Musical Monday: Strike Up the Band (1940)

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:
Strike Up the Band (1940) – Musical #301

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Busby Berkeley

Starring:
Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, June Preisser, William Tracy, Larry Nunn, Margaret Early, Ann Shoemaker, Virginia Brissac, Sidney Miller, Harry McCrillis (uncredited)
Themselves: Paul Whiteman and Orchestra

Plot:
Bored with his school’s dance band, Jimmy Connors (Rooney) tries to organize a dance orchestra with his friend Mary Holden (Garland) as his singer.

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Musical Monday: Broadway Rhythm (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:
Broadway Rhythm (1944) – Musical #228

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Roy Del Ruth

Starring:
George Murphy, Ginny Simms, Charles Winninger, Gloria DeHaven, Nancy Walker, Ben Blue, Lena Horne, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Kenny Bowers
Themselves: Hazel Scott, Tommy Dorsey and His Band, The Ross Sisters

Plot:
Jonnie Demming (Murphy) is a Broadway producer and clashes with his family. His father, Sam (Winninger), is a former vaudeville star and still wants to act post-retirement and has ideas of how the show should be run. His sister Patsy (DeHaven) has left school to perform in a nightclub act and wants her brother to give her a job. Jonnie also has issues with his show. He needs a leading lady and tries to get Hollywood star Helen Hoyt (Simms), who also wants to get on Broadway. The only problem is she doesn’t like the show’s script.

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Musical Monday: Two Girls on Broadway (1940)

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:
Two Girls on Broadway (1940) – Musical #586

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Alfred E. Green

Starring:
Lana Turner, Joan Blondell, George Murphey, Kent Taylor, Wallace Ford, Richard Lane, Otto Yamaoka, Lloyd Corrigan

Plot:
When Eddie Kerns (Murphey) sells his song and is offered a job to perform it in a show, he calls his girlfriend Molly Mahoney (Blondell) and tells her to join him in New York. Molly Mahoney and her sister Pat (Turner) have been running a dance school in Nebraska, and both go to New York, also hoping to hit it big. The only problem is when they audition for the show Eddie is in, producer Buddy Bartell (Lane) only wants to hire Pat to perform with Eddie.

Trivia:
-Remake of The Broadway Melody (1929)
-Joan Blondell’s first film with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
-Released in Great Britain under the name “Choose Your Partner.”
-The song “Maybe It’s the Moon” by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest was written for the film but not performed.
-Costumes by Dolly Tree
-Produced by Jack Cummings

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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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Musical Monday: Panama Hattie (1942)

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:
Panama Hattie (1942) – Musical #114

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Norman Z. McLeod

Starring:
Ann Sothern, Dan Dailey, Red Skelton, Marsha Hunt, Rags Ragland, Ben Blue, Virginia O’Brien, Alan Mowbray, Jackie Horner
Herself: Lena Horne, Berry Brothers

Plot:
Set during World War II, Hattie Maloney, known as Panama Hattie (Sothern), owns a nightclub in Panama where her sailor friends Red, Rags and Rowdy (Skelton, Ragland, Blue) often visit. Hattie is in love with Dick Bulliard (Dailey), who is in the Army and stationed at a nearby base. Hattie is nervous because Dick has been married before and has an 8-year-old daughter Geraldine (Horner) who Hattie will soon meet. Geraldine and Hattie don’t get off on the right foot, as Geraldine laughs at Hattie’s loud clothing. Hattie also has competition when the daughter of the admiral, Leila Tree (Hunt), who has her sights set on Dick. Meanwhile, Red, Rags and Rowdy are always convinced there are spies around and end up uncovering a spy plot.

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Musical Monday: Blonde from Brooklyn (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:
Blonde from Brooklyn (1945) – Musical #575

Studio:
Columbia Pictures

Director:
Del Lord

Starring:
Bob Haymes (billed as Robert Stanton), Lynn Merrick, Thurston Hall, Mary Treen, Gwen Verdon (uncredited), Matt Willis (uncredited), Hugh Beaumont (uncredited)

Plot:
Dixon Harper (Haymes/Stanton) is a soldier returning from World War II. The military lets him know about his G.I. rights, Dixon’s goal is to get back on the stage to perform like he did before the war. Dixon’s routine is to act southern, though he is not southern. He meets jukebox operator and struggling singer, Susan Parker (Merrick). The two team up for a southern act and work with an old southern colonel to be convincing as southerners and Susan masquerades as a southern belle.

Trivia:
-Lead actor Bob Haymes was billed as Robert Stanton in this film. He is the younger brother of Dick Haymes.

Notable Songs:
-“Baby, Save Him for Me” performed by Lynn Merrick
-“Comin’ Around the Corner” performed by Lynn Merrick and Bob Haymes
-“It’s Just a Prayer Away” performed by Bob Haymes
-“Lost, a Wonderful Girl” performed by Bob Haymes

Bob Haymes in “Blonde from Brooklyn”

Mary Treen and Lynn Merrick in Blonde from Brooklyn

My review:
“Blonde from Brooklyn” is one of those entertaining 1940s B-musicals that offers more in the way of music than plot.

Bob Haymes, younger brother of Dick Haymes, is a soldier returning home from World War II and wanting to get his old act off the ground. He meets a jukebox operator (see also Swing Hostess for similar 1940s technology) Lynn Merrick, who he convinces to join him in his act. The act focuses on being southern, though neither one is. They meet a southern colonel, played by Thurston Hall, who helps them create a convincing persona.

Merrick and Haymes both have wonderful singing voices and sing catchy and toe-tapping tunes throughout the film. I wasn’t very familiar with either actor, but found them equally pleasant. Bob Haymes doesn’t look like his older brother Dick, but he has a similar deep, soothing voice.

The only irritating thing about the film is that Bob Haymes, who originally hailed from White Plains, NY, talks with a supposed drawl and throws out some “honey-childs” and “you alls.” He eventually stops once everyone figures out his character isn’t from the south (thank goodness). But as someone who actually lives in the south, that sort of thing really grates on your nerves. Interestingly enough, Haymes retired and passed away in Hilton Head, SC.

Lynn Merrick was lovely and had some lovely costumes.

The best part of “Blonde from Brooklyn” is that it runs only 65 minutes, which is the perfect length for this kind of film. It tells the story adequately with songs sprinkled throughout. The plot isn’t very interesting but the songs are entertaining. If you’re a lover of 1940s tunes, give this one a look (and listen).

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Musical Monday: Swing Hostess (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:
Swing Hostess (1944)– Musical #574

Studio:
Producers Releasing Corporation

Director:
Sam Newfield

Starring:
Martha Tilton, Iris Adrian, Charles Collins, Cliff Nazarro, Harry Holman, Emmett Lynn, Betty Brodel

Plot:
Jive singer Judy Alvin (Tilton) is having a hard time finding a job. She gets a job as a telephone operator for jukeboxes (people pick up a phone and give their song request). Judy cuts a record and it gets confused with acquaintance (and terrible singer) Phoebe Forbes (Brodel) who rides to success on Judy’s voice.

Trivia:
-One of the few films where Martha Tilton acts and isn’t just a specialty singer
-Actress Betty Brodel who is in the film is Joan Leslie’s sister

Highlights:
-Seeing Martha Tilton in a film

Notable Songs:
-“Got An Invitation” performed by Martha Tilton
-“Say It With Love” performed by Martha Tilton
-“Let’s Capture That Moment” performed by Martha Tilton

My review:
As a lover of big band music, Martha Tilton is one of my favorite girl singers of the 1940s. “Swing Hostess” is a small-time B-film but it’s also one of the few opportunities you can see her acting in a film, other than popping in as a specialty singer.

The storyline for “Swing Hostess” isn’t remarkable or new, but it’s fun and cute. It’s also set in my favorite time period: World War II era 1940s. So it’s filled with big band music. While the war isn’t mentioned very much, one of the main characters is drafted into the Army and Martha Tilton sings that he “Got An Invitation” (to be drafted).

Charles Collins talks to a jukebox hostess

Also the most intriguing part is the jukebox technology. Before watching this film, I didn’t realize that patrons were able to pick up a phone and talk to a hostess on the other end who would put a record on. That is Martha Tilton’s job in this film.

Martha Tilton isn’t an amazing actress, but what she doesn’t have in acting, she makes up for in voice. Also Iris Adrian is there for comedic value.

If you love 1940s films and big band music, check out this film. Bonus points: It’s only 76 minutes!

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Musical Monday: The Desert Song (1943)

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:
The Desert Song (1943) – Musical #500

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Robert Florey

Starring:
Dennis Morgan, Irene Manning, Bruce Cabot, Faye Emerson, Lynne Overman, Gene Lockhart, Jack La Rue

Plot:
A group of desert bandits, lead by Paul Hudson (Morgan), work against Nazis in Morrocco who want to build a railroad for the Axis.

Dennis Morgan and Irene Manning in “Desert Song” (1943)

Trivia:
-Prior to it’s 2014 DVD release, this film was difficult to see due to a copyright issue with one of the songs in the film.
-This is one of several film versions of “Desert Song.” The first was in 1929 starring John Boles and Carlotta King, and another in 1953 starring Gordon MacRae and Kathryn Grayson. Since this was filmed during World War II, the Nazi aspect would be added.
-The remake had been planned since 1936, according to The Star-Spangled Screen: The American World War II Film by Bernard F. Dick
-New songs added to the film were “Fifi’s Song,” “Gay Parisienne,” and “Long Live the Night.”

Highlights:
-Dennis Morgan
-The Technicolor cinematography

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Musical Monday: Higher and Higher (1943)

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:
Higher and Higher (1943) – Musical #563

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Tim Whelan

Starring:
Michèle Morgan, Jack Haley, Frank Sinatra, Marcy McGuire, Mel Torme, Leon Errol, Mary Wickes, Dooley Wilson, Barbara Hale, Dorothy Mcguire (uncredited)

Plot:
Cyrus Drake (Errol) is broke and hasn’t paid his servants in seven months. To make some money, he hatches a plan that his maid Millie (Morgan) should pose as his daughter (that he hasn’t seen in years) and marry a rich husband so the household can benefit from his wealth.

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Musical Monday: Ziegfeld Girl (1941)

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.

ziegfeld2This week’s musical:
Ziegfeld Girl” (1941) Musical #126

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Robert Z. Leonard, Busby Berkeley

Starring:
Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, James Stewart, Jackie Cooper, Charles Winninger, Tony Martin, Ian Hunter, Eve Arden, Philip Dorn, Al Shean, Edward Everett Horton, Dan Daily, Fay Holden, Felix Bressart, Rose Hobart, Leslie Brooks (uncredited), Georgia Carroll (uncredited), Joyce Compton (uncredited), Patricia Dane (uncredited), Myrna Dell (uncredited), Jean Wallace (uncredited)

Plot:
Three girls are selected to be in the latest Broadway production of Florenz Ziegfeld:
• Sheila (Turner), a Brooklyn native who is discovered while working on an elevator in a department store
• Susie (Garland), a performer in an act on vaudeville with her father. The only problem is Mr. Ziegfeld only wants Susie and not her dad (Winninger)
• Sandra (Lamarr), who is discovered while she is with her violinist husband (Dorn), who is auditioning for the orchestra.
The film follows the girls as they rise to fame and the trials they face on their way up: alcohol, wooing men who try to take them away from husbands and boyfriends and getting accustomed to more money. They all learn that fame has a great price.

Trivia:
-Florenz Ziegfeld was a famous Broadway producer who died in 1932. He was known for his lavish sets and elaborate costumes that “glorified the American girl.” Ziegfeld is a God-like figure in this film: he is discussed but never seen.

-“Ziegfeld Girl” is one of three films MGM dedicated to Florenz Ziegfeld. This film is a follow up to “The Great Ziegfeld” (1936), a biopic of Ziegfeld starring William Powell as the impresario. “Ziegfeld Girl” is a sequel which shows the life of the Ziegfeld Girls. The third film was “Ziegfeld Follies” (1946), which just showed multiple Ziegfeld-like acts.

-Hedy Lamarr requested to be in this film as a change of pace from her other dramatic roles, according to historian John Fricke.

-Two of the actors in the film were in original Florenz Ziegfeld produced films: Charles Winneger, who was in the original stage production of Show Boat, and Al Shean, who was part of the act Gallagher and Shean. Winninger and Shean recreate one of the Gallagher and Shean numbers in the film.

ziegfeld5

Hedy Lamarr, Judy Garland and Lana Turner in costume for the “Minnie from Trinidad” number

-The production of this film was originally announced in 1938 and was to star Eleanor Powell, Joan Crawford, Margaret Sullivan and Virginia Bruce (who was in The Great Ziegfeld). It was several years before the script was developed and the film was recast with newer talent, according to film historian John Fricke.

-James Stewart’s last film before joining the military to fight in World War II. His next film was “It’s a Wonderful Life” in 1946.

-The finale of “Ziegfeld Girl” edits in multiple numbers from “The Great Ziegfeld.” Judy Garland’s character is dressed in a costume which recreates the “Pretty Girl” number from the 1936 film, on top of the large tower.

-Busby Berkely choreographed the numbers in the film.

-The original finale was going to be “We Must Have Music” with Judy Garland, but it was deleted.

-Judy Garland felt a little inferior to her co-stars. A frequent story she shared was: When Lana Turner came onset, the technicians would whistle. When Hedy would pass through, they would sigh. When Judy came on set they would tell her hello, according to “Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr” by Stephen Michael Shearer.

-“Ziegfeld Girl” was the game changer in Lana Turner’s career, and it led to more serious, dramatic and adult roles. The role was even expanded for Turner during filming.

-Lana Turner was originally supposed to die at the end of the film, according to TCM film historian Robert Osborne. Her death had negative reactions from preview audiences and is now cut to be left ambiguous.

-Model and later wife of Kay Kyser, Georgia Carroll, said in 2008 that Hedy Lamarr was shy and private during the filming. Hedy Lamarr and Judy Garland were friends and Lamarr and Lana Turner were cordial, according to “Beautiful: The life of Hedy Lamarr” by Stephen Michael Shearer.

Publicity still of the costumes from the "You've Stepped Out of a Dream" number

Publicity still of the costumes from the “You’ve Stepped Out of a Dream” number

Highlights:
-Elaborate costumes by Adrian
-Eve Arden’s sassy character

Notable Songs:
-“You Stepped Out of a Dream” performed by Tony Martin
-“Minnie from Trinidad” performed by Judy Garland
-“You Never Looked So Beautiful” performed by the chorus, borrowed by the 1936 film
-“I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” performed by Judy Garland
-“Laugh? I Thought I’d Split My Sides” performed by Judy Garland and Charles Winninger
-“Caribbean Love Song” performed by Tony Martin
-“Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean” performed by Charles Winninger and Al Shean

My review:
In the grand scheme of film history, “Ziegfeld Girl” (1941) may not be very important. It is notable because it gave Lana Turner’s career the boost it needed, landing her in more sophisticated and adult roles. But when it comes to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie musicals, this one isn’t even listed in the top 10.

But I love it. “Ziegfeld Girl” may be overly long (with a run time of 2 hours and 12 minutes) and the plot may be rather fluffy, but I think it’s a great example of the lavish luxury that was a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film.

Publicity still of Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr and Judy Garland

Publicity still of Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr and Judy Garland

With the Adrian gowns and themes of fame and newly found wealth, “Ziegfeld Girl” oozes glamour, sophistication and the jewel-encrusted style many people dream about. For some reason, for me, this film holds the definition of MGM glamour more than other well-known MGM films like “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), “The Women” (1939) or “Grand Hotel” (1932).

I think one major reason for this is the “You Stepped Out of a Dream” number where Tony Martin sings as women in elaborate (yet eccentric) costumes walk up and down stairs like goddesses.

After it’s release, Hedda Hopper said that the film is so beautiful that it “makes you ill that it’s not in color.” I can’t say I agree though. While Technicolor would have made “Ziegfeld Girl” even more glorious, I somehow think that black-and-white suits it and glitters more than color would. Color would have almost been too distracting.

The cast of this film is also bursting at the seams. Not only are the leading ladies three of MGM’s most well-known and top stars, the character actors seemingly just keep coming out of the woodwork through the film.

The only thing I don’t love about this film is the finale. Pasting together “Great Ziegfeld” (1936) feels off, though you could look at it as tying it back to the original film and making “Ziegfeld Girl” a true sequel. But that’s a bit of a stretch. It really comes off as lazy, and costume and dance styles had changed so much in five years that it doesn’t fit. However, the originally planned “We Must Have Music” finale is also weak (it’s included on the DVD special features). They would have been better off ending with “Minnie from Trinidad.”

I do also enjoy that two original Ziegfeld players- Charles Winninger and Al Shean- are included in the film.

I first saw “Ziegfeld Girl” in 2004 or 2005 and I fell in love with it and I still really love this movie. I loved it so much that “ziegfeldgirl1941” was part of my e-mail address at the time. I even tried to convince my mom to play “You Stepped Out of a Dream” when I walked downstairs to my prom date (she refused so this didn’t happen).

If the glamour of this film was a soap or a perfume, I would buy it and wear it. But since it’s not, I did the next best thing. I created Hedy Lamarr’s “Stepped out of a Dream” costume designed by Adrian for this Halloween. I bought the sleeveless white dress but made the rest of the costume- sewing on sleeves, cutting out and gluing silver stars and sequins, using 12 glue sticks to attach the wire with stars on a board on my back (Adrian also used a board on Hedy’s back.) If this 20-hour project doesn’t describe my love for “Ziegfeld Girl,” I’m not sure what does.

My version of Hedy Lamarr's "Dream" costume

My version of Hedy Lamarr’s “Dream” costume

If you love MGM glamour and musicals, I would give this one a watch. I’ll give you fair warning that it’s a bit dramatic in parts, like when Lana Turner’s luck starts to change, but it’s such a fabulous look at MGM in it’s prime.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com