Sensations of 1945 (1944)
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The cast is delightful! In fact, they are perfect! And Sophie Tucker is always a pleasure to watch, as is Woody Herman and His Orchestra.
Sit back and enjoy a good fun musical with some great staging, fantastic big band music!
It's the return of vaudeville, not quite dead as rumored, with specialties of every kind, and some are quite amazing, even in the cynical, self involved 2010's. Of course, animal acts won't please those from ASPCA (bears on roller-skates and given a giant jug that indicates that it's vodka; Eleanor Powell getting a horse to dance) but acrobats, Woody Herman and his orchestra, the sensational Cab Calloway, red hot mama Sophie Tucker and tap dancing Eleanor Powell provide clean, fun entertainment, the type that Ed Sullivan kept alive until the end of his TV show in the early 1970's.
The basic plot has Powell going from Broadway star to the brains behind getting this show together for veteran producer C. Aubrey Smith, and headliner of this spectacular that heads all over, pairing her up with wisecracking Dennis O'Keefe and her attempts at the most outrageous publicity. For most of the 80 minutes, it's a cavalcade of thrills, especially a tightrope walk across a very steep gorge, Powell tap dancing her way through a giant pinball machine and in his last screen appearance, W.C. Fields seemingly very tired in attempting a sketches aboard a train.
Powell, in her last leading role on film, plays a far more aggressive character than normal, but because of the extent of the specialty acts, isn't on screen a whole lot. O'Keefe, Smith and Eugene Palette add to the little story aided by the specialties. Sophie's two songs take you back to a bygone era, giving a huge sense of nostalgia. It's TV variety show 50's style on the big screen 40's style, and there's nothing wrong with that.
The story is an excuse to string together various entertainer routines, the worst being WC "potato nose" Fields who performs a dreadful skit and a very bland song called "Penny Arcade". However, this is offset by great dance routines (2 with Eleanor Powell), some good circus performers with an impressive tightrope walker Olaf (Hubert Castle) and a very good middle "black" section with Cab Calloway and 2 piano players which is the standout part of the film. Sophie Tucker appears for 2 numbers at the end, so this will please those of you who like those unfunny songs that are more spoken - the kind of thing that Victoria Wood does now. Overall, the dancing and entertainment lift this film past the "OK" category and it is worth another watch.