Musical Monday: Show Boat (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:
Show Boat (1951) – Musical #29

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
George Sidney

Starring:
Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner, Howard Keel, Joe E. Brown, Agnes Moorehead, Marge Champion, Gower Champion, Robert Sterling, William Warfield, Linda Christian (uncredited), Adele Jergens (uncredited), Regis Toomey (uncredited), Lyn Wilde (uncredited), Dee Turnell (uncredited)

Plot:
Set in the 1880s, the Cotton Blossom Show Boat is run by Capt. Andy Hawke (Brown) and his wife Parthy (Moorehead). When the boat arrives in a Mississippi town, there’s trouble for the show’s leading lady Julie Laverne (Gardner) and her husband, Steve Baker (Sterling). In revenge for Julie turning him down, riverboat worker Pete (Erickson) tells the sheriff (Toomey) that the boat has a case of miscegenation, an interracial relationship. Julie is part black, and Steve is white, and even though he cuts her hand and sucks some of it out, the two are forced out of town by the law. In a hurry to replace their leading lady and leading man, Capt. Andy recruits his daughter Magnolia (Grayson) and a gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Keel), who was seeking passage on the boat. Magnolia and Gaylord get married, though her parents object, and the two move to Chicago, where Gaylord hopes to keep them living on velvet through gambling. However, his luck soon sours.

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Musical Monday- Academy Award Winner: Seven Brides and Seven Brothers (1954)

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.

seven-brides-for-seven-brothersThis week’s musical:
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (1954)– Musical #4

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Stanley Donen

Starring:
Jane Powell, Howard Keel, Russ Tamblyn, Jeff Richards, Tommy Rall, Julie Newmar, Ruta Lee, Ian Wolfe, Marc Platt, Matt Mattox, Jacques d’Amboise, Nancy Kilgas, Betty Carr, Virginia Gibson, Norma Doggett

Plot:
Set in 1850 in the backwoods of Oregon, Adam Pontipee (Keel) heads to the city looking for a wife. He finds Milly (Powell), who agrees to marry him. Little does Milly know that Adam is one of seven brothers and she is more of a glorified housekeeper than a wife. She tries to refine the brothers-encouraging bathing and teaching them how to read and dance. They are all eager to find wives of their own and decide to use the story of Romans kidnapping the Sabine women as an example.

Adam (Keel) and his new bride Milly (Powell) who has no idea what she's in for.

Adam (Keel) and his new bride Milly (Powell) who has no idea what she’s in for.

Milly (Powell) inspects the hands of the usually dirty Pontipee brothers before heading to a barn raising social

Milly (Powell) inspects the hands of the usually dirty Pontipee brothers before heading to a barn raising social

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Musical Monday: Pagan Love Song (1950)

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.

874241_1_lThis week’s musical:
Pagan Love Song” (1950) – Musical #75

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Robert Alton

Starring:
Esther Williams, Howard Keel, Minna Gombell, Rita Moreno, Charles Mauu

Plot:
Half-American, half-Tahitian Mimi (Williams) dreams of getting off the island-where she lives with her rich aunt (Gombell)- and going to the United States. Ohio school teacher Hazard Endicott (Keel) moves to the island to run a small plantation his uncle left him and is happy to relax and be lazy on the island. Will Hazard convince Mimi to change her plans?

Trivia:
-Esther Williams was pregnant while filming Pagan Love song, which made her especially concerned about filming a scene in an outrigger, according to Williams’ autobiography, The Million Dollar Mermaid.
-Howard Keel broke had a broken arm during part of the film, and his cast is covered with a towel during a bike riding scene, according to Keel’s autobiography “Only Make Believe: My Life in Show Business.”
-Originally was supposed to star Cyd Charisse and Van Johnson, but Charisse got pregnant, according to Esther Williams autobiography.
-Originally supposed to be directed by Stanley Donen, but after having a difficult time with Donen in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” Williams requested otherwise, according to her autobiography.
-Esther Williams sings two of her own songs but is dubbed by Betty want in “The Sea of the Moon”
-Produced by Arthur Freed
-Based on the book “Tahiti Landfall”

Howard Keel and Esther Williams in Pagan Love Song

Howard Keel and Esther Williams in Pagan Love Song

Notable Songs:
None. They were all lousy.

My review:
From the adorable, colorful poster you think “Oh this film has so much potential!”….But this isn’t one of Esther Williams better films. I’m not sure if it’s as bad as “Jupiter’s Darling,” but it’s up there. And the fact that Williams is made up in tan makeup as a part Tahitian isn’t even the worst of it.
Everyone in the film laughs non stop and smiles like an idiot for most of the movie–I guess to show that everyone-even the Ohia school teacher- loves Tahiti. But non-stop laughing in a 72 minute movie can get pretty annoying.
If you read the plot above, you can see there is absolutely nothing to this plot. As I was watching it, I even found myself thinking, “So…what’s the point of this story?” (And that’s coming from someone who has watched and enjoys silly fluff films).
The filming of this movie was about as unhappy as the viewing experience, according to both Williams’ and Keel’s autobiographies.
The director had never shot on location, Keel and Arthur Freed had a falling out, Keel was unhappy with the score and songs, Williams was nervous about sailing in an outrigger over jagged reef while pregnant, Keel had a broken arm, and it rained a large portion of the filming, according to their autobiographies.
For a film set at the beach, starring Esther Williams who is wearing a sarong 40 percent of the film, you would think there would be swimming galore. In reality there are only two swimming scenes:
-Esther Williams singing a tune while a group (her swimming class) swim in a diamond behind her.
-Williams and Keel swim in a lavish dream sequence in the last 10 minutes of the film.
For me, the most notable feature in this film is that you get to hear Esther Williams’ own singing voice in a couple of songs, while she was usually dubbed. For the more serious ballad, Betty Wand dubbed Williams but from what little we hear, Williams sounds decent.
Films that came out of the “Freed Unit” (produced by Arthur Freed), are generally glittery, fantastic forms of entertainment. Which is why I find it so shocking that “Pagan Love Song” is a real stinker.

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Musical Monday: “Jupiter’s Darling” (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.


Jupiters-darling-1955This week’s musical:

“Jupiter’s Darling” – Musical #110

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
George Sidney

Starring:
Esther Williams, Howard Keel, Marge Champion, Gower Champion, George Sanders, William Demarest, Richard Haydn, Norma Varden

Plot:
A fabricated tale based on a historical event set in 216 B.C. when Hannibal (Keel) marched on Rome. Amytis (Williams) is the fiance to Roman dictator Fabius (Sanders). Curious and spirited Amytis hears Hannibal is attractive and wants to check out him, his troops and elephants that are stationed outside Rome. Amytis and her slave girl, Meta (Champion), are captured and brought to Hannibal. Amytis charms Hannibal, purposefully delaying he and his troops from attacking Rome.

Trivia:
-Remake of “The Private Life of Helen of Troy” (1927) which starred Maria Corda, Lewis Stone, Ricardo Cortez and Alice White.
-Esther William’s singing was dubbed by Jo Ann Greer.
-In the film, Esther Williams’ character rides a horse that dives off of a cliff into water. Esther Williams wrote in her autobiography, “Million Dollar Mermaid” that director George Sidney wanted her to do the stunt but she refused. Stunt man Al Lewin performed the stunt and broke his back in the process.
-Esther Williams’ last film made under contract at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
-The pool Williams swims in was modeled after William Randolph Hearst’s pool at his estate, San Simeon, according to Esther Williams’ autobiography.
-The “underwater statues” in the “I Have a Dream” underwater sequence were secured to the bottom of the pool wearing cleats, according to Williams’ autobiography.
-Williams broke her left eardrum, which had been broken five times before in films, while swimming in the 25 feet deep pool for the “I Have a Dream” sequence, according to her autobiography.
-The Hayes of Office, which dictated the moral censorship production codes, was uncertain about the scantily clad “marble statues” during the “I Have a Dream” sequence, Williams wrote.
-The movie opened to a disappointing box office. Williams wrote this was “not surprising.”
-Howard Keel said he felt this was the best film he and Williams made together and Hannibal was his best performance, he wrote in his autobiography “Only Make Believe.”
-In one scene, Keel and Williams walk in with a leopard. The director suggested Keel pick up the leopard and the animal bit his shoulder. Thankfully he was wearing leather armor, according to Keel’s autobiography.

Esther Williams swimming with a "marble statue" in the 'I Have a Dream" sequence.

Esther Williams swimming with a “marble statue” in the ‘I Have a Dream” sequence.

Highlights:
-The underwater, swimming “I Have a Dream” dream sequence with men painted like white marble statues. Notable mainly because it’s a bit odd, but it is staged pretty nicely too since it is all underwater. This includes swimming small children dressed as cherubs who shoot arrows.
-Husband and wife dancers Marge and Gower Champion to the song “If This Be Slavery.” The actual song is silly but this is the one dance in the movie that really show cases their talent. The dance with “The Life Of An Elephant” is a bit distracted by the actual elephants (though the babies are really cute).

Notable Songs:
-“Don’t Let This Night Get Away” sung by Howard Keel
-“I Have a Dream” sung by Esther Williams, dubbed by Jo Ann Greer

My Review:
Esther Williams is one of my favorite stars, but “Jupiter’s Darling” is just no good. And Williams knew it too, according to her autobiography.
“Jupiter’s Darling” is not just a turning point in Esther Williams’ career but also the movie musical at MGM.
This musical marks the end of Esther Williams’ MGM career. At one point, she was MGM’s top star. After 12 years at MGM, it’s sad that her career at the studio that made her famous was a bit of a dud.
To put it into context, gossip columns around this time were writing “The Mermaid on the Lot has been beached,” according to Williams’ autobiography.
She was originally supposed to star the musical “Athena,” but was replaced by Jane Powell (but if you ask me-that wouldn’t have been any better of a last MGM film than this one).
Led by studio head Dore Schary, MGM was suffering and many of it’s major stars were leaving. Greer Garson, Clark Gable and Van Johnson were already “jumping ship.”
At the same time “Jupiter’s Darling” was released, Lana Turner also suffered from bad reviews for her film “The Prodigal.” Trade papers were both saying Williams and Turner were losing their fan base.
After this film, Williams was offered the lead in “The Opposite Sex,” the remake of “The Women” (1939). Williams wrote in her autobiography she thought it was ridiculous to remake the classic and refused. Williams realized Schary was probably purposefully giving her terrible scripts and that this was the end of her career, so she left and broke her contract.
It had been over 10 years since I last saw this movie and in my mind it was the worst movie.
After revisiting it- while “Jupiter’s Darling” isn’t the worst film ever made- it’s simply not very good.
In the 1950s and 1960s, several ancient history films were being made such as “The Robe,” “Ben-Hur” or “Spartacus.” “Jupiter’s Darling” fits into that fad but it just doesn’t work. Probably because it is so historically inaccurate.
The songs are ridiculous such as “Never Trust a Woman” which has lyrics about decapitating or “Hannibal” which is simply “Hannibal, oh Hannibal we’re fighting men of Hanniabl.”
I will admit that the color is beautiful and Williams’ looks gorgeous in the Roman costumes. However, set dressing and costumes can not save this film.
It’s a shame that Esther Williams glittering career had to end with such a dud. If you have never seen an Esther Williams film, don’t start with this one.

Esther Williams and Howard Keel in "Jupiter's Darling"

Esther Williams and Howard Keel in “Jupiter’s Darling”

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Musical look-a-likes: Harve and Howard

I wanted to follow up on yesterday’s Or maybe like the Prisoner of Zenda post about classic celebrities who look alike.

I talked about how singer/actors Howard Keel and Harve Presnell looked and sang similarly.  To recap, Keel was in movies like “Kiss Me Kate” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” while Presnell was in “Paint Your Wagon” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”

The photos I posted showed their physical similarities, but I am posting two videos to show their similar vocal styles.

PicMonkey Collage

Howard Keel and Harve Presnell

Keel in his role of Frank Butler in “Annie Get Your Gun” singing “The Girl that I Marry.”

Presnell in “Paint Your Wagon” in his role as Rotten Luck Willy singing “They Call the Wind Mariah.”

 

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Or maybe like The Prison of Zenda

Back in September, I wrote a blog post called Just like the prince and in the pauper about actors who have an uncanny resemblance. I realized I left out a few actors who look like they could be relatives.
This post, like the other, is named after another famous mix up of identities. In the “The Prisoner of Zenda” (1937), commoner Ronald Colman looks exactly like prince Ronald Colman and is asked to impersonate him for the prince’s safety. There was a 1954 remake with Stewart Granger as well, but I like Colman better.

Nelson Eddy and Gene Raymond

Nelson Eddy and Gene Raymond: These two men have an uncanny resemblance and I can’t believe I forgot to add them in my last look-a-likes post. I only remembered when I was telling my grandmother about the post and she mentioned that she always thought they looked similar. The odd thing about these two men’s similar appearance is that they both had strong connections to actress and opera singer Jeanette MacDonald.
•Gene Raymond and Jeanette MacDonald were married from 1937 until her death in 1965. They were paired in “Smilin’ Through” (1941) together.  They seemed to have a long and happy marriage, both gushing about the other in quotes.  Gene seemed to love Jeanette very much. In 1972, seven years after her death he said, “”We had 28 glorious years. Jeanette and I respected and loved each other, very deeply. We put one another before anyone or anything. I am blessed to have known her, loved her and been loved by her – absolutely, an incredible lady!”
Jeanette seemed equally enthralled with her husband. In 1943, Jeanette said, “I can’t believe how blessed I am! I’m married to the most wonderful man, Gene Raymond, whom I’m deeply in love with, and, my career is right where I want it to be. I can live like this forever!”  And again in 1947 she gushed, “Gene, is the most wonderful man I’ve ever known. He’s warm, sensitive, loving, funny and very handsome. Being Mrs. Gene Raymond, I admit I’m biased!”
•However, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald had a curious and rumored connection. I’ve heard that they hated each other and would eat garlic when they had to sing to each other. I’ve also heard that they had a secret love affair. I’m really on the fence about both, because I’ve seen a lot of conflicting information. Supposedly during the 1950s, Jeanette MacDonald was asked by her friend Samuel Griffin why she married Gene instead of Nelson and she said, “I must have had rock in my head.”  I still really don’t think they had an affair though, especially when in 1957, Nelson said, “I don’t know why people still want to believe that Jeanette MacDonald and I were a couple off the set. There’s no truth to that rumor, at all. She’s happily married to Gene Raymond and I’m happily married to Anne. I guess people want to believe that what they see on the screen is reality while in actuality, it’s just a movie!”
Regardless of romantic involvement with Jeanette MacDonald, both men looked startlingly similar.

Harve Presnell and Howard Keel

Harve Presnell and Howard Keel: Not only do these men look very similar, they also have the same deep and bellowing baritone singing voice. Howard Keel broke into the MGM musical extravaganza in the early 1950s with his rich, vibrating voice. He stared in big budget musicals like “Annie Get Your Gun” (1951) and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (1954).
Similarly, Harve Presnell has the same semi-operatic, rumbling voice and physique, but was about five or 10 years too late for the musical game. His first big musical was “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” in 1964, which was toward the end of the golden age of musicals and a major turn in films. He was in other musicals like “Paint Your Wagon” (1968) and acted until his death in 2009, but one can only wonder what his career could have been like in the 1950s. You can really see the resemblance if you compare Presnell in “Paint Your Wagon” and Keel in “Kiss Me Kate.”

Dick Powell and Kenny Baker

Dick Powell and Kenny Baker: Dick Powell was the ultimate crooner and Kenny Baker was a singer on Jack Benny’s radio show. Both singers look very similar, sing the same crooning style, but Baker was never the same star caliber as Powell.
Powell was every woman’s heartthrob as he cuddled Ruby Keeler and sang about June and the moon. He was clean cut, attractive, always grinning and the sweet young all-American guy who won the girl. His career rocketed in “42nd Street” and never looked back as he went on to do film noir movies like “Murder, My Sweet” and even direct films.
The first time I saw Baker in “Goldwyn Follies” (1938), I thought “This must be Sam Goldwyn’s answer to Dick Powell.” Baker looks like Powell’s twin brother, who is slightly less attractive. Baker started his film career two years later than Powell, but ended it earlier as well. His film appearances in low budget movies like “Goldwyn Follies” and “52nd Street” (1937) are forgettable. He was in the larger budget “The Harvey Girls” (1948) as Cyd Charisse’s love interest, but does not have a substantial role. One could wonder if his lack of fame is because of Powell’s and Baker’s similar mugs.

Andrea Leeds and Olivia deHavilland

Andrea Leeds and Olivia deHavilland: Olivia deHavilland was compared to Anne Shirley in the last look-a-like post, but one cannot over look the similarities of Leeds and deHavilland’s film demeanor and appearance. Both have delicate features, soft eyes and soothing voices. Leeds and deHavilland were both Warner players, so I often wonder if Leeds was groomed to be a deHavilland replacement. Her first substantial role was in “Stage Door” in 1937, which is when deHavilland was in the midst of court battles with Warner Brothers.
However, there probably wasn’t a motive, they just happen to look nearly the same with the same mild mannerisms. Interestingly enough, Leeds was strongly considered for the role of Melanie Hamilton in “Gone with the Wind,” the role deHavilland made famous and was nominated for.

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