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In the nightclub where entertainer Fannie Field sings, two rivals for her favors, Jerry Moore and Mac McCloskey, come to blows before either realizes the other is a boxer. Jerry loses the fight but wins Fannie, who becomes his trainer with the aid of her schlemiel brother. Aside from a slight tendency to lie down in the ring, Jerry is successful. But success brings the inevitable blonde; does this mean heartbreak for Fannie? Features the star's inimitable ethnic humor. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Fanny Brice is one of those old-time performers who remains well-known only indirectly, through an impersonator: nowadays, most people who think they're familiar with Fanny Brice's style as a performer are actually recalling Barbra Streisand in 'Funny Girl' and 'Funny Lady'. (A similar problem exists with George M. Cohan, whom most people know only through James Cagney.) Personally, I've never understood the appeal of Fanny Brice, and I suspect that most of the people who claim to be Brice fans are really thinking of Streisand's two movies, which do NOT depict Brice's life or her personality with any accuracy. If you want to see a movie which tells the true story of Fanny Brice's life, watch Alice Faye in 'Rose of Washington Square' ... a movie which is so accurate in its depiction of Brice's romance with Nick Arnstein, the characters' names had to be changed to prevent Brice from suing.
Fanny Brice made very few films; late in her career, she starred in a popular radio sitcom as Baby Snooks, a bratty little girl. When performing this role, Brice would actually dress up in costume as a small girl, thus creating the misperception (which I still encounter) that radio actors often dressed up as the characters they played, for the benefit of the studio audiences. Brice was the only radio actor who did this. (Although a few other radio actors occasionally wore costumes for publicity photos.)
'Be Yourself!' is a poor film, although the underrated director Thornton Freeland does his job well with weak material. Part of the problem is that this movie is almost but not quite a musical: Fanny sings a couple of numbers, but they're spaced very thinly through the movie, so the transitions are jarring. And the movie isn't really a comedy either; Fanny makes a few wisecracks, but this film is basically a character study (of the male lead, not Fanny Brice's role). Although Brice gets top billing, the plot of the movie is really about the washed-up boxer played by Robert Armstrong. The make-up man has equipped Armstrong with a severely flattened nose, which looks quite realistic and is appropriate for his character ... but it also looks very distressing. Every time Fanny Brice looked at Armstrong, I expected her to sing "Second-Hand Nose".
This movie suffers from the presence of Harry Green, an actor who portrayed Jewish stereotypes in much the same way that Stepin Fetchit played Negro stereotypes. Harry Green's "Yiddisher" schtick grew so annoying that he eventually became unemployable in Hollywood, and he landed up in England ... giving exaggerated portrayals of pushy American Jews for British audiences who had no frame of reference for these characterisations.
Some parts of 'Be Yourself!' are so weird, I can't even guess if they're intentionally strange or merely inept. When Robert Armstrong's Irish-American boxer first becomes attracted to Fanny Brice's character (named Fanny Field, but clearly meant to be Jewish), he moves in with her. A few minutes later, Fanny Brice is screeching her way through a ditty: "My baby wants bacon, so that's what I'm makin', and I'm cookin' breakfast for the one I love." Nobody connected with this movie, including Brice herself, seems to find any irony whatever in the idea of a Jewish woman cooking bacon (which she just happens to have handy). I can't even tell if the irony is intentional: maybe the lyricist just needed a rhyme for "makin'".
At one point in this movie, Armstrong calls Fanny Brice 'a funny girl', which in post-Streisand hindsight looks like a deeply significant line, but wasn't meant to be.
I'll rate "Be Yourself!" precisely one point out of 10. Fanny Brice really didn't have the right sort of talent for movies.
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