Cover Girl (1944)

I learned about Cover Girl from 4 Star Film Fan, here you can always discover wonderful film classics. Starring Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly an, Eve Arden and Phil Silver, Cover Girl shows Hayworth as Rusty Parker, a captivating beauty and talented dancer who performs in her boyfriend, Danny McGuire’s Brooklyn club. Silver is a comic and the pair’s buddy. Rusty is down to earth but when she hears about a magazine contest she becomes curious about the big time.

Mix ups and show tunes ensue. Danny hopes Rusty will stay in Brooklyn. Briefly he stands in her way, but soon figures Rusty doesn’t really love him if she’s so impressed by the Manhattan set. Of course, Rusty wins the contest. It turns out that the sponsoring magazine is run by a man who fell in love with Rusty’s grandma, who turned him down, married an ordinary piano player and led a happy life.

The emotions were convincing. You hope that Danny will declare his love and that Rusty doesn’t settle for the high life rather than try love. I enjoyed the joking and friendly traditions Hayworth, Silver and Kelly’s characters share. Some numbers ran a little long, but the dancing was solid. I particularly enjoyed Kelly in a scene with his conscience who tries to advise him. You just don’t see such scenes carried off well nowadays.

Cover Girl’s a fun film well worth your time.

The Greatest Showman

Not one to rush out to the theaters to spend $10 to see a new film, I just watched The Greatest Showman on DVD. In short, it’s a fairly entertaining film, that I’m glad I saw for free.

The story of famed showman/huckster, P.T. Barnum, this musical is a fictionalized biography. The film’s got pizzazz and color. I enjoyed the dancing and songs, though the day after viewing, I can’t remember any lyrics. Thus as a musical something’s missing. With a great musical, you can remember several songs. Think West Side Story, Oklahoma, Les Mis. I can sort of hum one of the songs. But I’m not sure I could hum much.

P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) grew up poor and was friends with a little rich girl, whom he eventually married in spite of her father’s protests. The mother’s never seen for some reason. The story segues to Barnum toiling in your typical, dark, dreary 19th century office. His spirit is wilting. Then the company folds and Barnum decides to enter show biz. Before you know it he realizes there’s money to be made by producing freak shows that allow the public to see a bearded lady, a giant, Tom Thumb, a little person, a man with a skin condition, etc. After some creative marketing, people are flocking to Barnum’s show and the cash is flowing in.

The film portrays Barnum’s efforts as inclusive. He did hire these people and before working for him they were outcasts. The film does show that Barnum yearned to be accepted by the elites and once he succeeds by using a concert he produces with famed singers Jenny Lind, he shuts the door on his cast, who don’t look polished and elegant. According to History vs. Hollywood, Barnum’s attitude towards diversity and the disabled wasn’t so cut and dried. Clearly, the film paints Barnum as a flawed champion of outcasts. He did hire these people and gave them a means to support themselves and to form community and friendships. I’m not sure how well they were paid. Yet in the film, these characters weren’t well developed. We see no scenes that show Barnum as cultivated a friendship or deep understanding of any of his performers. This aspect and the lack of memorable songs, are the film’s weakness for me. The story’s quite cliched, though it’s well paced and colorful. I wished for more.

Lucky Me

As Doris Day just passed away at the age of 97, I figured watching some of her films would be a good memorial. My library displayed their DVDs with Day and I chose Lucky Day at random.

In Lucky Me, Day plays Candy Williams an aspiring singer and dancer who’s very superstitious and won’t walk by a black cat or step on a crack. Any superstition you’ve heard of in America, she won’t test. Williams is part of a struggling troupe of performers led by Phil Silvers, who’s perfect for his part. Candy gets duped by a well-meaning composer and romantic comedy ensues.

Though Lucky Me isn’t Day’s finest film and there are no great classic songs I recognized, the film entertains. It’s a cheerful story which showcases Day’s optimistic style. It’s sure to make you smile. The supporting cast includes Nancy Walker, who I remember from the sitcom Rhoda. Walker’s dancing skill was a nice surprise and Silver was a wonderful father figure in this tale of old showbiz.

West Side Story

I like to be in America
Okay by me in America
Everything free in America

Lyrics from eLyrics.net

Sunday, after going to the Lyric Opera’s West Side Story, I woke up with the above tune playing in my head. Throughout the day, “Maria,” “There’s a Place for Us,” “I Feel Pretty,” and “Tonight” played in my head. Boy, is this show packed with great songs. With a full orchestra the music is all the more powerful.

The most beautiful sound I ever heard
(Maria, Maria, Maria)
All the beautiful sounds of the world in a single word
(Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria
Maria, Maria)
Maria!

Read more: Westside Story – Maria Lyrics | MetroLyrics

The Lyric’s production is four star. With great singing, stellar dancing, and marvelous expansive sets, this Romeo & Juliet tale is not to be missed. Often revivals decide to “update” a story, thus ruining a show with tinkering. The Lyric trusts the original to entertain and they’re right to do so.

There’s a place for us
Somewhere a place for us
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us
Somewhere
copyright http://elyrics.net

It was a joy to watch this tragic tale of 20th century star-crossed lovers. Funny, how one can watch a show with failed love and even murder and leave the theater uplifted, but while the story does succeed in making one consider injustice and division, West Side Story, like Romeo and Juliet, succeeds in warming the heart and making the audience think. Go figure.

Guys and Dolls

Last weekend I got to see Northwestern University’s production of Guys & Dolls. Though I knew the name and some of the big numbers like “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” and “A Bushel ‘n’ a Peck,” I hadn’t seen the show and wasn’t clear on the storyline. First performed in 1950, Guys & Dolls is set in New York City and follows a bunch of gamblers who cross paths with some Salvation Army types. Gangster Nathan Detroit, who’s been engaged to his sweetheart Adelaide for 14 years, needs to find a site for his floating crap game, but as the cops are on to him, he’s got no takers. The Biltmore Garage is possible, but the manager wants a hefty deposit for his troubles.

Nathan is sure he can convince gambler Sky Masterson to bet that Sky can take Save-A-Soul Sergeant Sarah Brown to Cuba. That’s a sure thing as A) Sky will bet on anything and B) Sarah is far to holy to agree to a date.

What follows is a lot of toe-tapping music, unlikely romance, and the antics of small time criminals.

The Northwestern performers all had great voice and sure steps. When I saw all the steep steps on the stage, I was amazed that no one took a tumble. How the girls in their heels managed, I’ll never know. Certainly they have more grace than I do.

The casting was excellent, with one exception. I applaud them for color blind casting and having the two lead women be African American. The numbers where some men were cast as chorus girls was funny. The one thing that I found a distraction was that Sky Masterson was played by a woman. It wasn’t that they made Sky and Sarah a same sex couple, It was that they expected the audience to buy into a very feminine woman with classic long blonde hair and feminine make up, to be considered a 1940s man. My friend and I both had trouble buying that choice. I’d have done some color blind casting for Sky.

The play is a lot of fun, but hasn’t aged all that well. It’s clear that for the women, their life goal is to be a stay at home wife. Though Adelaide works as a showgirl and Sarah is a missionary, their goal is to marry and stop working. Also, it’s clear that the norm for women is to find a man and then go to work changing him for the benefit of society. Now we realize that it’s better to find someone whose character you like as is since changing someone is a difficult if not impossible job.

Nonetheless, I recommend if you’re anywhere near Evanston, IL from now till March 3, check out Guys & Dolls.

White Christmas

There’s something about old musicals that’s so uplifting. I’ve seen White Christmas a few times, the best viewing was on Saturday at Chicago’s Music Box Theater with all the surrounding fanfare: Santa, jingle bells, carolers and organist.

The film probably wouldn’t be made today. The script would be rejected. It’s not a dark or edgy film. There’s no desperation. No here characters are perfect, but they all have spunk and hope, which is why by the end of the film, I left the theater filled with cheer.

It’s the story of two nightclub singers played by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. They served in WWII together when Kaye saved Crosby’s life. Thus no matter how annoying, Crosby can’t shake the whimsical Kaye, who’s forever getting sensible Wallace into complicated, embarrassing situations.

The pair meet a pair of sisters, played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen who’re trying to scale the ladder into showbiz. They’re talented, but are just starting out. The younger sister schemes to get the famous Wallace and Davis (Crosby and Kaye’s characters). Both Crosby and Kaye are enamored with a sister, but you know romance will not be easy.

The crux of the story revolves around the plight of Wallace and Davis’ old general, who owns a failing Vermont Inn. The general feels like a failure and misses his army camaraderie and success. No one’s coming to the inn because there’s no snow for skiing. Soon Wallace and Davis get the sisters to help them change the general’s fate.

The characters all had a lot of elegance and style. The costumes were bright and well tailored. They spoke with rhythm and intelligence. There’s no offensive language or swearing. I think all of these things contribute to how good the film makes people feel.

The film has great music and dancing. The jokes, often corny, made me laugh.

Try to find time for White Christmas this holiday. Introduce a younger relative to this cheerful film. Pray Hollywood finds a way to make more films like White Christmas. Not all films need to be cheery, but how about a few new ones that are?

La La Land

What was all the fuss about La La Land? Since it got so many awards and nominations, I was quite excited to see it. After doing so, while I grant you it was fresh to see an update of a golden age musical, I wasn’t wowed.

La La Land stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who’re okay, but not favorites of mine. They seem to lack that star quality that Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers and the like all had. It’s the story of two young starry-eyed dreamers who go to L.A. to fulfill their dreams. He wants to open a jazz club and save jazz as a genre and she wants to be an actress.

I’ve lived in L.A. and went to pursue my writing dreams. It was an interesting period, more so than the movie and less clichéd. Here we see a sanitized version of two one dimensional characters struggling to “get in.” He’s an arrogant loner and she’s a single girl looking for love and acceptance. I wasn’t particularly interested in whether they stayed together or not. I was surprised that Gosling’s character was such a churl. He’s rude to her. She’s rude back and after awhile they’re in bed, when they both should have kept looking for a better partner (or in his case done some self-examination and improved his attitude and personality and then found someone).

The commercials made me expect Gosling’s character to be a kinder person. I was surprised by how self-absorbed he was. He certainly wasn’t someone it would be fun to spend time with.

The dancing and singing were fine, but neither performer is as skilled at the old greats or as those on Glee. I’d have casted people from Broadway, included a few catchier songs and created characters that were more engaging and unique. Giving both of them good friends would have allowed the story to show why we should care about these characters.

The lyrics of the one song that I remember elude me, but the melody does pop into my head now and again. MGM would have given me songs I want to hear again and again. Song’s that were memorable like “Oklahoma!,”  “I Could have Danced All Night,” “In America,” or “Gotta Dance.”

The ending wasn’t as sad as I think the creators intended.

Frozen

Frozen

I’m sorry for this pun, but I just need to say, “I was tepid about Frozen.” I started watching a few weeks back and that I can let a film languish is a sign that it isn’t a winner for me. I did like the art, the infusion of Scandinavian design and incredible icy landscapes, but the story didn’t grab me. It’s the story of Ilsa, a princess who for an inexplicable reason is cursed so that everything she touches turns to ice. Her parents are at their wits’ end, but can’t find a solution. For my money, I’d expect a king and queen to do more, lots more for their heir. Instead this woman is locked up and her younger sister is in the dark as to why her sister, with whom she was so close avoids her.

When Ilsa is coronated she inadvertently brings winter to the realm in the midst of summer. Ilsa flees to self-imposed exile and her sister pursues her. Her sister soon meets a dashing young ice seller, his reindeer and a live snowman. They’re all very endearing and clearly we’re in for some nice songs, a lesson on love, sisterly and romantic.

As I watched I was all too aware that soon Disney will put this up on Broadway or an Ice Pavilion near you. It seemed too predictable and commercial. Though I thought it could be much better, kids would like it.

An American in Paris

Milo and Jerry

Milo and Jerry

I thoroughly enjoyed Gene Kelly and company in An American in Paris. I’d never seen it before and loved the dancing and singing. It’s the story of Jerry, a surprisingly urbane U.S. G.I. who stays in Paris after WWII to try to become a painter. As the film opens Jerry’s a starving artist, who meets a rich woman, Milo who wants to be his patron. Despite being a bit leery of her, Jerry goes along with Milo who treats him like a pet project. Jerry wants to retain his independence, but he also wants to further his career. We do like him because he can sing, dance and smile. At a restaurant he spots a young French girl and becomes immediately smitten. He arranges to meet Lise, the French girl, who’s engaged to marry an acquaintance of Jerry’s. She hides this fact, as Jerry hides his interest in Lise from Milo his patroness.

An American in Paris 2

Oscar Levant plays Jerry’s wise cracking friend and really adds to the film. The Gershwin songs like “Our Love is Here to Stay,” “I Got Rhythm,” and “S’Wonderful” make the movie. The story itself is predictable and rather fluffy. The audience isn’t supposed to think too much about that Jerry’s either naive or manipulative to think he can take money from Milo and romance Lise with no blow ups. Likewise that Lise would juggle a fiance and Jerry is at odds with her being so innocent. Given the quality of the music and dancing, I overlooked the story and characters’ flaws.

I did think the end was odd. There’s a long dance sequence just when Lise’s fiance discovers she’s meeting Jerry behind his back. It wasn’t plausible that the problem would be resolved as we’re shown. Still MGM musicals have a way of eliciting audience’s forgiveness for such things.

Showboat

showboat1951_poster“Old Man River”, “Bill”, Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man“,  I’d heard the songs before, but hadn’t seen the movie. So it’s this week’s old movie. Set in the late 19th century, Showboat tells the story of Magnolia, a young girl, whose parents own a showboat, a river boat that goes up and down the Mississippi performing for people on the river banks. (It seems like a cool idea I’d like to see revived.) The stars of the show are Julie and her husband Steve. When a jealous, no good man discovers Julie doesn’t want anything to do with him, he tells the police Julie’s secret, that she’s half Black. Since interracial marriages were illegal, the police force Julie and Steve off the boat.

Since the show must go on, young Magnolia (Nolia) and Gaylord Ravenal, a talented, dashing singer are tapped to fill in. They’re a hit and fall instantly in love. Nolia’s parents are skeptical about Gaylord for their daughter. He certainly not stable, but Nolia ignores them and marries her true love. They leave the showboat and head to Chicago where Gaylord, who is a big gambler makes a fortune and soon loses it all. Ashamed and broke, Gaylord deserts Nolia leaving her with enough money to go back to her parents. He’s unaware that she’s pregnant. Julie also hits the skids and winds up drinking too much on a regular basis while getting by singing at a nightclub in Chicago. Steve has left her and she’s never gotten over it. When Nolia comes to the club to audition, Julie catches a glimpse of her and secretly acts to give her a break. While there’s plenty of coincidence, the songs and the emotion carry the show and make it satisfying.

SPOILER

I do think that the ending is one written for an earlier era. When Gaylord eventually returns after about 5 years’ absence, Magnolia immediately takes him back and the band strikes up a happy tune. Nowadays we’re more cautious. I tend to think more proof is needed before taking a gambling husband back. In the interim, Gaylord had continued to gamble. There’s no suggestion that he can sustain real change, which wouldn’t make Nolia or her daughter’s life much better.

Still that’s a minor flaw. All in all, Showboat’s wonderful songs still make it a good musical centered on interesting themes.