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If remembered at all, "Centennial Summer" is generally dismissed as
20th-Century-Fox's failed attempt to copy "Meet Me in St. Louis."
I'd like to set the record straight, and urge Fox to release this neglected treasure on VHS, DVD, cable-TV, whatever, so today's movie-lovers can savor one of the most endearing, original, lovingly crafted musicals ever made.
This lavish Technicolored production is indeed a visual knockout, but what truly matters is so much more than its dazzling visuals. Set against the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition, this exquisitely designed valentine to a bygone era focuses on a suburban middle-class family's troubles and turmoils, highlighted by Jerome Kern's final (and one of his finest) scores.
Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnell are the daughters of railroad/laborer aspiring/inventor Walter Brennan and his understanding wife, the lovely Dorothy Gish in one of her rare film appearances. Their humdrum lives are sparked by the arrival of a glamorous Parisian relative (the dazzling Constance Bennett)and a dashing young French man (Cornel Wilde) in charge of setting up his country's exhibition at the Centennial.
That's the plot, and it's a more-than-sufficient frame for a charming, low-keyed, often surprisingly moving dramatization of a family in crisis. Ms. Crain & Ms. Darnell are heartbreakingly beautiful as the sibling rivals in romance; Otto Preminger's direction is subtle and refreshingly modest; and though none of Kern's songs became hits, the underrated score includes some of the loveliest ballads ever written--Listen closely to the melodic "The Right Romance," "In Love in Vain" and "All Through the Day." "Up with the Lark" is as captivating, tuneful, brilliantly photographed and sung a showstopper as one could wish for. And the rousing "Railroad Song," plus an unexpected diversion "Cinderella Sue" (performed by Avon Long and several black children, sans one iota of the racial condescension typical of films of its era) are two more rousing highlights.
The cast is uniformly superb (Ms. Crain's plaintive beauty and heartfelt sincerity set the screen aglow; William Eythe, a talented, appealing actor whose life and career were tragically short, adds a special poignancy as Ms. Darnell's spurned suitor), the production design exquisite, and the screenplay (based on a long-forgotten novel) will touch you in ways you wouldn't expect from a movie musical.
"Centennial Summer" deserves stature as one of the finest musicals of all time. That few people have even heard of it, much less seen it, is sad indeed. It deserves to be revived, re-evaluated and cherished for the work of art it most certainly is.
I loved this film and I am disappointed it hasn't been out on DVD or on TV. I thought the music was great and I still hum it. I thought "All through the day was such a pretty song. Jeanne Crain was so beautiful and so was Linda Darnell and I miss them both. All of the great movie stars are gone My mother took us to this movie when we were little and it has stuck with me all of this time. Cinderella Sue was so sweet and cute. I also loved Cornel Wilde, he was so handsome. I will be the first one to buy this if it comes out on DVD. I do have a CD with the music from the movie, but its not the same as seeing the movie. I read the movie lineup every week in the TV Guide to see if by some wild chance it would be played, but nothing.
This was the film that introduced me to the world of classic movies.
Crain has since been one of my all-time favorite actresses.
This is a great musical and represents Jerome Kern's last creative effort before his untimely death. It's set around the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. When the Rodgers family receives a visit from their Aunt Zenia who is accompanied by Philippe (a dashing Frenchman who arrives to set up the French Pavilion for the Centennial), the excitement of the exposition is heightened. Edith decides to forget her engagement to Ben, in order to pursue Philippe, but Philippe actually has eyes for Julia. When Edith tells Philippe that it is Julia who is actually engaged to Ben, he loses hope. Julia and Ben then play out a make-believe romance to make Philippe jealous and bring Edith back to Ben.
All the while, the Rodgers mother is having troubles of her own...keeping her husband out of the romantic whirl of Zenia's man collection.
A fun, romantic, musical-comedy, with gorgeous costumes and a nice soundtrack. This is one that needs to be released on video!
This movie has always been a favorite one of mine. It is light-hearted and entertaining. It may be an escape movie, but it does deal with the different personalities in a family. The music and costuming are a treat. It is a very uplifting movie experience. I wish that it would be released on video.
I love this movie. After seeing it on the Disney Channel back in the
eighties I wished I had taped. I feel that Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnel
great rivals over Cornel Wilde. I know that people have said that it is a
poor remake of Meet me in St. Louis. But feel it has it own merit. I hope
that someday they put it out on dvd so everyone can enjoy
Jeanne Crain passed away recently and I had hoped that they would show it in tribute. But they didn't and I felt kinda of cheated. The timelessnes of the movie would have been a great tribute to her and all the cast
This movie was 20th Century Fox answer to Meet Me In St. Louis. Although it isn't a great movie, it's a lot of fun. The music was by Jerome Kern and was his last score. The cast is good but Constance Bennett and Walter Brennan are outstanding. Typical1940's escapist fare.
After many years of hoping, I finally got to see "Centennial Summer"
this past weekend. I purchased a DVD copy from Lovingtheclassics.com.
Clearly it was an old transfer print, not the greatest quality but not
bad. Some scenes were brighter than others but overall it was average
but far from poor in quality. The sound was fine. It's a bare bones
DVD, however. No menu or extras.
I understand that the company Twilight Time was going to release a restored Blue Ray edition of this film back in September, but they ran into legal problems with the rights. Hopefully, they'll get this situation straightened out soon as I'd love to see a restored print of this. The Technicolor must be stunning!
"Centennial Summer" is an enjoyable, nostalgic film, clearly 20th Century Fox's attempt to emulate the success of MGM's "Meet Me In Saint Louis" of 1944. This Fox effort is not as lavish and it's less a musical than a film-with-songs. It was based on a novel, which I have read, about a year in the life of a Philadelphia family in 1876, when the city hosted the Centennail Exposition, a world's fair celebrating the 100th birthday of the USA. The screenplay compresses the time line into just the summer of that year and eliminates much of the quirky Philadelphia local color and lore that are sprinkled through the book. Still, the film evokes the fair itself and the excitement it creates in a far more slowly paced era. The costumes are lovely and the charming sets are full of accurate period details.
The film stars a typical line up of popular Fox stars of the mid '40s. Lovely Jeanne Crain and dark, sensuous Linda Darnell are the sisters competing for the attention of a visiting Frenchman, Cornel Wilde. The largely forgotten William Eythe, who died young, plays Darnell's neglected suitor. Although he was a talented singer, he and the rest of the leads are dubbed by other performers, a common practice at the Fox Studio. Walter Brennan and Dorothy Gish are amusing as the parents and Constance Bennett makes a glamorous turn as exotic Aunt Zenia, whose visit from Paris causes much disruption in the family's quiet life.
The score was Jerome Kern's last and it's charming and easy on the ears if not particularly memorable. Cotton Club singer Avon Long turns up do a minstrel tune with some children in a saloon scene. It's probably the film's musical highpoint. Director Otto Preminger was not noted for musical films, although he directed a couple. He keeps the somewhat rambling plot moving and the film is colorful and evocative.
It will be great if this lively, charming film gets wider circulation in a restored print soon.
Although Centennial Summer did not approach the success that MGM's Meet
Me In St. Louis either artistically or financially, the film still has
a lot to recommend it. It may be the only musical in history done with
mostly non-musical performers with leads Linda Darnell and Jeanne Crain
dubbed by other singers.
Darnell and Crain are sisters and daughters of Walter Brennan and Dorothy Gish who are just like the family in Meet Me In St. Louis with the problems that your average middle class families in the Centennial year of 1876 had. They're all looking forward to the Centennial World's Fair of that year.
Some complications get thrown into the mix when prim and proper Dorothy Gish gets a visit from Constance Bennett who is quite the jet setter in those days before jets and flying were accomplished facts. She's in from Paris and she's bringing with her a nephew by marriage played by Cornel Wilde. Wilde uses the same French accent he did in The Greatest Show On Earth and Sword Of Lancelot and he gets both the sisters romantic motors running. In the meantime earnest young William Eythe going into a new medical field of obstetrics is hanging around hoping to pick someone up on the rebound, but he's hoping it's Crain.
Centennial Summer is known for the fact that it was Jerome Kern's last musical project and it was released the year after Kern died. He used three different lyricists for the various songs, Oscar Hammerstein, II, E.Y. Harburg, and Leo Robin. All Through The Day with lyrics by Hammerstein got an Oscar nomination for best song as did Alfred Newman's overall musical scoring. The song which obviously the studio thought would be the big hit was entrusted to a real singer Larry Stevens and introduced in a musical hall sequence.
I'm not sure what Darryl F. Zanuck was thinking in not casting the already proved Dolly Sister team of Betty Grable and June Haver in the leads. The film might have been better if he had.
Still for those like myself who love the music of Jerome Kern, Centennial Summer is a must see film.
Perhaps the best thing about Centennial Summer is it's story and the
way it's acted; it's just a light family drama-comedy and a love
triangle, but the characters and plot have a bit of novelty and bite
that keeps them fresh rather than cliché.
In the acting department, what's most interesting is Walter Brennan and Dorothy Gish. Rather than his usual crusty old man and/or comic sidekick, Brennan convincingly plays a husband, father, working man. Sometimes I like to conjecture about might-have-been casting choices. I suspect that his role was written with Don Ameche in mind, but Ameche had recently left Fox in a contract dispute. This is the only sound film role in which I've seen Dorothy Gish; she shows she has the acting chops, gravitas, and a nearly identical voice as her film-great sister, Lillian.
What's disappointing about this musical is that most of the songs seem unimaginatively inserted into the plot, rather than integrated as part of the story. After well integrated musical films like "Meet Me In St. Louis" and Fox's "State Fair" this is a backward thing. And Centennial Summer seems about 3 songs short; I noticed a couple of obvious places in the script where songs would be expected but were not there. The song "I Woke Up With The Lark This Morning", used in the early part of the film where it belongs, is also used to end the film, where a more appropriate song is called for. Apparently, Jerome Kern was not able to provide a full complement of songs (due either to poor health or his death) but the filmmakers ought to have adapted and used appropriate songs from his very large catalog.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I remember this film from when I was a child and remember loving it. I still look for it everywhere and if anyone knows how I can get a copy please let me know. I adore Cornell Wilde and Jeanne Crain and watch anything they appear in. Please bring this out on DVD soon. I love musicals and especially old movies. I am an avid fan of gene Kelly and Judy garland and have raised my daughter to love these old classics as much as I do. My all time favorite is Meet me in St. Louis and this movie with Cornell and Jeanne reminds me of it .I am sure my memory is vague but I know I loved it and want to see it again so badly.
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