as he also did sing.

While the characterization of Scrooge was more sympathetic, this was maybe my least favorite characterization of Bob Cratchet and his family (my favorite being Gene Lockhart and his real family in the 1938 version). Tiny Tim was almost too…sweet for my tastes and always beaming.

As for the ghosts, Edith Evans as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Kenneth Moore as the Ghost of Christmas Present are wonderful. Evans is sympathetic, but like a stern grandmother and Moore is appropriately jolly.

Edith Evans as the Ghost of Christmas Past

Edith Evans as the Ghost of Christmas Past

scrooge-kenneth

Kenneth Moore as the Ghost of Christmas Present

I can’t forget to mention Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley. I was excited to see his name there, thinking I would love his characterization as much as I loved Basil Rathbone’s on a “Shower of Stars” TV version. But I didn’t love it. Guinness was fine, but his voice was odd and he walked with a weird movement. Almost like he was a child pretending to be a ghost. Guinness would have been better suited as Scrooge than Marley. Actually, Peter O’Toole would have made a cool Marley, but that’s another discussion.

Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley

Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley

We see Marley two times in this film. This is the only film adaptation that we see Scrooge actually go to hell and Marley is there to great him. Really bizarre.

While this isn’t my favorite “Christmas Carol” adaptation, it had some interesting points. I do just wish Richard Harris had been Scrooge.

What’s your favorite film version of “A Christmas Carol”?

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Musical Monday: Billy Rose’s Jumbo (1962)

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.

jumboThis week’s musical:
Billy Rose’s Jumbo” (1935)– Musical #23

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Charles Walters

Starring:
Doris Day, Stephen Boyd, Martha Raye, Jimmy Durante, Dean Jagger, John Astin (uncredited)

Plot:
Set in the early 1900s, the Wonder Circus is run by Pop Wonder (Durante) and his daughter Kitty (Day) with their main attraction Jumbo the Elephant. The circus is floundering financially and unpaid performers are quitting left and right to join other shows. Kitty hires a drifter Sam (Boyd) who does odd jobs and various performances. Kitty falls for Sam, but does Sam have the circus’s best interest in mind?

Awards and Nominations:

  • George Stoll was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment

Trivia:

  • Though she sang the title track for some of her films, this was Doris Day’s last musical film.
  • The film is based on a Billy Rose produced show, which opened on Broadway on Nov. 16, 1935, at the Hippodrome.
  • Day and Boyd in "Jumbo"

    Day and Boyd in “Jumbo”

    The film rights were bought by MGM in 1943 to co-star Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Wallace Beery and Frank Morgan, according to the book “Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance” by Brent Phillips.

  • Though the four leads had doubles for the circus routines, they all went to circus school so the actor’s shots and would blend with the stunt doubles, according to Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance by Brent Phillips.
  • Jimmy Durante starred in both the 1935 Broadway show and the 1962 film. Aside from a cameo in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” this was Durante’s last major role in a feature film.
  • Director Charles Walters originally wanted Richard Burton as the male lead, according to Phillips’ book.
  • Choreographed by Busby Berkeley. This was Berkeley’s last film. Director Charles Walters hired Berkeley, because he felt he was the only one who could effectively stage the large circus numbers in the manner they were performed on Broadway, according to Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance by Brent Phillips.
  • Music written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart
  • Stephen Boyd is dubbed by James Joyce

Highlights:

  • Doris Day’s costuming
  • Circus acts
  • Jumbo the elephant
  • Martha Raye dressed as a lion during the “Circus On Parade” number

Notable Songs:

  • “Over and Over Again” performed by Doris Day
  • “This Can’t Be Love” performed by Doris Day
  • “Circus On Parade” performed by Jimmy Durante, Martha Raye, Doris Day
  • “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” performed by Stephen Boyd, dubbed by James Joyce, and reprised by Jimmy Durante
  • “My Romance” performed by Doris Day
  • “Why Can’t I?” performed by Doris Day and Martha Raye

My review:
I will watch any film that includes:
1. Doris Day
2. Circus themes
And “Jumbo” has both of those features that would pull me into the film. The first time I saw this movie in 2003 at the dawn of my Doris Day love, I don’t remember particularly loving this movie. Revisiting it more than 10 years later, I enjoyed it for the most part but it does have it’s flaws.

Shot in gorgeous in Metrocolor, the movie is visually pleasing with circus costumes, big tops and Doris’s long blond (wig) hair. The Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart written music also helps. “This Can’t Be Love,” “My Romance” and “Over and Over Again” are lovely and enjoyable songs.

“Jumbo” starts off as incredibly enjoyable. The ending leaves me a little deflated, not because it’s sad, but because the last eight minutes is a ridiculous long rendition of “Saw Dust, Spangles and Dreams.” This is complete with the lead cast (including Stephen Boyd) doing a clown act and Boyd is even a lion tamer.

Jimmy Durante is, as always, humorous and adorable. And because he always seems so sweet, your heart breaks with him at the thought of potentially losing his circus and beloved elephant Jumbo. I also love that Durante was in the original 1935 Broadway show, as well as this film.

Doris Day, Syd the Elephant and Jimmy Durante

Doris Day, Syd the Elephant and Jimmy Durante

In some films, Martha Raye’s prescience can be a bit much for me, but I enjoy her role in this movie. She’s funny and she and Doris Day perform a lovely duet. I’m not positive how they got along off set, but they make a charming set of female friends in this movie.

As for our star: With all of her films, Doris Day shines in this movie. Though it’s obviously a wig, her long turn-of-the-century hairstyle looks nice on her and her costumes are colorful. She makes an energetic, joyful and fun circus performer. The only issue is I can’t help but feel that this movie would have been more effective 10 years earlier when Day was under contract with Warner Brother’s.

While “Jumbo” is fun, I just feel that it’s a 1952 movie musical trying to fit in 1962. By 1962, movie musicals were starting to decline. They were also taking a more serious tone, such as “West Side Story” (1961), which looked at racism and gang violence. “Jumbo” producer Joe Pasternak produced many of MGM’s Technicolor extravaganzas in the 1940s and 1950s, such as “Thrill of Romance” (1944) starring Esther Williams, “Anchors Away” (1945) starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, and “In the Good Old Summertime” (1949) starring Judy Garland. Even he knew that “Jumbo” didn’t fit in anymore.

“We were getting older while the audiences were getting younger. Doris Day wasn’t a kid,” Pasternak said.

The film rights to the 1935 Broadway play were purchased by MGM in 1943, to co-star Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Wallace Beery and Frank Morgan. Later in 1947 it was set to star Garland or Kathryn Grayson with Frank Sinatra. And again, in 1952, Debbie Reynolds, Red Skelton, and Donald O’Connor were to be in the film, according to the book “Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance” by Brent Phillips.

I can picture this film with any of the above listed in the time frame they were originally considered. Doris Day, Durante and Raye would have been even better in this film in 1952. Maybe Gordon MacRea could have played the leading man.

Raye, Durante, Day, Boyd in "Jumbo"

Raye, Durante, Day, Boyd in “Jumbo”

Another flaw was casting actor Stephen Boyd as the leading man. I love Stephen Boyd (and I had a major crush on him after first seeing this film) and I think he’s a great actor. However, Boyd doesn’t fit in a musical. This just doesn’t seem his style and he ended up being dubbed.

Director Charles Walters said Boyd worked hard on the film, but wasn’t right for the film. Walters did say Boyd had a good sense of humor on set, which I was happy to hear. However, instead of Boyd, Walters wanted Richard Burton instead, which would not have been better than Boyd.

jumboThe only lead star in this film that didn’t receive enough screen time was the film’s namesake: Jumbo, played by Syd the elephant. For a film named after the elephant’s character, Syd probably only was on screen for 15 minutes of the 126 film.

For a movie about Jumbo, you see very little of the elephant, but he’s scenes are enjoyable. You get to see Jumbo do a few acts and play the tuba. I love elephants, so I particularly enjoyed his scenes.

Though “Billy Rose’s Jumbo” should have been released in theaters at least five years earlier to be relevant to audiences, it still is a fairly enjoyable film.

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Musical Monday: Tonight and Every Night (1945)

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.

tonightThis week’s musical:
“Tonight and Every Night” (1945)– Musical #181

Studio:
Columbia

Director:
Victor Saville

Starring:
Rita Hayworth, Janet Blair, Lee Bowman, Marc Platt, Leslie Brooks, Florence Bates, Professor Lamberti, Shelly Winters (uncredited)

Plot:
Told as a retrospective story to a LIFE magazine reporter, a theater in London never closed or missed a performance during the German blitz in London throughout World War II. The stars of the show were Rosalind Bruce (Hayworth), Judy Kane (Blair) and Tommy Lawson (Platt) are the stars of the show. Rosalind is an American and ends up falling in love with British flyer Paul Lundy (Bowman).

Trivia:
-Loosely based on the Windmill Theatre in London, which never closed during World War II and the German blitz
-Rita Hayworth took time off after filming “Tonight and Every Night” to have her baby, daughter Rebecca, who she had with Orson Welles, according to a “Movie of the Week” feature in the Feb. 12, 1945, issue of LIFE magazine.
-Originally was set to be a drama with Ida Lupino and Merle Oberon. After Hayworth’s success in “Cover Girl,” Columbia cast Hayworth in the film instead and made it into a musical, according to Turner Classic Movie Host Ben Mankiewicz.
-Because Rita Hayworth was pregnant during the filming, costume designer Jean Louis had to find creative ways to hide her pregnancy.
-Based on the play “Heart of a City.”
-Choreographed by Jack Cole, who dances during the number “What Does an English Girl Think of a Yank?”
-Rita Hayworth was dubbed by Martha Mears

Highlights:
-Rita Hayworth’s “You Excite Me” number, choreographed by Jack Cole
-Marc Platt’s dancing, particularly when he is auditioning

Notable Songs:
-“Tonight and Every Night” performed by Janet Blair, the cast and Rita Hayworth, dubbed by Martha Mears
-“You Excite Me” performed by Rita Hayworth, dubbed by Martha Mears
-“The Boy I Left Behind” performed by Janet Blair, Rita Hayworth, dubbed by Martha Mears
-“What Does an English Girl Think of a Yank?” performed by Rita Hayworth, dubbed by Martha Mears (mainly notable for the dancing.)
-“Anywhere” performed by Janet Blair

My review: (with vague SPOILERS)
“Tonight and Every Night” is my favorite Rita Hayworth film. This is a fairly forgotten and underrated musical, which is a shame. “Tonight and Every Night” explodes with gorgeous Technicolor and has a few fantastic dance numbers choreographed by Jack Cole.

This isn’t your average fluffy musical. I think what I like best about this lively film is that it’s set during World War II and mixes musical comedy with a serious theme: the German blitz on England during World War II. The story line focuses on a theater in London vowing never to close or end a performance during the Blitz. This plot makes the film interesting and gives it weight. In the film, the actors even decide to make a dormitory out of the theater, sleeping in dressing rooms and making a little canteen. Rita Hayworth’s romance with Lee Bowman is more of a subplot to this than a main focus. (SLIGHT SPOILER) “Tonight and Every Night” also takes very sad and serious turn at the end that leaves me in tears every time. Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz said 1945 audiences were unprepared and shocked by an ending that wasn’t happy. Most musicals from the dawn of sound to the 1950s didn’t leave the audience sad. Out of the pre-1959 musicals I have seen, this is the only one that leaves me sad.

Mankiewicz also said that this film originally wasn’t intended to be a musical and was going to star Ida Lupino and Merle Oberon. While I can picture how this film would have played out, I am happy that it ended up being a musical — even if Rita Hayworth was dubbed.

While singing may not have been a strong suite of Hayworth’s, her dancing is superb. I often find that Hayworth’s dancing skills are overlooked, as she’s often remembered for film noirs like “The Lady from Shanghai” or “Gilda.” However, I would list her in the top 10 best dancers in Hollywood of the classic era. Her best dance numbers in this film are “You Excite Me” and “What Does an English Girl Think of a Yank?”

Another fantastic dancer in this film is Marc Platt. Not a well-known name, Platt was also one of the brothers in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and danced in “Oklahoma.” This seems to be one of the few films that he had a speaking role in. Most notably in this film, Platt auditions for Florence Bates dancing to classical, opera, boogie woogie and a Hitler speech.

Also in the film is Janet Blair who is beautiful to look at and has a lovely singing voice. She and Rita Hayworth compliment each other well on-screen.

“Tonight and Every Night” will maybe make you laugh and smile, and maybe even cry, but it’s a fast-moving Technicolor marvel that you shouldn’t miss.

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Musical Monday: Bells Are Ringing (1960)

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.

bells4This week’s musical:
“Bells Are Ringing” (1960)– Musical #72

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Vincente Minnelli

Starring:
Judy Holliday, Dean Martin, Fred Clark, Jean Stapleton, Eddie Foy Jr, Ruth Storey, Dort Clark, Frank Gorshin, Donna Douglas (uncredited), Elizabeth Montgomery (uncredited)

Plot:
Ella Patterson (Holliday) is a telephone operator who works for an answering service, Susanswerphone, and she tries to help out all of her subscribers. She falls in love with the voice of one of her subscribers Jeffrey Moss (Martin), who is a playwright that isn’t writing. When his agent (Clark), who is also a subscriber, says he will be fired if he doesn’t turn in a script soon, Ella takes matters into her own hands to help him out and coming face to face with him. The only problem is that Ella and her Susanswerphone could get shut down by investigators who are suspicious that it’s a front for an escort service.

Trivia:
-Judy Holliday’s last film. She passed away in 1965 due to breast cancer.
-Judy Holliday and Jean Stapleton were both in the original 1956 Broadway show and reprised their roles in this film. The Dean Martin role was played by Sydney Chaplin, son of Charlie Chaplin.
-Written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
-The last film Arthur Freed and Vincente Minnelli collaborated on for MGM.
-Holliday was unhappy on the film and didn’t like the film version in comparison to her Broadway experience. She even tried to break her contract, offered to give back her salary and suggested Shirley MacLaine take over the role. Minnelli didn’t take Holliday up on the offer and she finished the film, according to the book A Hundred Or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli by Mark Griffin

bells

Highlights:
-The intro commercial for the answering service “Susanswerphone”

Awards and Nominations:
André Previn was nominated for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture

Notable Songs:
-“It’s a Perfect Relationship” performed by Judy Holliday
-“Better Than a Dream” performed by Judy Holliday and Dean Martin
-“Just in Time” performed by Judy Holliday and Dean Martin
-“Drop That Name” performed by the chorus and Judy Holliday
-“The Party’s Over” performed by Judy Holliday

My review:
When I first saw “Bells are Ringing” in high school, I was disappointed. But a recent re-watch changed my mind and I thought it was a lot of fun. It’s colorful, has entertaining songs and a great cast.

bells5

Arthur Freed, Vincente Minnelli, Judy Holliday

While it’s entertaining to watch, apparently Judy Holliday did not enjoy making this film, according to Minnelli biographies, Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood’s Dark Dreamer by Emanuel Levy and A Hundred Or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli by Mark Griffin. However, you can’t tell it. Holliday’s performance is energetic, funny and makes it appear that she’s having the time of her life.

Dean Martin is also wonderful in the film, as well as Jean Stapleton and Frank Gorshin in their supporting roles. If you look really closely in the scene with Frank Gorshin, young Elizabeth Montgomery is a beatnik reading a book in the foreground.

Not only did this mark the last time producer Arthur Freed and Vincent Minnelli made a “Freed Unit” film, I believe it’s one of the last true MGM musicals. By this time, the Judy Garland and Jane Powell musical extravaganzas were a thing of the past and “Bells are Ringing” is a curtain call to how things once were for MGM. After this, the “Freed Unit” was no more. It was also Judy Holliday’s last film before she died in 1965 due to breast cancer.

While this film marked several endings for careers and eras, it’s still an entertaining romp.

bells3

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Musical Monday: Down to Their Last Yacht (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.

yacht2This week’s musical:
Down to Their Last Yacht (1934) – Musical #556

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Paul Sloane

Starring:
Mary Boland, Polly Moran, Ned Sparks, Sidney Fox, Sidney Blackmer, Sterling Holloway, Marjorie Gateson, Irene Franklin, Ramsay Hill, Lynne Carver (uncredited)

Plot:
When the wealthy New York Colt-Stratton’s (Fox, Hill Gateson) lose everything in the 1929 crash, they become part of the working class. All they have left is their yacht. Nella Fitzgerald (Moran) approaches the family with the idea to rent out the yacht for a cruise for the nouveau riche. One of the passengers, gambler Barry Forbes (Blackmer), falls in love with Lucy Colt-Stratton (Fox) during the voyage. During the sea trip, the boat shipwrecks on South Sea Island of Malakamokolu. The island is ruled by Queen Malakamokalu (Boland), who made herself the ruler of the island. She makes all the passengers labor around the island. She also gives them an ultimatum: Either Barry marries her or she kills them all.

Sidney Blackmer and Sidney Fox in "Down to Their Last Yacht"

Sidney Blackmer and Sidney Fox in “Down to Their Last Yacht”

Trivia:
-Producer Lou Brock’s last film for RKO.
-Scored by Max Steiner

Highlights:
-Ned Sparks humor

Notable Songs:
-“Tiny Little Finger on Your Hand” performed by Sidney Blackmer
-“There’s Nothing Else to Do in Ma-La-Ka-Mo-Ka-Lu” performed by the chorus
-“South Sea Bolero” performed by the chorus

My review:
“Down to Their Last Yacht” is an odd little comedy mixed with music. It’s a little scatterbrained, but pretty funny and has some pre-code humor. The film begins and you think it is going to follow the three Down Colt-Strattons more, but they have a fairly minor role, except for Lucy, played by Sidney-Fox. The names you recognize are in the supporting cast (Polly Moran, Mary Bolland, Ned Sparks), but unfortunately, the straight-faced Ned Sparks is wasted in this film. He’s hardly in it.
The film was going a fairly predictable path until the boat shipwrecks. That was pretty unexpected and the plot takes a completely different turn. I’ll admit I was a little disappointed by this. The plot went completely zany, when I hoped the film was going to focus more on the social-registry family who now has to work for a living.
This is one of those movies that is comedy first and musical second, but it has enough songs to qualify as a musical. The songs aren’t memorable but they’re catchy.
“Down to Their Last Yacht” isn’t well-known as a musical, pre-code or comedy, but it’s enjoyable. It’s a quirky little hour long film filled with nonsense that you should catch.

Polly Moran in "Down to Their Last Yacht"

Polly Moran in “Down to Their Last Yacht”

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Musical Monday: Ziegfeld Girl (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.

ziegfeld2This week’s musical:
“Ziegfeld Girl” (1941) Musical #126

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Robert Z. Leonard, Busby Berkeley

Starring:
Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, James Stewart, Jackie Cooper, Charles Winninger, Tony Martin, Ian Hunter, Eve Arden, Philip Dorn, Al Shean, Edward Everett Horton, Dan Daily, Fay Holden, Felix Bressart, Rose Hobart, Leslie Brooks (uncredited), Georgia Carroll (uncredited), Joyce Compton (uncredited), Patricia Dane (uncredited), Myrna Dell (uncredited), Jean Wallace (uncredited)

Plot:
Three girls are selected to be in the latest Broadway production of Florenz Ziegfeld:
• Sheila (Turner), a Brooklyn native who is discovered while working on an elevator in a department store
• Susie (Garland), a performer in an act on vaudeville with her father. The only problem is Mr. Ziegfeld only wants Susie and not her dad (Winniger)
• Sandra (Lamarr), who is discovered while she is with her violinist husband (Dorn), who is auditioning for the orchestra.
The film follows the girls as they rise to fame and the trials they face on their way up: alcohol, wooing men who try to take them away from husbands and boyfriends, and getting accustomed to more money. They all learn that fame has a great price.

Trivia:
-Florenz Ziegfeld was a famous Broadway producer who died in 1932. He was known for his lavish sets and elaborate costumes that “glorified the American girl.” Ziegfeld is a God-like figure in this film: he is discussed but never seen.

-“Ziegfeld Girl” is one of three films MGM dedicated to Florenz Ziegfeld. This film is a follow up to “The Great Ziegfeld” (1936), a biopic of Ziegfeld starring William Powell as the impresario. “Ziegfeld Girl” is a sequel which shows the life of the Ziegfeld Girls. The third film was “Ziegfeld Follies” (1946), which just showed multiple Ziegfeld-like acts.

-Hedy Lamarr requested to be in this film as a change of pace from her other dramatic roles, according to historian John Fricke.

-Two of the actors in the film were in original Florenz Ziegfeld produced films: Charles Winneger, who was in the original stage production of Show Boat, and Al Shean, who was part of the act Gallagher and Shean. Winneger and Shean recreate one of the Gallagher and Shean numbers in the film.

ziegfeld5

Hedy Lamarr, Judy Garland and Lana Turner in costume for the “Minnie from Trinidad” number

-The production of this film was originally announced in 1938 and was to star Eleanor Powell, Joan Crawford, Margaret Sullivan and Virginia Bruce (who was in The Great Ziegfeld). It was several years before the script was developed and the film was recast with newer talent, according to film historian John Fricke.

-James Stewart’s last film before joining the military to fight in World War II. His next film was “It’s a Wonderful Life” in 1946.

-The finale of “Ziegfeld Girl” edits in multiple numbers from “The Great Ziegfeld.” Judy Garland’s character is dressed in a costume which recreates the “Pretty Girl” number from the 1936 film, on top of the large tower.

-Busby Berkely choreographed the numbers in the film.

-The original finale was going to be “We Must Have Music” with Judy Garland, but it was deleted.

-Judy Garland felt a little inferior to her co-stars. A frequent story she shared was: When Lana Turner came onset, the technicians would whistle. When Hedy would pass through, they would sigh. When Judy came on set they would tell her hello, according to “Beautiful: The life of Hedy Lamarr” by Stephen Michael Shearer.

-“Ziegfeld Girl” was the game changer in Lana Turner’s career, and it led to more serious, dramatic and adult roles. The role was even expanded for Turner during filming.

-Lana Turner was originally supposed to die in the end of the film, according to TCM film historian Robert Osborne. Her death had negative reactions from preview audiences and is now cut to be left ambiguous.

-Model and later wife of Kay Kyser, Georgia Carroll, said in 2008 that Hedy Lamarr was shy and private during the filming. Hedy Lamarr and Judy Garland were friends and Lamarr and Lana Turner were cordial, according to “Beautiful: The life of Hedy Lamarr” by Stephen Michael Shearer.

Publicity still of the costumes from the "You've Stepped Out of a Dream" number

Publicity still of the costumes from the “You’ve Stepped Out of a Dream” number

Highlights:
-Elaborate costumes by Adrian
-Eve Arden’s sassy character

Notable Songs:
-“You Stepped Out of a Dream” performed by Tony Martin
-“Minnie from Trinidad” performed by Judy Garland
-“You Never Looked So Beautiful” performed by the chorus, borrowed by the 1936 film
-“I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” performed by Judy Garland
-“Laugh? I Thought I’d Split My Sides” performed by Judy Garland and Charles Winninger
-“Caribbean Love Song” performed by Tony Martin
-“Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean” performed by Charles Winninger and Al Shean

My review:
In the grand scheme of film history, “Ziegfeld Girl” (1941) may not be very important. It is notable because it gave Lana Turner’s career the boost it needed, landing her in more sophisticated and adult roles. But when it comes to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie musicals, this one isn’t even listed in the top 10.

But I love it. “Ziegfeld Girl” may be overly long (with a run time of 2 hours and 12 minutes) and the plot may be rather fluffy, but I think it’s a great example of the lavish luxury that was a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film.

Publicity still of Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr and Judy Garland

Publicity still of Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr and Judy Garland

With the Adrian gowns and themes of fame and newly found wealth, “Ziegfeld Girl” oozes glamour, sophistication and the jewel-encrusted style many people dream about. For some reason, for me this film holds the definition of MGM glamour more than other well-known MGM films like “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), “The Women” (1939) or “Grand Hotel” (1932).

I think one major reason for this is the “You Stepped Out of a Dream” number where Tony Martin sings as women in elaborate (yet eccentric) costumes walk up and down stairs like goddesses.

After it’s release, Hedda Hopper said that the film is so beautiful that it “makes you ill that it’s not in color.” I can’t say I agree though. While Technicolor would have made “Ziegfeld Girl” even more glorious, I somehow think that black-and-white suits it and glitters more than color would. Color would have almost been too distracting.

The cast of this film is also bursting at the seams. Not only are the leading ladies three of MGM’s most well-known and top stars, the character actors seemingly just keep coming out of the woodwork through the film.

The only thing I don’t love about this film is the finale. Pasting together “Great Ziegfeld” (1936) feels off, though you could look at it as tying it back to the original film and making “Ziegfeld Girl” a true sequel. But that’s a bit of a stretch. It really comes off as lazy, and costume and dance styles had changed so much in five years that it doesn’t fit. However, the originally planned “We Must Have Music” finale is also weak (it’s included on the DVD special features). They would have been better off ending with “Minnie from Trinidad.”

I do also enjoy that two original Ziegfeld players- Charles Winninger and Al Shean- are included in the film.

I first saw “Ziegfeld Girl” in 2004 or 2005 and I fell in love with it and I still really love this movie. I loved it so much that “ziegfeldgirl1941” was part of me e-mail address at the time. I even tried to convince my mom to play “You Stepped Out of a Dream” when I walked downstairs to my prom date (she refused so this didn’t happen).

If the glamour of this film was a soap or a perfume, I would buy it and wear it. But since it’s not, I did the next best thing. I created Hedy Lamarr’s “Stepped out of a Dream” costume designed by Adrian for this Halloween. I bought the sleeveless white dress but made the rest of the costume- sewing on sleeves, cutting out and gluing silver stars and sequins, using 12 glue sticks to attach wire with stars on a board on my back (Adrian also used a board on Hedy’s back.) If this 20 hour project doesn’t describe my love for “Ziegfeld Girl,” I’m not sure what does.

My version of Hedy Lamarr's "Dream" costume

My version of Hedy Lamarr’s “Dream” costume

If you love MGM glamour and musicals, I would give this one a watch. I’ll give you fair warning that it’s a bit dramatic at parts, like when Lana Turner’s luck starts to change, but it’s such a fabulous look at MGM in it’s prime.

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On the Small Screen: The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976)

Comet Over Hollywood is spotlighting Halloween episodes of classic television shows.

The Paul Lynde Halloween Special
Air Date: Oct. 29, 1976

In the 1960s and 1970s, TV specials were abundant. It seems that almost every TV star, major musician and their Great Aunt Pearl had their own special. From musical performances like “My Name is Barbra” (1965), a musical special with Barbra Streisand, to “Really Raquel” (1973), where Raquel Welch performed her nightclub show. Telly Savalas even had a 1976 musical specials called “Telly…Who Loves Ya Baby?”

lynde

Many of these specials also focused on holidays, and performers such as Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Andy Williams always had a Christmas special. And thanks to Paul Lynde, Halloween wasn’t forgotten in the mix of Halloween specials.

Airing on ABC on Oct. 29, 1976, “The Paul Lynde Halloween Special” is a ridiculous, campy (but hilarious) special featuring Margaret Hamilton as his maid, Tim Conway, Billie Barty, Betty White, Florence Henderson, Billie Hayes, Roz Kelly, and…performances from the rock band KISS.

It begins with Lynde not sure what holiday it is, celebrating Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s Day, when Margaret Hamilton exasperatedly reminds him that it’s Halloween—a holiday that is close “to the scariest holiday of them all: Election Day.”

Lynde then sings a Halloween themed version of “Kids,” a song he originally performed in “Bye Bye Birdie.”

Hamilton then takes Lynde to her sister’s house, who is Witchiepoo (Hayes) from “H.R. Pufnstuf” and Hamilton turns into her “Wizard of Oz” (1939) character of the Wicked Witch of the West. Their butler is Billy Barty. Miss Halloween of 1976 (Betty White) also appears, disappointed that it’s Paul Lynde, because she wanted Paul Newman or another Paul but not Paul Lynde.

Billie Hayes and Margaret Hamilton with Paul Lynde

Billie Hayes and Margaret Hamilton with Paul Lynde

“She has a striking resemblance to Betty White, but then so many witches do,” Lynde says.

Betty White- Miss Halloween of 1976

Betty White- Miss Halloween of 1976

Lynde is at the mercy of the witches, who want his help in giving them a better image. They give Lynde three wishes and each wish lends itself to a random, unrelated musical special. His wishes include:
• Lynde becoming a Rhinestone Trucker where he and Tim Conway fight over marrying waitress Roz Kelly.
lynde6

• Lynde being a Valentino-like sheik in the dessert with Florence Henderson as his lover.
lynde5

• Going to a Hollywood disco with the witches—“The only place you can hustle and not get arrested.” Florence Henderson sings a disco version of “Old Black Magic” and everyone performs “Disco Baby.”
lynde8

The rock band KISS performs three songs in the special: “Detroit Rock City”, “Beth” and “King of the Night Time World.” The band does have some lines as Paul Lynde makes jokes, such as about their makeup.

KISS performing in the Paul Lyde Special

KISS performing in the Paul Lyde Special

My Review:
If you’re looking for something to watch on Halloween, skip “Nightmare Before Christmas,” Freddy Kruger, “Friday the 13th” and all that other drivel. “Paul Lynde’s Halloween Special” is the only Halloween special you need. It has witches and Jack-o-lanterns, but more importantly, it’s pretty funny. The jokes are punny and maybe eye roll worthy, but funny none-the-less. It’s unlike any other special you’ve ever watched and it stars Paul Lynde…need I really say more?

You can watch the full special online.

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Musical Monday: Can’t Help Singing (1944)

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:
“Can’t Help Singing” (1944)– Musical #137

cant-help-singing

Studio:
Universal Studios

Director:
Frank Ryan

Starring:
Deanna Durbin, Robert Paige, Akim Tamiroff, David Bruce, Ray Collins, Leonid Kinskey, June Vincent, Thomas Gomez, Clara Blandick, Iron Eyes Cody (uncredited), Edward Earle (uncredited)

Plot:
Caroline (Durbin) is in love with Lt. Latham (Bruce), but her father Senator Frost (Collins) hates the lieutenant. When Senator Frost convinces President Polk (Earle) to send Lt. Latham to California to guard gold shipments, Caroline leaves Washington, DC, and heads west with a wagon train to follow Lt. Latham. She ends up sharing a wagon with Johnny Lawlor (Paige) who distracts her attentions from Lt. Latham.

Awards and Nominations:
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (Jerome Kern and Hans J. Salter)
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song (Jerome Kern and E.Y. Harburg)

Deanna Durbin in "Can't Help Singing," her first and only Technicolor film

Deanna Durbin in “Can’t Help Singing,” her first and only Technicolor film

Trivia:
-Deanna Durbin’s first and only color film. A Universal Studios publicity brochure said: “For the last eight years, Deanna has been in a black and white shadow on the screen before them. Now she is being brought to them in all the beauty of her natural coloring.”
-20th Century Fox built a fort for the film “Buffalo Bill” (1944) and Universal Studios rented this fort from Fox to use for this film.
-Filmed in Utah, because the mountains in California are brown and Utah’s green mountains photographed better in Technicolor, according to When Hollywood Came to Town: A History of Movie Making in Utah by James D’Arc
-Film based on the story “Girl of the Overland Trail” by Samuel J. and Curtis B. Warshawsky

Highlights:
-Deanna Durbin in color

Deanna Durbin on location in Utah at the Cedar Breaks

Deanna Durbin on location in Utah at the Cedar Breaks

Notable Songs:
-“Can’t Help Singing” performed by Deanna Durbin and Robert Paige
-“Any Moment Now” performed by Deanna Durbin
-“Elbow Room” performed by the chorus
-“More and More” performed by Deanna Durbin
-“Californ-i-yay” performed by Deanna Durbin and Robert Paige

My review:
Though Deanna Durbin is known for her operatic singing voice, her fims made under contract to Universal put music secondary to the plot. For example, where most of Judy Garland’s films were filled with songs that mixed evenly into the plot, Durbin’s films will primarily be a comedy or drama where she sings two or three songs.

“Can’t Help Singing” is one of few Durbin films that is strictly a musical with western elements coming secondary. It’s her first and only film in Technicolor, features multiple songs from Durbin, songs from her leading man Robert Paige (this is also rare in a Durbin film. Many of her leading men were non-singers), and songs featuring other characters that help move the plot along. This musical was one of Universal Studios most expensive films.

This is a fun little musical, because it does feature a great deal of humor and a pleasant romance between Durbin and Paige. I really enjoyed Robert Paige as a leading man in this film. My only complaint is that he didn’t sing more and that he wasn’t in more prominent films throughout his career.

Akim Tamiroff and Leonid Kinskey are there as a comedic duo, who thankfully aren’t tiresome or annoying.

Durbin’s film career started in 1936 and she left in 1948. As Universal’s top star, it’s a shame that this is her only Technicolor film, but not surprising. Color was still very expensive and not as common during this time. It really is a treat to see Deanna Durbin in color. She looks gorgeous, her costume are lovely and the backdrop of Utah is lush and colorful.

While not my favorite Deanna Durbin film (that’s 1941’s It Started with Eve) “Can’t Help Singing” is alot of fun. Durbin’s lilting happiness in her songs will make you want to sing as well.

Robert Paige and Deanna Durbin in "Can't Help Singing"

Robert Paige and Deanna Durbin in “Can’t Help Singing”

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West Side Story: The Names Behind the Jets and Sharks

When I was 14 in 2002, I watched “West Side Story” for the first time and became obsessed with the movie musical, which premiered 55 years ago in New York City on Oct. 18, 1961. My dad who introduced me to the film later regretted it, because I listened to the soundtrack every night and tried to learn the dances. “West Side Story” is directly responsible for my love of movie musicals which manifested into the weekly Musical Monday.

West Side Story” is one of those movies where you notice or learn something new with every viewing and every detail and aesthetic was carefully planned. When you’re obsessed with a film, you research the heck out of it to learn all you can. One thing that I have always been interested in is the story behind all the dancers that made up the film.

The Sharks and the Jets

The Sharks and the Jets

The lead actors of Natalie Wood (as Maria), Richard Beymer (as Tony), Rita Moreno (as Anita), George Chakiris (as Bernardo), and Russ Tamblyn (as Riff) are all stupendous. But many of us already know their stories.

I really wanted to delve into the actors you don’t know as well: the story behind the actor who played Baby John who is now a renowned in the New York City ballet world. Or there’s the Shark who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay. You maybe didn’t know it, but you probably watched Consuelo on “Full House.”

This is the story behind the Jets, the Sharks and their girlfriends. They weren’t the ones who picked up the Academy Awards for “West Side Story” and didn’t even have their name on the marquee, but their dancing is what mesmerized the audiences.

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Musical Monday: Irene (1940)

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.

ireneThis week’s musical:
“Irene” (1940)– Musical #555

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Herbert Wilcox

Starring:
Anna Neagel, Ray Milland, Roland Young, Marsha Hunt, Alan Marshal, May Robson, Billie Burke, Arthur Treacher, Isabel Jewell, Doris Nolan, Nella Walker, Alexander D’Arcy (uncredited)
Themselves: Martha Tilton, The Dandridge Sisters: Dorothy and Vivian Dandridge

Plot:
Irene O’Dare (Neagel) is an upholster’s assistant. She meets Don Marshall (Milland) while measuring chairs at a wealthy Long Island home. Don anonymously purchased the fashionable women’s clothing store Madame Lucy’s and he is Madame Lucy. He arranges for Irene to become a model there and the two are smitten. Don and Madame Lucy’s manager Mr. Smith (Young) arrange a publicity stunt by sending their well-dressed models to Mrs. Herman Vincent’s (Burke) society party. Irene is assigned to wear the store’s most exclusive dress, ruins it and wears an early 1900s dress of her mother’s instead-causing a wow. She explodes on the society scene and Mrs. Herman Vincent’s son (Marshal) – proposes to her.

Trivia:
-Based on a Broadway musical that originally premiered in 1919 and was revived in the 1920s and 1970s (which Debbie Reynolds and Jane Powell both starred in).

-A version of the 1926 film “Irene” starring Colleen Moore

Anna Neagle after the black and white film turns to color for a brief segment.

Anna Neagle after the black and white film turns to color for a brief segment.

Awards and Nominations
-Anthony Collins was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Music (Scoring). He lost to Alfred Newman for “Tin Pan Alley.”

Highlights:
-Credits featuring puppets of Anna Neagel and Ray Milland
-Changes to color for a scene midway through for a brief segment

Notable Songs:
-“Alice in a Blue Dress” performed multiple times by Anna Neagle, The Dandridge Sisters, Martha Tilton
-“You’ve Got Me Out On a Limb” performed by Anna Neagle
-“Irene”
-“Castle of Dreams”

My review:
While “Irene” is listed as a musical, it’s more of a comedy with a few musical and dance numbers thrown in. Regardless, it’s incredibly delightful.

This is an up-to-date Cinderella story. A wealthy man notices a shop girl and makes her a model glamour girl. The movie is joyful, funny and has beautiful fashion for vintage clothing lovers.

Ray Milland and Anna Neagle in the "Alice Blue Gown." This portion of the film is in color.

Ray Milland and Anna Neagle in the “Alice Blue Gown.” This portion of the film is in color.

Many of our Musical Monday features are filled with four to even twelve musical numbers. Many non-musical films also feature song, such as a singer in a nightclub, such as Sam in “Casablanca” or Lou Gehrig and his wife dancing to “Always” in “Pride of the Yankees.”

“Irene” sits awkwardly in the middle of these two. While it isn’t a song-extravaganza, it also can’t comfortably be dismissed as not a musical. It features two prominent song and dance numbers, the lead sings, the lead also has her own solo dance number at the end of the film, and some nightclub singers are sprinkled throughout. So that’s why we are qualifying “Irene” as a musical — the original Broadway play was also a musical.

The black and white film even turns to color so Anna Neagle can enter in her “Alice Blue Gown” and the audience can marvel and Anna can sing about it.

“Irene” had me laughing and smiling. If you don’t like musicals but love 1940s comedies, this is a happy medium for you. Too many songs won’t deter you.

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