Musical Monday: Swing Fever (1943)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Swing Fever (1943) – Musical No. 391

Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: Tim Whelan

Starring: Kay Kyser, Marilyn Maxwell, William Gargan, Nat Pendleton, Curt Bois, Andrew Tombes, Maxie Rosenbloom, Morris Ankrum, Pamela Blake, Ava Gardner (uncredited), Karin Booth (uncredited)
Themselves: Lena Horne, Harry Babbitt, Sully Mason, Ish Kabibble, Trudy Erwin, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James

Lowell Blackford (Kyser) wants to publish music for a symphonietta, but his desire to publish serious music is overshadowed by his hypnotic”evil eye” he can put on people to make them do what he wants. Fight promoter ‘Waltzy’ Malone (Gargan) wants to use Lowell’s skill to help his boxer win the championship. Malone uses attractive singer Ginger Gray (Maxwell) to help get Ginger to help convince Lowell to help them out.

• A rare Kay Kyser film where he isn’t playing himself. This is the only film where Kay Kyser didn’t play himself.
• Ava Gardner is in an uncredited role as a secretary who works at the music company
• Kay Kyser’s theme “Thinking Of You” plays over the credits
• Credits say “Introducing Marilyn Maxwell” even though Maxwell was in seven films prior to this and had a credited role in a Dr. Gillespie film.

• Cameos by Harry James and Tommy Dorsey playing in Kay Kyser’s band

Notable Songs:
• “Mississippi Dreamboat” performed by Kay Kyser and his Band
• “You’re So Indifferent” performed by Lena Horne
• “I Planted a Rose” performed by Harry Babbitt and Kay Kyser’s Band
• “One Girl and Two Boys” performed by Marilyn Maxwell

Kay Kyser, Marilyn Maxwell, and William Gargan in “Swing Fever”

My review:
In the 1930s and 1940s, some of music top big band leaders would appear in films, but generally as a specialty act. Xavier Cugat would perform in a night club the film’s stars visit. The lead stars were musicians performing in Glenn Miller’s band.

Kay Kyser is the only of those bandleaders who was given a lead role. Sure Harry James was given lines in a few films, but he was barely a supporting character. From 1939 to 1942, Kay Kyser and his band starred in RKO films where the plot revolved around the antics. Kyser’s band was unique – in addition to their music, they also provided comedy. Along with his lead singers Harry Babbit and Ginny Simms, Kyser’s band had personalities and singer/musicians Sully Mason and Ish Kabbible. They may be solving a mystery in a haunted house or teaching North Carolinian Kyser how to act Shakespeare, but the musical comedies soley focused on the bands with a few other actors co-starring – Patsy Kelly, John Barrymore, Boris Karloff, etc.

However, this changed when Kyser moved over to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In “Swing Fever,” Kyser is the lead actor in the film, but his band isn’t flanking him in his adventures. Instead, Marilyn Maxwell and William Gargan are his co-stars but Kyser’s band only appears in a minor role.

The band performs during the musical scenes, Sully Mason only sings one song, Ginny Sims has left the group, and Harry Babbit performs one song. Ish Kabibble (real name Merwyn Bogue) was usually the goofy, comedic relief but only gets a few scenes here. They feel thrown in and like they were added out of courtesy.

Don’t get me wrong, “Swing Fever” is fun … it’s just not the same as Kyser’s other films. I felt bad that his band was put on the back burner and not taking front and center like they had in the past.

There are some funny scenes. Kyser is supposed to be a square with not much experience in swing music. While he’s rehearsing a band for the first time, real-life bandleaders and musicians Tommy Dorsey and Harry James are part of the group. They storm out and make the joke “The square will never get anywhere. He looks too much like Kay Kyser.”

While it’s different than RKO’s films, “Swing Fever” is a funny film and good time. Kyser may not be given the star power RKO gave him, but it is still a joyful viewing experience.

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