Musical Monday: Everybody Sing (1938)

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.

everybody singThis week’s musical:
Everybody Sing –Musical #540


Edwin L. Marin

Allan Jones, Judy Garland, Fanny Brice, Billie Burke, Lynne Carver, Reginald Owen, Reginald Gardiner, Monty Wooley

Judy (Garland) is constantly getting in trouble and expelled from her private school. She’s expelled again when she starts singing swing in her music class. When she returns home, she finds her madcap family: her actress mother (Burke), playwright father (Gardner), mother’s protegee (Owen), Russian Maid (Brice), singing cook (Jones), and ambitious older sister (Carver). No one will listen to Judy when she tries to tell them she’s expelled, no one will listen to her and they are too wrapped up in their affairs to pay attention. When her parents try to send her abroad, she escapes and gets a starring role in a musical show.

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Musical Monday: Words and Music (1948)

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:
Words And Music (1948)– Musical #69

words and music


Norman Taurog

Tom Drake as Richard Rodgers and Mickey Rooney as Lorenz Hart
Also Starring: June Allyson, Cyd Charisse, Perry Como, Vera-Ellen, Judy Garland, Betty Garrett, Lena Horne, Gene Kelly, Janet Leigh, Jeannette Nolan, Richard Quine, Ann Sothern, Clinton Sundberg, Marshall Thompson, Mel Torme

Fictional biographical film of the songwriters Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, chronicling their success on Broadway, abroad and in Hollywood.

Songwriters Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in the 1930s. Their career is portrayed in "Words and Music."

Songwriters Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in the 1930s. Their career is portrayed in “Words and Music.”

-The project started in 1946 and was originally titled, “With a Song in My Heart” and then “Easy to Remember,” according to A Ship Without A Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart by Gary Marmorstein.

-Richard Rodgers hated the movie, according to Marmostein’s book.

-Lyricist Lorenz Hart, who Mickey Rooney plays in the film, died in 1943 at age 48. Richard Rodgers was 46 when this film was released and passed away in 1979. After Hart passed away, Rodgers became songwriting partners with Oscar Hammerstein.

-“Words and Music” was Perry Como’s first film with MGM after signing a seven-year contract. His MGM career ended promptly with this film after he sang happy birthday to Louis B. Mayer and ended it with an insult, according to the book Perry Como: A Biography and Complete Career Record by Malcolm Macfarlane, Ken Crossland.

-Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland’s last on-screen performance.

-Perry Como had two songs deleted from the film: “You’re Nearer” and “Lover,” according to the Malcolm Macfarlane and Ken Crossland book.

-Tom Drake is dubbed by Bill Lee

-Cyd Charisse is dubbed by Eileen Wilson

-The all-star cast
-Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney’s performance of “I Wish I Was in Love Again”

Notable Songs:
-“Manhattan” performed by Mickey Rooney
-“Mountain Greenery” performed by Perry Como
-“Where’s That Rainbow?” performed by Ann Sothern
-“On Your Toes” performed by Cyd Charissed (dubbed by Eileen Wilson) and Dee Turnell
-“Thou Swell” performed by June Allyson
-“The Lady Is A Tramp” performed by Lena Horne
 “I Wish I Were in Love Again” performed by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney
-“Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” danced by Gene Kelly and Vera-Ellen

My review:
“Nice music, poor plot.”

This was the general consensus among the film critics after “Words and Music” had its New York City premiere on Dec. 8, 1948. And 68 years later, these critics still aren’t wrong.

This movie is in gorgeous Technicolor, has a fantastic cast of nearly all of MGM’s major musical stars, and beautiful songs with breathtaking dances. But somehow it falls short due to the story.

“Words and Music” is a musical film where the plot weaves in and out of a patchwork of musical numbers. While this format is bizarre and a little difficult to follow, it wasn’t uncommon during this time for a musical picture to mainly be a revue of song and dance with a tiny bit of plot sprinkled in. MGM did the same thing (but a little better) in 1946 with the musical “Till the Clouds Roll By”—A film about Jerome Kern. Warner Brothers had a comparable format with their 1943 film “This is the Army,” where the story halts for 45 minutes of a musical show.

But the musical numbers aren’t the problem, in fact they are the high spots of the film. We have the opportunity to see Ann Sothern in the gorgeous Technicolor number “Where’s My Rainbow?,” June Allyson adorably in the “Connecticut Yankee” number “Thou Swell,” and Lena Horne give the best rendition that ever existed of “The Lady is a Tramp.”

Mickey Rooney as Lorenz Hart and Tom Drake as Richard Rodgers

Mickey Rooney as Lorenz Hart and Tom Drake as Richard Rodgers

The issue is the terrible and inaccurate biographical plot line. I like Tom Drake, but he’s not a very strong leading man while playing songwriter Richard Rodger. And Mickey Rooney is over the top and fairly ridiculous as the ill-fated Lorenz Hart.

Hart had a troubled life that involved alcoholism. He also was tormented by the fact that he was only five feet tall and was a homosexual in a time where this was not embraced by society, according to the book A Ship Without A Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart by Gary Marmorstein.

Ann Sothern gorgeous in Technicolor in the number "Where's My Rainbow" (1

Ann Sothern gorgeous in Technicolor in the number “Where’s My Rainbow” (Comet Over Hollywood screenshot)

Unsurprisingly though, none of this is detailed in the film. “Words and Music” depicts Hart as what New York Times writer Wilfrid Sheed quipped: “a lovelorn dwarf.” In the film, Hart’s character is turned down by a fictional love interest played by Betty Garrett in the 1920s and hasn’t gotten over it 20 years later.

There is even an odd but comical scenes where Mickey Rooney buys elevated shoes to be taller to impress the girl.

Aside from Hart’s personal life, the timeline of this film is confusing. For starters, Hart holds a huge party when he first moves to Hollywood and performs a song with guest Judy Garland.  It’s an energetic and standout scene in the film—until you stop and realize that in real life this didn’t happen. Hart moved to Hollywood in the early 1930s when Garland was still a little girl.

On a bittersweet note—Rooney and Garland’s performance of “I Wish I Were in Love Again” is also memorable because it was their last on-screen performance after starring together in 10 films through the late-1930s and early-1940s.

June Allyson in the number "Thou Swell" with twins Ramon Blackburn and Royce Blackburn

June Allyson in the number “Thou Swell” with twins Ramon Blackburn and Royce Blackburn (Comet Over Hollywood screenshot)

The musical numbers in the film also aren’t in chronological order of the years they opened on Broadway, making the story a little more confusing and “patchwork” like. For example, the film starts with the 1926 play “Peggy Ann,” then goes to the 1936 play “On Your Toes” and then back to a 1926 musical, “The Girl Friend.” While an average 1948 moviegoer may not notice this, it’s a little confusing if you are doing research or know when these musicals were on the stage.

Lastly, audiences have the opportunity to see Perry Como, aka Mr. Cool, in his first and only Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film. Como plays a fictional pal to Rodgers and Hart at the beginning of the film. However, at the end of the movie during a tribute to Lorenz Hart, Gene Kelly introduces Perry Como as…Perry Como. Someone didn’t think that out well.

While inaccuracies in musical biopics are nothing new, it’s simply that those in “Words and Music” are awfully clumsy. Despite that, “Words and Music” is an excellent showcase of MGM’s talented singers and dancers: from Cyd Charisse, Lena Horne, June Allyson, Gene Kelly, Mel Torme, Vera-Ellen and of course, Judy Garland.

Even grumpy New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther said in his Dec. 10, 1948 review: To be sure, there is much that is appealing—especially to us reminiscent folks—about certain of the musical numbers that sit like islands in the swamp of the plot. It is pleasant to hear Betty Garrett, for a starter, sing “There’s a Small Hotel” or to watch little crinkle-faced June Allyson head a big production rendering of “Thou Swell.” There is melody and magnificence in a richly-staged dance spectacle which packages two or three numbers, notably “The Girl Friend” and “This Can’t Be Love.” And it is nice to watch Perry Como and Cyd Charisse do “Blue Room” in pastels.

If you give this one a chance, I suggest drinking in the Technicolor costumes, catchy songs and mesmerizing dance steps and ignore the plot.

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Musical Monday: For Me and My Gal (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:
For Me and My Gal” –Musical #10

Poster - For Me and My Gal_03


Busby Berkeley

Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, George Murphy, Ben Blue, Richard Quine, Mártha Eggerth, Keenan Wynn (uncredited)

Set in 1916 right before the United States entered World War I, the film follows vaudeville team Jo Hayden (Garland) and Jimmy Metcalf (Murphy). While traveling, Jo and Jimmy meet self-centered Harry Palmer (Kelly), who is looking for any way to reach the top. Jo falls for Harry and leaves Jimmy to start an act with Harry. Right before Jo and Harry are going to hit the big time, Harry is drafted into World War I. Harry takes extreme measures to stay out of the military and risks his relationship with Jo at the same time.

Judy Garland and George Murphy in the

Judy Garland and George Murphy in the “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” number in “For Me and My Gal.”

-Gene Kelly’s first film.
-The first time Judy Garland’s name was listed above the title, according to Judy: A Legendary Film Career by John Fricke
-“For Me and My Gal” is loosely based on Kelly’s character, the vaudeville performer Harry Palmer, who did become form a team and become engaged to performer Jo Hayden.
-The title was originally “The Big Time” and then “Applause” with hopes a title song would be written by Arthur Freed, according to DVD commentary by Judy Garland historian John Fricke.
-The script was written with Judy Garland in mind and George Murphy originally was going to have Gene Kelly’s role. When Murphy lost the role, he said it was one of the greatest disappointments of his life, according to Fricke.
-Eleanor Powell and Dan Dailey were originally slated in the cast. There were going to be two female roles (a dancer and a singer), but it was combined into Judy’s role, according to Fricke.

Notable Songs:
-“For Me and My Gal” performed by Judy Garland and Gene Kelly
-“Oh, You Beautiful Doll” performed by George Murphy
-“After You’re Gone” performed by Judy Garland
-“Ballin’ the Jack” performed by Judy Garland and Gene Kelly

My Review:
“For Me and My Gal” is a fun film with a plot that revolves around the art form of vaudeville, which was popular in nostalgia movie musicals in the 1930s and 1940s. The introduction to the film says it is “fondly dedicated” to the vaudeville performers who traveled from town to town and lived out of trunks.

Set in 1916, this musical was released in October 1942, right after the United States entered World War II. Production planning started for this film in 1940.

“For Me and My Gal” has catchy songs, great costuming and a compelling story line. But for me, the film is more interesting for two major reasons: This is the first truly adult role for Judy Garland.

Audiences were able to see Garland as a sophisticated young woman with an adult romantic lead and complex dance numbers. She wasn’t playing second fiddle to Rooney’s antics, which sometimes happened in her previous films, and her singing and dancing talents are further showcased.

Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and George Murphy in a publicity still for

Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and George Murphy in a publicity still for “For Me and My Gal.”

Before this film, Garland was primarily in child or teenager roles. Garland’s role in “Little Nelly Kelly” before “For Me and My Gal” also gave her the opportunity to play an adult role. However, it was a dual role- she was an adult who marries George Murphy and then Murphy’s child. It wasn’t quite the same as the woman she plays in “For Me and My Gal,” and part of the film kept her a child.

The second notable fact about this film is that it’s Gene Kelly’s first film role. Fresh from Broadway playing “Pal Joey,” studio heads were uncertain how Kelly would photograph, but Garland fought for him to be in the film.

A fact new to me is that “For Me and My Gal” is loosely based on Kelly’s character, the vaudeville performer Harry Palmer, who did become form a team and become engaged to performer Jo Hayden. The film closely follows Palmer and Hayden’s relationship with some changes. In real life, Hayden had a friend named Danny Metcalf who was killed in action. In the film, Danny Metcalf was split into two people- Jo’s brother Danny who is killed and her friend Jimmy Metcalf, played by George Murphy. Hayden and Palmer married in 1919 and Palmer died in 1962.

“For Me and My Gal” is an entertaining MGM musical that allows you to watch two Garland grow and Kelly start an impressive career. My only complaint is there isn’t enough George Murphy. Otherwise, it’s a ton of fun.

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Musical Monday: The Harvey Girls (1946)

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.

harvey girlsThis week’s musical:
The Harvey Girls” –Musical #43


George Sidney

Judy Garlands, John Hodiak, Angela Lansbury, Ray Bolger, Cyd Charisse, Virgina O’Brien, Preston Foster, Marjorie Main, Kenny Baker, Selena Royale, Chill Wills, Ruth Brady

Set in the 1890s, the film is a fictional story about the real life Harvey Girls who worked at Fred Harvey’s Harvey House restaurants that aided westward expansion and civilization. The restaurants offered civilization and clean service to trains who stopped in the area.
Susan Bradley (Garland) travels on the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe railroad from Ohio to Arizona to get married to a man she only knows via letters. Also on the train are “Harvey Girls.” The Harvey Girls are from all over the country and are traveling to work as waitresses in the newly opened Harvey House Restaurant.
When the train arrives, Susan’s husband-to-be is not exactly what she expected. She calls off the marriage and she ends up working as a Harvey Girl.
However, the owners and girls who work at the local saloon don’t take kindly to their business being taken by the new Harvey House and set out to drive them out.

-“The Harvey Girls” originally was going to be a straight western movie starring Clark Gable. MGM worked on the script for many years until it was sent to the Arthur Freed Musical Unit. Judy Garland and Gable were originally going to be cast as the stars, but they didn’t think the audience would accept the pairing. The age difference between the two stars would have made the story difficult especially when Garland sang “Dear Mr. Gable” as a young girl according to George Sidney during the director commentary.

-Based on a historical story on the Fred Harvey restaurants called the Harvey House.

-George Sidney interviewed girls from all over the country to get girls from each state. One of the Harvey Girls was New York model, Ethel Brady.

Judy Garland during "The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" number

Judy Garland during “The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” number

-The number “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” was done in one take with Judy Garland. The number was shown to Garland and after seeing it once she said “I’m ready,” Sidney said in the commentary. It was “one of the longest musical numbers in a motion picture all done in two shots,” Sidney said.

-Judy Garland and John Hodiak were going to sing a duet called “My Intuition” written by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer. The song’s purpose was to “advance their relationship” in the film. The song was right after their first meeting in the valley when John kisses Judy. The song was cut after the first preview because it was thought to slow down the film, according to notes on the DVD.

-“March of the Doagies” and the “March of the Doagies Reprkise” are two others songs that were cut from the screenplay, along with four other musical numbers, according to the DVD notes. The number took place during the Harvey Girls party. They leave the party and Judy leads the party, skipping down the town, carrying torches and into the prairie as she sings. The “March of the Doagies” number was huge and took many evenings to film on the MGM backlot. The footage of the number was not seen until it showed up in 1994 in “That’s Entertainment III,” according to DVD notes.

-Actress Virginia O’Brien isn’t in the film after her “In the Wild, Wild West” number, because she was pregnant. She “had her own little Harvey Girl,” Sidney said.

19-year-old Angela Lansbury and John Hodiak in "The Harvey Girls"

19-year-old Angela Lansbury and John Hodiak in “The Harvey Girls”

-John Hodiak had the measles and shooting was held up, Sidney said.

-President Franklin Roosevelt died during the filming of “The Harvey Girls” and shooting was called off for a few days, according to George Sidney.

-Grandson of Fred Harvey, who started the Harvey House Restaurant, Byron Harvey Jr. played an uncredited role as a train conductor.

-Cyd Charisse’s second film. Her first movie was “The Ziegfeld Follies.”

-Angela Lansbury was only 19 when she was in this film. Ann Sothern was originally supposed to play this role, according to director George Sidney in the commentary.

-Another song called “Hayride” with Ray Bolger was cut, but only the vocals remain.

-Angela Lansbury was dubbed by Virginia Rees

-Cyd Charisse was dubbed by Marion Doengnes

-Shot some of the scenes in Monument Valley where many John Wayne films were made.

-The first film for costume designer Helen Rose.

Actress Virginia O'Brien, who had to drop out of filming after the "Wild Wild West" number.

Actress Virginia O’Brien, who had to drop out of filming after the “Wild Wild West” number.

-Won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Score for “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” written by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer.
-Nominated for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture written by Lennie Hayton.

-The 8 minute “Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” number
-In an effort to close the Harvey House, men from the saloon steal every steak from the restaurant. Outraged, Judy Garland goes to the saloon with two guns telling them to “stick ’em up.” She is successful in getting the steaks back, but the whole scene is hilarious.

Judy Garland going into the saloon with guns to steal back the steaks in "The Harvey Girls."

Judy Garland going into the saloon with guns to steal back the steaks in “The Harvey Girls.”

Notable Songs:
-Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe performed by Judy Garland and most of the cast
-The Wild, Wild West performed by Virginia O’Brien

My Review:
“The Harvey Girls” is such a fun movie.
The cast is stellar, costumes are gorgeous and the Technicolor backdrop of the Old West looks like a postcard.
My only real issue with the film is “The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” is Judy Garland’s strongest song and Ray Bolger only gets a chance to show off his dancing in one number- but he only sings a bit at the beginning.
Many of the songs that did showcase Bolger or Garland ended up being cut.
It’s a shame that the “My Intuition” song was cut, because it gave Judy Garland a higher quality song than the others to sing. I also love hearing John Hodiak’s singing voice which isn’t trained but is pleasant. “March of the Doagies” isn’t a very good song, but it also showcased Judy’s voice very well.
However, it’s easy to look back now and say “I wish that song was still in the movie,” but I’m sure it was the best decision in 1946.
Of the songs in this movie, “The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,” is the stand out number by far. It’s eight minutes long, but it is engaging and interesting the whole time. We get the perspective of the people in the town who are excited about the train arriving, the conductor, the Harvey Girls and where they came from, and then Judy Garland who is traveling for the first time.

The three female leads: Cyd Charisse, Judy Garland and Virginia O'Brien after singing "It's a Great Big World"

The three female leads: Cyd Charisse, Judy Garland and Virginia O’Brien after singing “It’s a Great Big World”

There are also so many large names in this movie that it is hard for the secondary leads to get enough screen time. But somehow it works out. Virginia O’Brien and Cyd Charisse are in two songs, and Charisse has a dance number. Kenny Baker (aka the poor man’s Dick Powell) also has a song, and Ray Bolger has his tap dancing number.
One of the real highlights for me is Marjorie Main. She’s consistently funny in most of her comedic roles and continues to be hilarious in the “Harvey Girls.”
Another huge bright spot in this film is John Hodiak as the leading man. He’s one of my top Hollywood heartthrobs.
I do think it’s interesting that this originally was going to be a non-musical film. I’m sure it would have been entertaining, but we wouldn’t have had the colorful and lovely piece we have today.

The Harvey Girls

The Harvey Girls

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Musical Monday: Meet Me in St. Louis (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.

meet meThis week’s musical:
Meet Me In St. Louis” –Musical #10


Vincente Minnelli

Judy Garland, Mary Astor, Leon Ames, Margaret O’Brien, Lucille Bremer, Marjorie Main, Tom Drake, June Lockhart, Harry Davenport, Chill Wills, Joan Carroll.

Meet Me In St. Louis” revolves around the Smith family who lives in St. Louis and follows them from Summer of 1903 until the 1904 World’s Fair. The film is broken up into story segments such as Summer, Fall of 1903 with Halloween, Winter of 1903 with Christmas and Summer of 1904 when they go to the World’s Fair.
Esther (Garland) falls in love the boy next door, John Truitt (Drake) and her sister Rose (Bremer) is a flirt who likes older men. The two younger sisters Tootie (O’Brien) and Agnes (Carroll) cause mischief. The conflict comes when their father (Ames) needs to move the family to New York.

-Van Johnson was originally supposed to play John Truitt rather than Tom Drake.
-The daughter of a lighting man was originally cast as Tootie. When O’Brien was cast instead, the lighting man intentionally attempted to drop a light on O’Brien.
-Arthur Freed dubbed Leon Ames’s singing voice.
-Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli met on this film. They were married from 1945 to 1951.
-Garland was 21 when she was in this movie and was disappointed to play another teenager. She wanted to move on to other adult roles.
-“Meet Me in St. Louis” was made into a Broadway show in 1989, according to “Hollywood Musicals Year by Year” by Stanley Green.
-Director Vincente Minnelli’s first film hit, according to The American Musical and the Performance of Personal Identity by Raymond Knapp

Judy Garland as Esther singing "The Trolley Song"

Judy Garland as Esther singing “The Trolley Song”

-The film is based off a series of autobiographical stories by Sally Benson published in “The New Yorker,” according to Knapp’s book
-A personal favorite film of producer Arthur Freed.
-The highest grossing film at the time for MGM since “Gone with the Wind” (1939).
-The film was remade twice for television. Once in 1959 starring Jane Powell, Jeanne Crain, Patty Duke, Walter Pidgeon and Myrna Loy. The second time was in 1966 starring Shelley Fabares and Celeste Holm.

-The terrific cast. Though the leads are amazing, I would argue that the secondary leads of Marjorie Main and Harry Davenport steal the show.
-Lon’s going away party with “Skip to My Lou” and Tootie and Esther singing “The Cake Walk” is one of my favorite parts.
-I love the holiday portions of the film such as:
Halloween: Tootie and Agnes trick-or-treating in their spooky costumes-Agnes as a drunken ghost and Tootie as a horrible ghost. The two are dared to throw flour on neighbors and shout “I HATE YOU.” I’m always shocked that these kids parents don’t care they are starting a huge bonfire in the middle of the neighborhood.

Margaret O'Brien as Tootie being the "most horrible"

Margaret O’Brien as Tootie being the “most horrible”

Christmas: Esther (Garland) and Rose (Bremer) go to a dance and try to sabotage Lucille Ballard’s (Lockhart) dance card by giving her dopey boys to dance with. The scene where Esther dances with all of the silly boys is hilarious.
More Christmas: Tootie (O’Brien) is a snowman murderer. Tootie is upset the family is moving so she destroys the snowmen.
-And then there is Warren Sheffield (Robert Sully)

Notable Songs:
-The Trolly Song sung by Judy Garland. The most famous song in the film. It’s such fun and Garland did the scene in one take.
-“Skip to My Lou”/”Under the Bamboo Tree” sung by Judy Garland and Lucille Bremer during the party scene. It’s so fun and I wish my party was like this.
-“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” sung by Judy Garland is also another famous song from the film. It makes me mother cry every time. And I have recently inherited sappily crying during the scene.
-“The Boy Next Door” sung by Judy Garland

My Review:
This is one of my favorite films of all time. It’s one of those movies that I have been watching since I was a baby and it never gets old. The humor, the gorgeous Technicolor and the wonderful songs. The story flows well and the songs fit in effortlessly.
I can’t think about this movie without smiling.

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“The Wizard of Oz” in 3D: Was it necessary?

My parents introduced “The Wizard of Oz” to me when I was a baby.

My sisters and I all have dressed up as Dorothy for Halloween or a book character day at least once.
We also have Dorothy Barbies, dolls and my mom owns “The Wizard of Oz” collectors decorative plates.

Needless to say, the Pickens family are fans of the film.

I grew up with “The Wizard of Oz” just as my parents did when it was shown yearly on television.

wizard of oz2

“The Wizard of Oz” was what taught me about the state of Kansas and what a cyclone was.
Like most movies, the information and lessons it taught me molded my young mind.

When I heard the 1939 film starring Judy Garland as Dorothy was going to be released in 3D and IMAX, I had mixed emotions.
1. I wanted to see the film on the big screen, because I never had before.
2. I don’t like 3D and avoid it at all costs. Why did they feel the conversion was necessary?

Though I wasn’t pleased with the thought of 3D or paying $17 for a movie ticket, I couldn’t pass up watching a classic film in a movie theater- something that doesn’t happen much in my area.

Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, Judy Garland as Dorothy and Jack Haley as the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz"

Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, Judy Garland as Dorothy and Jack Haley as the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz”

Tuesday evening I made the 50 minute drive to Charlotte, NC to see the “Wizard of Oz.”

The Technicolor was lush, I laughed at the supporting characters, cried at the end of the movie and I enjoyed myself. It had been years since I watched “The Wizard of Oz” from start to finish. I forgot how funny the jokes are and how visually beautiful it is.

Having the opportunity to see a classic film on the big screen is a special experience. Even if you have seen the movie before, you pick up on jokes and subtle movements and expressions better than you can on your television. You are also forced to pay attention to the film, because it is just you and the screen.

But the big question is, was the 3D necessary or distracting?

The 3D wasn’t obtrusive or dramatic. Many scenes looked similar to if you were watching a 2D version of the film. The times it stood out the most were when the Wicked Witch (played by Margaret Hamilton) pointed at the camera or when Glenda the Good Witch (played by Billie Burke) gestured with her silver wand.

The Lollipop Guild

The Lollipop Guild

The 3D mostly was used for depth. Dorothy sat a little further out from her surroundings as she sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and the Lollipop Guild stood out as well. These scenes weren’t bothersome, but there just wasn’t much purpose to it.

The only other 3D film I have watched in a theater the John Wayne film “Hondo” (1953) at the Turner Classic Film Festival. While the 3D wasn’t used excessively in “Hondo,” it’s use was more dramatic. Native Americans rode on horses towards the screen and arrows looked like they were coming at you.
There was nothing that dramatic in “The Wizard of Oz,” not even a flying monkey looking like it was going to share your seat.

There were a few times I felt 3D made things a bit blurry (or maybe it’s my bad eye sight) like when the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), Dorothy (Garland), the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) and the Tin Man (Jack Haley) ran through the poppy field. Another area I felt was a bit blurry was when Dorothy opened the door to Oz-taking the film for sepia tone to Technicolor.

In general, I’m not a fan of colorization of black and white films such as “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946) or “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” (1938). I feel that modifying a film from 2D to 3D falls under the same distasteful category as colorization. All of these tactics are to bring in younger audiences. But why change art? If a younger audience doesn’t like the “Mona Lisa” would we paint a smile on her?

“3D falls into the category of digital ‘remixing,’ colorizing and other changes,” said my broadcast journalism professor, Haney Howell. “The director shot the movie from his perspective, not that of some geek who thinks he can make it better.”

Buddy Ebsen was originally cast as the Tin Man but was allergic to the makeup. His big break came in the from of the 1960s TV show, "The Beverly Hillbillies."

Buddy Ebsen was originally cast as the Tin Man but was allergic to the makeup. His big break came in the from of the 1960s TV show, “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

From 1938 to 1939, the script of “The Wizard of Oz” had several rewrites and stars were recast in the film. Shirley Temple was originally considered for the role of Dorothy. Buddy Ebsen was going to be the Tin Man but was allergic to the silver face paint, and Jack Haley was cast instead. Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, received third degree burns on her hands and face during her firey exit with the Munchkins.

A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into the director’s vision of “The Wizard of Oz.” Modifying the film from 2D to 3D is going against artistic wishes.

When it was announced “Wizard of Oz” was going to be in 3D, it was said, “If 3D was around in 1939, this is how it would have been shot.” Which is a ridiculous response.

Filmmakers have had 3D capabilities of some sort since the 1920s and 1930s. MGM even made a short film in 1935 called “Audioscopiks” testings 3-D. Then 3D film fell briefly into the mainstream from 1952 to 1954. Hollywood was using 3D to pull movie goers away from their television screens and back into theaters.
So saying “If 3D was around” is a fairly ignorant response.

But to answer the $64 question of “Was 3D necessary?”: No, probably not. But so far, since “The Wizard of Oz” was released last Friday, it has made roughly $3 million. It has served the purpose the money making purpose it was supposed to.

Regardless, I really enjoyed seeing “The Wizard of Oz” for the first time on the big screenscreen.

But as Dorothy says, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

The popularity of “The Wizard of Oz” has remained for over 75 years, so why look any further to improve on it when it isn’t needed.

sepia dorothy

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The years Margaret O’Brien ruined Christmas

Though some people find 1940s child actress Margaret O’Brien cute and spunky, I think she is a nuisance. Particularly at Christmas time.

1940s child actress, Margaret O'Brien

1940s child actress, Margaret O’Brien

O’Brien can really put a damper on the Christmas season from attacking snowmen to nearly killing her pregnant mother.

Her brattiness particularly shines through in two Christmas films, “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) and “Tenth Avenue Angel” (1948):

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944):

“Meet Me in St. Louis,” a personal favorite, is simply the story of a family, set in the early 1900s when the World’s Fair is coming to St. Louis. The family has four daughters: Rose (Lucille Bremer), Esther (Judy Garland), Agnes (Joan Carroll) and Tootie (Margaret O’Brien)

Though Garland is the true star of this film, O’Brien steals several scenes by simply being a brat.

I’m fairly convinced that Tootie manipulates her family by being an obnoxious brat and turning on the waterworks in order to get what she wants.

O'Brien as Tootie telling lies to Mary Astor, playing her mother-saying that John Truitt tried to kill her on Halloween.

As Tootie telling lies to Mary Astor, O’Brien played her mother-saying that John Truitt tried to kill her on Halloween.

At the start of the film, Tootie tells the iceman (Chill Wills) that her doll has “four fatal diseases” and how she will bury her and have a funeral for a perfectly good doll (maybe this is just a ploy to get new toys?).

At Halloween, she really is a little hellion. She throws flour in the face of an unsuspecting neighbor and shouts, “I hate you!”-part of a turn-of-the-century Halloween tradition that we never should bring back.

Still, on Halloween, she nearly turns her sister Esther (Judy Garland) against her boyfriend, John Truitt (Tom Drake).

Tootie and Agnes stuff a dress and put it on the trolley tracks. John Truitt drags Agnes and Tootie out of the way, so they don’t get hurt or caught by police. As a result, Tootie splits her lip and loses a tooth.

She is carried into the house sobbing and saying, “John Truitt tried to kill me!” prompting Esther to go next door and beat him up.  Her family comforts Tootie by letting her wear one of Esther’s nightgowns and giving her a gigantic piece of cake (has anyone else noticed the cake in classic films is HUGE?). Even after her mother (Mary Astor) discovers Tootie was lying, they let her keep the cake and nightgown because she was a “good girl when the doctor was there.”

But the real clincher is the Christmas scene.

O'Brien attacking snowmen early Christmas morning (screencapped by me)

O’Brien attacking snowmen early Christmas morning (screencapped by me)

Understandably, Tootie is upset about leaving their home in St. Louis to move to New York.  Esther comforts her younger sister by singing, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

Does this calm the child down? No! Inexplicably, she runs outside in the snow after midnight, starts attacking snowmen they worked so hard to build earlier that day.

Because of Tootie’s crazed snowman moment, their father (Leon Ames) changes his life plans to make his family happy, again Tootie getting her way.

Tenth Avenue Angel (1948):

In “Tenth Avenue Angel,” O’Brien plays Flavia, a little girl who lives with her pregnant mother Helen (Phyllis Thaxter) and Aunt Susan (Angela Lansbury).

Steve and Flavia wait to see if a cow will kneel for baby Jesus on Christmas morning. (screencapped by me)

Steve and Flavia wait to see if a cow will kneel for baby Jesus on Christmas morning. (screencapped by me)

Flavia was told that Susan’s boyfriend Steve (George Murphy) has been on a trip around the world, but really he has been in jail.

Other harmless white lies and old wives’ tales are told to Flavia, such as mice turn into money, cats all have nine lives, and wishes on stars come true. When Flavia finds out none of these are true- including that Steve really didn’t travel around the world- she is sent over the edge.

“If it isn’t the truth, then it’s a lie, isn’t it,” she says to her pregnant, bed-ridden mother. “I don’t know who to believe or what to believe. Everybody lies to me.”

In a Margaret O’Brien moment of hysterics complete with sobbing, she runs out of the apartment with her mother running behind her, who falls down the stairs and becomes ill…basically because of Flavia.

However, regardless of her bratty moment, Flavia finds a miracle in order to save her mother.

And the cow kneels. This scene is utterly ridiculous. (screencapped by me)

And the cow kneels. This scene is utterly ridiculous. (screencapped by me)

The movie ends ridiculously with Flavia and Steve waiting at the stroke of midnight on Christmas morning to see if a cow will kneel to honor the newborn king-another old wives’ tale her mother told her.

If the cow kneels, it will be a miracle to make her mother better and will restore Flavia’s faith in her family. Lo and behold, the cow kneels, and everyone lives happily ever after.

To review:

Maybe I’m unnecessarily harsh because I’m simply not a fan of Margaret O’Brien. I’m not sure if O’Brien is the brat or if it’s the characters, but regardless I can’t take the sobbing and would be really angry if a hysterical little girl knocked down my snowman.

**2020 edit: I don’t mind Margaret O’Brien as much these days, but I do still like to joke that she ruins Christmas in these films. I clearly understand that these are the roles MGM cast the child in.

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Classic films in Music Videos: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Kenny G

This is December’s edition of Comet Over Hollywood’s classic film references in music videos.

Going with the Christmas season, is the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” played by Kenny G in 1997.

Though I’m not a Kenny G fan, I have to admit this is a very heartwarming video.

It stars classic film star Burgess Meredith, who’s career ranged from “Idiot’s Delight” (1939) to his role of the Penguin in the 1960s Batman TV show.

Meredith appears to be a projectionist at a movie theater who is sad, lonely and missing his family at Christmas.

He reminisces on past Christmases by watching clips of classic holiday films such as “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944), “Miracle on 34th Street (1947), “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), “Little Women” (1949), “A Christmas Carol” (1938) and “Bells of St. Mary’s” (1945).

Meredith was 90 when this video was filmed. He died that same year of melanoma and Alzheimer’s disease, making this video a little more heartbreaking than it already is.

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You can’t get a role with a gun: the story behind “Annie Get Your Gun”

I had always read that “Annie Get Your Gun” was a horrible experience for actress, singer Betty Hutton.

Actors and stage workers were cold towards her, she wasn’t invited to the movie premiere and MGM wasn’t the warm home she found at Paramount.

For years, I read this treatment was attributed to the fact that Betty Hutton quickly stepped in to the role when Judy Garland was unable to make the film. MGM workers resented that someone was kicking their Judy out of a highly coveted musical biography about the sharp shooter Annie Oakley.

Howard Keel, Betty Hutton, Louis Calhern and Keenan Wynn singing “No Business Like Show Business.”

About a month ago, I read and reviewed Betty Hutton’s autobiography “Backstage, You Can Have.” I found that the story about “Annie Get Your Gun” wasn’t as cut and dry as “Judy was kicked out, they were mean to Betty.”  Betty Hutton might have also helped a little in digging her grave.

When the Irving Berlin musical first hit Broadway stages in 1946, Betty knew she wanted to play the part.

 “In May (of 1946), the same month we were finishing up work on “The Perils Of Pauline,” a new musical opened…The show was called “Annie Get Your Gun” and it starred Ethel Merman in the title role. I went to New York to see it, and fell deeply in love with the role of Annie Oakley. This was a part I just had to play in the hotly anticipated movie version” (Hutton 209).

 Betty begged Paramount to buy film rights. Paramount was giving her weak films like “Dream Girl” and she felt that Annie Oakley would have helped bolster her career. However, Arthur Freed at MGM paid Irving Berlin $650,000 for the play and planned on MGM’s top star Judy Garland to play the role.

Judy Garland dressed for the “I’m an Indian Too” number.

“I was heartbroken,” Hutton said. Besides Hutton, Ginger Rogers also campaigned for the role and was told Annie Oakley doesn’t wear silk stockings and high heels.

 However, when MGM began filming “Annie Get Your Gun” it was full of disasters:

•New star Howard Keel fell off his horse and broke his ankle.

•Frank Morgan, playing Colonel Buffalo Bill, had a heart attack and died and was replaced by Louis Calhern

•Busby Berkley started out being the director and was fired and replaced by Charles Walters who was then replaced by George Sidney

•Judy Garland didn’t want to do the movie at all.

 Garland felt that she wasn’t right for the role. The video below shows Judy Garland in a few shots they filmed with her as Annie. She looks unsure and not very well. Judy started not showing up to the set, her contract was suspended.

Garland was not unhappy that Betty Hutton took her place; in fact she later told Betty Hutton that she did a good job and was pleased that Hutton got the part.

 “Years, later while we (Judy and Betty) were both working in Las Vegas, Judy and I became very good friends. She told me then she had never wanted the picture and it wasn’t right for her. She admitted the part was right for me, and after all was said and done, she was happy I got it” (Hutton 229).

 The problem was how Hutton handled getting the part. She let everyone know how much she had wanted it.

Hutton told the Associated Press, “I’m so excited I can’t sleep. For four years I’ve been trying to do Annie. I haven’t been happy with the pictures I’ve had since Buddy DeSylva left Paramount and I pleaded them to buy it. I really bawled them out when they let MGM get it.”

 Not only did this comment not make Hutton very endearing to MGM players, but also didn’t help her floundering relationship with Paramount. Hutton was already at odds with Paramount as she let fame go to her head. In her autobiography Hutton said she wasn’t as uncaring as the comment made her sound, she was just excited (228).

 After reading Betty Hutton’s autobiography, comments like these are what helped end her career. Hutton said herself that she couldn’t shut up and always put her foot in her mouth with the press. This was certainly one of those times.

 It was difficult for Hutton to come into an unfamiliar studio. She had found a family at Paramount and described MGM as much more formal-cast members addressed her as Miss Hutton rather than Betty.  While Betty may have found this off-puting, I believe this was simply out of respect for her.

Betty Hutton is hilarious in her version of “I’m an Indian Too”

Though MGM was unfamiliar, it didn’t stop Betty from trying to work under her terms.

 Betty admits that it was “probably too much Hutton, too fast.”  She wanted to be applauded when she did something good like she was at Paramount and insisted on having air conditioning on the set (231 Hutton).  I personally, think these are mighty large demands to make for a studio that isn’t your own. I would have been peeved too if I was part of the cast.

 Betty was a force of nature and gave her all in performances. Louis Calhern, who played Colonel Buffalo Bill, told Keel, “She’s upstaging the hell out of you.” Keel brushed it off saying he was new and that the camera would come around to him once in a while, according to Howard Keel’s book “Only Make Believe: My Life in Show Business (119). At one point, Betty got upset because she said Keel was upstaging her and they redid the scene 35 times until it was how she liked it.

 Regardless though, Howard Keel said he thought Betty Hutton was sweet and they got along okay. He admitted however, that the rest of the cast wasn’t happy with her.

 However, Hutton apparently thought differently and was also sort of bratty in her recount of the situation:

 “Here he was in his very first film role. Was this greenhorn attempting to call the shots? ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ is Annie’s story, not that of Howard Keel’s character, Frank Butler. If the story had been reversed, I would have gladly handed Howard the burdensome responsibility of carrying the film as I had. Keel Proved to be my primary adversary during the shooting of the film. There was much bad blood between us” (Hutton 232).

 It’s funny that Hutton’s most memorable role was one of her unhappiest experiences as a film star. Though, as much as I love her, I think some of the unhappiness was caused by Betty.

 After “Annie Get Your Gun,” Hutton made three more feature films and a handful of television appearances. Her difficult behavior and use of pills ended her career.

 It’s almost ironic how Hutton’s career ended for one of the main reasons Judy Garland was fired from the film: pills. Unfortunately, while Judy was still revered and loved at the time of her death in 1968, Hutton was largely forgotten by the early 1960s.

Addendum: Comet Over Hollywood has received a large number of search results on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, asking who dubbed Betty Hutton in “Annie Get Your Gun.” I want to share that Miss Hutton did her own singing and was never dubbed in any of her films. Hutton was a singer who got her start as a singer for Vincent Lopez’s orchestra. 


“Backstage, You Can Have: My Own Story” by Betty Hutton

“Only Make Believe: My Life in Show Business” by Howard Keel

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Jack Carson is the Easter bunny this year…

Since Easter is tomorrow, I wanted to do a post today and tomorrow. Today’s will be contemporary Easter in films complete with dying eggs, Easter bunnies and large bonnets. Tomorrow’s post will focus on the religious and Biblical aspect of the holiday.

Judy Garland and Fred Astaire posing for the photographers in “Easter Parade”

Easter Parade (1948): Who saw that coming?  This is probably the only feature film that isn’t set in Biblical times that prominately features Easter throughout the movie.  Though the movie really isn’t about Easter and its importance, it begins and ends with the holiday and the prominance of being featured in the newspaper while walking in the “Easter parade” in one’s Sunday best.  The actual film is about show business and how back stabbing dance partners can be when you are trying to hit it big with the Ziegfeld Follies.
This is a great favorite at my house. It has a wonderful cast, several funny scenes and one of the best musical soundtracks you can find. Below is a clip from the beginning of the movie featuring the songs “Happy Easter” and “Drum Crazy.” Unfortunately, Youtube didn’t have the famous “Easter Parade” scene at the end.

My Dream Is Yours  (1949): You may think: What? Isn’t this a Lee Bowman-Jack Carson-Doris Day remake of “Twenty Million Sweethearts”? Why yes, yes it is, but there is a VERY humorous scene where Doris Day’s son, Freddie has a dream the night before Easter. Doris and her soon to be boyfriend Jack Carson are dressed up like Easter bunnies and singing and dancing with Bugs Bunny. I really like this movie, Doris looks beautiful and the plot is a bit more serious than “Twenty Million Sweethearts.”  However,  singing like Easter rabbits is a bit silly. Before the dream, Freddie and Doris also dye Easter eggs, and that’s about all there is to the Easter references.

Other than those two films, there aren’t many films that focus a significant amount of time on Easter in contemporary time. I searched Easter as a keyword on IMDB, other films that feature the holiday are:
What Price Hollywood (1932): In this “A Star Is Born” take off, I think Constance Bennett’s husband either tries to commit suicide or dies on Easter, but I don’t remember clearly.
Holiday Inn (1942): This should come as no surprise. Bing sings Irving Berlin’s “Easter Parade” song in the film that features every other holiday under the sun.
Peyton Place (1957): I think Allison goes to pick up Selena for Easter service, and Selena’s step-father was trying to make a move on her.

It’s disheartening that Easter is in so few films. I know Lent isn’t as exciting a holiday season as Advent, but Easter is a much more important holiday than Christmas. We will explore this more tomorrow in the Biblical representation of Easter in films.

Stay tuned for tomorrow!

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