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Archive for the ‘James Gleason’ Category

Footlight Serenade

03 Jun

Footlight Serenade – directed by Gregory Ratoff. Backstage musical. 80 minutes Black And White 1942.

★★★★★

The Story: A chorus girl is wooed by an egomaniacal prize fighter who won’t take “Not tonight, Joe,” for an answer.

~

Victor Mature is a gas as the prize fighter who is so full of himself, he can’t see that Betty Grable does not have eyes for him at all. It’s a wonderful piece of comic acting by an actor who at other times performed excellently with Grable, and certainly with Rita Hayworth, but here he takes the cake. The screen comes alive when he jolts into view.

And he is extremely funny.

Unlike Phil Silvers, who is a cactus desperately trying to flower. And he is also playing a cactus who is desperately trying to flower – but he does not have the chops to distance himself from the role sufficiently to see that it is exactly like himself. It doesn’t work.

But never mind that. He races around promoting the fighter for all he isn’t worth. And the fighter is opposed by the droolingly handsome John Payne, whom Grable really loves. Payne is always so at ease as this sort of curl-on-the-forehead hunk that you can’t take exception to him. His masculinity is a treat, and he strips down real good for fights with Mature and a jolly song with Grable on a parapet of an apartment roof.

James Gleason, Prime Minister Of The Slow Burn, is the producer hooked into the caprice of a prize fighter starring in a dance musical when the fighter can neither sing nor dance. And a blond Jane Wyman plays Grable’s sidekick. She supposed to be sardonic, but you feel she just wants to sing and dance, at both of which she was superb and alive! A missed chance.

But with Grable in the piece, we have no need for another female talent at all. Grable is a master of comic song and dance. People raved about her perfect legs and cute figure and she sure had ‘em, but Grable’s open face and delight in playing the fool, moment by moment, is one of her most endearing gifts. It’s an early musical for her, and her strokes are a little broad, but she lands her lines perfectly, and carries herself through the masher maneuvers of Mature with skill and smarts.

Grable was one of the great screen entertainers of all time, and I still find her so. She was unusual in that she had the strength of the chorine with the vulnerability of a custard. On screen, stage, or nightclub, she was dear to her audiences as long as she lived – because she was hard-working and you could see into her. The dances are by Hermes Pan, Astaire’s co-choreographer, and Pan dances with her here. He had great respect for her talent, and it is justified by what she does for us still.

She, like the others, were masters of that most essential of all dramatic modes – Frivolous Entertainment. They had the talent for it with every move they made, and the cast of this piece is crammed with them. Open The Fox Talent box and this is what you got!

 

My Gal Sal

22 Nov

My Gal Sal – directed by Irving Cummings. Period Musical. American songwriter Paul Dreiser struggles from the rural Midwest, through raree shows, and into the arms of a beautiful musical star. 103 minutes Color 1942.

★★★

Like Victor Mature, the movie is a big lug. It is also A Gaudy Fox Musical, first meant for Alice Faye, then for Betty Grable, but finally made with Columbia-import Rita Hayworth, and Gaudy doesn’t suit Rita Hayworth, because she is already gaudy enough, with her dazzling smile and power to seduce.

It is also true that Fox musical numbers were usually comic numbers, and they don’t work well for Hayworth, since they are not in her proper range.

Finally, while Hayworth lip-syncs her songs well, she is not actually singing them. Only two major musical comedy stars of that era actually could both sing and dance well: Grable and Garland. Ruby Keeler did neither well, though she did both continually, as though talent for one or the other would one day break through.

What Hayworth did better than any of them was dance her particular dances. Only one of them works at all well for her here, a ballroom number, choreographed and partnered by Hermes Pan, and even here the costume is a demerit. Still and all, watch her port de bras. Her arms are lyric. Pan said she had the most beautiful hands he had ever seen; her upper-body carriage is always emblematic; she had a goddess in her shoulders.

But she does not prevail over the stupidity of the musical numbers staged for her. A movie of the previous year, Strawberry Blond, at Columbia is a much more heartening film. Again, she plays the title role, and it is of the same period and features the same sort of barber-shop songs – although in Strawberry Blond, the music is a constant background, not hitting us in the face like a fly ball as it does here. Besides, that was directed by Raoul Walsh, and this wasn’t.

Phil Silvers, with his personality of a merry cactus, has a couple of good scenes, The lovely and talented Carole Landis plays an early girlfriend of Mature. James Gleason is the cheating music publisher Mature makes rich.

Indeed, as you can see, we are generally in the realm of Gilded Age con men, and all the males of the film, save for the constipated Bruce Cabot, fall into this category. Mature is the con man’s con man. And his playing two pianos at once in a medicine show he works is spectacular and fun and odd and endearing – indeed, an act of genius. Mature was a big hearted galoot and game, and these qualities were a fine foundation for his career in films. As an actor in his craft he is without particular interest. You might say that even interesting roles didn’t lend him interest. He could do it and do it full out, but he lacked the artistic intelligence and imagination to create something marvelous – unless playing two pianos at once is imaginative and marvelous – and you know something? – I daresay it is!

 
 
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