Musical Monday: Three Sailors and a Girl (1953)

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:
Three Sailors & A Girl (1953) – Musical #405

Studio: Warner Bros.

Director: Roy Del Ruth

Jane Powell, Gordon MacRae, Gene Nelson, Sam Levene, Jack E. Leonard, Veda Ann Borg, George Givot, Archer MacDonald, Raymond Greenleaf, Merv Griffin (uncredited)

When three sailors (Nelson, MacCrea, Leonard) collect $50,000 to invest on behalf of their shipmates. Instead, they get suckered by producer Joe Woods (Levene) into investing the money in his new show. The sailors relent when they fall for Penny Weston (Powell), who worries the show will flop and they will lose their money.

• Jane Powell was on a loan out to Warner Bros. from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
• First film appearance for Jack E. Leonard
• Bill Lee dubbed Jack Larson
• The film premiered at the San Diego Naval Hospital on December 18, 1953
• The film is based on the story and 1925 play “The Butter and Egg Man” by George S. Kaufman. This story has been on film multiple other times, including:
-The Butter and Egg Man (1928) starring Jack Mulhall and Greta Nissen
-The Tenderfoot (1932) starring Joe E. Brown and Ginger Rogers
-Hello, Sweetheart (1935) starring Claude Hulbert and Gregory Ratoff
-Dance Charlie Dance (1937) starring Stuart Erwin, Jean Muir and Glenda Farrell
-An Angel from Texas (1940) starring Eddie Albert and Rosemary Lane

Gene Nelson, Jane Powell, Gordon MacRae and Jack E. Leonard

• Gene Nelson’s dancing, particularly on a car lift.

Notable Songs:
• “There Must Be a Reason” performed by Gordon MacRea and Jane Powell
• “When It’s Love” performed by Jane Powell
• “Home is Where the Heart Is” performed by Jane Powell, Gordon MacRae, Gene Nelson and Jack E. Leonard

My review:
Jane Powell is one of my favorite musical stars. Her beautiful voice and sweetness that seemed so genuine have always won me over.

That said, even our favorite actors are cast in films that are not so hot or that we may not love. Sadly, “Three Sailors and a Girl” (1953) is one of those.

I’ll never forget my excitement to when I was finally able to see this movie for the first time several years ago. It was one of her few films that had eluded me. When you are so excited to see a long-anticipated film, you sometimes feel crushed when it’s not good, and sadly that’s the case with “Three Sailors and a Girl.”

The film follows three sailors (Nelson, MacRae Leonard) who want to invest $50,000 which belongs to them and their shipmates. They are duped by a hack producer (Levene) into putting their money into his terrible show. The star, Penny (Powell), feels guilty because she knows the show will be a flop but still convinces the sailors they are investing their money wisely. In the process, Penny and sailor Choirboy (MacRae) fall in love. Everything naturally works out, the show is revamped and ends up a success (this may be a spoiler, but if you have seen a Warner Bros. 1950s musical, this isn’t surprising).

It’s really curious that Jane Powell was cast in this film. The role she is playing as Penny is the sexy-showgirl-with-a-heart-of-gold role that Virginia Mayo would play in Technicolor Warner Bros. musicals of the early-1950s (See: She’s Working Her Way Through College or She’s Back on Broadway)

Powell is certainly sexy and beautiful in this film, but the issue is the songs that they have ser perform. Known primarily as a soprano singer, the songs in “Three Sailors and a Girl” are a lower range for her and also more of a “pop” nature. Powell does get to show her operatic prowess with songs like “When It’s Love” or “Home is Where the Heart Is,” which are some of the better songs in the film.

But the terrible songs like “Show Me a Happy Woman (and I’ll Show You a Miserable Man)” and the cacophonous “Kiss Me or I’ll Scream” (which we have to hear TWICE) outweigh the good songs. Powell excels in “Royal Wedding” with singing songs outside of her norm, but these songs can’t be saved by anyone.

I am going to take it that Powell didn’t think much of the film either because in her autobiography she only mentions when it was released and in reference to her relationship with Gene Nelson. I wasn’t familiar with comedian Jack E. Leonard prior to this film, which is his film debut. Poor guy.

As for the supporting characters, I always love Gene Nelson and Gordon MacRea but this sadly isn’t great material for them either. Gene Nelson does get to give two impressive dances – in a car garage and in the finale with Jane Powell.

There is a brief period during “The Lately Song” when the group is singing, a car drives by and backfires on the group and they are all covered in soot, including their faces. I wasn’t sure if they were just supposed to be dirty or … this was intended to be blackface, which unfortunately seems to show up in many Warner Bros. 1950s musicals.

The funny thing about the movie is that it only improves when the play produced inside the film improves. It’s like the film’s quality is a direct correlation to the story they are telling.

Thankfully, the musical number at the end is quite good so after some suffering, “Three Sailors and a Girl” lands on a high note. Jane Powell and Gordon Macrea’s duet of “Home Is Where the Heart Is” is lovely, and Powell and Gene Nelson’s duet is impressive and uses some interesting lighting.

There is also a hilarious surprise cameo at the end of the film that I didn’t list here, because if you make it to the end, you deserve that surprise.

I love Jane Powell and I hate being so down on one of her films, but it doesn’t take away from my love for this performer or any of her co-stars. If you are a fan of anyone in this cast, you should still watch this movie, I just want to warn you to not have as high of hopes as I did.

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