Musical Monday: Step Lively (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.

step3This week’s musical:
Step Lively” (1944)– Musical #209

Studio:
RKO

Director:
Tim Whelan

Starring:
Frank Sinatra, George Murphy, Gloria DeHaven, Adolphe Menjou, Walter Slezak, Eugene Pallette, Anne Jeffreys, Grant Mitchell, Wally Brown, Dorothy Malone (uncredited)

Plot:
Gordon Miller (Murphy) wrecking havoc at a hotel where he’s rehearsing a musical comedy. Not only are his actors running rampant and eating all the food in the dining room, but he also doesn’t have any money to pay for the hotel, the actors or the play. Gordon’s brother-in-law and manager of the hotel Joe Gribble (Slezak) is in hot water as Gordon continues to run up his credit. Along the way, playwright Glenn Russell shows up wondering what became of his play that he sent to Gordon to produce. They find that Glenn can sing better than write and leading lady Christine (DeHaven) works to get him in the show.

Trivia:
-Musical version of the 1938 Marx Brothers film “Room Service.”

Frank Sinatra's first on-screen kiss with Gloria DeHaven

Frank Sinatra’s first on-screen kiss with Gloria DeHaven

-Gloria DeHaven gave Frank Sinatra his first on-screen kiss according to The Cinematic Legacy of Frank Sinatra by David Wills

-Frank Sinatra’s fifth feature film and the first time he received top billing.

-Music by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn

-This film was shown overseas in combat areas during World War II with “the compliments of the American Motion Picture Industry.”

-The original working title for the film was “Manhattan Serenade”

Awards:
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White

Musical number in Step Lively

Musical number in Step Lively

Notable Songs:
-“As Long As There’s Music” performed by Frank Sinatra
-“Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are” performed by Gloria DeHaven and Frank Sinatra
-“Where Does Love Begin?” performed by Gloria DeHaven, George Murphy and reprised by Anne Jeffreys and Frank Sinatra

My review:
In the grand scheme of film, “Step Lively” may not be a terribly important movie, but it was important in the film career of Frank Sinatra.

After five feature-length films where Sinatra appeared as a supporting role or singing with Tommy Dorsey’s band, Frank Sinatra had top billing, was wooing the leading lady and getting his first onscreen kiss. Critics were ambivalent towards the film but complimentary towards Sinatra.

“The onward and upward advancement of Frank Sinatra as a motion-picture star,” wrote New York Times critic Bosley Crowther in his July 27, 1944, review.

Frank Sinatra and Gloria DeHaven in "Step Lively"

Frank Sinatra and Gloria DeHaven in “Step Lively”

During this phase of his career, Frank Sinatra was generally played naive, sweet little guys who are very likable characters. Early in his career, Sinatra was also quite small, looking scarcely over 100 pounds, which this film makes jokes about. Even Crowther mentions Sinatra’s weight in his review: “But the whole film was rigged up to ride his (Sinatra). And it carries his meager weight quite well.”

Sinatra’s next film was the Technicolor MGM musical “Anchors Aweigh” (1945) with Gene Kelly and Kathryn Grayson and his film star just continued to climb after that.

“Step Lively is a musical remake of the Marx Brothers film “Room Service” so it has some zany features that the Marx Bros would have had, but it isn’t as over the top.

For a small RKO musical, this is filled with stars. George Murphy is the fast talking, unethical producer leading the zany situations. While he has the most screen time, he isn’t singing and tapping as he usually does. Murphy only has two numbers and no tap dancing. That’s my biggest disappointment with this movie.

Gloria DeHaven is a beautiful leading lady who sings some lovely, soothing songs. Anne Jefferys plays the secondary female lead and is humorous and also sings a couple of songs. However, she is barely in the film for more than 15 minutes, which is a shame because she had a fun character.

Overall, “Step Lively” is a “lively” little film that is an enjoyable romp. If you’re a Frank Sinatra fan, don’t miss this movie that helped kick off his film career.

Frank Sinatra, Gloria DeHaven and George Murphy in "Step Lively"

Frank Sinatra, Gloria DeHaven and George Murphy in “Step Lively”

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