TCMFF Musical Monday: The Dolly Sisters (1945)

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 Dolly Sisters (1945) – Musical #333

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Irving Cummings

Starring:
Betty Grable, John Payne, June Haver, S.Z. Sakall, Reginald Gardiner, Frank Latimore, Sig Ruman, Gene Sheldon, Trudy Marshall, Elmer the Seal, Theresa Harris, J. Farrell MacDonald, Collette Lyons (uncredited), Mae Marsh (uncredited), Ricki Van Dusen (uncredited), Evon Thomas (uncredited), Donna Jo Gribble (uncredited)

Plot:
A fictional biographical musical of the life of Hungarian acting sisters Jenny (Grable) and Rosie (Haver) Dolly. The sister act rose to fame during the 1910s and 1920s and were a top Broadway and European act. Jenny marries songwriter Harry Fox (Payne), who is envious of Jenny’s success.

The real Dolly Sisters

Betty Grable and June Haver as the Dolly Sisters

Trivia:
– The real Dolly sisters were acted from 1907 to the early 1920s. The sisters retired in 1929 and their later life was tumultuous. In 1921, Jenny was in a severe car accident that left required her to have reconstructive facial surgery and multiple other surgeries (her stomach was in her lung chamber). Jenny committed suicide in 1921. Rosie died of a heart attack in 1970.
– Betty Grable originally wanted Dick Haymes for the role as Harry Fox, but Zanuck refused and suggested Perry Como, who Grable said was too short, according to the biography “Pin-Up: The Tragedy of Betty Grable” by Spero Pastos
– George Jessel’s film debut as a movie producer
– The character of Flo Daly is based on Fanny Brice
– Gale Robbins, Janet Blair, Vivian Blaine, Patricia Romero and the Dowling Twins were all considered for roles.

Highlights:
– Orry-Kelly costumes, particularly in the makeup box number

Orry-Kelly costume for lipstick

Orry-Kelly costume for mascara

Notable Songs:
-“The Vamp” performed by June Haver and Betty Grable
-“I Can’t Begin to Tell You” performed by John Payne
-“Give Me the Moonlight, Give Me the Girl” performed by John Payne and Betty Grable
-“Don’t Be Too Old Fashioned (Old Fashioned Girl)” performed by Betty Grable and June Haver
-“Powder, Lipstick and Rouge” performed by the chorus
-“I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” performed by John Payne and Betty Grable

My review:
I adore Betty Grable. I love to watch her candy-coated Technicolor films, her exuberant dancing and the way she can sell a song. I even own a CD of her songs and drive around singing to it.

But in the grand scheme of her films, like “Moon Over Miami” and “Springtime in the Rockies,” I just don’t enjoy “The Dolly Sisters.”

Let’s start with the good points: It’s very colorful and it has some wonderful costumes.

But as far as a the plot of this fictionalized biographical musical, it is not the best of 20th Century Fox’s Technicolor musical extravaganzas.

For me, one thing that taints this movie for me is the co-starring of Betty Grable and June Haver. Appearance wise, Grable and Haver look extremely similar. But their sisterly bond was strictly for the screen. Grable didn’t like or trust June Haver. Grable always remained professional toward her, but also she felt that Haver was gunning for her star status, according to the book Betty Grable: The Reluctant Movie Queen by Doug Warren.

The plot of this movie is also frustrating. Harry Fox, played by John Payne, is bitter that his wife, Jenny Dolly played by Betty Grable, is more famous than he is and wants her to quit. But you can’t just quit a sister act …

The real life Dolly Sisters also ended up having a pretty grim life. They both partied and dated some of the same men, and, as depicted in the film, Jenny Dolly was in a severe car wreck. In real life, Jenny was left destitute and depressed after this, selling her jewels to pay for gambling debts and medical bills. Jenny killed herself in 1941.

As far as the musical numbers, many of them are glittering with great costumes and familiar songs.

However, one is rather cringey. “The Darktown Strutters’ Ball” is a cringey number. After Grable and Haver perform the initial chorus, chorus girls come out in blackface in costumes that perpetuate stereotypes. This includes a performed with a gambling/money motif on her dress and another with a muff that is a watermellon. The sisters then come out in stereotypical child blackface costumes. It’s just bad.

Other costumes in the film are worth mentioning, though. Designed by Orry-Kelly, the costumes for “Powder, Lipstick and Rouge” are so fun. Each chorus girl is dressed as a different cosmetic item. Including a woman with a tall hat to signify lipstick and another with a skirt that looks like a powder puff.

While “The Dolly Sisters,” isn’t my favorite Betty Grable film, it does exhibit the sparkling appeal of 20th Century Fox.

This musical screened at TCMFF on nitrate this weekend.

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