Musical Monday: Broadway Rhythm (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.

This week’s musical:
Broadway Rhythm (1944) – Musical #228

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Roy Del Ruth

Starring:
George Murphy, Ginny Simms, Charles Winninger, Gloria DeHaven, Nancy Walker, Ben Blue, Lena Horne, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Kenny Bowers
Themselves: Hazel Scott, Tommy Dorsey and His Band, The Ross Sisters

Plot:
Jonnie Demming (Murphy) is a Broadway producer and clashes with his family. His father, Sam (Winninger), is a former vaudeville star and still wants to act post-retirement and has ideas of how the show should be run. His sister Patsy (DeHaven) has left school to perform in a nightclub act and wants her brother to give her a job. Jonnie also has issues with his show. He needs a leading lady and tries to get Hollywood star Helen Hoyt (Simms), who also wants to get on Broadway. The only problem is she doesn’t like the show’s script.

Trivia:
– Originally was supposed to be another “Broadway Melody” film and was set to star Eleanor Powell and Gene Kelly.
– Ginny Simms was previously Kay Kyser’s singer and left his show in 1941. Originally set to star Powell, MGM head Louis B. Mayer recast when he had a crush on Ginny Simms and gave her the star treatment, according to the book, TThat Was Entertainment: The Golden Age of the MGM Musical by Bernard F. Dick.
– Based on the Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein musical, “Very Warm for May”
– Performer Dean Murphy does impressions of Joe E. Brown, Charlie McCarthy, Mortimer Snerd, Clark Gable, James Stewart, and President F. D. Roosevelt.

Charles Winninger, George Murphy and Gloria DeHaven in “Broadway Rhythm.”

Highlights:
– Beautiful Technicolor
– Nancy Walker’s number “Milk Man Keep Those Bottles Quiet”

Notable Songs:
-“Brazilian Boogie” performed by Lena Horne
-“Milk Man Keep Those Bottles Quiet” performed by Nancy Walker
-“Solid Potato Salad” performed by the Ross Sisters
-“Somebody Loves Me” performed by Lena Horne
-“Irresistible You” performed by Ginny Simms
-“I Love Corny Music” performed by Charles Winninger and Tommy Dorsey

My review:
Most people know “Broadway Rhythm,” even if they haven’t seen it. This is the film that features the contortionist Ross Sisters performing “Solid Potato Salad,” which has become a YouTube sensation for the past several years. Once a year someone sends the video thinking I haven’t seen it, but I saw this movie back in high school. While that scene is strange, you also have to realize, Hollywood always looked for something new.

With that out of the way, to the film:
“Broadway Rhythm” is beautiful to look at: Filmed in gorgeous Technicolor and actors are clothed in costumes by Irene. But the look of the film doesn’t seem to match the quality. It looks like an A-budget movie but is cast like a B-musical.

George Murphy is his usual capable singing and dancing character. While I personally feel Murphy is a beautiful dancer and was underrated, he generally wasn’t the leading man in MGM A-list features. Murphy was either cast as a supporting actor in big budget films, playing second fiddle to someone like Gene Kelly, or he was the leading man of a lower budget movie.

Charles Winninger is delightful and humorous as the father, playing his usual role. The highlight is Gloria DeHaven, who sings beautifully and looks impossibly gorgeous in Technicolor. While DeHaven became a big name at MGM, she was still very early in her career. “Broadway Rhythm” came out not long before the film that made her a star: “Two Girls and a Sailor.

Ginny Simms as a Hollywood star in “Broadway Rhythm.”

And then there is Ginny Simms. Simms is lovely to look at, especially in Technicolor, and has a lovely melodic voice. If you ever have listened to Kay Kyser’s music, you know her as his girl singer. Simms also did some acting and singing in three comedic musicals that feature Kyser and his band. But “Broadway Rhythm” was to give her the star treatment at MGM (which came from studio head L.B. Mayer having a yen for her). And while Simms is okay, that’s just it: She’s just okay.

But if this B-musical is lacking, it’s not just because of Ginny Simms. It’s the fact that the story is the same rehashed story that MGM had been telling since the mid-1930s with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney musicals, and the Broadway Melody series. By the look of the movie and the specialty acts thrown in, like the Ross sisters and (annoying) celebrity impersonator Dean Murphy, you can tell this was a film that was supposed to be a big deal. It does make me a little sad to see the Ross Sisters performing their acrobatic act. This was their only film, though it did set them on tour as a nightclub act. I just have to wonder if they all hoped this would be their big break into Hollywood.

The real standout in this film is Nancy Walker, who performs a wonderful version of “Milk Man Keep Those Bottles Quiet.” Walker, with DeHaven, was fresh from the film “Best Foot Forward” (1943), and MGM was grooming both as stars. Unfortunately, this was Walker’s last film for MGM, and she wasn’t in another film until 1954.

Lena Horne performs “Brazilian Boogie.”

Lena Horne’s two numbers, “Somebody Loves Me” and “Brazilian Boogie,” are also two of the best numbers in the film. Horne, unfortunately, is just a specialty act but steals the show. It’s also a treat to see pianist Hazel Scott performing in the film also as a specialty act.

I have to wonder how “Broadway Rhythm” would have been with the original casting plans with Eleanor Powell. Powell is one of the greatest tap dancers to ever grace the silver screen and it would have been wonderful to see her in a Technicolor film. It would have been her only Technicolor feature film, outside of performing as a specialty act in “Thousands Cheer” (1943). However, I’m glad this didn’t star Gene Kelly. Kelly would have been a terrible leading man for Powell, though he would have been okay for Ginna Simms.

“Broadway Rhythm” is an enjoyable enough film and awfully pretty to look at. It’s just not very memorable.

Love musicals? Want to learn more about musicals? Enroll in Turner Classic Movie’s Mad About Musicals online class through Ball State University!

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3 thoughts on “Musical Monday: Broadway Rhythm (1944)

  1. The specialties like the Ross sisters and Dean Murphy were typical of the Broadway Melody films (even though this wasn’t one). They always featured unusual vaudeville-type acts.

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    • Yes, as is Thousands Cheer (1943). I guess I should have drilled down and clarified further: A color feature film that Eleanor Powell was the star of. The Broadway Melody films of the 1930s that she starred in were big productions, but she didn’t have the opportunity to be the lead in one of those colorful extravaganzas that characterize MGM.

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