Musical Monday: Honolulu (1939)

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.

Honolulu_(1939)This week’s musical:
Honolulu” (1939)– Musical #172

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Edward Buzzell

Starring:
Eleanor Powell, Robert Young, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Rita Johnson, Willie Fung, Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson, Sig Ruman, Ruth Hussey, Phillip Terry
As Themselves: The Pied Pipers, Jo Stafford, The King’s Men, Andy Iona’s Orchestra

Plot:
Popular Hollywood star Brooks Mason (Young) has a lookalike George Smith (Young). To get a rest from his fans, Mason sends Smith to New York for a personal appearance tour and heads to Smith’s Hawaiian plantation for a rest, meeting dancer Dorothy March (Powell) on the way. Complications arise when Mason meets Smith’s girl Cecila (Johnson).

Trivia:
-George Burns and Gracie Allen’s last film appearance together. After this movie, George Burns wouldn’t appear again on screen until 1952.
-Eleanor Powell’s “Hola E Pae” number was re-edited and put in “I Dood It” (1943).
-Eleanor Powell’s tap dance number “I Got a Pair of New Shoes” was cut from the film and can be found here.
-From an April 26, 1939, “Hollywood Shots” column: “There’s a good reason why Eleanor Powell calls Honolulu her favorite films: its the only one that ever gave her a foot bruise costing her at least one toenail.”

Robert Young plays a double role in

Robert Young plays a double role in “Honolulu”(1939)

Highlights:
-Eleanor Powell’s hula routine with a native tap dance routine
-Robert Young plays a double role
-Costume party featuring Bing Crosby impersonator and Gracie Allen as Mae West

Notable Songs:
-“Honolulu” performed by Gracie Allen, The Pied Pipers
-“The Leader Doesn’t Like Music” performed by Gracie Allen, The King’s Men
-“Hawaiian Medley” performed by The King’s Men, danced by Eleanor Powell
-“Hola E Pae” performed by Andy Iona’s Orchestra, danced by Eleanor Powell

My review:
“Honolulu” is not your usual MGM glittery musical, but it’s a lot of fun. Primarily, the movie is a comedy of lookalikes/mistaken identity with Robert Young. Eleanor Powell is merely a tap dancing backdrop.

Robert Young and Eleanor Powell in

Robert Young and Eleanor Powell in “Honolulu” (1939)

Since Powell does not sing, any songs are performed by Gracie Allen. The one that’s the most fun is “The Leader Doesn’t Like Music” as she is dressed like Mae West for a costume party and her backup singers are dressed like the Marx Brothers.

Married comedians Gracie Allen and George Burns have very little screen time together in their last film together.

The most notable dance number is the amazing hula/tap number that Eleanor Powell does. She starts off barefoot and in a grass skirt doing an impressive Hawaiian dance and then switches into tap shoes to mix tap dancing and hula steps. It’s truly the highlight of the film.

Gracie Allen even does a little tap dancing with Eleanor Powell at the start of the film.

The unfortunate part of this film is Eleanor Powell’s dance in blackface. This is off putting and takes away from Powell’s fantastic dancing, however, it was meant to be a tribute to Bill Robinson. Robinson was a close friend of Powell’s. She was not interested in tap dancing but knew it was the best form of dance to break into the business, and Bill Robinson served as her mentor. Robinson, along with Pearl Bailey, was also a godparent to her son Peter Ford. The two often performed together.

“Honolulu comes from the magical year of 1939 which hailed so many top notch films. It isn’t on the same level of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” or “Ninotchka,” but it does still hold a certain level of charm and glitter typical of other 1939 lower budget films.

While “Honolulu” isn’t the most inspiring MGM musical, it’s still a good slice of fun with some amazing tap dancing numbers.

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Musical Monday: “Cairo” (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.

cairoThis week’s musical:
Cairo” (1942)–Musical #477

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
W.S. Van Dyke
Starring:
Jeannette MacDonald, Robert Young, Ethel Waters, Reginald Owen, Grant Mitchell, Lionell Atwill, Rhys Williams, MonaBarrie

Plot:
Small town reporter Homer Smith (Young) is picked to travel abroad to cover the war after his newspaper is chosen as “America’s Typical Small Town Newspaper.” On his way to Cairo, his ship sinks and he floats along the ocean with another survivor (Owen) who gives him a message to deliver if they both survive. Hence, Homer gets mixed up in a spy ring. Once the message is delivered, Homer becomes convinced that singer and movie star Marcia Warren (MacDonald) is also a spy and begins working as her butler so he can investigate her. Marcia also believes Homer is a spy. While they investigate each other, the real spy ring is working to explode an Allied convoy.

Trivia:
-Director W.S. Van Dyke is credited as “Maj. W.S. Van Dyke.” Dyke was promoted to Major prior to World War II and set up a Marine Corps recruiting center in his MGM office. He convinced several actor to join up.

-Lena Horne was originally cast as the Ethel Water’s role as MacDonald’s maid. However, Horne refused to play roles that made her domestic servants, according to Leading Ladies: The 50 Most Unforgettable Actresses of the Studio Era

-The movie was originally to be shot in Technicolor but was switched to black and white, according to TThe Espionage Filmography by Paul Mavis.

-Jeannette MacDonald’s film that she was fully the star.

-One of Jeanette MacDonald’s least popular films, according to TThe Hollywood Musical Goes to War by Allen Woll. (Even more than I Married an Angel?)

-Jeannette MacDonald singing “Les Filles de Cadiz” in the credits and on the movie screen is edited footage from the 1937 film “Maytime.”

Jeanette MacDonald is worried Robert Young has fallen into hands of spies. Also pictured- Ethel Waters and Rhys Williams.

Jeanette MacDonald is worried Robert Young has fallen into hands of spies. Also pictured- Ethel Waters and Rhys Williams.

Highlights:
-Ethel Waters sings operatically in response to Jeanette’s singing.

-Robert Young’s hilarious fake English accent he uses to get a job as MacDonald’s butler.

Funny quotes such as:
-Robert: Have you ever been in San Francisco?
Jeanette MacDonald: Yes. Once with Gable and Tracey and the joint fell apart.

Notable Songs:
-Buds Won’t Bud sung by Ethel Waters and Dooley Wilson
-Waiting for Robert E. Lee sung by Jeanette MacDonald and Ethel Waters (notable for the fact that MacDonald lets loose and isn’t singing in an opera voice)
-Les Filles de Cadix sung by Jeanette MacDonald. (We only hear this song over the credits and see footage of MacDonald singing it in “Maytime,” but I love this song and had to add it).
-“Il Bacio” sung by Jeanette MacDonald in a bathtub and Ethel Waters echoing back in a faux opera voice. Hilarious.
-From the Land of the Sky-Blue Water sung by Jeanette MacDonald
-Beautiful Ohio sung by Jeanette MacDonald

Review:
This is not your typical Jeanette MacDonald musical where she is singing with Nelson Eddy as a princess, opera singer or duchess. In fact, this is a lot more fun. Really, this is more an MGM comedy with a few songs added in for MacDonald and Ethel Waters.

I really enjoyed seeing MacDonald in a comedic role. She was funny, down to Earth, had great comedic delivery and I wish she made movies like this. There are even jokes in the film picking fun of MacDonald’s films such as “San Francisco.” The ever underrated Robert Young is also a delight, as always. Waters is hilarious as well and we get the opportunity to hear her sing.

Plain and simple, I loved this film.  No, there is real no message or heartfelt moment and it is one of Jeanette MacDonald’s least popular films but….I found it enjoyable. There is just something about a W.S. Van Dyke directed film. It had several laugh out loud moments and I plan on buying it on DVD very soon.

Publicity photo of Robert Young and Jeanette MacDonald for "Cairo."

Publicity photo of Robert Young and Jeanette MacDonald for “Cairo.”

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com