Musical Monday: Small Town Girl (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.

b70-14305This week’s musical:
Small Town Girl” (1953)– Musical #76


László Kardos

Jane Powell, Farley Granger, Ann Miller, Fay Wray, Billie Burke, S.Z. Sakall, Bobby Van, Robert Keith, Robert Hyatt, Chill Wills (uncredited)
Themselves: Nat King Cole

Judge Kimbell (Keith) throws big city hotshot Rick Livingston (Granger) in jail for going 80 miles per mile in a small town with his Broadway girlfriend Lisa Bellmount (Miller). The judge’s daughter Cindy (Powell) ends up falling for Rick.

-Nicholas Brodszky and Leo Robin were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song for the song “My Flaming Heart.”
-Dances choreographed by Busby Berkeley.
-Ann Miller’s “I’ve Gotta Heart That Beat” performance has 86 instruments up through the floor and the musicians are hidden beneath the floor, according to The Rough Guide to Film Musicals by David Parkinson
-Musical director is André Previn.
-Costumes by Helen Rose.

-Nat King Cole’s appearance and performance
-Ann Miller’s “I’ve Gotta Hear that Beat” number
-Bobby Van’s exhausting 3-minute jump through town.

Notable Songs:
I’ve Gotta Hear That Beat performed by Ann Miller tap dancing and hands coming out of the floor playing drums and holding saxophones, clarinets and violins.
My Flaming Heart performed by Nat King Cole

My review:
“Small Town Girl” is a fun, colorful musical with an outstanding cast. However, of Jane Powell’s MGM films, this is not her best. The storyline isn’t a bad one and it has some cute, humorous moments, but I prefer other Powell films such as “Luxury Liner” and “Holiday in Mexico.”

Farley Granger plays the arrogant, rich playboy well but is a poor romantic match for Powell.

While Jane Powell is known for her beautiful, operatic voice, she doesn’t have many notable songs or musical numbers. The real stand out musical numbers come from the supporting cast of Ann Miller, Bobby Van and an appearance from singer Nat King Cole as himself.

Ann Miller’s Busby Berkeley choreographed “Gotta Hear That Beat that Beat” is a visually amazing piece. The number is complete with Miller’s high-speed tap dancing feet and instruments being played by bodiless hands.

A second impressive, though exhausting, number is Bobby Van jumping through his small town. While this is quite a feat, it also makes my knees hurt just watching him bound down the street, shaking hands and jumping across hedges.

Also, while Van’s jumping is interesting, his character is fairly annoying.

For Nat King Cole fans, you also have the opportunity to see the velvet voice singer during a nightclub scene, which is a real treat.

The film has a terrific supporting cast with Robert Keith and Fay Wray as Powell’s parents, Billie Burke as Farley Granger’s mother, and S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall as Van’s father. You also get the comical Chill Wills as the jailer.

Once big stars of the 1930s Burke and Wray seem wasted in this film as they both have less than 10 or 15 minutes of screen time.

For me, Robert Keith and Cuddles Sakall provided the most comedic entertainment and were honestly my favorite part of this film.

While I enjoy “Small Town Girl,” but I wouldn’t suggest it as a “must see,” unless you are a huge fan of any of the stars in this movie.

Publicity photo of Farley Granger, Jane Powell and Bobby Van for "Small Town Girl."

Publicity photo of Farley Granger, Jane Powell and Bobby Van for “Small Town Girl.”

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Attractive Stranger: RIP Farley Granger

Farley Granger in 1953

In the shadows of Elizabeth Taylor’s death, Farley Granger died on March 27, at age 85.

Sometimes I think that Farley Granger was forgotten. He wasn’t as dynamic as other 1950s actors like Marlon Brando, and he was pretty awkward compared to suave Cary Grant, but Mr. Granger was one of my passing crushes when I first dove into classic film at the age of 14.

I’m not sure what attracted me to the tall, lanky and usually angry Farley Granger, but he was one of the many random actors (along with John Kerr, Peter McEnery and James Darren) that I had fleeting crushes on.

My favorite scene in “Strangers in a Train.” Farely is in the background holding on for dear life.

Granger was also in two of Hitchcock’s most well known films: the odd film adpatation of the play “Rope” and the thrilling “Strangers On A Train.”

I think the first film I ever saw Granger in was “Strangers On A Train” (1951). It’s funny that Granger has been so overlooked when he starred in one of Hitchcock’s most important and best films. “Strangers On A Train” is one of my all time favorite. I was intrigued by several of Hitchcock’s camera angles, particularly the shot through Miriam’s glasses at the fair.  It’s hard to find a flaw in “Strangers On A Train” because it is perfect-though I would have preferred another love interest over Ruth Roman.

I next saw Granger in “Hans Christian Andersen” (1952) with Danny Kaye. It’s such a quirky, silly movie but I love it. The etherial song “Wonderful Copenhagen” and the adorable “No Two People” had me enchanted.  Granger plays an angry fellow who is mean to Danny Kaye and locks him in a closet!  Granger then goes on to play an equally hot tempered man in “Small Town Girl” with Jane Powell.  I’m not sure why Granger was always cast as a hot head, but he could play a grouch very well.

Farley Granger and Ann Blyth in “Our Very Own”

A few of my other favorite films of his are “Our Very Own” where Ann Blyth finds out she was adopted, and, one of his first films, the war film “Purple Heart.”

Granger’s film career petered off in the mid-1950s and he acted mainly on television and then made a few films in the 1970s.  It’s sad that he entered and exited the film scene so quickly.  He only had substantial roles in half of them, while several of his others were small supporting characters.

Regardless of his screen time, I am sad that yet another star has risen. Farewell Farley Granger, you will be missed.

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