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Milton Haskins, a math genius known for his infallibility with numbers, quits his job with an insurance company when he discovers he made a mistake, and hooks up with a traveling carnival. His knowledge of mathematics makes him a natural as an assistant at the wheel of fortune. His fiancée begs him to return to his job but he refuses, so she joins the carnival and becomes a striptease artist. When Milton attempts to drag her off the stage, a brawling mêlée breaks out and the entire troupe is arrested by the local police. The carnival is sold but Milton reveals that the new owner has conspired to defraud the insurance company. The insurance company has to accept the carnival in lieu of the money owed, and they allow Milton and his fiancée, Vivian, to stay with and help run the carnival. Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
At only 93 black and white minutes, ARE YOU WITH IT? (released by Universal International - not famous for its musicals - on 20 March 1948) is undoubtedly a minor effort but, considering its provenance, it's a delightful entry well worth a look on a number of levels.
The property started out on Broadway at the New Century Theatre up on Columbus Circle the season after Sigmund Romberg's UP IN CENTRAL PARK (another Universal International film in 1948 with its choreographer recreating the stage dances on film) appropriately opened there and ARE YOU... was a moderate 264 performance hit, playing out the season (11/10/1945 - 4/27/1946) before moving to the more centrally located Shubert Theatre for the final two spring/summer months (4/30/1946 - 6/29/1946) of its run.
The show, centered on the interaction of an insurance executive with circus performers, very nearly didn't happen at all with memories still fresh of the tragic and nationally publicized July 6, 1944 fire (around 168 of the 6,800 people seated under the paraffin coated - for waterproofing - "big top" died) at a performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in the insurance capitol, Hartford, Connecticut, but rewrites to remove ARE YOU WITH IT? from the big top to a smaller "carnival" and the presence of such stars as Joan Roberts, Lew Parker and Dolores Gray overcame the untoward connections and allowed the simple fun if the incongruous associations to shine through.
When Universal-International picked the show up, it did the (then) usual Hollywood hack job of "improving" it by replacing most if not all of the original score with pleasant but unmemorable numbers - mostly for the dancing Donald O'Connor in one of his best but most unheralded performances - but retaining the plot and the lead comedian, Lew Parker (who would go on to a major television career as a "second banana" - probably most famously as "Lou Marie," Ann's father on THAT GIRL), as the fast talking shill who ropes the disgraced insurance numbers man (Donald O'Connor, who had misplaced a decimal point in the latest rate calculations) into carnie work and skills he in turn winds up taking back to his insurance company to everyone's benefit.
While the rest of the Broadway cast didn't transfer, the film boasts two excellent leading ladies in Broadway stalwart (PAINT YOUR WAGON) and wife of Edmund O'Brien, Olga San Juan (she would follow up ARE YOU WITH IT the same year with the second female lead in another Broadway transfer, ONE TOUCH OF VENUS - if she'd been at a better studio, she might have had a major musical film career) and Martha Stewart (no, not *that* Martha Stewart, an earlier one) who also needed a better studio to truly shine.
Even with the ersatz score, the legitimate pleasures of ARE YOU WITH IT? in O'Connor's dancing and the clever plot make it a real shame that the movie hasn't followed Universal-International's UP IN CENTRAL PARK and ONE TOUCH OF VENUS into video release. All three deserve good DVD releases to please a new generation of Broadway and film musical fans.
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