Three Little Words (1950)
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This is one of the few films, even in the musicals, in which all the characters were nice people. In other words, there were no villains, no nasty people, which is refreshing to see now and then. It is supposedly the true-life account of songwriters Bert Kalmar (Astaire) and Harry Ruby (Red Skelton). Ruby is good at writing tunes, but not with lyrics. Kalmar supplies the lyrics and dance. Skelton also shows he had a decent singing voice.
The only unhappy moments in the movie are the squabbles between the two leading men, but that's not overdone and sometimes it's humorous. Skelton's character is the nicer of the two.
The leading ladies are wholesome-looking beautiful women. Vera-Ellen is a Shirley Jones-type pretty blonde with a great dancer's body. She's enjoyable to watch. Arlene Dahl, who was stunning, is the other leading female but her role was minor, unfortunately.
The movie is a good mixture of song, dance, comedy and drama and is an underrated film in that it that doesn't get a lot of publicity. Astaire was quoted as saying this was his favorite film. I agree. It's my favorite of his, too.
As far as this being Debbie Reynolds screen debut. Not so! Her film debut was in "The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady" filmed by Warner Brothers starring Gordon MacRae, Gene Nelson, and the best dancer Hollywood has ever had to offer - June Haver, but Haver's talent was always underestimated and not given the credit for being the fine performer that she was!
But, what can you say about "Three Little Words" except - sit back, get out the pop-corn and the soda's, relax and watch an excellent cast have a field day doing some of the finest singing, acting, dancing, that you will ever witness on the silver screen. It's just too bad that these old movies can't be seen on the large silver screen so that our younger generation can see what entertainment was, is, and always will be all about!
When I see Red Skelton's name on a picture, I usually expect to see him mugging all the way to the bank like a vaudeville trooper with a gun to his head. But here he actually restrains himself and does a very good job, perhaps because he's playing a real person, songwriter Harry Ruby (who was credited as a technical adviser on this film). He's paired with Astaire's Bert Kalmar -- and Astaire responds with a performance that is likewise far more character-oriented than usual, and quite nuanced as he veers from anger to sentimentality. Astaire is paired with Vera-Ellen, one of his all-time best partners.
The musical numbers were staged by Hermes Pan -- and it shows. These sequences are almost as impressive as those in "The Band Wagon" and "Singin' in the Rain" (with better music than "Rain"). I was particularly impressed with "Mr. and Mrs. Hoofer at Home", although I think it was too sophisticated for them to pass it off as a 1910s vaudeville number. But all is forgiven.
As a side note, I found it really amusing how the Kalmar character and others seemed to think about pop music genres strictly in germs of their relationship to romanticized concepts of exoticism. For example he "fixes" Ruby's "Araby" song by turning it into a Mammy Song. And at one point while musing on the direction they should go with a song, Kalmar says "you know, there hasn't been an Oriental song in a while...." Kalmar's concept of an Oriental song being, of course, the ridiculous "So Long Oo-Long". I almost fell out of my chair laughing, and I'm not completely sure that the humor was unintentional.
Of course this film probably bears little truth in terms of the reality of Kalmar's and Ruby's lives. But then neither did "Till the Clouds Roll By", "Night and Day" or "Rhapsody in Blue" ..... and at least this film was entertaining. The versions of Kalmar's and Ruby's songs are great -- in fact I read that seeing this film as a teenager inspired young Connie Francis to eventually sing the song "Who's Sorry Now?" and make it even more famous than it ever was before. I'm thinking that she probably won't be the last person inspired by this joyous film.
The title song isn't sung in its final form until the very end. The tantalizing possibilities of the tune serves as a running sore point between the two male stars through most of the film, although this has no factual basis. To me, Skelton's character was 95% Skelton and maybe 5% Harry Ruby. Apparently, the real Ruby didn't mind, as he has a bit part as one of Skelton's baseball teammates! Although Astaire commonly incorporated comedy into his musical roles,in this film, he is mostly Skelton's straight man. Although little known, both Skelton and Astaire composed numerous songs, including symphonies by Skelton.Through most of the film, Astaire appears to assume professional and social dominance over Skelton. This relationaship no doubt stems from the fact that the real Ruby initially was hired by Kalmar as a song plugger. Toward the end of the film, Skelton's Ruby is finally accepted as a near equal.Astaire and Skelton sing duets of several songs, most notably "My Sunny Tennessee" and the novelty song "So Long, Oo Long", the latter being my favorite.
Of course, Vera-Ellen always made a virtually unrivaled dancing partner for the top MGM film dancers of the day, including Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Danny Kay, as well as being a classic beauty, in a girl-next-door way. But, she reportedly was introverted, from childhood, and this shows through sometimes, between musical numbers.Both she and Astaire have a solo dance routine, as well as several partnered routines.Their routine "Mr. and Mrs. Hoofer at Home" is the novelty dance highlight of the film, while their dances to "Thinking of You" and the standard "Nevertheless" are highlights for grace and elegance.This duo would star in one more musical: "The Belle of New York", this time without significant musical costars, and featuring new songs by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer. Although this film has received much criticism, I find it at least as delightful as the present film and presently can be obtained cheaply as part of a DVD musicals set.
The association between Astaire and Skelton gets off to a very rocky start, when Skelton's clumsiness turns Astaire's stage magic act into a complete disaster.The second half of the film involves more melodrama as the pair have a falling out for a few years. This manufactured melodrama has no factual basis, and sometimes gets a bit tedious. Of course, in the end,the love aspect of this relationship triumphs and the now 4 stars(with Dahl) join together in a farewell scene: a very common ending to musicals of this era.
Best of all is the pairing of Fred Astaire and Red Skelton as the musical partners, Bert Kalmer and Harry Ruby. These actors do some nice work together as they came together to create musical comedy. Mr. Astaire's dancing partner is Vera-Ellen, who was a dominant figure in musical comedies. Mr. Astaire and Vera-Ellen do a good job in their dancing.
A big surprise was to see a young Debbie Reynolds in her rendition of "I Wanna be Loved by You", which later became associated with Marilyn Monroe's signature songs. The young Ms. Reynolds' shows an amazing talent that would come to fruit in later films. Gloria de Haven and Arlene Dahl also grace the film with their presence, as well as Kennan Wynn, and other supporting players.
But as in all these musical biographies of songwriters, it's the songs that are the real star. Kalmar and Ruby wrote some great ones, no doubt about it. Songs like Nevertheless, Thinking of You, Who's Sorry Now are still sung and will be sung for the next millennium.
Both these guys had their eccentricities, Kalmar fancied himself a magician and Ruby was a big baseball fan. Kalmar wanted to be Mr. Blackstone and Ruby would have swapped every song he ever wrote for a chance to play in the Major Leagues with any of the New York based teams.
Astaire is strangely lacking in dance routines in this film. They are confined to some vaudeville type numbers as befitting the fact that Kalmar was a song and dance man until a knee injury made him turn to writing. Red Skelton's antics were confined to some scenes on the baseball diamond where his good friend, the clown prince of baseball Al Schacht played by infielder George Metkovich provided some good humorous moments for Skelton.
Incidentally one big error in the film identified Al Schacht as a pitcher. Schacht was a catcher, his vaudeville partner was Nick Altrock who was a pitcher and a good one, but he's not in the film.
Arlene Dahl and Vera-Ellen play the women in the lives of Ruby and Kalmar. Vera-Ellen dances well with Astaire and her singing is dubbed by Anita Ellis.
Debbie Reynolds is in this in one of her earliest roles as Boop Boop a Doop singer Helen Kane who did introduce Kalmar and Ruby's I Wanna Be Loved By You. And Gloria DeHaven playing her own mother who died that year and she sings Who's Sorry Now.
Kalmar and Ruby also wrote Groucho Marx's theme, Hooray For Captain Spaulding. I'm still wondering why it was only confined to the two of our leads in rehearsal, why Groucho himself didn't appear. In real life he was a very close friend of Harry Ruby's. Kalmar and Ruby wrote the score for Duck Soup as well and later on they wrote Go West Young Man for Groucho in Copacabana.
The song Three Little Words was NOT introduced on Phil Regan's radio show. It was written by Kalmar and Ruby for the Amos and Andy film Check and Double Check where Duke Ellington and his orchestra played it with the Rhythm Boys singing. They also recorded the song with the Rhythm Boys who were Al Rinker, Harry Barris, and their lead singer, a fellow named Bing Crosby.
Kalmar had passed away when this film was released in 1950. Ruby went on after a fashion. Oscar Hammerstein, II helped finish a Kalmar lyric to a Ruby song that became A Kiss To Build A Dream On which was sung by Louis Armstrong the following year and was a big posthumous hit for half the team. And Harry Ruby wrote the famous television theme to The Real McCoys later on in the Fifties.
Other than their respective avocations for prestidigitation and baseball, Kalmar and Ruby were a pair of normal fellows and led pretty dull lives. But that's the problem when you try to do biographies of people like them. So relax and listen to some really great songs by a pair of normal guys.
The sound track is terrific, with many of Kalmar & Ruby's best songs included -- the title song, "Nevertheless", "I Wanna Be Loved By You", "Who's Sorry Now", and "Thinking Of You"...and others. However, a few of their well-known songs are not included, including "Baby Face" and "Kiss To Build A Dream On" (made famous by Louis Armstrong).
It's difficult to think of a more perfect cast for the script. Kalmar had been a dancer on the vaudeville circuit...and is played beautifully by Fred Astaire. Harry Ruby had a fixation about baseball...perfect for the clowning of Red Skelton. And, there's no question that Fred and Red had chemistry in this film. Although it's probably "White Christmas" that Vera-Ellen is best known for, this is probably a better acting job on her part; she's the love interest for Astaire. Arlene Dahl -- who was said by the inventors of Technicolor to be the perfect face and complexion for Techniclor -- is so beautiful here...the only problem being that to fit the story line we don't really see much of her until later in film. Keenan Wynn is around, but is of little consequence.
A couple of interesting facts: Gloria DeHaven plays her own mother in what amounts to a cameo singing "Who's Sorry Now". Debbie Reynolds plays "boop-a-doop" girl Helen Kane, but the singing voice is actually Helen Kane.
One review of the film at the time said this was MGM at the height of it's musical genre. And it is a darned good film! Well worth watching!
Because this movie is based on true events, you don't need to worry about a lousy plot or storyline. The music is great, and it is wonderful to see Red and Fred working together on songs.
I wish this movie were offered on DVD. I watch it so often, I'm going to wear out the tape. I plan on buying a couple more copies just in case.
I highly recommend this movie if you like Red Skelton, Fred Astaire, musicals, or just good movies. This movie should be considered a classic. It breaks my heart that whenever I mention this movie, nobody has ever heard of it.
And if all of this is not enough of a selling point for you, you must know that you have not lived until you have seen Debbie Reynolds as Helen Kane performing "I wanna be loved by you"
Now for a second grunt; I never cared for Red Skelton's humor. I'm sure some would classify him a comic genius but simply stated--he never made me laugh. To me he was a successful clown minus a putty nose. Yet HE played the unbelievably talented songwriter-a genius of a songwriter, a playwright plus other highly cerebral endeavors. It was like putting a square peg in a round hole because Ruby the genius was portrayed as a dope and an eccentric in this flick. That ticked me off.
Now for the applause. Fred Astaire as Bert Kalmar, hoofer and lyricist,was his excellent self in this film. I mean no one in movie history danced like that man. His grace, style and elegance combined with a very pleasant singing voice, for many decades, kept him on the highest Hollywood pinnacle. Astaire was perfect as Kalmar while Skelton acted like a dope--a total miscast however...........
The film was very good. You like great tunes? If so, the team wrote such beauties as "Three Little Words, Nevertheless, I Wanna Be Loved By You" and many more. By the way, Debbie Reynolds made her screen debut as Helen Kane, the "Boop Boop a Doop girl" lipsyncing the latter.
The story unfolded nicely, the color was excellent; it was neither too long nor short and I felt the whole thing was worth the time spent in front of the TV screen.