Musical Monday: Carnival in Costa Rica (1947)

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:
Carnival In Costa Rica (1947) – Musical #625

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Gregory Ratoff

Starring:
Dick Haymes, Vera-Ellen, Cesar Romero, Celeste Holm, Anne Revere, J. Carrol Naish, Pedro de Cordoba, Barbara Whiting, Tommy Ivo, Fritz Feld
Themselves: Ernesto Lecuona, Ernesto Zambrano

Plot:
The fathers of Luisa Molina (Vera-Ellen) and Pepe Castro (Romero) have arranged that the two will marry when they return home to Costa Rica from school in the United States. The problem is that Pepe is already in love with American Celeste (Holm), who has returned home with him. And during the carnival, Luisa meets and falls in love with American Jeff Stephens (Haymes).

Trivia:
• Jeanne Crain and John Payne were originally announced as the leads but were replaced with Romero and Vera-Ellen in early 1946, according to a Feb. 11, 1946, news brief.
• Pat Friday dubbed Vera-Ellen
• The film’s choreographer Léonide Massine performs the “Rumba Bomba” with Vera-Ellen
• The second film of Celeste Holm
• Working titles were Tico-Tica and City of Flowers
• Establishing shots of Costa Rica filmed in San Jos, Heredia, Alajuela and Cartago.

Highlights:
• Technicolor cinematography

Vera-Ellen and choreographer Léonide Massine perform the “Rumba Bomba”

Notable Songs:
• “Gui-Pi-Pia” performed by Celeste Holm, J. Carrol Naish, Pat Friday for Vera-Ellen, chorus
• “Mi Vida” performed by Dick Haymes and Pat Friday for Vera-Ellen
• “Costa Rica” performed by Dick Haymes and Celeste Holm

My review:
Each major film studio had its own flavor of movie musical.

20th Century Fox’s Technicolor even had it’s own over-saturated (in a good way) exuberant brightness, with electric blues and reds. In the late-1930s and throughout the 1940s, the films also had bright, big band, swing or South American-flavored music.

By the late-1940s, the vibrant style that was featured in the likes of Alice Faye, Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable and Vivian Blaine starred in started to change by the early 1950s. And I would say “Carnival in Costa Rica” (1947) was coming on the tail end of this style.

But gee whiz, this film doesn’t hold back with how visually gorgeous and beautifully colorful this film is.

The plot of this film is about arranged marriages and those involved being in love with someone else.

Luisa Molina, played by Vera-Ellen, is the daughter of a Costa Rican father, played by J. Carrol Naish, and a United States-born mother (Kansas to be exact), played by Anne Revere. Naish and Revere paired as a married couple was really bizarre. Naish usually plays a comedic caricature, and Revere is generally a stoic figure – like the English channel swimming mama in “National Velvet” (1944). Thankfully here, Naish has a bit more dignity than his usual characters (no huge fake nose like in “Down Argentine Way”), and Revere is still the all-knowing mother, who understands what’s going on with her daughter’s romance without even asking.

This film is one of two films at 20th Century Fox that Vera-Ellen starred in. Throughout her career, she shifted from Paramount to Fox to MGM. I wonder if Vera-Ellen was signed briefly to Fox to be their next blonde singing and dancing star, like Faye and Grable.

Though Vera-Ellen is dubbed by Pat Friday, she has some beautiful solo dance numbers. The best is “The Wedding Dance,” a marriage dream sequence with a gorgeous swirling white gown, designed by René Hubert.

Cesar Romero is humorous, particularly when he pretends to be deathly ill to make Vera-Ellen’s character not want to marry him. Romero doesn’t have the opportunity to sing, and we only get to see him dance once at a nightclub with Celeste Holm. The role is slightly thankless for Romero, after so many leading roles a few years before at Fox.

This film was Celeste Holm’s second film, after just co-starring with Vera-Ellen in “Three Little Girls in Blue.” Holm was just coming off her Broadway role of Ado Annie in “Oklahoma,” and it’s evident that Fox was trying to build her as a musical star, particularly because she has more solo songs than many of her co-stars.

Crooner Dick Haymes plays Vera-Ellen’s love interest. For some reason, he isn’t quite the fresh-faced All-American boy that he was two years earlier in “State Fair” (1945). Haymes sings some nice songs, but I think I would have preferred Romero.

My only real complaint about the film is that I’m not sure that director Gregory Ratoff was well-suited to film a musical. During some dance numbers, he cut the feet off the dancers, and I felt like I was missing some of the action.

For example, during the “Rumba Bomba” dance number, Vera-Ellen and the film’s choreographer Leonide Massine dance. At one point, Vera-Ellen and Massine are doing heel-clicking steps, but we don’t see their feet, we just see their arm gestures.

Regardless, this is a colorful and exuberant film. It may not be the best musical produced by 20th Century Fox, but it’s still fun.

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2 thoughts on “Musical Monday: Carnival in Costa Rica (1947)

  1. Please tell us how and where we may all see this Technicolor fever dream that I remember from my childhood in British Guiana, South America?

    Like

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