Musical Monday: Irene (1940)

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.

ireneThis week’s musical:
“Irene” (1940)– Musical #555

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Herbert Wilcox

Starring:
Anna Neagel, Ray Milland, Roland Young, Marsha Hunt, Alan Marshal, May Robson, Billie Burke, Arthur Treacher, Isabel Jewell, Doris Nolan, Nella Walker, Alexander D’Arcy (uncredited)
Themselves: Martha Tilton, The Dandridge Sisters: Dorothy and Vivian Dandridge

Plot:
Irene O’Dare (Neagel) is an upholster’s assistant. She meets Don Marshall (Milland) while measuring chairs at a wealthy Long Island home. Don anonymously purchased the fashionable women’s clothing store Madame Lucy’s and he is Madame Lucy. He arranges for Irene to become a model there and the two are smitten. Don and Madame Lucy’s manager Mr. Smith (Young) arrange a publicity stunt by sending their well-dressed models to Mrs. Herman Vincent’s (Burke) society party. Irene is assigned to wear the store’s most exclusive dress, ruins it and wears an early 1900s dress of her mother’s instead-causing a wow. She explodes on the society scene and Mrs. Herman Vincent’s son (Marshal) – proposes to her.

Trivia:
-Based on a Broadway musical that originally premiered in 1919 and was revived in the 1920s and 1970s (which Debbie Reynolds and Jane Powell both starred in).

-A version of the 1926 film “Irene” starring Colleen Moore

Anna Neagle after the black and white film turns to color for a brief segment.

Anna Neagle after the black and white film turns to color for a brief segment.

Awards and Nominations
-Anthony Collins was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Music (Scoring). He lost to Alfred Newman for “Tin Pan Alley.”

Highlights:
-Credits featuring puppets of Anna Neagel and Ray Milland
-Changes to color for a scene midway through for a brief segment

Notable Songs:
-“Alice in a Blue Dress” performed multiple times by Anna Neagle, The Dandridge Sisters, Martha Tilton
-“You’ve Got Me Out On a Limb” performed by Anna Neagle
-“Irene”
-“Castle of Dreams”

My review:
While “Irene” is listed as a musical, it’s more of a comedy with a few musical and dance numbers thrown in. Regardless, it’s incredibly delightful.

This is an up-to-date Cinderella story. A wealthy man notices a shop girl and makes her a model glamour girl. The movie is joyful, funny and has beautiful fashion for vintage clothing lovers.

Ray Milland and Anna Neagle in the "Alice Blue Gown." This portion of the film is in color.

Ray Milland and Anna Neagle in the “Alice Blue Gown.” This portion of the film is in color.

Many of our Musical Monday features are filled with four to even twelve musical numbers. Many non-musical films also feature song, such as a singer in a nightclub, such as Sam in “Casablanca” or Lou Gehrig and his wife dancing to “Always” in “Pride of the Yankees.”

“Irene” sits awkwardly in the middle of these two. While it isn’t a song-extravaganza, it also can’t comfortably be dismissed as not a musical. It features two prominent song and dance numbers, the lead sings, the lead also has her own solo dance number at the end of the film, and some nightclub singers are sprinkled throughout. So that’s why we are qualifying “Irene” as a musical — the original Broadway play was also a musical.

The black and white film even turns to color so Anna Neagle can enter in her “Alice Blue Gown” and the audience can marvel and Anna can sing about it.

“Irene” had me laughing and smiling. If you don’t like musicals but love 1940s comedies, this is a happy medium for you. Too many songs won’t deter you.

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