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I felt it my patriotic duty to write a comment, since this movie was commentless. So... A little background: I'm a big fan of Cole Porter, Ann Sothern, musicals, and 40's movies, and had been wanting to see this film for a while before I actually saw it this afternoon. Coming into it, though, I had my qualms. I saw another 30's Cole Porter musical turned into 40's movie, Dubarry Was a Lady. It was so horrible that I almost cried. Most of Porter's original songs had been scrapped for non-Porter crap songs. Lucille Ball's voice was dubbed. Red Skelton was an idiot. But... this is not a forum for how horrible Dubarry Was a Lady was. So, I entered with trepidation the world of Panama Hattie to realise that the script was quite witty, full of sight gags, yes, but tasteful sight gags, the non-Porter songs were not crap, Ann Sothern is a competent vocalist(Nothing compared to Merman, who originated the part, but really, who is anything compared to Merman?), and Lena Horne's in it. Any movie with two Lena Horne numbers is worth watching simply for Lena Horne. But, I suggest watching this movie for more than just Lena Horne. While she is the best songstress of the bunch, Virginia O'Brian is rather fun to watch with her deadpan singing. She was quite famous for that, as I vaguely recall watching a short of her doing a lavish production number with Jimmy Durante or someone similar. I found Red Skelton, whom I so loathed in Dubarry Was a Lady, to be extremely likeable, along with his sailor buddies. Rags Ragland was the funniest of the three, but I came away wanting to marry Ben Blue. Dan Dailey was also fun to see, but I thought it was very odd that he didn't get a musical number. Anyway, the plot is slim to none, but the movie really wasn't about plot, it was about fun and peddling war bonds.
Even though Ethyl Merman originated the role on Broadway, she was not
considered attractive enough to carry the starring top billing. I am a
real fan of Cole Porter and will watch anything he is involved with.
Unfortunately, a lot of his work is either not included in movies that
tout "music by Cole Porter", or is thrown out because it may not be
mainstream for the audience of the day. Good example is "Anything
This is a movie you watch for the musical performance and dancing, not the story. Dan Daily's role could have been played by anyone.
I pull out the DVD about twice a year and again visit Cole Porter and this innocent musical.
Lena Horne is outstanding.
Highly mediocre musical is a botched filmization of Ethel Merman's Broadway smash. In this one, the marvelous Ann Sothern at the peak of her pin-up girl beauty almost saves the film with another delightful performance. Glossy MGM production values and a game cast including Dan Dailey, Red Skelton, Virginia O'Brien and the lovely Lena Horne give it their all. Story is very thin but this was still a huge hit at the time. Probably because Miss Sothern was then one of MGM's top box-office draws at the time. Sothern's "Lady Be Good"(MGM,1941) is a far superior film with a charming script and an Oscar-winning song but was somehow less popular than "Panama Hattie." WHo knows why some films make a fortune and others tank....
PANAMA HATTIE (1942) is two different movies, plotwise. One movie is
about nightclub singer Hattie Maloney and her romance with a young
soldier from a well-to-do Philadelphia family. The other film is a
slapstick comedy about a trio of sailors on shore leave, with a
penchant for catching spies. Juggling both, only tenuously connected
plots in a 79-minute time frame means that neither story is properly
developed. Conflicts are resolved easily and off-screen. And both
stories give way to extended musical numbers, particularly at the end.
Despite its obvious weaknesses, PANAMA HATTIE is a very entertaining collection of parts. Red Skelton, Rags Ragland, and Ben Blue make a fine comedic team. The slapstick is pulled off well and the script is witty. Skelton's clowning shtick isn't too overbearing, as he is part of a trio (and the brains, no less). Ann Sothern impresses with her singing and Lena Horne is showcased in a couple of musical numbers with the dancing Berry Brothers.
Two favorites of mine, the offbeat "deadpan" singer Virginia O'Brien and the lovely Marsha Hunt, are welcome presences in the congenial ensemble. O'Brien shines in fun numbers like "Fresh as a Daisy" and "(Did I Get Stinkin') At the Savoy". Hunt's mildly antagonistic Philadelphia snob is a bit of a change of pace for her, and she has some great comedic moments opposite Skelton.
The film's finale becomes an interesting showcase of wartime patriotism, capped by the entire cast singing "The Son of a Gun Who Picks on Uncle Sam" about bombing the Japs and Heinies right off their Axis and whatnot. There's a great line near the end. After convincing her to join the war effort, Skelton tells Hunt that he'll take her around the world after the war is over: "I'll even show you where Japan used to be."
The comic antics of Red Skelton was substituted for the songs of Cole
Porter in this MGM adaption of his Broadway show Panama Hattie. That a
Porter score would survive almost intact from Broadway was unheard of.
His other contemporaries suffered the same fate, but in Porter's case
more so because of the sophisticated and naughty lyrics he wrote.
Ethel Merman starred on Broadway beginning a run that lasted 501 performances. Only Rags Ragland who along with Ben Blue was one of Red's sidekicks as a trio of oafish sailors who capture enemy spies by accident is the only survivor from the Broadway cast.
Ann Sothern takes Ethel's place as the star and she performs along with young Jackie Horner the big hit of the Broadway show Let's Be Buddies. Only I've Still Got My Health and Fresh As A Daisy survived from Porter's original score. Songs were written and interpolated from many sources. But one of the best is from Porter himself when Lena Horne sang Just One Of Those Things. In fact it doesn't get better than that.
In the title role Sothern is the owner of a nightclub located in the Panama Canal Zone which is frequented like Rick's Cafe Americaine of all kinds of people from our Armed Forces and from an international assortment of mysterious and intriguing figures. Some of them are planning to do damage to the Canal.
Some are planning to damage to Sothern like Marsha Hunt who has her eye set on Army sergeant Dan Dailey. But with Sothern guarding what she's got a previous claim on and the comic sailors guarding the Canal the spirit of America carries on.
Panama Hattie is more Red Skelton than Cole Porter and Porter fans will not be happy. But it is a fun wartime film.
Okay, taken as a whole, the movie is pretty much a mess, particularly
the storyline, which even by generous standards of the Hollywood
musical is pretty much impossible. But then, the screenplay involves
eight writers, eight, so no wonder the elements don't gel. Then too, I
gather from TCM that portions were either added or re-shot after
disastrous previews. That too is not surprising given the large number
of featured players, with some like Dailey and Esmond left to drift
around the edges. Add the undistinguished musical numbers, except of
course for Horne's eye-catching and tuneful Just One of Those Things,
and the 80- minutes amounts to a disappointment.
However, there are compensations. The first half is lively, featuring two amusing encounters an irrepressible little Gerry versus an over-dressed Hattie; and a fiercely snooty Jenkins versus everyone else. These are energetic and colorful little comedy segmentstoo bad the rest doesn't reach this level, especially the under-inspired and over-long mansion knock- about sequence. Nonetheless, Ragland and Skelton are a natural team and would go on to bigger and better routines.
There's also a subtext typical of the times. Note how much of the comedic effort involves puncturing the pretensions of the stuffy Leila and Jenkins. It's really an effort to make "regular guys" out of the elite. After all, winning the war requires submerging social distinctions into the one-for-all and all-for-one democratic spirit, as symbolized in the everyone-on-stage finale. Anyway, the movie looks to me like a good example of a cast being a lot better than the material. .
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ann Sothern sings up a storm here, especially at the beginning of the
film to remind us that this comic legend had quite a nice voice in her
The picture starts off promising, but goes downhill rapidly even with Red Skelton and Ben Blue in it. The two comedians are given little opportunity to show this comedic talents. As her suitor, we really could have seen Ann's developing a better relationship with his daughter, after a very rocky beginning.
How about the spy situation in that house? Who were these spies? That could have been handled so much better. The ending patriotic song was great, but the story line is so terribly weak.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Cole Porter and Ethel Merman struck gold on stage with half a dozen
hits but the movie versions of these shows greatly edited down his
songs, made alterations to the stories, and gave da Merm's part to
contract players. "Panama Hattie" went to M.G.M's Maisie, only changing
the name to Hattie which makes the role indistinguishable for star Ann
Sothern. Add in newcomer Red Skelton, comic sidekicks Rags Ragland and
Ben Blue, and it is obvious that this is a streamlined version of a
stage hit that ran for over 500 performances.
The plot switches gears from romance to farce, easily wrapping up each plot in order to throw in some specialty numbers. Lena Horne has a cameo singing, very briefly, "Just one of Those Things", and later the mediocre "The Sping", which at least a lively dance sequence to go with it. Virginia O'Brien gets at least a character to play in addition to her two deadpan songs. Sothern does get two of Merman's hits and is especially memorable with "I've still got my Health". Also retained is "Let's Be Buddies", Hattie's duet with potential stepdaughter Jackie Horner. Future Betty Grable partner Dan Dailey is Sothern's love interest and Marsha Hunt a bitchy rival, but both are wasted. But in retrospect, this has a rushed together feeling that makes it no more special than many of M.G.M.'s programmers.
After years of only reading a bit about this movie, I finally saw Panama Hattie on a DVD I borrowed from the library. Adapted from a Cole Porter musical comedy, this film version only retains 4 of his songs from it with another one he wrote called "Just One of Those Things" from another musical he wrote it for. Lena Horne sang that one and another song written by someone else which she performs with The Berry Brothers dancers who also have another number. The stars are Ann Sothern in the title role and Red Skelton as one of three sailors-the others being Rags Ragland and Ben Blue-who are involved in a plot to expose spies. Ms. Sothern has a romantic subplot involving her romance with Dan Dailey but really, it doesn't really go anywhere while the sailors/spies one at least has some good laughs. Oh, and since this was made during wartime, it ends with a number meant to get America cheering the eventual destruction of the Japs which while understandable for the time it was made sounds very politically incorrect today. But none of this is supposed to be taken seriously so on that note, Panama Hattie is worth a look for anyone interested in these vintage old movies.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ordinary but mostly enjoyable farrago, mixing song and dance, propaganda, comic routines "a la Three Stooges", and espionage. When it follows the plot of the romance between a refined American soldier and the trashy title singer (an American showgirl lost in Central America), aided by a trio of American sailors and the leading lady's American best friend, and hindered by an American officer's daughter, with all of them in a cardboard Panamá, it is a happy musical, the typical romantic comedy full of music. The sing and dance numbers blend quite well with the plot (though a couple of songs are on the ugly side, as "Good Neighbors" and "The Sping"). But when the spying subplot is introduced out of the blue (to destroy the Panama Canal one more time), the film goes off-balance and it never recovers, with a terrible propaganda finale as the cast sings the awful "The Son of a Gun Who Picks on Uncle Sam" (by Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg) before the end title selling war bonds appears. However the two previous acts were much better, and counterbalance the bad impression a bit, even if we take into consideration the rather offensive representation of Panamá as a small village out of a Mexican ranch comedy, in a time when international singers, orchestras and dancers (including Evita Perón) performed at prestigious cabarets in the capital city; and worst of all (for an American movie), a most inaccurate portrait of the Panama Canal Zone administered by the United States Armed Forces. In spite of all the bad things said and written about the troubled film (with director Norman Z. McLeod walking off the production), "Panama Hattie" will make you no harm in 79 minutes, it contains several fine moments of entertainment for you to enjoy, and I am sure that you have seen much worse musicals.
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