Musical Monday: “Call Me Madam” (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.

Call Me MadamThis week’s musical:
Call Me Madam” –Musical #430

20th Century Fox

Walter Lang

Ethel Merman, Donald O’Connor, Vera-Ellen, George Sanders, Billy De Wolfe, Helmut Dantine, Walter Slezak

Set in 1951 during the Truman-era, socialite Sally Adams (Merman) heads to the fictional European country of Lichtenburg as a United States of America ambassador. Adams’ assistant Kenneth Gibson (O’Connor) falls in love with Princess Maria (Ellen) and Adams falls in love with General Cosmo Constantine (Sanders).
Based on the Broadway play with music by Irving Berlin.

-Film adaptation of the 1950 Broadway play that also starred Ethel Merman. The show opened Oct. 12, 1950, and ran for 644 performances through May 3, 1952. Merman won a Tony for her performance on stage.
-Sally Adams is based on based on Washington, D.C. hostess and Democratic Party fundraiser Perle Mesta. Mesta was selected by Harry Truman to be the American ambassador to Luxembourg. The musical is a satire of the behavior of gauche Americans abroad, according to Hollywood Musicals Year by Year by Stanley Green.
-Carol Richards dubbed Vera-Ellen’s singing voice.
-20th Century Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck was making “Call Me Madam” and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” at the same time. Zannuck noted in his memoirs “Madam” was a better film but “Blondes” would make more. Blondes did double the gross of Madam, Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years at Twentieth Century-Fox edited by Rudy Behlmer


Vera-Ellen and Donald O'Connor dancing to "It's a Lovely Day Today"

Vera-Ellen and Donald O’Connor dancing to “It’s a Lovely Day Today”

-George Saunders has a lovely singing voice in “Marrying for Love.”
-Three minutes into the film, Merman almost says “I don’t know what the hell your talking about” but stops herself and repeats the line. “I don’t know what the he- I don’t know what you are talking about.”
-Donald O’Connor and Vera-Ellen’s dance to “It’s a Lovely Day Today” in the garden. And all of their dances together.
-Vera-Ellen’s wardrobe.

Notable Songs:
-Hostess with the Mostest sung by Ethel Merman
-It’s a Lovely Day Today sung by Donald O’Connor and Vera-Ellen. Ellen is dubbed by Carol Richards.
-Marrying for Love sung by George Saunders
-You’re Just In Love sung by Donald O’Connor and Ethel Merman
-Mrs. Sally Adams sung by a trio of ladies answering the phone. Their voices blend beautifully

My Review:
A little bit of Ethel Merman can go a long way, but you can’t deny this is her best film role.
The film was taken from a successful Broadway show that also starred Merman, “Call Me Madam” is colorful and has an excellent cast.
Merman originated several musical roles on stage such as “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Panama Hattie,” “DuBarry was a Lady” and “Gypsy.” However, when the shows went from stage to film, Merman’s role was always recast with a younger, sexier star. However, film audiences get to see Merman in a role she originated on film with “Call Me Madam.” Though to me, her singing voice can be overwhelming, you can tell Merman’s appeal on stage with the energy and humor she shows in the film role.
Also in the film, I would say Donald O’Connor steals the show. He sings and dances beautifully and has the opportunity to sing a duet with Merman. Vera-Ellen also dances beautifully, but her performance is lessened by the terrible accent she has to speak.
George Sanders is a surprise in the musical with his beautiful singing voice.
Though “Call Me Madam” isn’t my favorite musical, its energetic, funny and fun. The Irving Berlin songs are entertaining, the costumes are beautiful and the talent is excellent.

Donald O'Connor, Ethel Merman, George Sander,  Vera-Ellen in "Call Me Madam"

Donald O’Connor, Ethel Merman, George Sander, Vera-Ellen in “Call Me Madam”

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1 thought on “Musical Monday: “Call Me Madam” (1953)

  1. I’ve always adored Ethel Merman — brassy, funny, and she said about herself “I have all the nerve in the world, but no nerves.” I think my favorite number in this one is “The International Rag.” She is a stitch, it shows her famous voice off so well, and her movements are perfect. You know, I can understand why Ethel was not really suited to movies — her personality, her facial expressions and booming voice are really too large for the screen. I would have given anything to see her on Broadway. However, not casting her in the screen version of “Gypsy” was the ultimate idiocy on Hollywood’s part. Her Broadway performance should have been caught on celluloid to last forever. At least we get to see some of it with Call Me Madam…


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