Musical Monday: Song of the Islands (1942)

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.

islandsdThis week’s musical:
Song of the Islands” (1942)– Musical #393

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Walter Lang

Starring:
Betty Grable, Victor Mature, Thomas Mitchell, Jack Oakie, Billy Gilbert, George Barbier, Hilo Hattie, Harry Owens and His Royal Hawaiians

Plot:
Eileen O’Brien (Grable) returns to her beach combing father’s (Mitchell) home in Hawaii after going to school in the states. At the same time, Jeff Harper (Mature) shows up on the island with his buddy Rusty (Oakie) on the island to help transport his father’s (Barbier) cattle. Jeff and his father want Dennis O’Brien’s (Mitchell) land to build a pier to help transport the cattle. The cattle business gets in the way of the budding romance of Jeff and Eileen.

Trivia:

  • Betty Grable was worried about Thomas Mitchell starring in the film since he never had been in a musical. However, they got along and she frequently asked him for acting advice, according to The Films of Victor Mature by James McKay
  • Dances choreographed by Hermes Pan
  • 20th Century Fox was trying to get the concept of “Song of the Islands” off the ground since 1937. Originally it was created for Joan Davis and in 1938 it was considered for Alice Faye and Don Ameche, according to McKay’s book.
  • The original plot concept would be a “Philadelphia Story”-type concept but set in Hawaii, according to McKay’s book.
  • John Payne and Robert Cummings were both considered as leading men, according to McKay’s book.
  • The song “Blue Shadows and White Gardenias,” performed by Betty Grable and Victor Mature, was cut from the movie
  • Filming for “Song of the Islands,” based in Hawaii, was completed on Dec. 6, 1941, the day before Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by the Japanese, according to Hermes Pan: The Man Who Danced with Fred Astaire by John Franceschina
  • Producer Bill Le Baron wanted Robert Cummings to star in the film after the successful teaming of Cummings and Grable in “Moon Over Miami” (1942), according to an Aug. 7, 1941, article “Betty Grable to Wear Sarong in Next Photoplay”
  • Film debut of Hawaiian actress Hilo Hattie
George Barbier and Thomas Mitchell

George Barbier and Thomas Mitchell

Highlights:
-The cast
-Thomas Mitchell
-The Technicolor island scenery

Notable Songs:
-“Sing Me a Song of the Islands” performed by Betty Grable
-“Down on Ami Ami Oni Oni Isle” performed by Betty Grable
-“O’Brien Has Gone Hawaiian” performed by Betty Grable

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My review:
From the moment this movie starts, you’re bound to have a smile on your face.
We’re greeted with Technicolor island scenery and a frazzled Thomas Mitchell. Soon after we have a close up of lovely, honey blonde Betty Grable singing “Song of the Islands.”
Admittedly, the plot is fairly weak and isn’t as interesting as other Grable films like “Moon Over Miami,” but it’s still a lot of fun.
A large part of this fun has to do with the cast. You generally don’t think of Thomas Mitchell in a musical, but he was one of my favorite parts of this movie. I also always love to see George Barbier, who always ends up being an adorable softy. Jack Oakie usually isn’t one of my favorite actors but his character is entertaining in this one.
And of course there’s Betty Grable and Victor Mature. The two both look very attractive and Grable’s island-themed costumes are wonderful. I think Grable looks particularly gorgeous in this film, because this is the period in her career when her hair was still honey blonde and not yet peroxide white.
Grable looks so gorgeous and healthy in this film, you just sigh and wish you were here-hulaing all over the place.
The island setting also gives us some fun variations of dance, mixing the hula with traditional tap dancing and even Irish dancing, thanks to choreographer Hermes Pan. One particularly fun number is “O’Brien has Gone Hawaiian,” which mixes Hula and Irish dance. Thomas Mitchell’s delighted laughter during this number is infectious.
While this isn’t an Academy Award winning movie, it will put a smile on your face. If you can’t take a vacation this summer, “Song of the Islands” will do the trick.

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