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Virginia Mayo is largely associated with lightweight Danny Kaye movies
and occasional dramatic roles ('White Heat' and 'The Best Years of Our
Lives'). "She's Back on Broadway" is an attempt to star Ms Mayo in a
musical with some real substance to it. This movie fails at most of
what it sets out to do, but it's an interesting failure with some
genuine merit and some good performances.
Several months before starring in "She's Back on Broadway", Virginia Mayo starred in another Warners film which is better than this one: "She's Working Her Way Through College". These two films are not related, but their similar titles and similarity of tone suggest that somebody at Warners was trying to exercise an overall strategy for Mayo's film career.
In "She's Back on Broadway", Mayo plays Catherine Terriss, a Hollywood actress who starred in several movies a while back, but whose film career is now idling. (Ironically, Mayo herself was never as great a star as the character she plays here!) The opening scene grabs our attention, and promises that this will be no typical frothy musical. Catherine is sitting at the pool of her movie-star mansion, reading a newspaper headline about another film actress who has just committed suicide. The other actress was only slightly older than Catherine, with a similar career arc: Catherine tells her manager (the excellent Larry Keating) that she's afraid she'll land up the same way. Desperate to give her career a jolt, she quits Hollywood and returns to where she started: Broadway. Using her own savings, she bankrolls a stage musical and hires big-deal director Rick Sommers to direct it.
Sommers is played by Steve Cochran, an underrated actor who never got the career he deserved ... possibly because Cochran had leading-man looks but his talents were geared more towards character roles. He gives a fine performance in this movie as the dynamic Broadway director, but Cochran is lumbered with some gimmicky dialogue. After giving his cast a spirited pep-talk, he abruptly relaxes and tells them something which contradicts everything he's already said: 'You'll find we're very easily satisfied...' Then, before this can sink in, he straight away changes mood again and barks: '...with perfection! And nothing less!'
Gene Nelson (an ingratiating song-and-dance man whose gymnastic talents were never properly utilised) auditions for a role in the show. He barely sings four bars before Cochran tells him to come back tomorrow '...and bring a pen'. There's an annoying and unfunny running gag about a pawky and untalented young man who auditions as a bass singer, as a baritone, as a tenor ... until Cochran finally casts him in a non-speaking part so he won't show up at the audition for sopranos! I found all of the audition and rehearsal sequences in this film extremely unrealistic.
The problem with "She's Back on Broadway" is that its plot isn't gripping enough to succeed as straight drama, and its songs aren't tuneful enough for this to be more than a sub-average musical. All of the songs are dull and unmemorable. Gene Nelson never gets a chance to cut loose with the spectacular acrobatics he displayed in other films. (I still savour the incredible standing back salto he performed in 'Tea for Two', with its Olympic-class amplitude.) The 'best' song here (not saying much) is 'Breakfast in Bed', a tinkly little ditty performed by Mayo in a ludicrous costume. Steve Condos, formerly of the Condos Brothers, does a jazzy dance number that has him bojangling his way up and down a tiny plywood staircase.
SPOILERS??? COMING. We get a lot of turgid dialogue here about how everybody's career is at stake, and everybody is taking huge risks ... but it's absolutely no surprise at all that the Broadway show is (of course) a huge hit. "She's Back on Broadway" keeps threatening to be something much more substantial than just another let's-put-on-a-show story, but never lives up to the promise of that starkly dramatic first scene. This film is a pleasant time-passer with glimpses of greatness. I'll rate "She's Back on Broadway" 5 out of 10.
Warners, I guess, wanted this backstage musical to have a little more heft and gravitas than their Doris Day standard at the time. So along with the usual production numbers and leggy chorus girls and backstage wisecracks, they grafted a rather serious story of a chorus-cutie-turned-movie-star and her Pygmalion director and their rather somber and complicated history together. Virginia Mayo and Steve Cochran play it competently, but it's just not very interesting, and the outcome is never in doubt. He's billed below both Gene Nelson and Frank Lovejoy, but neither of them has much to do, and there's a great deal of footage of Cochran sulking, drinking, and vacillating between Mayo and Patrice Wymore, who actually seems a better fit. That's a problem: You don't really want to see Mayo and Cochran end up together, especially as it leaves Wymore and Larry Keating, as Mayo's lovestruck agent, with nobody. One appreciates the effort at wringing real emotion out of a backstager, but there's no denying, it doesn't really work. Insipid songs--did Bob Hilliard ever write a good lyric in his life?--and perfunctory direction by Gordon Douglas don't help.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Someone took this movie, or at least the first half of it, and made A
Chorus Line out of it. The musical, not the movie - but even the added
scenes in the Chorus Line movie come from this movie. The
relationships, some of the conversations, and even some of the
characters themselves - they are too close to be coincidental.
Obviously not *everything* is the same - but I think I noticed the storyline from the point of the "argument" between Catherine and Rick. The former boyfriend is directing the show that the fading star needs to bring back her career. And the argument is very reminiscent of the song/scene, "Let Me Dance for You" from the CL movie... and Rick is a moody sort, like the Michael Douglas character from the CL movie... (a better comparison than to someone from the BWay cast that people may never have seen, even if they have seen the musical.) Or. take the guy who tries to get a part by auditioning for everything....
At least they improved it with the musical...
'She's Back On Broadway' stars Virginia Mayo, Steve Cochran and Gene
Nelson, and is rather a pedestrian example of a minor 50s musical.
Characters are fairly stock - from Mayo's star-struck ingénue to
Nelson's charming hoofer. Songs are OK but unmemorable and not that
There are many better musicals than this - 'She's Working Her Way Through College' and 'Painting The Clouds With Sunshine' (the loose remake of 'Gold Diggers of 1933') for example. There are better musical stars from the same period - Vera-Ellen, Doris Day.
Warner Bros musicals like this one were no threat to the gloss of MGM, while Gene Nelson is no Gene Kelly. However, if you like musicals generally, 'She's Back On Broadway' is watchable, but not groundbreaking.
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