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Sure, it's pretty lightweight, but like any half decent road movie it
offers a more than pleasant ride. Johnny Prentice (Macmurray) tries to
keep his struggling Chicago-based swing band from breaking up by
convincing them they've got a shot at the legendary Cocoanut Grove in
LA. The movie is basically the saga of the band getting across the US
to make the Grove, in a trailer not unlike Lucy and Desi's (The Long,
Long Trailer). Harriet Hilliard (of The Nelsons fame) comes on board as
tutor for Johnny's adopted son, Half-pint, and naturally is soon
discovered to be a fine singer who could change the fortunes of the
band, especially when she unearths the hidden talents of band member
Hula Harry (Harry Owens, whose orchestra provided most of the music).
What lifts this from most B-musicals of this period is a great sense of camaraderie among the musicians on the road, some delightfully eccentric characters (Ben Blue and Eve Arden as the Dancing Dilemmas; Rufe Davis, with a dizzying array of animal noises and sound effects; the child Half-pint, a demon at the drum kit) and some highly improbable scenes, verging on the bizarre, that work for comic value. And some of the songs! Thec signature tune, Says My Heart, will stick in the mind for a long time, as will a couple of the numbers done by the Yacht Club Boys (the deliberately clumsy cruise ship opener, and the OTT Four of the Three Musketeers) not to mention the two Rufe Davis songs. In between, the Hawaiian-flavoured tunes of Harry Owens and his orchestra keep the vibe well and truly on the mellow side.
Cocoanut Grove is silly, and for a road movie is somewhat studio bound, but its principals all have charm and there's enough pace to make the 90 minutes fly by. A delight!
Here's another film in which Fred MacMurray demonstrates his smooth
He plays a bandleader who is trying to get from Chicago to Hollywood so he can audition for the Cocoanut Grove night club. The band is a disparate group of musicians as well as the Yacht Club Boys and Eve Arden and Ben Blue as a dance "speciality" act. MacMurray also has a kid (Billy Lee) who isn't his and a tutor (Harriet Nelson). With no money, they go on a road trip in a jalopy pulling a trailer. They also pick up a bizarre singer (Rufe Davis) because he has a tow truck.
MacMurray is excellent in this little film; he gets to be funny but also shows his tender side in scenes with the kid and with Nelson. He even gets to sing a serious song and play clarinet. Nelson sings "Love, Says My Heart." Arden and Blue do a comic apache dance and another number. The Yacht Club Boys sing the hilarious "We're Four of the Three Musketeers." Especially nice chemistry between Fred MacMurray and Harriet Nelson, who would (as well as Eve Arden) go on the be among the biggest TV stars of the 50s and 60s.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Fred MacMurray has great ambitions for his big band that puts on a
variety of specialty acts in addition to providing dance music. It is
his ambition to play at the famous Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador
Hotel in Los Angeles that has a national radio broadcast. He sets out
with the group (which includes his adopted son, Billy Lee) after
winning a trailer in an advertising contest. Like Lucy, Ricky and the
Mertzes heading from New York to L.A., the gang undergo some wacky
adventures, which includes the surprise demolition of the trailer and
the addition of a wacky untalented songwriter (Rufe Davis) who in a
strange way is actually quite amusing. But the audition proves to be
unsuccessful due to a mishap, leading to a finale where MacMurray must
suddenly gather the scattered band back together for the big finale.
This is a movie musical of mixed amusement with some rather forgettable songs and forced comedy that sometimes provides groans. Harriett Hilliard (later Nelson) joins in on the adventures as Lee's tutor who ironically is also a talented band singer. Eve Arden and the diminutive Ben Blue play a married couple who perform an apache dance where Arden is the one leading, Blue getting smashed around as if he were a dance dummy. The highlight are the musical numbers provided by the Yacht Club Boys, the rest of them simply interrupting what little plot exists.
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