Category: Classic Movie Musicals


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One evening in New York City, after a wonderful romantic evening with a girl I was seeing, I walked her to the subway, and on my walk back to my apartment in the primarily Caribbean Crown Heights, I softly sang and subtly danced to “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady. As one of the few Caucasians in the mostly Caribbean neighborhood, I didn’t have to do much to stand out, and singing a show-tune as I walked down the street didn’t help matters. But, I was so happy and so content that I didn’t care who saw or who laughed. When people in old musicals are so overcome with happiness or sorrow that they simply burst into song, I get it. It happens to me in real life. I just don’t have an array of back-up singers (or actual musical talent) and lavish dance routines.

I’ve discussed at length on this blog the special place that musicals hold in my heart and the complicated feelings I’ve developed for them as I’ve gotten older and my tastes have gotten more sophisticated (and my critical skills grew sharper). Grease was one of the first non-children’s movies that I can remember watching, and there’s always been something about theatrical song and dance numbers that have appealed to me on a deep and personal level ever since. Unfortunately, I also recognize that a lot of these “classic” musicals are also sort of hilariously bad in the actual storytelling department. 1954’s There’s No Business Like Show Business is no exception to that rule. It’s gorgeous production and sublime Irving Berlin score make it worth every musical lover’s time, but it’s story borders on non-existent.

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The Donahue clan, led by matriarch Molly (Ethel Merman) and Terry (Dan Dailey), are a struggling vaudeville family act. Though the group finds great success when the parents are joined by their children, Tim (Singing in the Rain‘s Donald O’Connor), Katie (Mitzi Gaynor), and Steve (Johnnie Ray), it isn’t long before the family act starts to fall apart. Steve wants to become a priest, and Tim falls head over heels in love with coat-check girl (and aspiring singer), Vicky Parker (How to Marry a Millionaire‘s Marilyn Monroe). And when Vicky’s career begins to take off, and she brings Tim and Katie along to be part of her new Broadway revue, it spells the beginning of the end of the Five Donahues as a performing act. Throw in Tim’s suspicion that Vicky is having an affair with her manager, and the family is set on a path towards disaster.

I love Donald O’Connor. I doubt that’s a controversial statement. He’s clearly the best part of Singing in the Rain. The title track of that film is great, but “Make ‘Em Laugh” is the best number of that whole film. And he does not disappoint in There’s No Business Like Show Business. The man can dance and he can sing, and he delivers a snappy one-liner with the best of them, and it’s always puzzled me that he wasn’t a bigger star (though I get it. He didn’t have leading man looks). Although I suspect the film would have been enjoyable without him, I also know for a fact that I wouldn’t have liked There’s No Business Like Show Business nearly as much without O’Connor’s presence. There’s a number after Tim kisses Vicky for the first time that has quickly become one of my favorite set pieces from a classic musical.

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Marilyn Monroe on the other hand… she really isn’t a great actress, but unlike How to Marry a Millionaire, this film shows off an area where Monroe is actually startlingly talented: burlesque-adjacent numbers. Whenever Monroe has to deliver actual dialogue, she’s more stiff and unnatural on screen than even the non-professional cast of Steven Soderbergh’s disastrous Bubble. But, when she’s performing her musical numbers in the film, which give her a chance to show off her sultry and simmering sexuality, it’s like watching an entirely different performer. The only other actresses from that era who seem to be as aware and in control of their sexuality were Liz Taylor and Lauren Bacall. And, Monroe’s confidence and presence sell every second of her musical numbers. For an actress that we’ve come to know (from historical records) as suffering from crippling self-esteem issues, it is surprising how well she carries herself in the film’s sizzling musical numbers from Miss Monroe.

And the rest of the cast is full of established musical talent. Ethel Merman is a Broadway legend, and although her performance is about as campy as they get, it fits the silly and fun mood of this film far better than a more serious take would have. Dan Dailey was appropriately lecherous but loveable as the beleaguered family patriarch although it was probably in the film’s best interest that he was involved in as few of the musical numbers as he was. Johnnie Ray shone during what little screen time he had, at least from a singing perspective (his acting wasn’t phenomenal), and I more or less immediately fell in love with the beautiful Mitzi Gaynor who played the sister. Looking at her IMDB page, she appears to have mostly done musicals and never had much of a career which is a shame because she was both gorgeous and talented.

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The costume work and set design and general composition of this film is a glorious exercise in excess. Early in the film, the Donahue’s perform a deliciously over-the-top take on the old Irving Berlin standard “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” that is far more complex and expensive than they should be able to afford, but I loved every second of its multi-national ridiculousness. And, as mentioned earlier, there’s a glorious performance of “A Man Chases a Girl (Until She Catches Him)” performed with fountains and back-up dancers disguised as statues from Donald O’Connor. That was the moment when I surrendered myself to the silly fun of There’s No Business Like Show Business. As someone who’s danced down the streets of Brooklyn after a wonderful evening with a girl, it spoke to me.

There’s No Business Like Show Business isn’t ever going to stand in the pantheon of great movie musicals, and the performance of “Heat Wave,” which featured what I’ll refer to as blackface-adjacent backup dancers, was a little offensive, but like Babes in Arms before it, there’s something just undeniably fun about this film despite (actually probably because of) its ridiculous nature. The songs are great, and not even the sight of Ethel Merman with absurd mutton-chop sideburns during “A Sailor’s Not a Sailor (Until a Sailor’s Been Tattooed” should deter you from watching this film if you have a soft spot in your heart for old musicals. If you aren’t a fan of musicals, I can’t imagine that There’s No Business Like Show Business will convert you, but for those in the fold, it’s worth the two hours of your time.

Final Score: B

 

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Long time readers know that I have a soft spot in my heart for musicals. I used to review Glee eery week (I’m ridiculously far behind on that show and need to catch up. Like, I’m probably around six or so episodes back if not more). Because my mother exposed me to the movie Grease at a young age (it’s honestly one of the first non-animated movies that I can remember really becoming attached to) and I just have a naturally theatrical disposition, I love musicals. I can’t help it. However, I’m also completely aware of most of the problems musicals face in terms of structure, story, character, etc., and this may seem shocking but I’m not really crazy about many of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals of the 40s through 60s. Heresy, I know. By no means is 1962’s Billy Rose’s Jumbo a great movie (and honestly it barely qualifies to be a good one), but there’s just something about the spectacle of the film that I couldn’t help but find charming.

The Wonder Circus, led by Pop Wonder (Jimmy Durante) and Kitty (Teacher’s Pet‘s Doris Day), is on the verge of going under. Pop Wonder has a bit of a gambling problem, and the performers haven’t been paid in weeks and many are quitting the show. To make matters worse, the circus is hounded by a legion of creditors that Pop Wonder and Kitty have to appease just to stay afloat. And a rival circus family is after the star attraction of the Wonder Circus, the trained elephant Jumbo. Kitty’s level-head is the only thing holding the traveling company together. When the circus lays its stakes in a new town, one of their star performers quits the show and he’s replaced by the mysterious Sam Rollins (Stephen Boyd). Sam and Kitty quickly hit it off, but Sam is hiding something, and that secret might tear the Wonder Circus down with it.

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Every musical is only as good as the music in it (I think I’ve used that exact sentence in other reviews. Ruh roh rooby.), and in that regard, Billy Rose’s Jumbo was just okay. It had a handful of memorable tunes. “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” springs immediately to mind as well as “This Can’t Be Love.” But most of the tunes were sort of forgettable, and one of the songs, “My Romance,” which is one of Rodgers and Harts’s most well-known tunes just seemed kind of chintzy to me. So, while the book of the film (i.e. the music & lyrics for non-theatre types in the room) wasn’t spectacular, the movie saved itself with choreography and splendor that can only be described as magical. When the film captures the childlike innocence and majesty of the circus, it is a delight, and one wishes that the music was as memorable and charming as all of the action unfolding on screen.

The performances were also the film’s strong suit. Doris Day had a surprisingly strong and impressive voice and although I don’t remember many of the songs she sang (and I watched the film earlier today), I certainly enjoyed listening to her dulcet tones and though I knew this from Teacher’s Pet, she had decent comedic timing. Although, she seemed kind of old to be playing Kitty. She was 38… so yeah. The real scene-stealers though were Jimmy Durante and Martha Raye (who played Pop Wonder’s dim-witted fortune-telling fiancee). Jimmy Durante had great comedic chops, and he became the lovable loser at the heart of the film that I cared about even though he was destroying the business he’d spent his whole life building. And Martha Raye was arguably the only character that had me laughing out loud during moments where she volunteered to be shot out of a cannon or pined for Pop Wonder’s affection.

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If you like old-style 1960s/1950s musicals like Gypsy or Babes in Arms, you’ll find something to enjoy in Billy Rose’s Jumbo. It is undeniably charming, and if you have any bit of your childhood self left in you, it’s very easy to be entranced by the circus aspects of the film. But, if you’re not a musical fan or you only watch the more mature, nuanced musicals of the last twenty years or so, you should probably avoid this film. You aren’t going to find much to attach yourself to here. But, as someone who can shed my intellectual pretenses and just get lost in good music, impressive dancing, and flashy set pieces, Billy Rose’s Jumbo was a delight no matter how much my brain tried to tell me it shouldn’t be.

Final Score: B-

 

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Over a year and a half ago, when Hot Saas’s  Pop Culture Safari was still in its infancy, I reviewed the classic Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical comedy Swing Time. I loved the movie and it was this close to being an almost perfect classic musical when a last minute black face number in the film nearly derailed the whole production. I understood that minstrel shows were an acceptable part of that era’s entertainment but that didn’t make it any less uncomfortable for this modern, ultra-liberal viewer. My first Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland film for the blog, 1939’s Babes in Arms was proving to be an enjoyable (although not nearly as great as Swing Time) children’s musical when another climactic, ridiculously lavish black face number reared its ugly head to remind me yet again of our nation’s virulent racist past.

When his down-on-his luck parents decide to take their once popular vaudeville show on the road in a hope to reclaim their glory days, Michael Z. Moran (Mickey Rooney) and his fellow stage children friends are left behind. With the help of his best friend Patsy (The Wizard of Oz‘s Judy Garland), Michael enlists the other kids to put on a lavish vaudeville revue to make it big time to prove that they’re just as talented as their washed up parents. With the threat of being taken away by the state hanging over their heads, Michael and Patsy have to raise the money to put on their show. Patsy is supposed to play the lead and Mickey wrote the songs just for her, but when former child-star Rosalie Essex (June Preisser) offers to pay the show’s expenses as long as she can play the show’s lead, Mickey has to choose between his feelings for Patsy and his desire to finally make it big.

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Mickey Rooney received an Academy Award nomination for this film and as weird as this may sound, I totally get it. When I first started watching the film, I thought he was around his character’s age (early teens), but nope. Mickey Rooney was 19 when he made this film. I was incredibly impressed when I thought he was 13 or 14. Still, even at 19, he already had the timing and comedic chops of a seasoned veteran and Rooney was easily the best part of the whole film. His presence controlled every scene and it’s easy to see why he was one of Hollywood’s biggest child stars of the era. His impressions were spot-on and hilarious. He had the manic but controlled energy of a pro like Donald O’Connor. In terms of how comedy worked back in the 1930s, he was as good as much of the established talent of the time.

Judy Garland on the other hand wasn’t as impressive. I can’t entirely blame her though. Her singing voice was as beautiful as ever and she had the girl-next-door appeal that made her such a beloved star. And it’s 1939. It’s the same year as The Wizard of Oz. She’s at the peak of her career. But, it was also terribly clear the entire film that she was stoned out of her gourd. The studio was feeding both her and Mickey Rooney amphetamines and barbiturates like candy to keep them going during their endless film production schedule, and it seems like Rooney got all of the amphetamines and Garland got all of the barbiturates. She just seemed dazed and completely out of it for the entire film. Perhaps, I’m reading something into her performance that isn’t actually there, but that was simply the impression I got the entire time.

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The musical numbers fluctuated between lovely and utterly forgettable. “Good Morning, Good Morning” would be performed to greater effect by Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ in the Rain but it made a great premier as one of the opening numbers of Babes in Arms. One can’t blame Garland’s lovely contralto. Rodgers and Hammerstein numbers almost always seem cookie-cutter to me (yes, I know that’s heresy to classic musical fans. I’m not a fan of that pairing though). But, there was something wonderful in the choreography and the spectacle of a film that was being performed by an almost all-child cast (even if the two leads were actually adults playing much, much younger than their characters). The film often managed to achieve an epic feel that made the material transcend into the charming side of “camp” that captures something innocent and hopeful about the era it was made (at the tail-end of the Great Depression).

Which makes the terribly racist, overly long blackface number at the end so incredibly uncomfortable. I had to get my computer out and look at Facebook and Twitter as that number ran on and on and on. I didn’t think it was ever going to end. But, much like Swing Time, if you can get past that awful relic of our nation’s vaudeville past, the film is ultimately enjoyable. The racism is a huge mark against it, but much like Gone With the Wind or the Tom Sawyer, it’s something you have to get past in order to understand our nation’s past historic outputs. It’s not pretty but it’s there and we can’t pretend like it never happened. So, if you enjoy these old school musicals, I wouldn’t rank Babes in Arms among the all time greats, but if you’re looking for something to pass the time, Mickey Rooney’s star turn is enough to justify a viewing.

Final Score: B

I’ve got a page on this blog dedicated just to requests that people can make for movies/TV shows they want me to review. It doesn’t get used very often, and half of the requests have actually been made via my Facebook page instead of my actual blog. But because it happens so rarely, I do always make the effort to review the movies that have been requested (Cinema Paradiso, Moon, The Court Jester, Road to Rio, and The Place Promised In Our Early Days). For the last two months, one of the requested movies has been sitting in my living room in its Netflix envelope as I went an extended period without reviewing a single film from Netflix. Generally speaking, the quality of the films I’ve reviewed that others have told me to watch has been good (except for Road to Rio). However, the 1972 musical 1776 recounting the battle over America declaring its independence from Great Britain jumped back and forth over the line of being an unmitigated disaster or being simply unremarkable. It may have had its moments (that almost all seemed to involve Howard de Silva’s Ben Franklin), but I can’t recommend this film to even the most ardent history buffs.

In May of 1776, John Adams (William Daniels akaBoy Meets World’s Mr. Feeney aka the man whose voice will make me listen to everything he says like it’s the most important lesson in the world) is mourning the fact that no one in the Continental Congress will listen to his pleas to officially declare Independence from England. As Ben Franklin is fond of reminding him, he’s obnoxious and unliked, and generally no one gives a shit as to what he says. Honestly, any description of the plot of this film is going to devolve into me giving a history lesson that everybody else knows (f you paid any attention in school whatsoever). The entire Southern delegation is loyal to the crown because it’s more economically advantageous for them to remain friendly with England, and most of the middle states (especially Pennsylvania) don’t wish to rock the boat and commit treason (thereby opening themselves up to the very real risk of execution by the British if their revolution fails). When Franklin convinces Adams to let another delegate introduce the measure, the Continental Congress finally agrees to debate the measure and the film follows the blow-by-blow of 18th century legislative hearings with a never-ending stream of musical numbers.

Since the movie is a musical and it can’t go more than 15 minutes without a massive Stephen Sondheim-esque number (though without any of Sondheim’s inspiration), it’s only fair to judge the film heavily on the quality of its musical performances. Unfortunately, in that regard, it’s a total dud. Imagine all of the worst excess of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta without any of their wit, and you’ve got the never-ending songs from this film. I can’t remember a single melody from the songs nor the words to any song. They were all completely forgettable and outright boring. I don’t blame the performers. The movie’s cast was culled almost entirely from the original Broadway production and all of the tenors, baritones, and altos all sound great in that classical musical style, but the music and lyrics they’ve been given are terribly mediocre at best and simply terrible at worst. However, there was one moment during one of the film’s musical numbers where I began to laugh uncontrollably so there was one bright spot. John Adams, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard), and others are singing about who should write the Declaration of Independence and at one point there’s a chorus of Ben Franklin (and two other historical figures) singing the phrase “sexual combustibility” referring to how Jefferson hadn’t been intimate with his wife in six months. That was pretty great.

Not only were the musical numbers almost all unbearable, they would kill the momentum of the historical and political drama on display. I’m a history buff, and while I’ve seen plenty of the scenes in this film played out in documentaries or in text books, there were honestly moments when I found myself engrossed in the intellectual and philosophical debates that our heroes were engaged in. The film captured just how tedious and absurd the ratification process for the Declaration was (which ultimately hurt the film’s pacing on occasion), and for people who enjoy history, those moments were intriguing. But, when people are having an honest ethical debate about whether we as a nation could afford to compromise on the issue of slavery in order to pass the Declaration of Independence only to burst out into a song, it ruins the whole moment. The film runs for nearly three hours, and there was honestly at least 45 minutes of material that could have been cut out of the film that would have resulted in it being a much more enjoyable experience. Rather it became a test of wills to see how many dull songs you could sit through and how many filler scenes of flat comedy you could endure before you got a intriguing moment about the birth of our nation.

The film’s redeeming qualities (its ability to poke fun at the fallibility of our founders even when they’re presented in a heroic light [i.e. Franklin’s womanizing], its display of the philosophical debates that framed our founding, great performances from William Daniels, Howard de Silva, and Ken Howard) could not even come close to redeeming its mountain of problems. I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to do a lavish Broadway revue of the Founding (and maybe in better hands, it could have been done well), but under Peter Stone’s source material (which somehow managed to win a Pulitzer Prize as a play), 1776 can only be recommended to the most die-hard musical fans simply because of its status as a classic of the American canon. Everyone else should stick to their text books.

Final Score: C

I have not made it much of a secret on this blog or in my personal life generally that I am not a man of faith. I would consider myself to be a “teapot agnostic”, so named for a thought experiment conducted by Bertrand Russell as  counter-argument to the “You can’t disprove God” rationalization for religious faith. Russell’s teapot refers to a hypothetical teapot that may or may not be in orbit around the earth. I can’t disprove that the teapot is there, but that doesn’t make it any more likely that it does exist. That being said, I have a moderate amount of respect for the power to commit good that religion can inspire. However, I also have an extreme cynicism towards organized faith brought on by all of the violence and tragedy that has been committed in its name over man kind’s history. Centered heavily in the sort of religious faith and love that can do good in our communities, 1944’s Going My Way, winner of many Academy Awards including Best Picture and Director, takes a positive look at Christian love than even a jaded cynic like myself can respect, but that doesn’t save the movie from being an incredibly boring and slow two-hour slog through the worst aspects of older cinema.

A comedy/musical/drama hybrid, Going My Way stars Bing Crosby (Best Actor, 1944) as Father Charles O’Malley, a Catholic priest sent to a financially strapped parish on the verge of being repossessed by the bank. His predecessor, Father Fitzgibbons (Barry Fittzgerald, Best Supporting Actor 1944) is a cantankerous old traditional priest who is blind to the needs and realities of his failing church. Father O’Malley is from a more progressive and liberal theological school, and it’s up to him to get the community interested in the church again and to help raise the money that will keep it from being shut down. Father O’Malley’s special gift is his angelic voice and song-writing skills, and before Father Fitzgibbons even knows it, Father O’Malley has formed a choir of the local boys who were nothing but hoodlums before he arrived, and it isn’t long before he’s attracting the attention of a famous singer at the Metropolitan Opera.

Say what you will about his alleged past of severe child abuse (which is indescribably tragic), Bing Crosby is a heck of a performer. All of the music of the film occurs diegetically, i.e. within the context of the scenes, and hearing Bing Crosby croon out old standards (including an original song for the film which won an Oscar) is a delight. He also has a fairly dry sense of humor. He isn’t a spectacular dramatic actor but he doesn’t disappoint in this role. Barry Fitzgerald was the real scene-stealer as the curmudgeonly older priest. I honestly believed that he spent half of the movie not knowing where he was in some addled senility. Fitzgerald easily nailed the self-righteous and stuck-in-his ways aspects of any older clergyman, but he also showed a sensitive and kind side that explained much of his oblivious naivete. I wish I could say anything positive about the large host of child actor’s but I really, really can’t. The red-headed kid that was the head of the choir gives the boy from Shane a run for his money in the bad child-acting department.

As much as I enjoyed the performances, the story itself wasn’t enough to keep me engaged with the film. Running at a lengthy 2 hours and 10 minutes, there wasn’t enough substantive plotting to keep me engaged or some other stylistic or character heavy aspect to make up for deficient storytelling. As much as I liked Father O’Malley, I knew very little about him or why he was so progressive compared to his peers. Father Fitzgibbons felt fare more fleshed out, but he too seemed disappointingly ill-defined. Also, the story itself just never amounts to much more than some slight conflicts at first between Fitzgibbons and O’Malley and then O’Malley’s plot to raise money for the church. None of that was particularly insightful or exciting. Films can get away with being boring if they’re smart or intimately detailed or have something important to say. Going My Way is none of those things, except perhaps panderingly heart-warming (though I admit I did shed a tear the film’s end).

Maybe I’m too cold-hearted and cynical to enjoy this supposedly inspiring film, but my problems with it are more associated with simply how boring and stale the story of the film is. For fans of classic movies, this film has garnered quite a reputation for itself, so you need to watch it, if only for Crosby and Fitzgerald’s performances. I’ve made this observation on this blog before, but it bears repeating. I am simply incapable of enjoying dramatic films before the 1950’s. While Netflix categorized this as a comedy, it definitely had dramatic elements and they were far too moralistic and idealistic for me. If you’re of a religious orientation, you’ll most likely adore the over-all message of true Christian love and tolerance that this film displays, and that (along with the performances) is virtually all this film had going for me. It officially gets the worst score I’ve given a film that won Best Picture at the Oscars.

Final Score: C+

 A couple of years ago, one of my friends went to New York City with our dorm as part of a trip. Like me, she’s a big theater buff, and so she, along with out Resident Faculty Leaders (we were both RA’s), went to go see the Broadway production of Gypsy. The way she talked about, it seemed like she really enjoyed it. When I saw that the 1962 film adaptation starring Natalie Wood, Rosalind Russell, and Karl Malden was coming up next on my Netflix queue, I got sort of excited. Well, my excitement was for naught. While parts of the film were good, particularly Rosalind Russell as the stage mother, the film turned out to be an over-long melodramatic affair with musical numbers that mostly left me wanting.

Gypsy is the autobiographical and musical tale of Louise (Natalie Wood), her sister June, and their stage mother Rose (Rosalind Russell). Louise grows up to be the most famous burlesque act of all time, Gypsy Rose Lee, but when she’s younger, she lives in the shadow of her sister June who her mother ships all across the country performing in various vaudeville shows. Rose is the archetypal stage mother that pushes career and stardom ahead of her daughter’s happiness. Karl Malden is also in the cast as Herbie, a traveling salesman/booking agent that enter’s Rose’s life and tries to help the girls find venues in which to perform.

Rosalind Russell is just spectacular in this movie. Every second she was on screen, the film was actually great. She played her with so much campiness and ham that it should have been ridiculously over the top but she made it work. She may be one of the worst mothers of all time, but I still kind of felt terrible for her at times. Karl Malden is one of cinema’s great character actors and he nails his role as well, but that’s what I expect from him. The only other Natalie Wood movies I’ve seen besides this are The Searchers and Rebel Without a Cause, and I thought she did a better job in both of those films. She’s not a great singer, and it really comes through in her performance.

This was a Stephen Sondheim musical, and the music was just of an infinitely inferior quality than the other Sondheim that I’ve seen, Sweeney Todd. There was only one really memorable number in the whole film, “Rose’s Turn”, and Chris Colfer did a better job with it on Glee than the movie did. He actually sang another song from the film and did a better job than Gypsy did with it as well. The only good thing I can say about the film’s arrangements was that it got post-modern at times by having so much of the film take place on a theatre stage since it was an adaptation of a stage musical and therefore it recaptured that aspect of the true experience of Gypsy.

I can recommend this to hardcore musical enthusiasts but that’s about it. At two and half hours long, it’s just far too much for anyone else to bear since the pacing is terribly slow. Honestly, the film has ruined any desire I have to see the stage version, although I should know that film adaptations often fail to capture the spirit and fun of musicals. The terrible Phantom of the Opera film by Joel Schumacher taught me that. I saw that live and it’s one of my all time favorite stage shows. Hopefully, my next film is more entertaining than this one.

 Final Score: B-

Why, God, why? My very first Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movie, 1936’s Swing Time, was turning out to be not just a good but a great classic movie musical/comedy. But then, a cultural byproduct of our nation’s racist past reared its ugly head and nearly ruined the entire picture for me. The sight of Fred Astaire dancing around the stage in blackface like he’s Al Jolson was so offensive and it made me so uncomfortable that I almost turned the film off. Thankfully, it was an incredibly small portion of an otherwise fantastic film, but it was an unfortunate reminder of a part of our past that we have fortunately moved on from.

 Swing Time is about a gambler named Lucky Garner (Fred Astaire) who is tricked by members of the dancing troupe he travels with into missing his wedding. He makes a deal with the girl’s father to raise $25,000 in New York City in exchange for giving Lucky one more chance to marry his daughter. Lucky sets out to New York City with his dim-witted father (Victor Moore) to make his fortune. However, his plans are side-tracked when he bumps into Penny Carroll (Ginger Rogers), a dancing instructor that quickly steals his heart. Now, Lucky has to find a way to never make his $25,000 so that he can stay with Carol and quickly become one of the biggest dance numbers in New York City.

 The film is a musical, but the songs in it weren’t actually all that memorable. It won an Oscar for Best Song, but I honestly could have cared less about most of the music in the film. However, the dancing was just phenomenal. When Ginger and Fred step on to the dance floor, it’s just a sight to behold. Their ability to dance and entertain is without peers. I can’t remember the last time I saw a couple dancing that made we want to leave my house immediately and sign up for dance lessons this much since the last Cirque Du Soleil show that I saw.

 Besides from their dancing, Ginger and Fred also made a fantastic comedic pair. Ginger Rogers was great as a feisty, strong female lead, and Fred Astaire was incredibly charming. I definitely know why their one of movie history’s most beloved and enduring pairs. They had a natural romantic chemistry on screen that I’ve only ever seen between Bogie and Bacall as well as Woody Allan and Diane Keaton. I was genuinely invested in their romance on screen. The movie also had me laughing out loud at several moments. Victor Moore was just hilarious as Lucky’s idiotic father . Dramas this old may hold very little favor for me, but most of the classic comedies I’ve reviewed for this blog have aged fairly well, and this movie is no exception.

If you like old musicals and old comedies, I can recommend this without hesitation. I really wish the scene with Fred Astaire in blackface did not exist, but I have to remember that this film is very much a product of the era that it was made, and although I find the scene incredibly offensive now, it probably wasn’t that offensive back then. I’m glad this was the first Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movie that I’ve seen though because now I want to see even more of their films. Their dancing is electric and their chemistry is superb. I can’t wait to see more.

 Final Score: B+

 As far back as I can remember, musicals have played a pretty special place in my heart. There’s something about the theatricality and glamour of musicals like Grease, My Fair Lady, and Chicago that just holds me absolutely enthralled. I don’t love all musicals. There are some I just can’t suspend my disbelief for, like West Side Story (shocking, I know) and some just aren’t very good to begin with, 2009’s Nine. Well, I just watched a musical that, before this blog, I had never heard of called The Girl Can’t Help It, starring the voluptuous Jayne Mansfield, and while it was far from great or one of the best musicals that I’ve ever seen, it was still really quite good, and to all fans of 1950’s rock and roll and classic movie musicals, it comes highly recommended.

The Girl Can’t Help It is the story of a washed-up, alcoholic talent agent named Tom Miller (Tom Ewell). Tom is hired by a gangster to turn his beautiful, but talentless girlfriend Jerri (Jayne Mansfield) into a star. Romance brews between Tom and Jerri, and Tom must find a way to make her a big hit despite the fact that she’s literally tone deaf. Mixed between the plot of the film are musical numbers performed by some of the biggest names in 1950’s rock and roll like Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino, and the Platters. Actually, if this film hadn’t came out in the 1950’s, I would have said its approach to being a musical was incredibly post-modern since no one ever randomly breaks out into song. All of the musical performances are actually occurring naturally within the scene, usually as someone performing at a night club or bar. There’s one fantasy musical number but it is explicitly stated as being so.

I’ll keep this review short since lately all of my TV reviews have dragged on and on. I loved the sound track for this movie. It is a really good mix of white rock and roll artists with black R & B artists and some black rock artists like Little Richard. It was a legitimately funny movie and if you enjoy the more innocent times of older films, this one is probably right up your alley. Jayne Mansfield couldn’t act her way out of a wet paper bag, but I’ll be damned if she isn’t one of the most gorgeous women that I’ve ever seen. She’s a knock out. The movie wasn’t great, but it was still really good, and I can see myself watching it again at some point the future. I’m definitely trying to find its soundtrack.

Final Score: B