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Archive for the ‘Howard Keel’ Category

Calamity Jane

05 Jul

Calamity Jane – directed by David Butler. Musical Western. 97 minutes Color 1953.

★★★★★

The Story: A wild and wooly hoyden from Deadwood, Dakota, plays superwoman to Wild Bill Hickock.

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If ever a performer and role collided triumphantly it is Doris Day and Calamity Jane.

Here we have her notorious pep, deleted of her starchy virtue, and elevated to a jig on a bar.

Day began as a dancer, and she is a good one, and the choreography designed for her is perfect. She is game, athletic, and lithe. She can be tossed around like a kite. She is vigorous and full of fun. She hasn’t a vain bone in her body nor one that isn’t limber.

Day was an amateur with the uncanny ability to throw herself into a scene like there was no tomorrow. This means that the selection of her resources is narrow, since it consists only what full emersion offers to one in danger of drowning. Which is to say, tension or thrashing about. But not here. Here all this works for her. The foolish tomboy turns out to be just her speed, in a velocity generally reserved for Betty Hutton.

She opens her mouth and sings with a natural brass in her vocal chords that has big carrying power, and a catch of emotion she probably can’t help, but which would be better supplied by the listener than the singer. She has perfect diction at full volume, and it seems her displayed singing technique has no borders. She is different from many pop singers in being able to negotiate comic songs – different from Sinatra who was not good in musicals because he crooned, which means that he sings legato, everything is slowed down, and so comic songs, of which musicals mainly are constituted, fail with his voice around them.

Day is right on top of those comic songs, and every single song in Calamity Jane is one, but one. “A Woman’s Touch,” is an example of her ready attack on a song – this a duet with Allyn McLerie – but “Just Got In From The Windy City,” and “Whip-Crack-Away,” she sings with zest and a joy that is real. Calamity Jane came out when I was a soldier on the front in Korea, and “Secret Love,” played over and over, had a painful meaning for me, quite separate from the movie, the meaning being a declaration of something that could not be declared. Her version, her way with it, is to declare it. Wow.

Howard Keel, opposite her, is relaxed, confident, humorous about himself. He has a big baritone, and he means what he sings. Tall, dark, and handsome, Howard Keel fit perfectly opposite every single leading lady he ever played with: Betty Hutton, Kathryn Grayson, Jane Powell, Doris Day, for some.

For the sheer entertainment of two performers ideally suited to doing what they are doing, with one of the best lyricist/composer combos ever to make songs together, Paul Francis Webster and Sammy Fain, you’ll see there isn’t a single missed beat or one too many.

I saw it when it came out. It’s better than it was before.

 

Annie Get Your Gun

16 Oct

Annie Get Your Gun — Directed by George Sidney. Backstage Musical. A country bumpkinette sharpshooter wins fame, fortune, and the man of her dreams. 107 minutes Color 1950.

* * * * *

It was written for Ethel Merman who in a theatre sang and acted everything directly out to the audience, and the director has wisely staged Betty Hutton’s numbers exactly the same, smack dab at the camera. But for a quite different reason, which is that the whole movie is a cartoon, and no one is more cartoonish than Hutton. She wants to burst out of the frame. She acts and sings always at the limits of her technique, which of the coast-to-coast variety. She punches out every song and locks her elbows to deliver the blow. She is The Great Frenetic. But she is really rather endearing in the role. Irving Berlin in his greatest score wrote the words and music, and Herbert and Dorothy Fields wrote the book, all of it in competitive response to Rogers’ and Hammerstein’s Americana musicals State Fair, Carousel, and Oklahoma! Competitive except in the matter of the treatment of natives; the Indians here are the most cartoonish of all. Ugh! But never mind, so is everyone else. Howard Keel is stalwart, affectionate, sexy, and true, and very much worth watching as Frank Butler, Annie’ rival deadeye, and his rich baritone caresses the songs warmly. We also have Louis Calhern as Buffalo Bill, and he’s an actor of incomparable suavity of bearing and always a treat to see. Benay Venuta played Dolly Tate on the stage with Merman and does so here, to good advantage. The film is haunted by the ghost of Judy Garland who began the film incurably depressed and facing Busby Berkeley who had always been mean to her and who was stupidly assigned to direct her. Moreover her work stupidly began with the film’s sole and exhausting production number, “I’m An Indian Too” (after Berkely and Garland were fired, completely restaged for Hutton’s looney bin of frenzy). We have the footage of Garland’s version; she is, of course, far more talented than Hutton, but by this time she was an irretrievable addict, and this ended her career. But Hutton is fine and the entertainment value of the material has not faded, particularly since no attempt is made to begin with to approximate any reality but Show Business which as the film warns us in a truism which nowadays extends to all areas of private, political, public and spiritual life, there is no business like.

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