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Give a Girl a Break (1953)
Comments and conjecture
Interesting what another reviewer said here about this movie originally being written for Kelly, Garland, etc. I suspected it was intended for Kelly or Astaire, with Kazner part written for Oscar Levant, and Fosse part intended for Donald O'Connor. The screen writers were some of MGM's best, who usually wrote big budget films.
I wonder if the entire film, or most obviously, the dance number the Champions do with all the vertical poles were shot in 3D. That dance seems smartly designed for 3D, and the film was made in 1953, the year Hollywood made something like 80 3D films.
OK now my very brief review. This film is mostly a delight, as were several other early 50's, small scale MGM musicals. All that talent, in front of and behind the screen, make the slim and tired story, and modest production values irrelevant.
Two Tickets to Broadway (1951)
MGM at RKO
Designed partially as a showcase for RKO owner Howard Hughes girlfriend, Janet Leigh. Hughes could afford to import quite a lot of first rate talent in the effort, mostly from best in the musical business MGM. Current or former MGM talent included Leigh, Ann Miller, Gloria DeHaven, and Tony Martin, along with musical number director Busby Berkeley. Leigh proved herself competent as a singer and dancer, and is certainly pleasant in personality and a pleasure to look at.
In the musical numbers featuring the four "girls", Gloria DeHaven is the standout (sorry Ann Miller fans). DeHaven sings superbly, handles the dancing with aplomb, has just the right mix of charisma, humor, sincerity, and takes a back seat to no one in the beauty department.
I thought the musical numbers well staged and mostly very pleasant (exception the very banal Pellican Falls school song). The comedy of Smith and Dale, I could live without, if you'll excuse the expression. And Eddie Bracken is too frenetic and broad in his comedy for my taste.
Though none of the songs became a standard, a couple are excellent; I especially enjoyed "The Worry Bird", and "The Closer You Are" has a gorgeous melody.
All in all, the film is the equal of many of the lower budget MGM musicals, and that ain't bad at all.
The Doctor Takes a Wife (1940)
My take on this especially funny romantic comedy, with some "insights" other reviewers missed
I agree with the other positive reviews here, with one reservation. The film is a very funny, well written and performed screwball comedy. I especially enjoyed the sequence where Miland has to scramble between two adjoining apartments, a situation I've seen lots of times in comedy films; it's delightful here because of Miland's perfect performance and the spot on comic pacing. It's great fun seeing the cutsy-pie, air head performance of Gail Patrick; in her other "other woman" roles ("My Favorite Wife", etc.) she plays it stern and bland, here she's very funny and likable. OK, my one reservation--Loretta Young is miscast; she is off-putting in the first half of the film, seeming a total bitch. Later in the film, as her character softens she becomes a sympathetic character and right for the part. Hers is a role that seems to have been written for Roziland Russel or Jean Arthur; as I watched the film it was very easy to imagine those actresses fitting the part and the dialog to perfection. Occasionally Young seems to be handling her lines as Russel would, including her vocal inflections.
Somebody Loves Me (1952)
Far far away from the best
At the time I'm writing this, late 2010, there are 6 glowing reviews of this film on IMDb, all seem like they are written by the same person, a big Betty Hutton fan and fan of this film. Netlix recently put this on their watch instantly list and I watched about half.
Somebody Loves Me is completely undistinguished, barely mediocre, far from Hutton's best, and lightyears inferior to Singin' In The Rain, made the same year. Hutton sings well, but the songs are a bore, mostly very old fashioned material. The script is third rate; at least Warners, and occasionally MGM, made well written and emotionally moving musical bio's; this one is bland.
Ralph Meeker is badly miscast, he brims with dangerous macho sex appeal, perfect for Mike Hammer, all wrong for this picture. And he "sings" several songs; the vocal double is a complete mismatch, though if you'd wanted someone to imitate Bing Crosby, the singer was just about perfect.
Betty's costumes are gorgeous, but the rest of the production, including musical numbers, looks cheap.
One interesting aspect, Hutton plays a character who is somewhat of a prima donna, demanding and self absorbed. Apparently this is a mild version of the real Betty Hutton.
Pretty far down the quality scale for an MGM musical but . . .
Not one of the better "B" musicals of MGM's golden age, but worth a look despite unusually cheap looking sets, mediocre choreography, and wooden Purdom. Debbie Reynolds sparkles with energy and talent, Jane Powell looks and sings beautifully. Some of the songs are musically fresh and innovative, others just serviceable. The satire of the new age and fitness lifestyles are surprisingly ahead of it's time, though often show ignorance of the real thing (Debbie Reynolds sings and dances a song where she happily sprays some DDT, for example). Interesting: Some of Debbie and Jane's "sisters" are also in the far superior "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers".
Little Old New York (1940)
Winning combination of historical fiction, comedy, action, with only a modest amount of florid romance
This film sports winning performances (Alice Faye is delightful and very accomplished as a light comic actress), plenty of well-played comedy and well-staged action, a fine Alfred Newman score. But what really impressed and intrigued me were some elaborately staged outdoor scenes which appeared to be at least partially shot on a real 18th century seaport, not just the back lot. Either Fox spent a whole lot of money constructing a very large and realistic looking seaport set, or some of this was shot on location at some historic recreation site, or the art director was a genius in making the back lot look a lot bigger than it was. Interesting to see what a muscular hunk Fred MacMurray was, very different than his image in later years.
The Thrill of Brazil (1946)
MGM caliber musical comedy, well worth watching
Among the widely divergent IMDb reviews of this film, I'm inclined toward the positive. Having missed seeing the credits, I thought I'd come upon an obscure but worthy MGM musical (Kennon Wynn was an MGM player, Ann Miller about to become one, the set's, choreography, musical arrangements were MGM caliber, so maybe they borrowed Evyln Keyes from Columbia. . .) Well in fact it was a Columbia picture.
The witty, fast paced dialog was better than that in most 1940's MGM musicals. The arty, sexy, and unusual choreography by Eugene Loring (Nick Castle is co-credited) is very similar to what he did in "Yolanda and the Thief" with Astaire and company at MGM the year before.
Evyln Keyes does an excellent job giving a Roz Russell performance with just the right comic tone, zest, facility with fast paced comic repartee. Keenon Wynn is the weak link, he's no Carry Grant, and seems to me loud, obnoxious, and hard to take. Ann Miller is genuinely sexy in this film, something I never thought she was at MGM.
Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954)
Inferior Sequel To "The Robe"
If made today, they'd call this The Robe II. Mostly a beefcake fest and spectacle rather than a first class religious drama--which is what "The Robe" was. This one has lots of gladiator fights in the arena and "a day in the life " at gladiator school stuff. The action is quite excitingly staged, but lessened by the handicap of early Cinemascope, where close ups and even medium closeups looked distorted and were very seldom used.
Susan Hayward is fun to watch as a sexually ravenous and manipulative noblewoman. Victor Mature confirms his acting chops (see "My Darling Clementine") by making a the struggling hero part believable, in a part that could have been cardboard rendered by many an action hero actor.
The video quality on this DVD is disappointingly mediocre; Fox obviously didn't spend any money on restoration, as they do with many of their titles from the 1950's. Colors are muddy, and the print, while perfectly watchable, is scratched. Stereo sound is so-so, and at least on my system, I didn't hear any surround sound, which this movie certainly had (this was a significant aspect of early Cinemascope presentations).
The actor playing bad guy Caligula gives one of the most hammy, over the top performances I can remember; he seems to have studied at the Simon Legree school of melodrama.
The Girl Next Door (1953)
Obscure Musical Is Innovative and Well Made, with Execellent DVD Extras
This obscure film was a treat for me, a classic film buff; it's a rare musical from Hollywood's golden age that's I've never seen nor even heard of. The Girl Next Door is not only very well made and entertaining, but in 1951 this was cutting edge both in story and in the way it's musical numbers are staged.
Plotwise, it's a mild domestic drama, coupled with a conventional romance. Innovative is that the story portrays a warm, friendship-based father-son relationship which functions very well without a mother or other woman being around. When the father falls for the professional singer-dancer woman next door, the son is resentful.
The dance numbers are not only well staged and performed, but refreshingly creative. The standout is a film-noirish number, shot with highly stylized camera angles, stark lighting, highly effective use of contrasting colors, and slinky jazz dance moves. The capper is that the number is supposed to be a nightclub performance with Dan Daily in the audience; mid-number, he imagines himself into the number, first as a shadow and then as the primary male dancer (a la "The Purple Rose of Cairo", decades later). The film's opening is remarkable for it's time; credits are superimposed (very unusual for the time) on the first of a three song extended musical number which immediately set's up the story and gives us a lot of information about June Haver's character.
Dan Daily is likable, charming, masculine, believable, as well as being a good enough dancer and singer. June Haver is sexy in a very wholesome way, has a great body, moves well, but is somewhat bland in the personality-acting department. Her singing is dubbed. The only weakness in the film are that Denis Day is barely mediocre as a comic second banana, though his singing is beautiful, if you like old fashioned Irish tenor vocalizing. Cara Williams is radiant and sassy in the typical role of wisecracking friend of the heroine, but she's given little screen time and the zingers she's given to say are bland. Otherwise the dialog is far above the norm for musicals of it's era.
The DVD includes 3 documentary featurettes; 2 are very informative and well done, one is about the film and the other about Dan Daily. The third is about Billy Gray (Bud of "Father Knows Best"), it's hampered by not having any footage from non-Fox films he made, nor from the classic TV show.
The Fantasticks (1995)
Be sure to watch the DVD bonus material in this magical musical.
Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys musicals, I found it delightful. Thought the filmmakers did a smart and effective translation of the minimalist stage show into a motion picture. The cast of little knowns (plus Joel Gray) are excellent, the musical arrangements, production design and cinematography are all top notch, despite a limited budget.
This is one DVD where you've got to watch the deleted material. The film was extensively re-edited for DVD release, and the cut material is wonderful, including a couple of songs and funny and creative dialog scenes. I'd love to know more about why it wasn't released theatrically in 1995 and am curious about the extensive re-editing done for the DVD in 2000. It appears to me that besides shortening the film, the editing significantly cut the part of El Gallo, who I'd guess was too dominant in the original cut, thus to put more focus on the young lovers.