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Archive for the ‘Ann Miller’ Category

Small Town Girl

01 Aug

Small Town Girl – directed by László Kardos. Musical. 92 minutes Color 1953.

★★★★

The Story: A small town girl acts forbidding to a passing socialite jailed for speeding, until she lets him out of his jail and herself out of her own.

~

Competent directors of musicals of that era were somewhat discounted, but this is a well directed picture. It tracks through a half dozen different movie musical modes, the night club, the town square ho-down, the smash Broadway production number, the jig on the street, the church solo, and so forth, yet all of them are cohesive with the film as a whole.

Jane Powell remarks in her autobiography: “I was mostly in pictures set in sunny climates…. It makes everybody look better, and more romantic, and it makes everybody happy, particularly audiences who live in cold climates.” There is a good deal of plain truth to her observation, and the hot lights Technicolor required in those days also work to produce that sunshine to illuminate a small town no larger than Culver City.

Duck Town is the town into which speeds a snooty socialite played by Farley Granger. His spoiled, lubricious face fits the part, a part which becomes more fun as he plays off the gullibility of Chill Wills, the local constable. We warm up to him.

Granger is affianced to the Broadway musical star Ann Miller plays. She spins about in circles like a mosquito, this time upon a carpet of disembodied musical instruments. It’s sensational. Busby Berkeley choreographed, of course.

Even more sensational is the dancing of Bobby Van. Van appeared and disappeared  like a mushroom overnight. And the reason is simple. He was a spectacular specialty dancer along the lines of Ray Bolger and Dan Dailey and Dick Van Dyke, gangly, lithe, and homely. He might have gone on to a career, but, when Louis B. Mayer left MGM, the new management was not interested in musicals any more, and, besides, Van spoke with a pronounced Bronx accent such that no fancy footwork could drown.

But whenever he is dancing we watch his talent with wonder and appreciation. At one point he performs a seven minute number in which he simply hops right through the town. What he wants to do is move onto the big time, although his father, S.Z. Sakal doesn’t see it that way. Perhaps because he might, like us, meet Nat King Cole singing there.

Powell sings with her usual gleam of eye and voice. Here she is no longer a teenager, but a proper young lady and about time too. Her underlying quality of righteous authority plays through the perky daisies of her doily, and gives a likeable because recognizable resonance and ground to her. Before Powell had always wanted to be liked, which didn’t quite work, because we already wanted to like her. Now things are simpler. And better.

It’s a bright accomplished musical suitable for the whole family, and anybody who might drift by.

 

The Kissing Bandit

30 Sep

The Kissing Bandit – Directed by Laslo Benedek. Musical. The milquetoast son of a famed Mexican bandit longs for his son to take up the gun, and become “The Kissing Bandit.” 100 minutes 1948.

* * * *

In Ann Miller’s picture book of her musicals, this one is described, by common agreement of all its principals, as The Worst Musical Ever Made. I don’t know what the worst ever made is, but this can’t be it. First of all it is a lot of fun! It’s a Latin American farce, so, if you like The Pirate as much as I do, you will find this picture has its own version of amusement. (True, it would have been better directed by Vincente Minnelli.) Much of that amusement is supplied by J. Carrol Naish who, with a light-bulb nose, plays the funniest bandito in the world, grumpy, greedy, and galumphing. He is abetted by Mildred Natwick who is super as a lecherous duenna. For its stars we have Frank Sinatra, who is in perfect voice, and Kathryn Grayson, the same. These two had made musicals together before this, and got along. Why?  As they are so oddly matched, they are perfectly suited to one another. For Kathryn Grayson with her valentine face and bosom and her operetta soprano and Sinatra with no body weight at all and his crooner’s baritone are a naturally funny combo and they both play their parts well in the style of light farce, with Sinatra as the fool and Grayson as the femme voluptueuse. None of Nacio Herb Brown’s songs (save Love Is Where You Find It) are hits, yet that is not the problem. The problem is that the costumes are lousy. They drown the performers and the performances. They are not just over the top, which would be fun, they are vulgar, and one is wrenched from what is going on by the distraction of their garishness. Only until Grayson gets into a black dress and then into a white one, do her scenes work. A neat pas de trois, with Cyd Charisse and Ann Miller and Ricardo Montalban, is almost demolished because of the gold shoulders the two ladies wear. (As an aside, I wonder – why it was Sinatra was always presented as sexually callow in his films, a boy with no passion, sexual experience, or drive. Was it to still milk his appeal to fifteen year old bobby soxers?) The great Robert Surtees filmed it, and it still works to entertain escape and beguile. See if you don’t agree.

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Stage Door

08 Mar

Stage Door — Directed by Gregory La Cava —  Comedy Melodrama. A boardinghouse for aspiring actresses is the poison bowl where an ambitious amateur and her hardbitten roommate machinate for success on The Great White Way. 92 minutes Black and White 1937.

* * * * *

If you like 30s movies with Fast Talkin’ Dames, this will make your eyeballs pop! Everyone is completely at home with the (proleptic of Altman) overlapping dialogue by Edna Ferber and George F. Kaufman who wrote Dinner at 8 and You Can’t Take It With You and this. A nifty gab-fest by world class reparteuses — Eve Arden, Ginger Rogers, Katherine Hepburn, Ann Miller (ae 14), and Lucille Ball (who discovered her, ae 13). Hepburn’s hold on her public is never plainer than here, for she talks with an Hartford high society twang but she always levels with you. Her directness and her common sense are a passport in any country and any society. And Roger’s drunk scene is brilliantly played (and written) revealing that Jean, the lady with the snappy tongue, is a lot more ignorant of the ways of the world than she would have us believe. The ladies are catty, of course; indeed Eve Arden actually wears a live cat around her neck! The extras include a Lux Radio Broadcast with Rogers in her old part, Eve Arden in a different part, and Roz Russell in Hepburn’s part. Talk about collection of distinctive voices!  Talk about talk! Choice!

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