Musical Monday: It’s a Pleasure (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:
It’s a Pleasure (1945) – Musical #312

Studio:
International Pictures

Director:
William A. Seiter

Starring:
Sonja Henie, Michael O’Shea, Marie McDonald, Iris Adrian, Bill Johnson, Gus Schilling, Cheryl Walker, Arthur Loft, Dave Willock (uncredited), David Janssen (uncredited)

Plot:
Don Martin (O’Shea) is a star hockey player but gets barred from the game after hitting a referee. Chris Linden (Henie) is the lead in the ice-capades and gets Don a job with the show. The show, produced by Buzz Fletcher (Johnson), is a success and Don and Chris fall in love and marry. Buzz’s wife, Gale (Fletcher), causes trouble for the couple.

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Olympics to Hollywood: Belita

Belita Jepson-Turner, known simply as “Belita,” in a publicity photo in 1947.

When it comes to ice skating on films, we all think of mainly think of Norwegian Olympian turned actress turned Sonja Henie. With her doll-like features, Henie starred in 10 20th Century Fox musical comedies from 1937 to 1948.

But there is another ice skater who graced the screen on skates: Belita Jepson-Turner. Known simply as Belita, she skated, ballet danced and also acted in dramatic roles from 1944 until 1968.

Similar to Henie, Belita competed for United Kingdom in the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Belita, who was 12 years old, placed 16th in the women’s singles figure skating competition. Henie won her third Olympic gold medal.

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Watching 1939: The Rookie Cop (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film: The Rookie Cop

Release date: April 28, 1939

Cast:  Tim Holt, Virginia Weidler, Janet Shaw, Frank M. Thomas, Robert Emmett Keane, Monte Montague, Ace the Wonder Dog

Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures

Director:  David Howard

Plot:
Clem Maitland (Holt) is a police officer who is trying to get the police commissioner to agree to hiring a police dog. Clem uses the German shepherd Ace (Ace the Wonder Dog) on the job prove the dog’s value with police work. Using the dog backfires on a case and Clem is suspended. When his handyman friend Tom (Montague) gets accused of stealing a company’s payroll, Clem works with Ace to clear his name. Clem’s small young friend Nicey (Weidler) tags along to help solve the crimes.

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Musical Monday: Lady, Let’s Dance (1944)

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:
Lady, Let’s Dance (1944) – Musical #584

Studio:
Monogram Pictures

Director:
Frank Woodruff

Starring:
Belita, James Ellison, Walter Catlett, Lucien Littlefield, Maurice St. Clair, Barbara Woodell, Emmett Vogan, Harry Harvey, Jack Rice
Specialty performances: Skating team Frick and Frack (Werner Groebli and Hans Mauch), Henry Busse and His Orchestra, Mitchell Ayres Orchestra, Myrtle Godfrey, Lou Bring and His Orchestra

Plot:
Belita (Belita) is a refugee from Holland due to World War II working as a waitress at a Californian resort. When the hotel’s star dancer Dolores (Woodell) quits to get married, the hotel’s entertainment manager Jerry Gibson (Ellison) hires Belita to take her place. Belita becomes a great success while Jerry gets fired from his job and then is drafted into the Army.

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Watching 1939: It’s a Wonderful World (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 Film: It’s a Wonderful World

Release date: May 19, 1939

Cast: Claudette Colbert, James Stewart, Guy Kibbee, Nat Pendleton, Frances Drake, Edgar Kennedy, Sidney Blackmer, Ernest Truex, Hans Conried, Grady Sutton, Cecilia Callejo, Cecil Cunningham, Frank Faylen (uncredited), Phillip Terry (uncredited)

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
W.S. Van Dyke

Plot:
Wealthy Willie Heyward (Treux) is accused of murder and his private detective Guy Johnson (Stewart) is arrested for obstruction of justice for hiding Heyward after the murder. Johnson escapes the police by jumping off a train, and poetess Edwina Corday (Colbert) witnesses his escape. Guy kidnaps Edwina so she won’t report him to the police as he tries to continue to clear Heyward of murder.

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Watching 1939: Four Girls in White (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 Film: Four Girls in White

Release date: January 27, 1939

Cast: Florence Rice, Ann Rutherford, Una Merkel, Mary Howard, Alan Marshal, Kent Taylor, Buddy Ebsen, Jessie Ralph, Sara Haden, Phillip Terry, Tom Neal, Joy Anderson (uncredited)

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
S. Sylvan Simon

Plot:
Four nurses (Rice, Rutherford, Merkel, Howard) are student nurses trying to make it through their three years at a hospital until graduation. Norma (Rice) is looking for a rich husband, Mary (Howard) pines way for her young daughter, Patricia (Rutherford) is sweet and diligent, and Gertie (Merkel) looks forward to her next meal. The girls face the stresses of becoming a nurse and making mistakes. Norma falls in love with a doctor (Marshal) but is frustrated that he always gets called into work.

1939 notes:
• Ann Rutherford was in seven films released in 1939. This one was released first.

• Phillip Terry was in 12 feature films in 1939. This is one of four films that was credited. The rest were uncredited.

Mary Howard, Florence Rice, Ann Rutherford and Una Merkel in “Four Girls in White” (1939)

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
I love nurse films and this one is no exception. The 1930s were filled with nurse films, but many of the Pre-Code era featured sassy, fast-talking nurses who have at least one scene in their skivvies and rolling up or down their stockings. An example of this would be Night Nurse (1931), where Barbara Stanwyck ends up as a private nurse to children of an alcoholic mom.

Others were very dramatic accounts, like Prison Nurse (1938) or The Nurse from Brooklyn (1938).

While there have been many films focusing on the nursing field throughout the 1930s, I feel that “Four Girls in White” (1939) provides something a little different.

I felt that “Four Girls in White” showed girls working to become nurses in a hospital with the same tone and feeling that the Dr. Kildare film series (which began in 1937) showed about young doctors coming into the medical field.

Each nurse is independent and eager for a career in the medical field. Now, some of these nurses had different agendas other than just helping sick people. One, in particular, was looking to marry a rich husband, but we see each of them studying and working hard to learn (and also messing up). Much of their learning is shown through montages that give a feel for the four nurses’ personalities.

These low-budget Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films of the late 1930s and early 1940s all have a brisk brightness that is especially pleasing. There are some overly dramatic moments (a few disasters strike and all nurses are needed) but it really is a fun film.

Is it a great film? Probably not, but it has a fresh and hopeful feeling that is found in MGM films of this time.

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Watching 1939: The Kid from Kokomo (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film: The Kid from Kokomo

Release date: May 19, 1939

Cast: Wayne Morris, Joan Blondell, Pat O’Brien, Jane Wyman, May Robson, Sidney Toler, Maxie Rosenbloom, Stanley Fields, Ward Bond,

Studio: Warner Brothers

Director: Lewis Seiler

Plot:
Fight promoter Billy Murphy (Pat O’Brien) is rarely on the straight and narrow with his fighters. One day he finds Homer Baston (Wayne Morris) on a farm, with a punch so strong that it sends men flying. Why did Homer punch them? Because they said Mother’s Day was a racket. Homer is loyal to a mother that he never knew and hopes one day she will return. Murphy recruits Homer to become a fighter, but Homer is reluctant to leave home in case his mother returns. To con him into fighting, Murphy creates a publicity hunt for Homer’s mother. Just as Homer is about to walk out, Murphy finds Maggie (May Robson), a drunken woman with a criminal past. He convinces Maggie to tell Homer that she is his mother to keep him from fighting. While Homer succeeds with his career, Maggie spends all of his money and bets it on horses.

Homer also meets and falls in love with Marian (Jane Wyman), who comes from a wealthy family and her father (Sidney Toler) is a judge…who recognizes Maggie.

1939 Notes:
• By 1939, Wayne Morris was one of the main contract players at Warner Brothers. He made eight films in both 1937 and 1938, but only two in 1939.

• This was one of six screenplays by Dalton Trumbo filmed in 1939.

Other trivia: 
• Adapted from the story “Broadway Cavalier.”

Pat O’Brien, Wayne Morris and Joan Blondell

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
This is an entertaining B-movie. I love Wayne Morris as the sweet, naïve farm boy (my heart melted to butter when I saw him carrying a lamb). But May Robson steals the show here as the criminal posing as a mother, who ends up carrying for this sweet guy. May Robson was 80 years old when this film was released, so really she could have been a grandmother to 25-year-old Wayne Morris!

The May 20, 1939, New York Times review by Frank Nugent said “line between comedy and sheer bad taste has rarely been more clearly overstepped than in the Strand’s “The Kid From Kokomo”…which I felt was a bit dramatic. The film is an innocent comedy that perhaps uses a guy’s love for his mother to get him into boxing.

“The Kid from Kokomo” is not a unique film for any of the leads and far from the only film they made in 1939. The only actor in less than three films was Wayne Morris, who only released two films in 1939:
• May Robson: 7
• Jane Wyman: 5
• Pat O’Brien: 5
• Joan Blondell: 5

Though it was released in 1939, “The Kid from Kokomo” has the same brisk feel of most Warner Brothers comedies from 1936 to 1940. The year of release doesn’t make it much different. In fact, Wayne Morris’s role is very similar to his character in the comedy “Kid Galahad” (1937), another film that features Morris plucked from his daily life and groomed to be a boxer.

Once World War II began, this type of fast-paced, con-artist comedy seems to stop being used as a basic plotline theme.

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Watching 1939: On Your Toes (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

Release date: Oct. 14, 1939

Cast: Vera Zorina, Eddie Albert, Alan Hale, James Gleason, Queenie Smith, Frank McHugh, Leonid Kinskey, Gloria Dickson, Donald O’Connor, Erik Rhodes, Berton Churchill, William Hopper (uncredited), Carla Laemmle (uncredited),

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Ray Enright

Plot:
Beginning in the 1920s, the Dancing Dolans (Gleason, Smith, O’Connor) is one of the top vaudeville performances. However, Mrs. Dolan wants her son Phil Jr. (O’Connor to Albert) to be educated and be a composer. The Dancing Dolans continue performing, but their acts are no longer well-received and vaudeville is dying. Phil Jr. meets Russian composer Ivan Boultonoff (Kinskey), and Phil composes “The Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” for the Russian Ballet. Phil reconnects with Vera (Zorina), a ballerina he knew from vaudeville, and she lobbies for the head of the ballet company (Hale) to use the music.

1939 notes:
• This was only Eddie Albert’s second feature film; the first was Brother Rat in 1938. While not one of Warner Brother’s top leading men (like Ronald Reagan, Humphrey Bogart, Dennis Morgan or Jack Carson), Albert was a steady comedic star for Warner. Eddie Albert was a lead character in “Brother Rat,” but “On Your Toes” was his first true leading role where the plot and camera mainly followed him.

• Vera Zorina is recreating her role from the 1936 stage production of “On Your Toes”

• This was also the second American feature film for ballet dancer Vera Zorina, who appeared in a total of eight films.

• While Donald O’Connor is only a child in this film, this was his 13th film as a child star.

Other Trivia:
• James Wong Howe was the cinematographer for “On Your Toes.” Sol Polito photographed the “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” ballet.

• Donald O’Connor plays young Eddie Albert

• Originally planned as a Fred Astaire vehicle, but Astaire turned down the film.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:

So far I have watched 179 films from the year 1939. None of them have been bad, but none of them

While “On Your Toes” has three ballet numbers and some vaudeville dances at the beginning, I wouldn’t consider it a musical. There is very little singing and the focus is much more composing music and dance.

Outside of the ballet dancing, the comedy featuring Eddie Albert, James Gleason, and Alan Hale, is not very different from what you would experience in another 1930s or early-1940s Warner Brothers film.

Vera Zorina in costume for the Princess Zenobia number in “On Your Toes” (1939)

The ballet numbers in it are gorgeously photographed by Howe and Polito. First, Vera Zorina dances beautifully in the Princess Zenobia ballet (photographed by Howe) as the audience is able to see a serious ballet performance. When Eddie Albert enters the Princess Zenobia number, the ballet scene turns away from serious dance to comedy. Albert’s character doesn’t know the dance and makes a ridicule of everyone else, but the papers think the comedy was intentional, giving the dance a good review.

“The Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” ballet is the climax of the film. This wonderful ballet scene is 13 minutes, mixing ballet and some vaudeville tap dancing.

“On Your Toes” is your standard 1930s Warner Brothers comedy. However, it’s unique in the fact that the audience is able to see a serious ballerina who danced for (and was married to) the great George Balanchine, co-founder of the New York City Ballet. Zorina was the prima ballerina in several performances for the Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo from 1934 to 1936.

With all the musicals I have watched, I can not recollect any other film before Michael Powell’s “The Red Shoes” (1948) that photographs a ballet performance to its full potential. For instance, in early sound films like “Broadway Melody of 1929,” you can see sloppy ballet dancing (I’m thinking specifically of the “Wedding of the Painted Doll” number).

I enjoyed “On Your Toes,” as it is a funny and entertaining film with some of Warner Brothers top comedians. It was a good mix of comedy and art with the ballet.

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30 years of Gidget

As summer comes to a close, so does my “Gidget” series.

For three summers, I have spent a lot of time with Gidget, the surfing girl midget. Because of my love for the 1959 version and casually watching the films that followed, I decided to really delve into a film that was a catalyst for the beach film phenomenon.

Some people dismiss “Gidget” (1959) as teenage romantic fluff with cute Sandra Dee. Say what you will, but this film—and the book it was adapted from—launched the whole surfing industry. After the film was released in 1959, the Beach Boys started making records, along with the whole beach film franchise such as the Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello films, to copycat films like “Surf Party” with Bobby Vinton and Jackie DeShannon.

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Review: The New Gidget TV series (1986-1988)

The 1980s are remembered for big hair, leg warmers and neon colored clothing set to a soundtrack of David Bowie and Michael Jackson. But it was also filled with 1960s nostalgia and reboots.

The Monkees were on a revival tour in 1986, Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man” sold Campbell’s Soup, and the California Raisins sang Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

And then there were the television reboots. There was “The New Leave It to Beaver” (1983-89), The New Monkees (1987), The Munsters Today (1987-91), and The New Lassie (1989-92).

Caryn Richman and Dean Butler as Gidget and Moondoggie in a publicty shot for “The New Gidget.”

And there was “The New Gidget” (1986-88), which was the last film or TV show about Frances “Gidget” Lawrence, the surfing girl midget. While three made-for-TV movies filled the gap (Gidget Grows Up, Gidget Gets Married, and Gidget’s Summer Reunion), “The New Gidget” (1986-88) comes 20 years after the first Gidget (1965-66) TV show graced the small screen.

Following the made-for-TV movie “Gidget’s Summer Reunion” (1985), the television show follows married Gidget (Caryn Richman) and Jeff “Moondoggie” Griffin (Dean Butler) working as a travel agent and architect. Gidget’s niece Dani (Sydney Penny) lives with the couple while her parents, Gidget’s sister Anne and brother-in-law John, live overseas. William Schallert plays Gidget’s father, Russ Lawrence, and reminds Gidget that Dani’s exploits aren’t too different from her own as a teenager. Gidget’s old friend LaRue (Jill Jacobson) runs the travel agency with her in Santa Monica.

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