Boisterous, fun-loving, and popular Washington D.C. hostess Sally Adams is appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Grand Duchy of Lichtenburg, Europe's smallest country. In Lichtenburg, the Duke and Duchess are negotiating a political marriage for their niece, Princess Maria in exchange for a substantial dowry. However, the country is desperate for funds, and turns to the inexperienced ambassador for a much needed U.S. loan. Sally refuses to talk money, that is, until she meets the ultra charming Gen. Cosmo Constantine. Meanwhile, Sally's press attaché Kenneth Gibson falls head over heels for Princess Maria. Written by
Dinah Shore had to sing Ethel Merman's songs on the original cast album for the Broadway play because Merman, who had starred in the original stage production, was under contract to Decca Records, who wouldn't release her to do the album. See more »
Carol Channing, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman - the three biggest stars of Broadway between 1940 and 1970, and none made as big an imprint in movies. This seems to be a running sore in cinematic history - so few stage stars were great film figures. Some, like George M. Cohan, did not like the restrictive effects of movie making, and made few stabs at film (though, fortunately, Cohan made THE PHANTOM PRESIDENT in 1932). Others just seemed to weak on film. The great Pauline Lord made one movie, the pathetic MISS WIGGS OF CABBAGE PATCH, which (if recalled at all) is remembered as a film "starring" (he was actually in a supporting role) W.C.Fields. Channing, star of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDS watched while that role went to Marilyn Monroe, and star of HELLO DOLLY watched as that role went to Barbara Streisand. Martin, star of SOUTH PACIFIC saw Mitzi Gaynor play Nellie Forbush, and star of THE SOUND OF MUSIC saw the role of Maria Von Trapp become identified with Julie Andrews. Merman with credits like ANYTHING GOES, PANAMA HATTIE, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, and GYPSY, only was able to keep the role of Reno Sweeny in ANYTHING GOES, when it was first made into a film in the 1930s. She was fortunate to also have the role of Sally the ambassador in CALL ME MADAM on film. It was a rarity, because she knew the part and was able to shine in a film adaptation. It's success probably enabled her to get another lead in the musical THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS. But the latter film, despite her good work in it (and Dan Dailey's, Mitzi Gaynor, and Donald O'Connor's)is recalled because Marilyn Monroe sang "We're Having a Heat Wave". Merman never led in another musical film again, and would be overlooked for GYPSY (when Rosalind Russell got the part).
At least here and in the first ANYTHING GOES we see how she handled stage roles in her career. Mary Martin was less successful, her film record of her stagecraft limited to the scene in the first Cole Porter biopic NIGHT AND DAY, when she sings the song MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY as she did on stage (unfortunately two of her chorus, Gene Kelly and Van Johnson, were not asked to repeat their chorus boy parts). There is the television version of PETER PAN, which is on video. It's fortunate that exists (there is also some songs from SOUTH PACIFIC that were sung with Ezio Pinza on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW). The rest is silence. As for Channing, the only time she appeared in a movie musical, it was as the wacky aunt of Mary Tyler Moore in THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (a movie not based on any stage musical). Channing had little singing to do in it.
So Merman was able to do one great performance on film. CALL ME MADAM, a musical spoof on the career of political hostess Pearl Mesta, was a charming little musical (no ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, though). It's best musical moment is the duet with Donald O'Connor (I HEAR MUSIC BUT I DON'T KNOW WHERE), and it is a romantic piece of fluff. Nice also to see George Sanders playing a decent chap for a change. But watching Merman at her best, makes one regret what was not captured on film of her other performances. Ironically, that great singing voice is best recalled as a "loud-mouth broad" voice from Merman's best remembered role: the obnoxious mother-in-law of Milton Berle in IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD.
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