Musical Monday: Honolulu (1939)

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.

Honolulu_(1939)This week’s musical:
Honolulu” (1939)– Musical #172

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Edward Buzzell

Starring:
Eleanor Powell, Robert Young, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Rita Johnson, Willie Fung, Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson, Sig Ruman, Ruth Hussey, Phillip Terry
As Themselves: The Pied Pipers, Jo Stafford, The King’s Men, Andy Iona’s Orchestra

Plot:
Popular Hollywood star Brooks Mason (Young) has a lookalike George Smith (Young). To get a rest from his fans, Mason sends Smith to New York for a personal appearance tour and heads to Smith’s Hawaiian plantation for a rest, meeting dancer Dorothy March (Powell) on the way. Complications arise when Mason meets Smith’s girl Cecila (Johnson).

Trivia:
-George Burns and Gracie Allen’s last film appearance together. After this movie, George Burns wouldn’t appear again on screen until 1952.
-Eleanor Powell’s “Hola E Pae” number was re-edited and put in “I Dood It” (1943).
-Eleanor Powell’s tap dance number “I Got a Pair of New Shoes” was cut from the film and can be found here.
-From an April 26, 1939, “Hollywood Shots” column: “There’s a good reason why Eleanor Powell calls Honolulu her favorite films: its the only one that ever gave her a foot bruise costing her at least one toenail.”

Robert Young plays a double role in

Robert Young plays a double role in “Honolulu”(1939)

Highlights:
-Eleanor Powell’s hula routine with a native tap dance routine
-Robert Young plays a double role
-Costume party featuring Bing Crosby impersonator and Gracie Allen as Mae West

Notable Songs:
-“Honolulu” performed by Gracie Allen, The Pied Pipers
-“The Leader Doesn’t Like Music” performed by Gracie Allen, The King’s Men
-“Hawaiian Medley” performed by The King’s Men, danced by Eleanor Powell
-“Hola E Pae” performed by Andy Iona’s Orchestra, danced by Eleanor Powell

My review:
“Honolulu” is not your usual MGM glittery musical, but it’s a lot of fun. Primarily, the movie is a comedy of lookalikes/mistaken identity with Robert Young. Eleanor Powell is merely a tap dancing backdrop.

Robert Young and Eleanor Powell in

Robert Young and Eleanor Powell in “Honolulu” (1939)

Since Powell does not sing, any songs are performed by Gracie Allen. The one that’s the most fun is “The Leader Doesn’t Like Music” as she is dressed like Mae West for a costume party and her backup singers are dressed like the Marx Brothers.

Married comedians Gracie Allen and George Burns have very little screen time together in their last film together.

The most notable dance number is the amazing hula/tap number that Eleanor Powell does. She starts off barefoot and in a grass skirt doing an impressive Hawaiian dance and then switches into tap shoes to mix tap dancing and hula steps. It’s truly the highlight of the film.

Gracie Allen even does a little tap dancing with Eleanor Powell at the start of the film.

The unfortunate part of this film is Eleanor Powell’s dance in blackface. This is off putting and takes away from Powell’s fantastic dancing, however, it was meant to be a tribute to Bill Robinson. Robinson was a close friend of Powell’s. She was not interested in tap dancing but knew it was the best form of dance to break into the business, and Bill Robinson served as her mentor. Robinson, along with Pearl Bailey, was also a godparent to her son Peter Ford. The two often performed together.

“Honolulu comes from the magical year of 1939 which hailed so many top notch films. It isn’t on the same level of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” or “Ninotchka,” but it does still hold a certain level of charm and glitter typical of other 1939 lower budget films.

While “Honolulu” isn’t the most inspiring MGM musical, it’s still a good slice of fun with some amazing tap dancing numbers.

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