Musical Monday: It Happened in Brooklyn (1947)

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:
It Happened in Brooklyn (1947) – Musical #263

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Richard Whorf

Starring:
Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Peter Lawford, Jimmy Durante, Gloria Grahame, Marcy McGuire, Aubrey Mather, Bobby Long, William Roy (billed as Billy Roy)
Themselves: The Starlighters – Pauline Byrns, Vince Degen, Tony Paris, Howard Hudson

Plot:
Danny Miller (Sinatra) has been homesick for his hometown of Brooklyn for four years while fighting in World War II. When he returns to Brooklyn, he meets music teacher and unsuccessful opera singer Anne (Grayson) who disagrees with Danny about Brooklyn being the best place in the world. Unable to find a place to live, Danny stays with old friend Nick (Durante). Nick also wants to be better liked by the students at the school, like Robert Donat in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.” Danny has his own issues to when he can’t find a job right away. Englishman Jamie (Lawford) comes to visit from England after Danny talks about Brooklyn. The problem is that Jamie and Danny both fall for Anne.

Trivia:
– One of three films that Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson co-starred in. The others were “Anchors Aweigh” and “The Kissing Bandit.”
– In pre-production, George Sidney was originally slated to direct the film.
– Some sequences were shot in New York
– The singing group, The Starlighters, perform a song as teens in the record shop.
– Andre Previn dubbed Peter Lawford’s piano playing.
– Shooting was suspended for 10 days so that Jimmy Durante could complete “This Time for Keeps” (1947)
– Gloria Grahame’s fourth film and her role after “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)
– Produced by Jack Cummings

Gloria Grahame in a small role in “It Happened in Brooklyn” with Frank Sinatra

Highlights:
-Jimmy Durante idolizing Mr. Chips.
-Frank Sinatra doing a Jimmy Durante impression.

Notable Songs:
-“The Brooklyn Bridge” performed by Frank Sinatra
-“The Song’s Gotta Come From The Heart” performed by Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante
-“Whose Baby Are You” performed by Frank Sinatra, reprised by Peter Lawford
-“I Believe” performed by Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante and Bobby Long
-“La ci darem la mano” performed by Kathryn Grayson and Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson in “It Happened in Brooklyn”

My review:
“It Happened in Brooklyn” is a no-frills musical, but it’s a fun one.

Set right after World War II, Frank Sinatra returns to his “pin-up girl,” that isn’t a girl but his hometown: Brooklyn. All through the world he idolized his home and can’t wait to return home. But when he comes home, he has a hard time finding a job, we learn he has no family, and everyone around him doesn’t hold the same romanticized view of the New York borough.

Outside of Jimmy Durante, the film leads were still relatively new to Hollywood or were only just recently considered stars.

Frank Sinatra sings about the Brooklyn Bridge

Though Sinatra’s first acting role was in 1944 with “Higher and Higher,” once he signed on to MGM and starred in “Anchors Aweigh” (1945) his film career took off a bit more. “It Happened in Brooklyn” (1947) was only his third film under contract with MGM. “It Happened in Brooklyn” was during the phase of Sinatra’s film career where his characters were naive, shy and rather “awe-shucks.” This was also during the period where Sinatra was very skinny and jokes (like being called “fatso” by a soldier” were made about his weight (or lack thereof). I honestly prefer this period of his film career, while I know others don’t – including Sinatra. According to Frank Sinatra: An Extraordinary Life by Spencer Leigh, Frank Sinatra didn’t like Louis B. Mayer because he continuously made him play the shy naive boy.

By this time, Kathryn Grayson was a star at MGM. Her career started like so many other starlets’ did – in an Andy Hardy film. This is the second time Grayson co-starred with Frank Sinatra; the first was “Anchors Aweigh” (1945). Though she had been acting longer, Grayson is a secondary character compared to Sinatra here. She plays his (sort of) leading lady who has goals to sing opera. Grayson does perform some lovely songs, but largely takes a backseat to her co-star.

The real newcomer here is Peter Lawford. Lawford had been acting in films since he was eight years old, but often was in a small or uncredited role, such as a classmate in “A Yank at Eaton” (1942), a pilot in “Mrs. Miniver” (1942) or the injured son of Irene Dunne in “White Cliffs of Dover” (1944). By the mid-1940s, Lawford was getting credited roles and MGM was suddenly considering him as a musical star and casting him in “It Happened in Brooklyn,” “Good News” and “Easter Parade.” Lawford plays an English, piano playing square (laughable if you know how he was in real life), and looks to shy Frank Sinatra to give him some confidence. You think that Lawford is going to stick to his piano playing (dubbed by Andre Previn) until he cuts loose with a song and dance number in a music shop. I think it’s interesting that Lawford, whose singing voice was just okay was never dubbed in his musicals.

Paul Lawford and Jimmy Durante in “It Happened in Brooklyn.”

This is interesting because Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford were both members of the Rat Pack and became friends after meeting on this film.

Jimmy Durante, the Hollywood veteran here, is a real highlight in the film. He is the sweet school janitor who wants to be beloved like Mr. Chips in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” but does not feel as loved by the students like Robert Donat. Durante always plays the adorable, sweet guy but also has the laughs. He does a fun number with Sinatra called “The Song’s Gotta Come From The Heart,” where Sinatra even does a Durante impression.

There is one mystery with this film. A child singer and tap dancer, Bobby Long performs an elaborate number “I Believe” with Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante. The trio sings and dances around the school gym, Bobby swings on gym equipment and gets a tap solo. This was obviously this child’s big chance, but it’s the only time we see him in the film AND his only film. Does anyone know what happened to him? So far, I haven’t found anything about what happened to Long or why his career ended as soon as it began.

“It Happened in Brooklyn” (1947) isn’t MGM’s biggest or splashiest movie musical, but I enjoy it. It’s sweet and rather unassuming, but it’s also fun to see so much young talent.

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2 thoughts on “Musical Monday: It Happened in Brooklyn (1947)

  1. Some ‘Variety’ issues of 1944 reviwed a stage and club act featuring “an eight year old tapper” Bobby Long. Perhaps he primarily worked in those fields, and someone saw his act, and signed him for this film. The only other mention I found was in a ‘Broadcasting’ magazine 1949, that a thirteen year old Bobby Long of Georgia had won the ‘Cisco Kid’ contest, I don’t know if it was the same person, though he would have been about that age. I hope to see his dance in this film sometime.

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