Musical Monday: The Opposite Sex (1956)

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:
The Opposite Sex (1956) – Musical #175


David Miller

June Allyson, Joan Collins, Dolores Gray, Ann Sheridan, Ann Miller, Leslie Nielsen, Jeff Richards, Joan Blondell, Sam Levine, Agnes Moorehead, Charlotte Greenwood, Bill Goodwin, Alice Pearce, Carolyn Jones, Harry James, Alan Marshall, Jim Backus, Dick Shawn, Barrie Chase (uncredited), Dean Jones (uncredited)

Kay Hilliard (Allyson) is married to Broadway producer Steve Hilliard (Nielsen). She learns from her gossip at the beauty parlor that Steve is cheating on her with one of the girls in his show, Crystal Allen (Collins). Kay’s catty friends Sylvia (Gray) and Edith (Blondell) revel in the gossip while Amanda (Sheridan) tries to help Kay and encourages her not to get a divorce. Kay, a former radio singer, divorces her husband and restarts her career.

• Remake of “The Women” (1939) starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell. The story was remade again in 2008 as “The Women” with Meg Ryan and Eva Mendez.
• Part of the appeal of the original film is that there are no men anywhere to be scene in the cast. However, unlike the original which only has women in the film, the 1956 remake has men. Fay Kanin and Michael Kanin said MGM included men in The Opposite Sex because “you can’t play a love scene alone,” according to a Feb. 1956 article in the Los Angeles Times.
• Esther Williams originally was cast in the role, but she refused to do the movie, because she thought it was ridiculous to remake the original, according to Esther William’s autobiography “Million Dollar Mermaid.”
• Grace Kelly, Eleanor Parker, Doris Day and Howard Keel were all considered for the film. Peter Graves was considered for Buck Winston.
• When June Allyson slaps Joan Collins after Kay and Crystal confront each other for the first time, Allyson wrote in her autobiography that she really slapped Collins. Her slap was so hard that Collins’ earrings flew off. According to Allyson, each woman was given different directions – that Joan Collins would pull back and Joan was told that June wouldn’t hit her. This caused tension on set.
• Though June Allyson can sing, Jo Ann Greer, dubs June Allyson in the song “A Perfect Love”
Based on the 1936 play, “The Women” by Clare Boothe Luce
• June Allyson’s last film under contract at MGM.
• Jeff Richardson is dubbed by Johnny O’Neill
• Costumes by Helen Rose
• Joan Blondell’s first film since 1951.
• Charlotte Greenwood’s last film. Her career started in 1915.
• Ann Miller doesn’t sing or dance in the film.

Joan Collins, Dolores Gray, Ann Sheridan, Ann Miller, Joan Blondell and Agnes Moorehead with Jeff Richards

• Technicolor filmography
• Helen Rose costumes

Notable Songs:
• “The Young Man with a Horn” performed by June Allyson and Harry James
• “The Opposite Sex” performed by Dolores Gray
• “Now Baby Now” performed by June Allyson

Dolores Hart, June Allyson and Joan Collins in “The Opposite Sex”

My review:
The musical remake is a strange bird. You take a perfectly good movie -be it drama, romance or comedy – and add music to it. I know I have said that before, but I find this subgenre fascinating and it particularly prominent in the 1950s.

“The Opposite Sex” (1956) is a musical remake of the 1939 film “The Women,” a movie that is unique because there is not one single man in the film. Not even a male taxi driver. But in the musical remake, there are men, including husbands, performers, waiters and porters.

Now, this isn’t a traditional type of musical. There aren’t songs about “I Hate You Crystal Allen” or “How Did Our Love Die After 10 Years, Stephen?” The music comes from the careers of our leads – Steve Hilliard is a Broadway musical producer and his wife, Kay, is a former radio singer.

Now, “The Opposite Sex” gets a bad rap. And when it’s compared directly to “The Women” (1939), saying it is an insult to the original could be a fair assessment. “The Women” star Joan Crawford said of the film, “It’s ridiculous. Norma and I might not ever have been bosom buddies, but we towered compared to those pygmies in the remake.”

However, if “The Opposite Sex” is viewed as its own movie, perhaps viewed by someone who has no idea of the history, it’s not so bad. That’s how I tried to watch it after viewing it for the first time in 15 years.

“The Opposite Sex” has a great cast, is extremely colorful, showcases gorgeous Helen Rose costumes, and has some funny scenes. I enjoyed watching this movie much more than I expected I would.

However, there are some missteps, mainly that the talent in this film was wasted. You have Dolores Gray and Ann Miller in a film and neither sings or dances a note. Gray does sing the song over the credits, but for a force of nature like Dolores Gray, I feel cheated for not getting a “Thanks A Lot But No Thanks”-like number.

June Allyson does most of the singing here, though she only sings two songs and is dubbed in a third. One of the songs is “Young Man with a Horn,” in a flashback – I song she performed in “Two Girls and a Sailor” more than 10 years earlier. I was curious if they reused the old recording or re-recorded it for this movie. She’s then dubbed by Jo Ann Greer, which is the most uncomfortable and stupid thing I’ve ever seen, because their voices don’t match. And then Allyson sings the sexy song, “Now Baby Now,” all while wearing a modest blue jumpsuit with a sequined peter pan collar. The costume kills the song.

Who picked this costume for a sexy song?

The addition of men was an odd decision because they are hardly used. The writers said it was because MGM noted “you can’t play a love scene alone.” However, the male actors are barely used. We don’t get Steve’s side of the story and if he really loves Crystal or wants a divorce. Leslie Neilsen really is left to just make some concerned faces. Jeff Richards has more scenes than Neilsen, including a dubbed song at the end.

While none of the performers in the film were the same star status as those in the 1939 film, I will admit that Joan Collins is a very good Crystal Allen. She is actually even a bit more bratty than Joan Crawford was in the role, who was devious.

My favorite performances in the film are Dolores Gray as Sylvia Fowler and Ann Sheridan as Amanda. Amanda is the only new character created for this film, replacing the mother of the leading lady. Sheridan looks fabulous in this movie and it’s thrilling to see her red hair in Technicolor.

“The Opposite Sex” isn’t great, but it also isn’t the worst musical remake out there (my vote goes to High Society or Let’s Do It Again). I really was surprised by how much fun I had watching it. I just wish they had included a bit more music from it’s leading ladies. This is screening at the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival this week. If you see it, let me know what you think.

Leslie Neilsen in “The Opposite Sex”

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