Musical Monday: Summer Holiday (1948)

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:
Summer Holiday (1948) – Musical #297


Rouben Mamoulian

Mickey Rooney, Gloria DeHaven, Walter Huston, Frank Morgan, Jackie ‘Butch’ Jenkins, Marilyn Maxwell, Agnes Moorehead, Selena Royle, Michael Kirby, Shirley Johns, Hal Hackett, Anne Francis, Howard Freeman, Virginia Brissac, John Alexander

Set at the turn of the century in Connecticut, Richard Miller (Rooney) is in love with Muriel McComber (deHaven) and is graduating from high school. Richard has started reading revolutionary literature his summer before starting at Yale. Muriel’s father disapproves and forces the couple to breakup. In his sadness, Richard goes to spend an evening with a chorus girl (Miller) and is served alcohol while underage. After the incident, Richard’s father Nat Miller (Huston) talks with his son and helps him make everything right again. As a sub-plot, Uncle Sid (Morgan), who drinks too much, is in love with Cousin Lily (Moorehead), but is refused by her because of his drinking.

• Musical remake of “Ah! Wilderness!” (1935). Mickey Rooney was in both films.
• Director Rouben Mamoulian
• Selena Royal was dubbed by Denny Wilson
• Filmed in 1946, but MGM shelved it for 18 months before releasing it in 1948.
• Three songs were cut from the film including “Omar and the Princess.”
• Another musical followed this film, with Broadway’s “Take Me Along” in 1959.

• The Technicolor cinematography

Notable Songs:
• “Independence Day” performed by the chorus
• “Our Home Town” performed by Walter Huston, Mickey Rooney, Gloria DeHaven, Selena Royle dubbed by Denny Wilson, Agnes Moorehead, Shirley Johns, Michael Kirby, Frank Morgan, and Jackie ‘Butch’ Jenkins

My review:
I remember the first time I saw “Summer Holiday” when I was in college. I couldn’t wait. Looking at the photos, it seemed like it would be as fun as another “Meet Me in St. Louis” – with the turn-of-the-century setting and the beautiful Technicolor cinematography. But with so many that I was so excited about, I was so disappointed by it.

Approximately 10 years later, I revisited this musical with low expectations. As I’ve found with so many films, keeping my expectations low has helped me enjoy movies better.

So approximately 10 years later, I revised this musical with my anticipation set low, and while I didn’t love all aspects of the film, I found it much more palatable now.

“Summer Holiday” is a musical remake of “Ah, Wilderness,” which first premiered on Broadway in 1933 and then was made into a non-musical film in 1935. The story is set in 1906 and is a coming-of-age story about a boy who graduates from high school and falls in love. However, he is reading “radical” literature which causes him to almost lose his girl.

When MGM producer Arthur Freed wanted to set the story to music, he tapped director Rouben Mamoulian for the job. In addition to film directing, Mamoulian staged the original Broadway productions of the musicals Oklahoma! (1943) and Carousel (1945).

Mamoulian’s first inclination to this musical remake was why? He felt the original play was excellent so “why monkey with it? If you take something written for the stage and put it on the screen, you’re going to lose certain values.”

But as Mamoulian thought of the possibilities, he got excited about the project, according to the book “Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen” by David Luhrssen.

The idea was not to make the film like the standard movie musical, but to make it more like a Broadway show in which “a story which will be told through the medium of integrated dialogue, songs and dance, with each of these elements taking an organic and vital part in the storytelling.”

Mamoulian also didn’t want any singing or dancing used unless it could effectively replace dialogue and storytelling. He also wanted to use colors as part of the storytelling, utilizing pale greens and beiges, which would be more characteristic of 1906 than the bright, candy colors that MGM often used.

However, in the end, Mamoulian clashed with MGM for several reasons. He also clashed with the film censorship office. In the original 1935 film, more of the coming of age elements, including meeting a prostitute, could be included. They had to be watered down while filming in 1946.

Also some of Mamoulian’s surreal dream-like sequence were declined. For example, in one scene Mickey Rooney’s character meets a dancehall girl, played by Marilyn Maxwell, and the two go to a barroom. This occurs in the completed film, but not as Mamoulian imaged. He wanted the barroom to become a dreamy heaven in Rooney’s mind but in reality, the place is dirty and tawdry, according to “Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen” by David Luhrssen.” Three songs also ended up being cut from the film.

Further issues were met when filming was delayed. Filming was halted due to a strike by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, and Conference of Studio Unions and Walter Houston and Selena Royal refused to cross picket lines, according to Luhrssen’s book.

Though “Summer Holiday” was filmed in 1946, it was shelved for 18 months and not released until February 1948. It became Mickey Rooney’s first flop, according to Luhrssen’s book.

Today, while the film did poorly in 1948, it’s an enjoyable musical but you can tell while watching it that it didn’t quite meet the expectations.

I think Mamoulian met his goal of not having singing or dancing occurring unless it had to do with the storytelling. The film starts and it is almost totally constant songs, similar like a Broadway show. This is interesting, but singing for the story becomes ridiculous in some aspects. For example, Gloria DeHaven and the company singing about a Stanley Steamer car is ridiculous.

But at the same time, there are other aspects that are interesting. The film opens with the song “Our Home Town” with Walter Huston in his office and singing on his way home – that’s right, Walter Huston singing (and not badly). Along with Huston, others sing that you wouldn’t expect, such as Butch Jenkins, Agnes Moorehead and Frank Morgan. Selena Royal is the only person dubbed in the film.

The Independence Day picnic performance is also a highlight.

The film is going along pretty well, until Rooney’s character ends up in the barroom with Marilyn Maxwell. I feel like the movie comes to a grinding halt then, though I realize that’s a large, important portion of the story.

Overall, “Summer Holiday” has a great cast and is beautifully shot, but something is lacking.

However, in her book “The Movie Musical!” historian Jeanine Basinger says this musical, though it failed, started moving Arthur Freed and the movie musical in a new direction with music and storytelling.

Considering this fact and pre-war MGM movie musicals and those of the 1950s that followed, you can see that “Summer Holiday” does serve as a sort of divide.

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1 thought on “Musical Monday: Summer Holiday (1948)

  1. I started watching this on youtube. I liked what I saw. Time to get back to it.
    Thanks for jogging by memory.


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