Musical Monday: Give a Girl a Break (1953)

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:
Give a Girl a Break (1953)– Musical #189

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Stanley Donen

Starring:
Marge Champion, Gower Champion, Debbie Reynolds, Dolly Sharp, Bob Fosse, Kurt Kasznar, Richard Anderson, Lurene Tuttle, Donna Martel, William Ching, George Chakiris (uncredited)

Plot:
When the star of a Broadway show walks out after a tiff with the show’s choreographer Ted Sturgis (Champinon), the show publicizes that they are looking for a newcomer to “give a girl a break.” Three girls with varying talents: professional Broadway dancer Madelyn Corlane (Champion), sophisticated ballet dancer Joanna Moss (Sharp), and young, inexperienced tap dancer Suzie Doolittle (Reynolds).

Trivia:
-Musical numbers staged by Gower Champion and Stanley Donen, though Bob Fosse coregraphed his own dances.
-Gower and Marge Champion dancing together
-Gower Champion was dubbed by Bill Lee

Highlights:
-“Give a Girl a Break” montage of various women wanting to audition
-“The Balloon Dance” performed by

Notable Songs:

-“Give a Girl A Break” performed by Marge Champion, Dolly Sharp and Debbie Reynolds
-“Applause, Applause” performed by Gower Champion and Debbie Reynolds
-“In Our United States” performed by Bob Fosse and Debbie Reynolds
-“It Happens Every Time” performed by Marge Champion and Gower Champion

My review:
“Give a Girl a Break” isn’t a film often discussed today. It’s colorful and fun, has great dancing, but I think that’s largely forgotten when it comes to MGM’s catalog of 1950s Technicolor musicals.

Why is that? It’s directed by Stanley Donen, co-stars Debbie Reynolds (post-Singin’ in the Rain), has costumes by Helen Rose and dances choreographed by Bob Fosse and Gower Champion.

Dancer Gower and Marge Champion

It’s probably because the film stars (then) husband and wife dancers, Marge Champion and Gower Champion as it’s leads. While Fosse and Reynolds are in the cast, they are very much secondary characters.

But don’t get me wrong, I love the Champions. I think they are likable on screen and are some of the best dancers to grace the silver screen. But for some reason they never caught on with fans. MGM signed the married dancers in 1951 for the film “Show Boat” with the hopes of making them the next Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. They only made three films with MGM and left the studio in 1955. “Give a Girl a Break” did poorly in the box office and lost MGM $1 million. After they left in 1955, they appeared on other TV shows but no more film roles to the significance that they had at MGM.

While they may not have been well liked by audiences, the Champions are some of my favorite dancers. In fact, I think Gower Champion is a better dancer and choreographer than Bob Fosse. There, I said it. I’m glad I got that off my chest.

There is even a dance that Champion and Fosse do together and I think Gower out dances him in the “Nothing is Impossible” number. Though I’ll admit that Bob Fosse’s “Balloon Dance” is of fun. I just don’t know why Gower is largely forgotten while Fosse is revered. Maybe it’s because Gower saw several flops in the 1970s while Fosse flourished with shows like Chicago and Pippin (which I star relevant today, I know). Or maybe people are enamored with the fact that Gwen Vernon and Fosse were married.

Anyways, I digress. I just would like to hear about Gower Champion occasionally, when great choreographers are discussed.

Bob Fosse, Gower Champion and Kurt Kasznar in “Give a Girl a Break”

One thing I like about this film is that it focuses on three women trying to get a role and we get to learn each girl’s story. That type of plot is more intriguing to me because, while Marge Champion is the most featured of the three, the “leading lady” is less defined. For me, it’s hard to decide which girl I would want to cheer for to be picked for the Broadway show, because each one has her traits that are interesting and could work.

Marge Champion, Dolly Sharp and Debbie Reynolds in “Give a Girl a Break.”

If you love colorful musicals, give this one a whirl. You may have never heard of it, but I think you will want to.

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Musical Monday: My Sister Eileen (1955)

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:
“My Sister Eileen (1955)– Musical #320

my-sister-eilleen

Studio:
Columbia Pictures

Director:
Richard Quine

Starring:
Betty Garrett, Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon, Bob Fosse, Kurt Kasznar, Dick York, Tommy Rall, Kathryn Grant (uncredited), Lucy Marlow

Plot:
Sisters Ruth (Garrett) and Eileen Sherwood (Leigh) move from Ohio to New York City. Ruth wants to become a journalist and Eileen hopes to break into Broadway. They have a hard time finding jobs and making ends meet, while living in a shoddy Greenwich Village apartment right above Subway construction. Ruth also spends much of her time feeling sorry for herself since she isn’t as beautiful as her little sister Eileen, who is swarmed by men.

Trivia:
-Musical remake of the 1942 comedy “My Sister Eileen” starring Rosalind Russell and Janet Blair

-In 1953, a musical adaptation of the 1940s story called “Wonderful Town”premiered on Broadway. The music was written Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Adolph Green and Betty Comden. Columbia felt the the film rights to this version were too expensive so the story was rewritten for the screen and featured music by Jule Styne and Leo Robin. “All of them had a team of lawyers looking over their shoulders. Everything had to be cleared and approved legally,” Janet Leigh wrote in her autobiography “There Really was a Hollywood.”

-Judy Holliday was originally to be cast as Ruth, but Betty Garrett ended up with the role.

-The script was written by Blake Edwards and Richard Quine, who also directed the film.

-Aldo Ray turned own the role of the muscular neighbor Ted, which went to Dick York.

-“My Sister Eileen” was Janet Leigh’s first project under contract with Columbia.

my-sister3

Notable Songs:
None memorable enough to note

My review:
If it wasn’t for my Musical Monday feature, I would not have ever watched “My Sister Eileen” (1955) a second time.

As far as musical remakes of dramas and comedies go, this one is pretty bad. Based on a novel, the original “My Sister Eileen” premiered in 1942 starring Rosalind Russell as Ruth and Janet Blair as Eileen. It’s hilarious and charming.

In both stories, Eileen is gorgeous and Ruth doesn’t have a chance finding a man with her beautiful sister around. However, in the 1955 version, the plot focuses most on romance and both sisters finding romance. Unlike the 1942 version, the 1950s version casts just enough men for both leading ladies.

In the 1942 version, while Ruth would like romance, she is more concerned with her writing career and looking out for her little sister. Steve Daly of “Entertainment Weekly” noted some “1950s backlash” against feminists in the 1955 version in comparison to the 1942 version.

This movie was screened at the 2016 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival with Jack Lemmon’s son, Chris, helping present it. Of all films, I was surprised this one was selected to showcase Jack Lemmon’s career because it’s well…a lemon. Lemmon is also hardly in the movie. In an hour and 48 minutes, I would estimate he’s maybe in 20 minutes of the film.

Janet Leigh is a capable singer and dancer. According to Janet Leigh’s autobiography, choreographer Bob Fosse was pleased with her dancing skills. Dancers Tommy Rall and Bob Fosse perform some impressive dance numbers but they can’t save the film.  You also get to hear Dick York and Jack Lemmon sing. In my opinion, there aren’t any memorable songs and while the cast is relatively stellar, I enjoy the cast from the 1942 version more.

If producers had been willing to pay for “Wonderful Town,” I’m curious if the film would have been better. It’s hard to go wrong with a score by Leonard Bernstein (West Side Story) and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (Singing in the Rain). Maybe with a Bernstein/Comden/Green score, some of the songs would have been memorable. The story was also rearranged, and I’m curious how it’s different.

Maybe I would think this was a better movie if I hadn’t already watched the original. I want to like it. It’s colorful and has a good cast, but I find it irritating. Maybe you will enjoy it better.

my-sister5

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