Musical Monday: Red, Hot and Blue (1949)

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:
Red, Hot and Blue (1949) – Musical #362

Studio: Paramount Studios

Director: John Farrow

Betty Hutton, Victor Mature, William Demarest, June Havoc, Jane Nigh, Frank Loesser, William Talman, Raymond Walburn, Onslow Stevens, Art Smith, Barry Kelley, Julie Adams (uncredited), Noel Neill (uncredited)

Eleanor Collier (Hutton) lives in New York City and is desperate to become an actress. She will do anything to be discovered and for publicity from going to dinner with rich men to modeling to going by the name “Yum Yum.” Eleanor clashes with her boyfriend Danny (Mature), who disapproves of her career gaining methods because he wants to direct serious plays. While trying to get ahead, Eleanor goes on a date with gangster Bunny Harris (Talman), believing he is producing a show when he gets shot. Gangsters kidnap her believing she witness the shooting.

• Frank Loesser wrote the songs in the film and also acts in the film. This was his only acting film role.
• This film is not connected to the 1936 Broadway play “Red, Hot and Blue” starring Ethel Merman.
• Julie Adams’s first film
• Working title was “The Broadway Story” and “The Restless Angel”

Notable Songs:
• “I Wake Up in the Morning Feeling Fine” performed by Betty Hutton
• “(Where Are You) Now That I Need You” performed by Betty Hutton
• “That’s Loyalty” performed by Betty Hutton

Betty Hutton and Victor Mature in a publicity photo for “Red, Hot and Blue” (1949)

My review:
During the early and mid-1940s, particularly the war years, Betty Hutton was one of Hollywood’s top stars. Known for her energetic comedy and way of singing, Bob Hope once called her a “vitamin pill with legs.”

“Red, Hot and Blue” (1949) is no exception for showing off her fireball-like personality. Hutton’s character of Eleanor Collier wants to be an actress and is desperate to a fault. William Demarest plays Charlie, her questionable agent who suggests she models girdles or goes to eat with eccentric millionaires for publicity. Victor Mature plays her boyfriend Danny, who is characterized as a bit of a stick in the mud (compared to Eleanor) who prefers Shakespeare to the types of roles Eleanor wants.

Eleanor’s energy and shenanigans are also a bit tiring to her two roommates: Sandra, played by June Havoc, and Angelica (or No No), played by Jane Nigh.

“Red, Hot and Blue” is … exhausting. It starts off okay, with Betty Hutton performing the exuberant song, “I Wake Up in the Morning Feeling Fine” but then the zany gags and Hutton constantly getting into trouble is exhausting – and this is coming from someone who really enjoys Betty Hutton and her films!

But while it’s exhausting, it’s also a little sad in the scheme of Hutton’s career. Hutton’s best-known role as Annie Oakley in “Annie Get Your Gun” (1950) was still to come and actually was her next project after “Red, Hot and Blue.” But her fame wasn’t what it was during the war years, and after “Annie Get Your Gun” (1950) and “The Greatest Show on Earth” (1952), Hutton’s career started to decline. “Red, Hot and Blue” feels like the start of this.

One high point of Hutton’s performance is her song “(Where Are You) Now That I Need You.” She sings it soft and heartbroken and really tugs at your heartstrings.

Victor Mature co-stars as Hutton’s romantic lead and his stoicism is a contrast to Hutton’s exuberance. It is one of seven “backstage” films Victor Mature made, according to his daughter, Victoria Mature.

“I love the scene where Victor (as the director in Red, Hot and Blue) tells his actors how to go about giving a convincing performance,” Mature said in an e-mail to Comet Over Hollywood. “A modern take on the speech in Shakespeare’s Hamlet where the title character gives similar advice to a troupe of traveling actors…’speak the speech.'”

Playing against someone so over the top could be difficult, but Mature was always able to hold his own.

“My dad was proud of his ability to hold his own in a scene without having to steal the spotlight,” Victoria Mature said. “This ability was frequently put to the test: as Demetrius in The Robe opposite Richard Burton, as Tony Powell in After the Fox opposite Peter Sellers, as Danny James in Red Hot and Blue opposite Betty Hutton, to name a few.”

Another cast highlight is June Havoc. Havoc has the dry comedic commentary in this film that reminds me of Ann Sheridan – a comparison I never thought I would make. June Havoc’s character was one of my favorite in this film.

Another interesting point is that songwriter Frank Loesser plays a gangster in the film. It was Loesser’s film debut and one of the few films or TV appearances that he made.

While Hutton’s fast line delivery tired me out, she isn’t really why “Red, Hot and Blue” is only lukewarm. The material the actors were working with is very thin and is dragged out too long, even for an 84-minute movie.

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