I had the pleasure of seeing this in what was touted as its first showing in 51 years (hard to prove that) at the Museum of Broadcasting in New York today (10 October 2009). The credits are impressive -- no expense was spared, evidently, in hiring top professionals from the theater and movies: the "Meet Me in St. Louis" team of Hugh Martin and Sally Benson as writers, conductor Franz ("My Fair Lady") Allers, orchestrator Irwin Kostal (between gigs on "West Side Story" and "Fiorello!"), choreographer John Butler, and director Sidney Lumet. Seeing it the same day as a near-contemporary TV musical effort, "The Bachelor," it was clear that the level of imagination and skill on this project was something quite special. Instead of flat-on "TV" type camera work, "Hans Brinker" camera is elaborately choreographed, including dolly and crane shots, making the most of some pretty spectacular ice choreography. Tab Hunter, as always, is a pleasure to look at (has anyone ever had a more perfect set of features?) and, despite his still-lingering critical reputation, proves himself here (as elsewhere, in "Battle Cry," for example) quite an ardent and affecting actor, not to mention a better than decent singer and -- biggest surprise, perhaps -- an excellent ice skater. Peggy King sings her numbers beautifully, Carmen Mathews (veteran of many a Broadway flop) is a convincing and lively grandmother, and Jarmila Novotna sings like an angel her little lullaby "Trinka Brinker" -- which, I know, sounds hokey, but is one of Martin's classically beautiful, highly chromatic melodies. Of course the only relic of the visual production is a kinescope (interspersed with charmingly dated Hallmark Valentine's Day card ads) -- in black and white. (Apparently kinescopes were made solely for copyright purposes, since no one seems to have ever considered that making color films of color shows might be worth the trouble for future viewers. It was expected there wouldn't be any -- and of course that's very nearly true.) This is worth seeking out. It would be nice to have it on DVD, but of course I'm dreaming. (A cast album was released -- it's pretty rare now, and has never been released on CD, to my knowledge -- by Dot Records, then heart-throb singing star Hunter's label.)
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