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The star of an upcoming Broadway production, Janet Hallson, walks out during rehersals. The producers of the show, Ted Sturgis, Leo Belney and Bob Dowdy begin to search a replacement. After a quick audition, each favors someone else: Madelyn Corlane, Joanna Moss, Suzie Doolittle. The rest of the movie tells in a series of musical and dance scenes how they finally pick ... Written by
Gerhard Gonter <email@example.com>
'Give a Girl a Break' deserves to be better known; it's certainly not one of MGM's greatest musicals, but it has many bright spots and some pleasant tunes by Burton Lane with excellent lyrics by Ira Gershwin. Modern viewers will probably be most interested in Bob Fosse's excellent performance, in a supporting role.
Some aspects of this movie are clearly derived from earlier and better musicals. At one point, Gower Champion's character (a Broadway director) is besieged by struggling chorus dancers who want parts in his new musical. To escape them, he climbs up the wall of his theatre. This is apparently meant to show us how virile and athletic Champion is ... but it reminded me of the scene in 'Singin' in the Rain' when Gene Kelly escapes his fans by climbing up the side of a bus. The fact that 'Give a Girl a Break' is directed by Stanley Donen (co-director of 'Singin' in the Rain') only makes the link more obvious.
Gower Champion plays Ted Sturgis, the big-shot director of a new Broadway musical still in rehearsal. Bob Fosse plays Bobby, his assistant and dance captain, although Sturgis usually keeps Bobby busy fetching coffee. (Prophetically, Champion later became a major director of Broadway musicals... as did Fosse.) Kurt Kasznar plays Leo Belney, the show's musical director: a role that should have been played by Oscar Levant. Sturgis's ex-wife (played by Gower Champion's real wife Marge) is Madelyn Corlane, a former star whose popularity has faded, but who is hopeful of a comeback.
When Sturgis's leading lady throws a tantrum and walks out (not likely!), he needs a new leading lady in a hurry. Whoever he chooses for the role is destined to become a star. Will Madelyn get the job? Meanwhile, Bobby has become enamoured of Suzie Doolittle (the excellent Debbie Reynolds), a talented newcomer. The more classically-minded Leo wants the leading role to go to Joanna Moss (Helen Wood), a ballet dancer he secretly hopes to romance.
There's some genuine suspense as we try to guess which of these three women will get the big break. Unfortunately, the three candidates aren't equal: it's extremely obvious that highbrow ballerina Joanna hasn't got a chance against the more conventional chorines Madelyn and Suzie.
The best number in the movie is 'In Our United State' performed by Fosse and Reynolds. On a couple of other occasions ('Kiss Me Kate', 'My Sister Eileen'), Bob Fosse demonstrated his ability to do a backward aerial somersault, with astonishingly good amplitude. Here, he does it while facing the camera, in medium close shot, and it's extremely impressive. Unfortunately, Donen ruins the number with some gimmicky trick photography, speeding up the action and running it in reverse. After Debbie and Bob pop some brightly-coloured balloons, it's very weird to see the balloons unpopping themselves in reverse motion.
Another number, called 'Applause', is pleasant. I also enjoyed 'Nothing Is Impossible', performed by the three men, which features a strange bit in which Gower Champion does a rapid tap dance with one foot while he keeps his other foot balanced on top of Bob Fosse's upright heel. The tubby actor Kurt Kasznar, who can't dance and can barely sing, shows some courage by performing a musical number with the athletic Champion and Fosse.
There's a clever three-way dream sequence, in which each man envisions his own favoured lady's name appearing in lights above the theatre. But there's some clumsy dialogue involving the word 'palaver'. At the end of the movie, Marge Champion does a really ludicrous bit, in which she runs down the theatre gangway with her lips and her bosom thrust forward and her arms and her head thrown back. Corny!
This is a good place to correct a misconception about Gower Champion: after a long career as a director of Broadway musicals, he supposedly died on the opening night of '42nd Street', his biggest hit. This was, of course, an extremely ironic death. ('42nd Street' is about a Broadway director who risks his own health in rehearsals while trying to make his biggest show a hit.) The truth is a bit less neat: Gower Champion actually died several days before his show opened, but producer David Merrick (recognising the publicity value of Champion's death) claimed on opening night that Champion had died earlier that day.
I'll rate 'Give a Girl a Break' 6 out of 10, and I recommend it to you.
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