When song-and-dance man Harry Van returns from World War I, he finds work hard to come by. His greatest success comes as straight man in a phony vaudeville mind-reading act with the tipsy Madame Zulieka. While on tour in Omaha he meets acrobat Irene Fellara, and they have a brief romance. Twenty years later while Harry is on tour in Europe with a troupe of leggy blonde dancers, his train is stopped at the Swiss border and he finds himself stranded in the Alps in anticipation of World War II hostilities. Harry and his chorines take refuge in an Alpine hotel with a group of disparate travelers who are also marooned there. Among them are an American pacifist, British newlyweds, a cancer researcher, a German munitions manufacturer, and a beautiful blonde expatriate Russian aristocrat who looks suspiciously like the Irene of two decades earlier. Written by
Idiot's Delight (1939) served as the basis of the stage musical "Dance a Little Closer" (book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Charles Strouse). Directed by Lerner and starring Len Cariou and Liz Robertson, it opened in New York on May 11, 1983, closing the same night. See more »
During the air battle in the ending shot for the international market the background film is clearly looped since the same twin-tailed airplane (similar to an American P-38) flies past the window 8 times. See more »
The actresses who play "Les Blondes" are not credited individually; they are given the credit "Harry Van's 'Les Blondes'......Themselves", similar to the manner in which the "Munchkins" were credited in "The Wizard of Oz", another film released that year by M-G-M. See more »
The play was stagy and stilted to begin with; on screen it was all so much worse. There is virtually no directing, and of the principals, only Gable has a clue what he's doing. Poor Norma Shearer starts out fine as the ingenue, but with no notion of how to play the fake countess, she hams her way desperately through the rest of the picture like a high school thespian. It's embarrassing to watch. Just when you think nothing could be worse, Burgess Meredith bursts in like a misplaced character from another set, jumping around and shouting at the top of his lungs -- a hammy stage actor who seems not even to have been told there are microphones. The voice in your head keeps screaming "Cut! Cut! Cut!" for the missing director, who's evidently out to lunch.
That said, there ARE real merits in this movie. Gable is disarmingly charming as Harry Van. The play itself is an interesting period piece with a warning about fascism BEFORE we knew the worst. And then, there IS a kind of weird, whacky fascination in watching Norma Shearer taken over by that BIG platinum wig, which is almost a character in the play by itself.
Finally, there are two outstandingly memorable moments which for me make this movie well worth watching. Gable's witty, winking, sexy, song-and-dance version of "Puttin' on the Ritz" is something not to be forgotten -- AND, the man CAN sing and dance! The other sheer delight is watching the !GREAT! Laura Hope Crews in her brief but masterful portrayal of the tipsy Madame Zuleika, whose cheesy vaudeville mind reading act gets more hysterical with every furtive sip from her hip flask. I screamed with laughter, and you will, too. Laura Hope Crews should be declared a national treasure.
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