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:
“Down Argentine Way” — Musical #273
20th Century Fox
Betty Grable, Don Ameche, Charlotte Greenwood, J. Carroll Naish, Carmen Miranda (as herself), Henry Stephenson, Leonid Kinskey, Fayard and Harold Nicholas (as themselves)
Ricardo Quintana (Ameche) travels from his home in Argentina to New York to sell his prized race horse. His father (Stephenson) tells him not to sell his horse to any relative of Binnie Crawford (Greenwood), who’s brother cheated him and the two have been in a feud ever since. In New York, Ricardo meets Glenda Crawford (Grable) and falls for her. She also wants to buy his horse, unaware of the feud. When he learns who she is, he takes back his agreement to let her buy the horse. Glenda angrily follows Ricardo to Argentina.
-Remake of the 1938 film, “Kentucky” starring Loretta Young, Richard Greene and Walter Brennan. “Kentucky” is set in the American south and also deals with horse racing. Young and Greene’s families are feuding, because of an incident that occurred during the Civil War.
-Originally supposed to star Alice Faye, who had to drop out. Caesar Romero was supposed to play Leonid Kinskey’s role. The film ended up being a break through film for Betty Grable, who had been in films since the early 1930s, according to Hollywood Musicals Year by Year.
-First screen appearance of Carmen Miranda. Her scenes were shot in New York at the Movetone studio in Manhattan and edited into the Hollywood film, so her only film appearances are two songs and no dialogue with the characters. Miranda was performing on Broadway in “The Streets of Paris.” She made an impression on audiences and was signed to 20th Century Fox, according to Memo from Darryl F. Zannuck.
-Film gossip columnist Louella Parsons compared Don Ameche to Rudolph Valentino in this movie. She said he “has a good singing voice, but he has never been the least exciting until this movie,” she said in a Oct. 6, 1940, column.
-Don Ameche’s role was originally offered to Desi Arnaz, according to Life on the Hyphen: The Cuban-American Way by Gustavo Pérez Firmat
-Director Irving Cummings originally wanted to cut the Nicholas Brother’s three minute tap dance scene, according to Brotherhood in Rythm: The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers by Constance Valis Hill.
-The Nicholas Brother’s tap dance performance.
-Carmen Miranda’s first screen appearance.
-“Down Argentine Way” sung by Betty Grable
-“Two Dreams Met” sung by Betty Grable and Don Ameche
-“Mamãe Yo Quero” sung by Carmen Miranda
-“South American Way” sung by Carmen Miranda
“Down Argentine Way” may be looked upon as another colorful, fluffy Technicolor musical. But it’s an important step in two of the star’s careers and in Hollywood’s involvement with American foreign relations.
Catapulting star careers
Betty Grable, known for her “Million Dollar Legs,” started in films in bit roles in 1929. From 1929 through the late 1930s, she appeared as chorus girls-even in Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers films. “Down Argentine Way” was her first major Technicolor film, showcasing her beauty and musical talents. After this film, she became one of 20th Century Fox’s top stars.
Carmen Miranda arrived in New York via Brazil in May 1939 and started in Broadway in June 1939. “Down Argentine Way” was released in October 1940, only a little over a year from the time she arrived in the United States. Her brief appearance in the film, launched an American career, primarily from 1940 to 1945, and dubbing her the Brazilian Bombshell.
Now it’s time for a brief history lesson thanks to my South American History and Policy class at Winthrop University. (I even semi led a Carmen Miranda discussion in the class):
During the President F. D. Roosevelt administration in 1933, FDR said (in a nutshell) that he wanted to be a good neighbor to other nations. The Secretary of State said no country had the right to intervene in internal or external affairs of another country. The United States had troops in South America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Due to the Good Neighbor Policy, the United States withdrew Marines who were occupying Haiti and Nicaragua.
To promote these neighborly relations, the United States worked to promote Latin America in culture. You can see the cultural impacts in films like “Down Argentine Way,” “That Night in Rio” or “Week-End in Havana.” Fashion was affected with espadrille shoes, fiesta blouses and peasant blouses. Music had a South American influence with bandleaders such as Xavier Cugat.
What does this have to do with movies? “Down Argentine Way” was one of the first Hollywood films that promoted the Good Neighbor Policy- showcasing the beautiful countries (via soundstage) and how wonderful and romantic the culture is.
“Down Argentine Way” isn’t the best film of Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda or Don Ameche. But it’s fun and beautifully colorful. The story is simple but it is important in the careers of a few Hollywood favorites.