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
Two Irving Berlin musical satires of Washington D.C. politics were not transferred from Broadway to Hollywood: the Ethel Merman-centered "Washington Square Dance" (although in the movie a few bars are sung by an off-screen chorus, and the melody is played during a party scene); plus a trio of senators (who on Broadway were Pat Harrington Sr., Ralph W. Chambers and Jay Velie) intoning "They Like Ike" (which inspired the memorable catch phrase of the 1952 Eisenhower presidential campaign). See more »
Movie audiences got a treat in Call Me Madam because they got to see Ethel Merman repeat one of two of her Broadway roles for the screen, the other being in the first Anything Goes.
For some reason, movie audiences never really took to Ethel. She did some parts during the Thirties, but in the Forties worked exclusively on Broadway. Mary Martin suffered a similar fate and we never got to see any of her Broadway starring roles with the exception of the famous telecast of Peter Pan.
Irving Berlin wrote the score for Call Me Madam and the book is based on the colorful life of Perle Mesta, famous Washington socialite who Harry Truman made ambassador to Luxembourg.
That's the way of things in Washington. Both parties with a new administration give ambassadorships out to wealthy contributors and Perle Mesta, an oil widow was one of the wealthiest.
Ethel is appointed by President Truman as Ambassador to the mythical duchy of Lichtenburg. Her rather informal style sets some professional State Department teeth rattling and during the course of the film both causes and solves a diplomatic crisis. Her personal assistant, Donald O'Connor is in her corner, but the chief of Protocol Billy DeWolfe is at his wit's end.
Both Ethel and Donald find romance in Lichtenburg, she with Count George Sanders and he with Vera-Ellen. When things aren't looking so good, they console each other with the hit song of Call Me Madam, You're Just In Love. This is what you call a contrapuntal melody with both members of the duet singing different melodies at the same time. At the same time this one was hitting the jukeboxes, another contrapuntal by Berlin, Play A Simple Melody was revived by Bing Crosby and his son Gary. To my knowledge no other major composer has ever had a hit with one of those.
George Sanders surprised quite a few folks with his singing voice. They needn't have been, he in fact had appeared in some musicals on the London stage before going into film. And he drops the sneer that usually accompanies most of us film characters and makes a most dashing and romantic count.
Dropped from the film version was Irving Berlin's tribute to Dwight D. Eisenhower which became his campaign theme song, I Like Ike. I guess it was considered redundant since the American people already had him. There are many references to Harry in the book and how Ethel was going to not let him down in the position he placed her in.
Billy DeWolfe steals every scene he's in as the fussy officious career foreign service employee, Pemberton Maxwell. If there ever was a name for a stuffy career WASP diplomat, that's it. They were a ripe target back then, certain politicians made a living on accusing a whole flock of them as traitors. One of them was Truman's Secretary of State, Dean Acheson. There manner didn't play well in what we would now call red state America.
Call Me Madam is bright and funny with a great score and some fabulous performances. Can't do better than that.
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