The Bride's Fair in a small Norwegian village is interrupted by the forced landing of Jimmy Hall and Duke Sargent, two Americans lost - really, really lost - while flying from New York to Paris. Jimmy is the manager of Duke, a publicity-seeking band leader. An old superstition points to Duke as the appointed husband-to-be (not likely) of Trudy Ericksen, daughter of villager Herr Ericksen. Duke, however, has an understanding with Flo Kelly back in the states, and leaves for Paris. Trudy follows him to New York, only to find he has left for Florida with Flo. Jimmy takes Trudy skating in Central Park, falls in love with her and is so impressed that he gets her a contract to skate professionally. Duke hears of her success and flies back and begins a series of romantic entanglements. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
HAPPY LANDING (20th Century-Fox, 1938), directed by Roy Del Ruth, is an agreeable musical with an impressive cast headed by Olympic ice skating champion, Sonja Henie, in her third and longest (103 minutes) film in her career. It reunites her with ONE IN A MILLION (1936) co-stars, Don Ameche and Jean Hersholt, as well as pairing her for the first time opposite Cesar Romero. Romero, an icon of 20th-Fox, appears more on the level as Henie's co-star than Ameche, at least until later on where the actors team up equally as rivals of her affection.
Plot summary: Benjamin Sargent (Cesar Romero), better known as "Duke," is scheduled to pilot his plane from New York to Paris, accompanied by Jimmy Hall (Don Ameche), his manager and best friend. A band-leader and songwriter by profession, Duke carries on a romance with Flo Kelly (Ethel Merman), a gold digging vocalist whose suspicious nature has her capturing his every word on a phonograph record for blackmail purposes. After Duke and Jimmy fly over the Atlantic, their plane makes a forced landing in Nordenscnolde, a Norwegian village where they meet up with an ice skater named Trudy Erickson (Sonja Henie). Being the only one of four daughters to not be married, Herr Erickson (Jean Hersholt) expects Trudy to marry Olaf (Louis Aldon, Jr.), a man she doesn't love. Trudy becomes immediately charmed with the arrival of a tall, dark handsome stranger in the manner of Duke, as told to her by a gypsy fortune teller (Marcelle Corday). When Jimmy learns of Trudy's interested in Duke as her future husband, especially after dancing with her twice, he takes Duke back to his airplane where they fly out to their destination in Paris. Trudy, on the other hand, comes to New York after Duke's return, only to learn through Jimmy that he's nothing but a cad. With no other place to go, Trudy, with Jimmy's help, turns her into an ice skating attraction at Madison Square Garden. By the time she's beginning to show interest in Jimmy, Duke comes back into her life only to complicate matters.
HAPPY LANDING plays like a travelogue with surroundings from New York to Norway to Paris to Florida (Miami) and finally New York again. During this venture, the bright but forgettable score by Jack Yellen and Samuel Pokrass consist of: "You Are the Words to the Music in My Heart" (a slow song cut from final print, existing only with Ethel Merman's rendition through its brief conclusion); "Skating Number" (performed by Sonja Henie); "A Gypsy Told Me" (sung by Leah Ray); "Hot and Happy" (sung by Ethel Merman); "The War Dance of the Wooden Indian" (by Raymond Scott, tap dance performance by The Condos Brothers); "Yonny and the Oompah" (by Walter Bullock and Harold Spina/sung by El Brendel/skated by Henie); Skating Montage: "One in a Million," "We're Back in Circulation Again," "My Secret Love Affair" and Johann Strauss's "Tales of the Vienna Woods"; "A Gypsy Told Me" (sung by Don Ameche); "You Appeal to Me" (sung by Ethel Merman); Skating sequence: "You Appeal to Me," "A Gypsy Told Me" and "Hot and Happy" (all performed by Henie); and "Hot and Happy" (finale). Having two female vocalists in the cast, Leah Ray, who gives "A Gypsy Told Me" a nice rendition, Merman, best suited for belting out great Irving Berlin tunes, fails to make these new songs live up to such hits as "Blue Skies" or "Heat Wave." "You Appeal to Me" does have clever lyrics with dated references to Al Jolson, Greta Garbo, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Edgar Bergen, but in spite of her delivery, song overall works out better as an instrumental ice skating number than a Merman solo.
Tunes aside, plot makes way for comedy bits by character types as Wally Vernon (who can easily be confused with Sid Silvers) as Al Mahoney, the third member of Duke's troupe who at one point performs a striptease to entertain reporters (one of them being Lon Chaney Jr.) while awaiting for an interview at the airport; Billy Gilbert playing the counterman in his amusing bit of confusion with "Pot roast vs. hamburger supreme" routine with Ameche; and finally El Brendel appearing briefly as a Central Park music conductor.
There's no question of HAPPY LANDING's overall success, through today seen as hampered by slow pacing in spots and overlong specialty acts. Highlights rank those being the well staged ice skating numbers along with Heinie's personality more than her acting ability. Technicolor would have been a big asset for this production. Distributed on home video in the 1990s about the same time American Movie Classics used to show it, HAPPY LANDING (not to be confused with the Don Ameche 1943 drama, HAPPY LAND), turns up occasionally on the "hot and happy" Fox Movie Channel. (*** cheap skates)
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