Musical Monday: Panama Hattie (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:
Panama Hattie (1942) – Musical #114

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Norman Z. McLeod

Starring:
Ann Sothern, Dan Dailey, Red Skelton, Marsha Hunt, Rags Ragland, Ben Blue, Virginia O’Brien, Alan Mowbray, Jackie Horner
Herself: Lena Horne, Berry Brothers

Plot:
Set during World War II, Hattie Maloney, known as Panama Hattie (Sothern), owns a nightclub in Panama where her sailor friends Red, Rags and Rowdy (Skelton, Ragland, Blue) often visit. Hattie is in love with Dick Bulliard (Dailey), who is in the Army and stationed at a nearby base. Hattie is nervous because Dick has been married before and has an 8-year-old daughter Geraldine (Horner) who Hattie will soon meet. Geraldine and Hattie don’t get off on the right foot, as Geraldine laughs at Hattie’s loud clothing. Hattie also has competition when the daughter of the admiral, Leila Tree (Hunt), who has her sights set on Dick. Meanwhile, Red, Rags and Rowdy are always convinced there are spies around and end up uncovering a spy plot.

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Musical Monday: Irene (1940)

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.

ireneThis week’s musical:
“Irene” (1940)– Musical #555

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Herbert Wilcox

Starring:
Anna Neagel, Ray Milland, Roland Young, Marsha Hunt, Alan Marshal, May Robson, Billie Burke, Arthur Treacher, Isabel Jewell, Doris Nolan, Nella Walker, Alexander D’Arcy (uncredited)
Themselves: Martha Tilton, The Dandridge Sisters: Dorothy and Vivian Dandridge

Plot:
Irene O’Dare (Neagel) is an upholster’s assistant. She meets Don Marshall (Milland) while measuring chairs at a wealthy Long Island home. Don anonymously purchased the fashionable women’s clothing store Madame Lucy’s and he is Madame Lucy. He arranges for Irene to become a model there and the two are smitten. Don and Madame Lucy’s manager Mr. Smith (Young) arrange a publicity stunt by sending their well-dressed models to Mrs. Herman Vincent’s (Burke) society party. Irene is assigned to wear the store’s most exclusive dress, ruins it and wears an early 1900s dress of her mother’s instead-causing a wow. She explodes on the society scene and Mrs. Herman Vincent’s son (Marshal) – proposes to her.

Trivia:
-Based on a Broadway musical that originally premiered in 1919 and was revived in the 1920s and 1970s (which Debbie Reynolds and Jane Powell both starred in).

-A version of the 1926 film “Irene” starring Colleen Moore

Anna Neagle after the black and white film turns to color for a brief segment.

Anna Neagle after the black and white film turns to color for a brief segment.

Awards and Nominations
-Anthony Collins was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Music (Scoring). He lost to Alfred Newman for “Tin Pan Alley.”

Highlights:
-Credits featuring puppets of Anna Neagel and Ray Milland
-Changes to color for a scene midway through for a brief segment

Notable Songs:
-“Alice in a Blue Dress” performed multiple times by Anna Neagle, The Dandridge Sisters, Martha Tilton
-“You’ve Got Me Out On a Limb” performed by Anna Neagle
-“Irene”
-“Castle of Dreams”

My review:
While “Irene” is listed as a musical, it’s more of a comedy with a few musical and dance numbers thrown in. Regardless, it’s incredibly delightful.

This is an up-to-date Cinderella story. A wealthy man notices a shop girl and makes her a model glamour girl. The movie is joyful, funny and has beautiful fashion for vintage clothing lovers.

Ray Milland and Anna Neagle in the "Alice Blue Gown." This portion of the film is in color.

Ray Milland and Anna Neagle in the “Alice Blue Gown.” This portion of the film is in color.

Many of our Musical Monday features are filled with four to even twelve musical numbers. Many non-musical films also feature song, such as a singer in a nightclub, such as Sam in “Casablanca” or Lou Gehrig and his wife dancing to “Always” in “Pride of the Yankees.”

“Irene” sits awkwardly in the middle of these two. While it isn’t a song-extravaganza, it also can’t comfortably be dismissed as not a musical. It features two prominent song and dance numbers, the lead sings, the lead also has her own solo dance number at the end of the film, and some nightclub singers are sprinkled throughout. So that’s why we are qualifying “Irene” as a musical — the original Broadway play was also a musical.

The black and white film even turns to color so Anna Neagle can enter in her “Alice Blue Gown” and the audience can marvel and Anna can sing about it.

“Irene” had me laughing and smiling. If you don’t like musicals but love 1940s comedies, this is a happy medium for you. Too many songs won’t deter you.

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Musical Monday: College Holiday (1936)

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 more than 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

college holidayThis week’s musical:
“College Holiday” (1936)– Musical #527

Studio:
Paramount Pictures

Director:
Frank Tuttle

Starring:
Jack Benny, Gracie Allen, George Burns, Marsha Hunt, Martha Raye, Mary Boland, Leif Erickson, Ben Blue, Johnny Downs, Eleanore Whitney, Olympe Bradna, Mischa Auer (uncredited), Ellen Drew (uncredited), Eddie Foy, Jr. (uncredited), Dorothy Lamour (uncredited), Marjorie Reynolds (uncredited)

Plot:
Dick Winters (Erickson) meets Sylvia Smith (Hunt) at an east coast college dance and falls in love. But before he can learn her name she has to quickly leave to head home and help her father who is having financial problems with their California hotel. Nutty heiress Carola P. Gaye (Boland) owns the mortgage to the hotel and has an interest in eugenics; believing that ancient Greeks were the “super race.” In order for the Smiths to keep the hotel, J. Davis Bowster (Benny) gathers entertainers to perform at the hotel, making Gaye believe that they are there for experiments. The downside is that the male and female students can’t fraternize, because it will anger Gaye and ruin her experiments. This hinders Dick’s goal to better get to know Sylvia.

George Burns, Jack Benny, Gracie Allen, Mary Boland

George Burns, Jack Benny, Gracie Allen, Mary Boland

Trivia:
-Costumes by Edith Head
-Film features Dorothy Lamour as an uncredited dancer.

Notable Songs:
-The Sweetheart Waltz
-(Enchanted) I Adore You performed by Marsha Hunt & Leif Erickson
-A Rhyme for Love performed by Johnny Downs and Eleanore Whitney
-So What? performed by Martha Raye

My review:
While many college themed films are a bit silly, I usually go out of my way to see them.

“College Holiday” fits of the bill of being goofy but it’s bizarre plot sets it apart from other collegiate films. In fact, this may be the only comedic pre-World War II film that I have ever seen that deals with eugenics and superior races. Mary Boland walks around dressed in ancient Greek garb and discussing the “super race” and tries experiments, such as setting the mood to get mismatched college students to fall in love. Many classic collegiate films deal with football games, dances, and fraternities serenading sororities.

As Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne noted, this type of storyline wouldn’t be used just a few years after this films release due to Adolf Hitler’s views on the superior race.

Gracie Allen and George Burns all provide humorous, though sometimes tiresome, scenes. But he real treat to me was the casting of the lovely Marsha Hunt, who I always love to see in films.

Audiences also have the pleasure of seeing tap dance performances by young actors Johnny Downs and Eleanore Whitney. The downside is that their second number has the two college students in blackface.

Jack Benny also has funny scenes and pulls out his violin a few times. At the end of the movie, Benny breaks the fourth wall, addressing the audience while playing the same role and character that he portrayed on the radio.

While “College Holiday” isn’t an amazing film and has a few irritating parts involving Gracie Allen, it’s still a fairly entertaining film.

Marsha Hunt and Leif Erickson

Marsha Hunt and Leif Erickson

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Review: Star Reporter (1939)

Often while discussing films we rank their importance with the alphabet.

An A film is a mainstream, high dollar movie. A B movie is a low-budget commercial film that may have a quality story line and actors, but is less publicized. These films would be the bottom half of the double feature — sort of like the song on the 45 record that wasn’t the hit single.

“Star Reporter” (1939) would most likely fall under the “B movie” category.

star

Distributed by “poverty row” studio Monogram Pictures, this hour long film revolves around newspapers and crime.

Reporter John Randolph, played by Warren Hull, works for the Star Tribune newspaper but is also a “star” on the job. Considered bright and brilliant, his father was the owner of the newspaper and was recently murdered. Randolph believes his father was killed because he had information that could bring down the “underworld” of the town.

Randolph is also a big supporter of District Attorney William Burnette, played by Wallis Clark, and throws his support for the DA in each of his stories at the newspaper. Randolph happens to be engaged to the DA’s daughter, Barbara, played by Marsha Hunt.

But when a murder happens, secrets about Randolph and his mother Julia, played by Virginia Howell, are threatened to be dragged out.

It turns out that the deceased newspaper owner was not Randolph’s biological father. Mrs. Randolph was once married to Charlie Bennett, who disappeared and was believed dead. Bennett has now reappeared as the murderer using the name Joe Draper, played by Morgan Wallice.

Lawyer Whitaker tries to bargain with the DA.

Lawyer Whitaker tries to bargain with the DA.

Dirty lawyer Whitaker, played by Clay Clement, is defending Draper.  Whitaker knows Mrs. Randolph’s secret and threatens to reveal it, if she and the DA do not cooperate and close the case.

Draper already signed a confession with the DA, but it is stolen by a thief named Clipper, played by actor Paul Fix in a very small role.

The DA decides not to prosecute to protect the Randolphs. John, not knowing the family secret, turns against  his father-in-law-to-be. Now rather than backing the DA, he works to get him thrown out of office, which was Whitaker’s goal.

For an hour long movie, this is an awfully complicated and mildly confusing plot.

Unlike most newspaper films of the 1930s and 1940s, the majority of the film does not involve a reporter playing detective or getting in fights with gangsters.

I was pleasantly surprised by this, until the end. At the end of the film Randolph is in the same house as the gangster/his biological father with a gun pointing at him. Though as a reporter, it’s not terribly accurate. I wasn’t surprised by this plot development. In my experience as a reporter, I have never gotten in fist fights with gangsters, but then maybe it was different in the 1930s.

Reporter Randolph is engaged to the DA's daughter, played by Marsha Hunt.

Reporter Randolph is engaged to the DA’s daughter, played by Marsha Hunt.

I did like how some of the lines showed just how busy reporters are and how they frequently are on call or away from home.

“After we’re married you can furnish the pressroom as living quarters. That way I can run in and see you between murders,” Randolph said to his new fiancée Barbara.

“Our wedding guests were kept waiting because of a special edition,” Mrs. Randolph told Barbara.

These lines made me chuckle because anyone in newspapers know the words day off, weekend or quiet evening are almost laughable.

I discovered “Star Reporter” shortly after I started working at The Shelby Star in October 2012.

Over the last two years of working at the newspaper, I felt a special connection to the title, because I was (Shelby) Star reporter Jessica Pickens.

Now as I wrap up my last week at the newspaper, I felt it appropriate to finally review the film I’ve been meaning to write about for two years.

Is “Star Reporter” a great movie? No. The biggest names in the film are Paul Fix, who later went on to be in several John Ford films, and Marsha Hunt. Both actors are in the film for less than 15 minutes.

But it is mildly entertaining, especially if you are looking for a very brief film to watch.

In a year that released “Gone with the Wind,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “Wizard of Oz” –just to name a few of nearly 100 well received films- it is interesting to take a look at the B side of the year 1939.

In an age now where we only concentrate the blockbusters, these little hour long films are equally important to explore.

StarReporter1939

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Musical Monday: Seven Sweethearts (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:
Seven Sweethearts” (1942) –Musical #62

seven sweethearts

Studio:
MGM

Director:
Frank Borzage

Starring:
Kathryn Grayson, Van Heflin, Marsha Hunt, S.Z. Sakall, Cecilia Parker, Donald Meek, Louise Beavers

Plot:
News reporter Henry Taggart (Heflin) goes to Little Delft, Michigan to cover the Tulip Festival. While there, he stays at the quaint House of the Seven Tulips inn, run by Mr. Van Maaster (Sakall). Maaster’s seven daughters-all who have boy names-help run the inn. Spoiled Regina (Hunt) tries to woo Henry but he falls for Billie (Grayson). The only problem is old-fashioned Mr. Maaster won’t let his younger daughters marry before Regina marries.

Trivia:
-This film is a family affair: Kathryn Grayson’s brother Michael Butler and sister Frances Raeburn are in the film. Grayson had a larger career than her siblings.
-Ann Rutherford was originally supposed to be in the film but she had measles. She was replaced by Peggy Moran.
-A film adaptation of a Hungarian play called “Seven Sisters.” The film appeared on Broadway in 1911.
-Producer Joe Pasternak’s first film at MGM.
-Remake of the 1915 film “The Seven Sisters”

Highlights:
-Van Heflin attempting to dance a traditional dance during the Tulip Festival.

Van Heflin and Kathryn Grayson in "Seven Sweethearts"

Van Heflin and Kathryn Grayson in “Seven Sweethearts”

Notable Songs:
There aren’t any songs that really stand out or leave you humming after the movie. However, you have the opportunity to hear Grayson since several songs such as “Tulip Time” and Mozart’s “Cradle Song.”

My Review:
This song is fun and adorable. Though she’s a brat, Marsha Hunt looks adorable, and I swoon every time Van Heflin smiles. This is only Kathryn Grayson’s fourth film, so you get to see her as she is still blossoming into stardom MGM. “Seven Sweethearts” isn’t one of MGM’s huge, glittering musicals, and usually goes under the radar. However, it’s adorable and a lot of fun.

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