Christmas Musical Monday: On Moonlight Bay (1951)

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:
On Moonlight Bay (1951) – Musical #118

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Roy Del Ruth

Starring:
Doris Day, Gordon MacRae, Leon Ames, Rosemary DeCamp, Billy Gray, Mary Wickes, Jack Smith, Ellen Corby

Plot:
Starting in 1916, the film looks at a year in the life of the Winfield family. The films starts when the family moves to a new neighborhood hoping to refine their tomboy daughter Marjorie (Day). Marjorie falls in love with college student William Sherman (MacRae), whose has college ideas have him saying he doesn’t believe in marriage and that banks are parasites. These ideas don’t please her parents (Ames and DeCamp), so Marjorie dates several other young men, but she is preoccupied with thoughts of William. The film is filled with antics of her younger brother (Gray).

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Musical Monday: General Electric Theater presents “A Child is Born” (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.

Album cover for the 1955 version of "A Child is Born"

Album cover for the 1955 version of “A Child is Born”

This week’s musical:
General Electric Theater presents “A Child is Born” (1955) – Musical #557

Studio:
CBS Television Network

Director:
Don Medford

Starring:
Nadine Conner, Robert Middleton, Harve Presnell, Marian Seldes, Nyra Monsour, Ross Elliott, Roger Wagner Chorale
Themselves as Hosts: Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, Patti Reagan

Plot:
An operatic retelling of the Nativity story. The story is in the point of view of the Innkeeper (Middleton) and his wife (Connor). The wife is restless, still mourning the death of her baby, and feels something new is coming to the world. Roman soldiers take every room in the inn so when Joseph (Elliott) comes to the door, the Innkeeper and his wife allow them to stay in the stable when they see that Mary is pregnant.

The Innkeeper (Middleton) and his wife (Conner)

The Innkeeper (Middleton) and his wife (Conner)

Trivia:
-“A Child is Born” was Broadcast live for the first time on the General Electric Theater on Dec. 25, 1955. The show was Broadcast live again the following year on Dec. 23, 1956. The 1955 version starred Victor Jory and Theodore Uppman, as Dismas the thief. In the 1956 version, Victor Jory is not in the play and Harve Presnell plays Dismas the thief.

-The score was composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann. This was Bernard Herrmann’s last project of 1955.

-The adaptation of the Nativity story was written by Stephen Vincent Benet and originally was performed on the radio program “Cavalcade of America.” The 1942 performance starred husband-and-wife actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.

-This short opera aired on the General Electric Theater, which showcased a story, play or musical every week. The show ran from 1953 to 1962.

Harve Presnell as a thief

Harve Presnell as a thief

Highlight:
-Bernard Herrmann’s score

Notable songs:
-Shot like an opera so not really one song.

My review:
“A Child is Born” is a very solemn television operetta, which consists of more singing than dialogue.

This Nativity story is tells of the Innkeeper and his wife. That being said, we do not see the Virgin Mary or baby Jesus. We only see Joseph knocking on the door of the inn and the audience watches the shepherds and wise men come to visit the child through a window of the inn.

Shepherds and wise men visiting the Christ child.

Shepherds and wise men visiting the Christ child.

I sought this 30 minute opera out not only because it is a musical related to Christmas, but because the music was composed and conducted for the “General Electric Theater” TV episode by Academy Award winning composer Bernard Herrmann. The music in this play is beautiful and solemn. For me, Herrmann’s score is the best part of “A Child is Born.”

Metropolitan Opera singer Nadine Conner carries 85 percent of the singing throughout the film. Conner has a lovely voice, but admittedly, it’s a little tiring to hear the same person’s singing voice continuously throughout the piece without any other singers. The Innkeeper, played by Robert Middleton, does not sing, nor do the two servant girls, played by Marian Seldes and Nyra Monsour.

Harve Presnell, in only his second film or TV appearance, comes in at the last 10 minutes of the film along with the Roger Wagoner Chorale. Presnell and the Chorale sing beautifully, but I wish their songs had come in earlier to break some monotony. Presnell plays a thief, who is moved not to steal when he sees the Christ Child.

Critics and audiences weren’t complimentary of this operetta when it was Broadcast live in 1955. One complaint was that the set never changes and shows only one room of the inn. Audiences also felt that the play wasn’t inspiring as it should have been. Critics also said Herrmann’s music was “not distinguished,” according to Bruce Kimmel’s liner notes for the “Child is Born” album.

I’m inclined to agree that I certainly didn’t feel moved by this story of the Nativity, like I thought I would have. I mainly felt tired after the 30 minutes. Part of this had to do with Nadine Conner’s constant singing. Another reason was the two servant girls over acting and shouting.

However, I disagree that Herrmann’s music was “not distinguished.” His score was the highlight the brief TV show, and if I felt moved, it was because of his music.

It’s curious to me that if “A Child was Born” was unpopular in 1955, why it was Broadcast again in 1956.

It proved to be confusing while searching for 1955 version vs. the 1956 version. The only version I could find online was the 1956 version, though many people seem to think there isn’t a difference. However, Victor Jory was in the original cast, and is even billed on the front of the record, and he is not in the version I watched.

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Musical Monday: Scrooge (1970)

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.

scroogeThis week’s musical:
Scrooge” (1970)– Musical #399

Studio:
National General Pictures

Director:
Ronald Neame

Starring:
Albert Finney, Alec Guinness, David Collings, Michael Medwin, Kenneth More, Edith Evans, Kenneth More, Suzanne Neve, Richard Beaumont

Plot:
A musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ story of “The Christmas Carol.” Bitter, old Ebenezer Scrooge (Finney) has no time for happiness and good cheer on Christmas. A series of ghosts visit him in the night and take him on a journey of self exploration of his past, present and future.

Awards and Nominations:
-Nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration by Terence Marsh, Robert Cartwright, Pamela Cornell
-Nominated for Best Costume Design by Margaret Furse
-Nomitnaed for Best Music, Original Song for the song “Thank You Very Much” by Leslie Bricusse
-Nominated for Best Music, Original Song Score, Leslie Bricusse, Ian Fraser, Herbert W. Spencer

Trivia:
-Richard Harris was originally cast as Scrooge. He had to bow out due to the film “Bloomfield” (1971). The role was then offered to Rex Harrison, who also had to back out, according to Behaving Badly: Richard Harris by Cliff Goodwin
-Albert Finney was 34 when he played the elderly Ebenezer Scrooge
-Alec Guinness’ Jacob Marley had a large number called “Make the Most of This Life” which was cut from the film
-It took three hours to put on Finney’s his Scrooge make-up
-This musical version was adapted into a stage musical in 1992 starring Anthony Newley as Scrooge

Young Scrooge with old Scrooge, both played by Albert Finney

Young Scrooge with old Scrooge, both played by Albert Finney

Notable Songs:
-“I Hate People” performed by Albert Finney
-“December the 25th” performed by the chorus
-“Happiness” performed by Suzanne Neve
-“You…You” performed by Albert Finney
-“I Like Life” performed by Albert Finney and Kenneth Moore
-“Thank You Very Much” performed by Anton Rodgers & Ensemble

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My review:
Since 1901, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” has been adapted for film 20 different ways: from silent shorts, to animation with Mickey Mouse and featuring Muppets (Note: not spoofs like Scrooged, but following the Dickens story). On television, nearly 30 different TV specials and plays have aired since 1944, and more than 60 TV and film parodies have been made: from “Scrooged” to “My Little Pony.”

This 1970 film version takes Dickens’ story and adds music. This version and “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992) are the only two feature film versions of “A Christmas Carol” that are musicals.

Starring Albert Finney, this 1970 film comes at the tail end of musical era, which began to die in the mid-1960s. There are a few show stopping numbers, such as “Thank You Very Much” while everyone is dancing down the street and a finally that recaps most of the songs. I have actually had “Thank You Very Much” in my head since I re-watched this on Saturday.

I don’t feel Albert Finney isn’t the strongest film characterization of Ebenezer Scrooge — my pick is George C. Scott — but his Scrooge is a little different from those played by the likes of Reginald Owens and Alistair Sim. I felt sorry for Finney’s Scrooge. We get a better sense of Scrooge’s unhappy and painful life through his unhappy childhood, which ultimately drove away his love Isabelle.

Albert Finney as Scrooge

Albert Finney as Scrooge

We see how much Isabelle leaving Scrooge hurt him, as older Scrooge cries about the incident after reliving it with the Ghost of Christmas Past (Edith Evans). I was struck with a thought about the Dickens story for the first time: Is Scrooge a person who handled a breakup really badly and let his life and home deteriorate to this?

Finney’s Scrooge isn’t a very old man with white hair. He is probably in his 50s or 60s and we get a sense that his aging is due to bitterness. I also feel the set in this film truly depicts how rundown and desolate Scrooge’s home is. Almost as bad as Miss Haversham in Great Expectations, with curtains so old and dirty the fabric is practically crumbling and cobweb’s caking the wall.

Finney’s singing isn’t amazing. It’s more of a talk/grumble to the tune than singing, similar to Rex Harrison’s talking style. I do enjoy Finney singing “I Hate People.” His talking can also be hard to understand with his “old man voice,” which can grate on my nerves at times. Richard Harris was originally set to play the role of Scrooge, which I would have been interested in seeing. I almost feel Harris would have done a better job, as he also did sing.

While the characterization of Scrooge was more sympathetic, this was maybe my least favorite characterization of Bob Cratchet and his family (my favorite being Gene Lockhart and his real family in the 1938 version). Tiny Tim was almost too…sweet for my tastes and always beaming.

As for the ghosts, Edith Evans as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Kenneth Moore as the Ghost of Christmas Present are wonderful. Evans is sympathetic, but like a stern grandmother and Moore is appropriately jolly.

Edith Evans as the Ghost of Christmas Past

Edith Evans as the Ghost of Christmas Past

scrooge-kenneth

Kenneth Moore as the Ghost of Christmas Present

I can’t forget to mention Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley. I was excited to see his name there, thinking I would love his characterization as much as I loved Basil Rathbone’s on a “Shower of Stars” TV version. But I didn’t love it. Guinness was fine, but his voice was odd and he walked with a weird movement. Almost like he was a child pretending to be a ghost. Guinness would have been better suited as Scrooge than Marley. Actually, Peter O’Toole would have made a cool Marley, but that’s another discussion.

Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley

Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley

We see Marley two times in this film. This is the only film adaptation that we see Scrooge actually go to hell and Marley is there to great him. Really bizarre.

While this isn’t my favorite “Christmas Carol” adaptation, it had some interesting points. I do just wish Richard Harris had been Scrooge.

What’s your favorite film version of “A Christmas Carol”?

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Christmas Musical Monday: “Holiday Inn” (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.

holiday inn posterThis week’s musical:
Holiday Inn” (1942) –Musical #22

Studio:
Paramount Pictures

Director:
Mark Sandrich

Starring:
Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale, Walter Abel, Louise Beavers

Plot:
Singer Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) and dancer Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) are both in love with Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale). When Lila jilts Jim for Ted, Jim decides to quit show business and live on a farm.Jim ends up converting his farm into a nightclub and hotel called the Holiday Inn which is only opened during the 15 holidays of the year.
When Jim meets Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), she agrees to appear in his shows at the inn, and the two fall in love. However, Jim works to keep Linda from meeting Ted -who was also jilted by Lila-so he doesn’t steal her for an act and her heart.
Holidays and their songs include:
Christmas (twice)-  “White Christmas”
New Years (twice) -“Happy Holidays” and “Let’s Start the New Year Right”
Valentines Day- “Be Careful, It’s My Heart”
Abraham’s Birthday: “Abraham”
Washington’s Birthday: “I Can’t Tell a Lie”
Easter: “Easter Parade”
Fourth of July: “Song of Freedom” and “Let’s Say it with Fireworks”
-Thanksgiving- “I’ve Got Plenty to Be Thankful For”

Trivia:
-The hotel chain Holiday Inn was inspired by the title of this film, according to the hotel founder Kemmons Wilson’s New York times obituary.
-This film introduced the song “White Christmas.” Irving Berlin thought of the song “White Christmas” in 1935 on the set of “Top Hat” and wanted to use it for a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film. Astaire liked the tune but it was never used until their film. Irving Berlin and Moss Hart worked and copyrighted the idea for a musical revue revolving around tunes for each holiday, according to “The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin” by Robert Kimball and Linda Emmett.

– Irving Berlin had a hard time writing the Christmas song “White Christmas” since he was Jewish. He ran the song by Bing Crosby, who thought it would be great, according to “Christmas’s Most Wanted” by Kevin Cuddihy.

Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds (dubbed by Martha Mears) sing "White Christmas" at the end of the film.

Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds (dubbed by Martha Mears) sing “White Christmas” which became a hit due to this film.

-The film originally was supposed include a dance number for Labor Day.

-The original version of the song “White Christmas” talked about basking in Los Angeles and longing for an old fashioned Christmas in New England. But the version we know now is more nostalgic, discussing a Christmas that a person won’t experience first hand-much like the soldiers fighting over seas during World War II, according to “World War II and the Postwar Years in America.”

-Mary Martin turned down the role of Linda played by Marjorie Reynolds because she was pregnant, according to her autobiography.

-Fred Astaire’s shoes he danced in during the Firecracker routine were auctioned off for $116,000 that went towards the war effort.

-The popularity of the song “White Christmas” created the spin off film “White Christmas” (1954) also starring Bing Crosby and co-starring Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney, according to the book “Christmas’s Most Wanted.”

-Fred Astaire was the first choice for the Danny Kaye Role in “White Christmas” (1954) to be a reunion after “Holiday Inn,” but Astaire turned down the role, according to the “Christmas Encyclopedia” by William D. Crump

-Paramount Pictures did not market this film as a Christmas movie since it covers many other holidays, according to “World War II and the Postwar Years in America” by William and Nancy Young.

Fred Astaire in firecracker number for the Fourth of July.

Fred Astaire in firecracker number for the Fourth of July.

-The Fourth of July number was expanded and made more patriotic after the bombing of Pearl Harbor; including the song “Song of Freedom,” “Let’s Say it with Firecrackers” and a movie reel of war workers and soldiers marching.

-Paramount thought “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” would be the hit from the film. Though it made the Hit Parade first with Tommy Dorsey’s Band, “White Christmas” was the true hit, according to “World War II and the Postwar Years in America.”

-Won an Academy Award for Best Original Song- “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Score by Robert Emmett Dolan and Best Original Story by Irving Berlin.

-Marjorie Reynolds is dubbed by Martha Mears.

Highlights:

Fred Astaire dances with Marjorie Reynolds during the New Years scene where he took drinks of bourbon before each take.

Fred Astaire dances with Marjorie Reynolds during the New Years scene where he took drinks of bourbon before each take.

-Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby imitate each other in the number “I’ll Capture Your Heart Singing.” 
-Fred Astaire’s drunken New Years Eve dance. Supposedly Astaire had a drink of bourbon before each take-it took seven-to appear drunk in the scene.
-Fred Astaire’s “Say it With Fireworks” dance for the Fourth of July number where he throws down fireworks while he taps.
-The cartoon turkey on the calendar that runs between the dates for Thanksgiving Day. This is referring to “Franksgiving,” a controversy that occurred during the Roosevelt administration. President Roosevelt wanted to make Thanksgiving a week earlier.

 

Notable Songs: 
Since the music is by Irving Berlin, all of the songs are fantastic. The top songs include:
-“White Christmas” sung by Bing Crosby. This is the most famous song in the movie. The version sung by Cosby in the movie is the one you hear most on the radio.
-“You’re Easy to Dance With” sung and danced by Fred Astaire and Virginia Dale
-“I Can’t Tell a Life” sung by Fred Astaire for Washington’s Birthday dressed in period clothing.
-“Easter Parade” sung by Bing Crosby to Marjorie Reynolds for the Easter portion.

My Review:
When I first saw this movie several years ago, I didn’t like it.
I thought Fred Astaire was a bit of a heel and had no redeeming features. However, as I rewatch it, I see both men are heels at different points in the movie.
Characters aside- the thing that stands out the most is the music-all revolving around holidays. Irving Berlin’s songs written for each holiday are catchy and clever.
Fred Astaire also is able to show off his dancing abilities both with partners and in solo numbers. Bing Crosby has an excellent score and sings the song he is most remembered for.
“Holiday Inn” is an interesting topic for a film and is musically beautiful.
If you are looking for a Christmas movie, it doesn’t completely revolve around the holiday (but Christmas is in the film three times) and introduced one of the most loved holiday songs.

Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds, Fred Astaire, Virginia Dale

Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds, Fred Astaire, Virginia Dale

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