Monday, June 29, 2020

IT'S A BIKINI WORLD (1967)

On a sunny day at Malibu Beach, we meet Mike Samson, the local chick magnet who loves playing the field; when we first see him, he's lolling on the beach with three bikinied women clinging to him. His hulking buddy Woody has a girlfriend named Pebbles, and she brings a visiting friend, Delilah Dawes, to the beach. Mike hits rather aggressively on Delilah but she spurns him, which he's not used to, and he takes this as a challenge. When Mike overhears Delilah tell Pebbles that she prefers intelligent guys, he decides to pose as Herbert, Mike's glasses-wearing book-reading nerd brother, and winds up hitting it off with Delilah. Meanwhile, Daddy, the beatnik-ish manager of a beach night club called The Dungeon, makes an alliance with magazine publisher Harvey Pulp who wants to start a magazine called Teen Scream: Pulp will sponsor a series of contests using customized products of Daddy's. The first contest is a skateboard race which Delilah decides to enter in order to teach Mike a lesson. Mike-as-Herbert helps her learn the ropes, but on race day, she comes in second to Mike. This just fires her up to enter more contests. Meanwhile, she and Herbert grow closer, even though Woody manages to show up at the wrong time and messes up an evening which Mike hoped would be a makeout session. Just before the climactic event, a cross-country race involving skateboards, cars, swimming and even camels, Delilah discovers that Herbert is actually Mike and she's even more determined to whup Mike's ass.

This is a fairly listless late entry in the mid-60s beach movie genre, filmed in late 1965 but not given a wide release until spring of '67. Most of the beach movies were relatively low budget B-films, and this is among the lowest, even though there are a few nice stylistic touches. Delilah's first walk on the beach is seen reflected in the sunglasses of a number of beach bunnies, and there is a very funny (and surreal) gag during the skateboard chase involving a giant pane of glass that Mike and Delilah manage to skateboard through as no there was no glass there, but which someone else runs through and shatters. It's in widescreen and shot on real locations, but the colorful gloss of the American International beach flicks (with Frankie and Annette) is sorely missed here. I like Tommy Kirk, a Disney kid actor and star of a handful of other beach movies, but he's more goofy-cute than handsome, and certainly not the studly hunk that his character is supposed to be; in fact, he's much more believable as Herbert. As Kirk is a second-string Frankie, Deborah Walley (as Delilah) is a second-string Annette and has little chemistry with Kirk. Bob Pickett is amateurish as Woody, but his main fame is as Bobby "Boris" Pickett, writer and singer of the huge 1962 novelty hit "Monster Mash" which still gets airplay around Halloween. Famous cult actor Sid Haig (Captain Spaulding in the Rob Zombie movies) is amusing as Daddy, though some comic relief stuff involving Pulp's sidekick McSnigg falls flat.

The 90-minute movie is fairly well-paced until the end when the cross-country race, presented in nine phases, goes on for an excruciatingly long time. But fans of 60s' one-hit-wonders may enjoy the musical performances by the teenage group The Gentrys (their top 5 hit was "Keep On Dancing" though that's not the song they do here) and The Castaways (who perform their big hit "Liar Liar"). Eric Burden and the Animals—who had several hits—sing "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" though Burden seems fairly uninterested in trying to convincingly lip-sync. At one point, the kids see a double feature of Attack of the Crab Monsters (a real movie which we see a clip from) and Gorgonzilla (uh, not a real movie but cute joke). In his bachelor pad, Herbert puts up a pop-art poster that is a blow-up of a frame from the famous comic strip Terry and the Pirates, of interest to me as I am currently watching the Terry and the Pirates 1940 movie serial on TCM. This is not something I'd recommend to everyone, but until the last 15 minutes, it's fairly painless. My main complaint: not enough genuine beefcake on the beach. Pictured are the two faces of Tommy Kirk. [TCM]

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A GAME OF DEATH (1945)

Don Rainsford (John Loder, at left), a famous hunter and author, is on a small ship that is nearing Vancarra Island, also known as Man Trap Island. At one time used as a pirate hideaway, and famous for its dangerous coral reefs, it would seem to be deserted now. The island's reputation has the crew a little jumpy, and when a misplaced line of buoys leads the pilot astray, the ship founders and sharks kill off everyone except Rainsford. He gets to the island and soon makes his way to the large pirate fortress, now occupied by the mysterious but quite civilized Erich Kreiger (Edgar Barrier), a big game hunter who is familiar with Rainsford's books and is excited to have him as a guest, joining two other people, Ellen (Audrey Long) and her brother Bob, also recent shipwreck survivors. After having become bored with hunting, Kreiger turned the island into a hunting reserve stocked with what he calls "the most dangerous game in the world." He doesn't say that that might be, and he keeps his trophy room locked up, but he and Rainsford share philosophical ideas about hunting and a pleasant time is had by all. That night, Ellen warns Rainsford that Kreiger seems a bit unbalanced—a scar on his forehead from a hunting accident frequently throbs and causes Krieger visible discomfort—and also tells him that other shipwrecked "guests" have since vanished. Bob breaks into the trophy and discovers that it's lined with human heads. Yes, the dangerous game that Kreiger is hunting is humans, and the three "guests" realize that the misplacement of the channel lights is deliberate: the shipwreck survivors are being released and hunted down by Kreiger, and certainly, these three are next.

This is based on the famous short story "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell, and it's also a very faithful remake of the 1932 film of that title. The title change gives a different meaning to "game"; originally it referred to humans as game to be hunted, but here it becomes a game being played by Kreiger. Both meanings work, I suppose, though GAME OF DEATH would seem more appropriate for an Agatha Christie-type mystery. The two films are so similar, it's difficult not to compare them, and as is usual, the remake suffers, though this version is certainly watchable. This is distinctly a B-movie with a B-level cast, whereas the 1932 version had the up-and-coming stars Joel McCrea and Fay Wray as the leads. John Loder is a reliable supporting actor, and he's fine here, but he doesn't have the energy and charm of McCrea. The same can be said of Audrey Long versus Fay Wray. Leslie Banks, in the original, can't be beat for simmering sinister madness, and Edgar Barrier doesn't try, which was probably wise but still diminishes the character's impact. The one actor who bests the original is Russell Wade as Bob. In the 1932 film, the brother is an alcoholic mess, overplayed a bit by Robert Armstrong; here, Bob just pretends to be drunk to put Kreiger off his guard, and Wade does a nice job. Some footage from the older movie is used in the later scenes where Krieger hunts Rainsford and Ellen but it's blended in fairly well. The sets might even be the same; certainly, this film uses the same grotesque bestial wall hanging on the staircase that was used in 1932. There is a nicely full-blooded fisticuffs scene at the end. If you only watch one version of the story, the Joel McCrea film is the one to see; this one, directed by Robert Wise, sustains tension well but, aside from changing the villain from Russian to German, seems unnecessary. [YouTube]

Sunday, June 21, 2020

THAT MAN FROM RIO (1964)

As a French museum closes for noon lunch, two mysterious men break in, shoot a worker with a poison dart, steal a statuette of the ancient Maltec civilization—one of three in existence which supposedly can be used to find a hidden treasure in the Amazon—and kidnap museum archeologist Professor Catalan. At the same time, Adrien, a private in the Air Force, arrives in Paris on a one-week leave to visit his girlfriend Agnes. But their reunion is short-lived—she is kidnapped as well, her connection being that her late father worked with Catalan to unearth the Maltec figures, and the villains assume Catalan and Agnes may know where to find the other statues. Adrien chases her on foot and finds that she has been drugged and flown to Rio. He manages to get on the same flight, follows them, and sets out to rescue her. He does, and together they rescue Catalan. A rich Brazilian businessman named De Castro owns the second figure and only Agnes knows that the third one is buried somewhere on her late father's property. But not everyone is quite whom they seem, and to give any more plot summary would spoil the fun.

This movie was marketed (and is still sometimes described) as a parody of the James Bond films, but that's not quite accurate. Adrien is not a spy, just a fellow dragged into a dangerous adventure, rather like a Hitchcock hero from The 39 Steps or North by Northwest. Actually the film seems equally inspired by Hitchcock, by silent film escapades (one moment, pictured at left, conjures up a famous scene in Harold Lloyd’s classic Safety Last), and by the cliffhanging adventure serials of the 30s and 40s. But the movie that RIO most conjured up for me was Raiders of the Lost Ark, made twenty years later, with its hero plunging into and escaping from one tight squeeze after another (including a rip-roaring bar fight) while searching for a valuable ancient artifact. At the climax, we discover that the three statuettes, combined with sunlight, reveal the hidden treasure, as in Raiders. This all may not be accidental, as Steven Spielberg has noted his high esteem for this film. (The director, Philippe de Broca, acknowledged the Tintin series of adventure books as a major influence, and Spielberg made a Tintin movie in 2011.)

Though this is a French film with a leading man right out of 60s New Wave cinema (Jean-Paul Belmondo as Adrien), it is not "avant-garde" in the slightest, and as long as you can deal with subtitles, it can be enjoyed by any fan of Hollywood light-hearted adventure. However, it's not quite as light as the New York Times found it in 1964—their review notes that despite all the villainous menacing, no one gets hurt, but in fact at least two characters do die. Despite being set in Brazil, there are no important native characters except a young street urchin (who actually lives in an interesting little shed) named Sir Winston—possibly an inspiration for Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The stunt set pieces, including chases in cars and planes, are amazing, and it's obvious that Belmondo does much of his own stunt work. Belmondo is athletic, sexy and charming, and Françoise Dorleac, sister of Catherine Deneuve, as Agnes holds her own with the same qualities. (Sadly, Dorleac would die at the age of 25 in a car accident only three years after this film was released.) Jean Servias is Catalan and Italian actor Adolfo Celi (later the bad guy in the Bond film Thunderball) is De Castro. This movie is colorful with lots of interesting location photography, and if you can suspend disbelief over how far Adrien is able to go with no money or resources, you'll have a lot of fun. [TCM]

Thursday, June 18, 2020

PUSHOVER (1954)

We watch a methodically planned bank robbery carried out by Paul Richards and his partner, though at its end, they shoot and kill a security guard. That evening, in a seemingly unrelated scene, we see young and beautiful Kim Novak leave a theater and have trouble getting her car started. Kindly bystander Fred MacMurray helps her out, they hit it off, and end up spending the night together. Soon we discover Novak is the mistress of the bank robber and MacMurray is actually a cop assigned to watch her. But in the tradition of film noir, he falls for her which complicates matters. When he comes clean to her, she suggests that, when Richards eventually shows up with the bank money, the two of them take off with it. But MacMurray is part of a three-man stakeout taking place across the street from her apartment; she is under visual surveillance and her phone is tapped, making things dicey for the couple. For a while, MacMurray pulls it off, playing it cool with his partner (Phil Carey) and his boss (E.G. Marshall), but soon Carey gets mildly involved with Dorothy Malone, a neighbor of Novak's, and when Malone sees MacMurray where he shouldn't be, the screws tighten for everyone.

If you've seen DOUBLE INDEMNITY, you can't help imagining MacMurray’s character, Paul Sheridan, as an older version of Walter Neff, gray and ashen and worn down by life but still letting lust lead him into trouble. Neff is a more rounded character than Sheridan, who remains something of a blank here, and this movie is nowhere near the classic that INDEMNITY was, but it's still a fairly compelling film noir. The clever script limits itself to basically three locations: Novak's apartment, Malone's apartment, and the stakeout room across the street. That sounds like a potentially dull set-up more appropriate for a live 1950s TV drama, but it rarely feels static, and in fact helps to ratchet up the tension. MacMurray is good, as is Novak—this was her first featured role and the critics were not kind to her, but I think she's just right. Her character isn’t as devious as Barbara Stanwyck's in INDEMNITY—she seems to want to escape from Richards and genuinely has feelings for MacMurray—so she's not really a classic noir femme fatale, and that could be what some viewers react to rather than to her performance. Carey is excellent—I wanted to know about his character, and was rooting for him and Malone to work something out, even though the relationship begins in a creepy voyeuristic way (he watches her from across the street when nothing's happening in Novak's place). Allen Nourse is fine in the small but key role of an older policeman eager for retirement—he's got "poor bastard" written all over him from the start. A solid noir. Pictured are Malone, MacMurray and Novak. [Criterion Channel]

Sunday, June 14, 2020

THE LADY IN THE MORGUE (1938)

At a downtown hotel, a young woman is found hanging in the closet of her room, an apparent suicide, and she is taken to the morgue to await identification. A gangster thinks she might be his mistress, but the wealthy Courtlands think she might be their daughter who had written a letter in which she sounded suicidal, and they hire detective Bill Crane to investigate. But when the body disappears from the morgue and an attendant is found dead, it's clear that there is more to this than a lonely suicide. Crane gets an elevator operator to let him into Alice's room to snoop around, and he quickly deduces that she must have been killed by someone and hung up as a cover-up. When the cops arrive, Crane sneaks out the window and pops into another room, occupied by a young woman who is taking a shower, who turns out to be married to Sam Taylor, a musician who was the last person to have seen the dead woman alive. I think you can sense at this point that the plot is going to get a bit too convoluted for its own good, something that happens with some frequency in B-mysteries. Indeed, the gangster's moll is still alive, as is the Courtland daughter, so who is the lady in the shower, and who may not actually be married to Sam Taylor. So, who was the mystery woman and who stole her body?

This is one in a series of Crime Club mysteries made by Universal, all based on books published under a Crime Club imprint. It’s short—about 70 minutes—and is shot with some interesting B-style, with lots of camera swipes as transitions between scenes, but otherwise it's par for the course for the genre. Preston Foster is acceptable as the detective, and he works well with Frank Jenks, his sidekick; their banter keeps the movie's tone lightweight. Patricia Ellis is fine as the somewhat mysterious Courtland daughter. The Courtland brother is played by Gordon Elliott, later to be a B-western star under the name "Wild Bill" Elliott. Gordon Drew, who played Prince Barin in a Flash Gordon serial, is Sam Taylor. Barbara Pepper (pictured with Foster) adds some spice as a saucy blonde. Aside from the occasionally flashy camerawork, the low-budget production is fairly bare bones; there is no musical score, the sets are on the cheap side, and the script could have been tightened up. The two most interesting scenes are set at a penthouse cocktail party and a cemetery. It all moves fairly quickly to a satisfying “roomful of suspects” ending. [YouTube]

Thursday, June 11, 2020

WICKED WOMAN (1953)

The opening theme song for this movie gives us some idea of the lay of the land in terms of how women will be viewed: "When the love that you're receiving / From her lips is so deceiving / How come her hands can mold you into clay?" Blonde totsy Beverly Michaels gets off the bus one day, sashays into town—catching the eye of weasely tailor Percy Helton—and gets a room in a cheap boarding house, with Percy as her across-the-hall neighbor. He tries to put the moves on her, but she prefers lying about decoratively in her room with the door open, reading a horoscope magazine and listening to her favorite record, "Acapulco Nights"—though she is perfectly happy to hit the guy up for dinner when she smells the steaks he's frying in his room. Bar manager Evelyn Scott gives her a job as a barmaid and she's very good with the (mostly middle-aged) male clientele. But soon Michaels comes on something fierce to Scott's beefy bartender husband (Richard Egan). He manages to resist for about five seconds, but soon they're sharing stolen moments and idly planning to go on the run, maybe to Acapulco. She suggests that Egan sell the bar, take the money, and leave with her, but this necessitates fooling Scott, a half-owner, into selling, which she has no plans to do. Michaels decides to pose as Egan's wife for the lawyers, forge a signature, and when the money comes through, skedaddle (Scott is an alcoholic and Michaels encourages her drinking habits to keep her off guard). But we all know about the best laid plans of mice and men—and this plan isn't particularly well-laid out.

[Spoilers ahead!] This showed up on TCM's Noir Alley, and though it has some film noir elements (the femme fatale, the horny adulterous hunk, the scheme to get money), it doesn’t really play out like one. Michaels and Egan (pictured) operate as a B-movie MacMurray and Stanwyck (Double Indemnity) or Turner and Garfield (The Postman Always Rings Twice), but despite the sexual tension and greed, it's a bit of a letdown when a murder plot fails to crop up, even though at one point, Michaels expressly wishes that Scott were dead. Basically, Helton messes things up when he overhears the two plotting and blackmails Michaels into getting some hanky-panky. In the middle that, Egan walks in, calls her a tramp and calls off the deal. We're not sure how Egan and Scott will reconcile, but Michaels leaves town like she came in, on a bus, aiming to snag another hapless man. The two leads are very good, with Michaels oozing sex (as a weapon) and Egan tied up in knots of lust. Helton, whose claim to fame in my eyes is as the drunk Santa in the beginning of MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, is queasily right as the greasy blackmailer—at one point, Michaels calls him a runt and he warns her not to say that, to which she screams, "Runt, runt, runt!" There aren't really any likable people here—Egan's drunkard wife is, if not awful, at least unpleasant. An online critic at Cinema Sojourns notes that "the look and feel of the movie captures the lurid quality of trashy pulp fiction covers," and that is probably its best quality, even though it isn't able to deliver on that promise. Not quite a gem, but one to catch as it doesn't show up too often. [TCM]

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

THE DEFEAT OF THE BARBARIANS (1962)

Beware: this summary (for reasons detailed later) may not be accurate. The Bavarian Prince Rudolf is caretaker to the royal heir, 10-year-old Albert. Baron Berthold is sent off to deal with Manfredi, a possible threat to Albert, who rules in Italy. However, Manfredi will have none of this; he sends the Baron back to Rudolf while keeping his daughter Grenda hostage to ensure that Rudolf will not send troops against Manfredi. But Grenda turns out to be happy where she is with Manfredi. Meanwhile, Manfredi's deputy Riccardo, who has his own dreams of power, sees Grenda on the sly and soon hatches a plan to make Manfredi think that Albert has died. Manfredi soon discovers that, not only is this a lie, bur Rudolf's men are on the move against him. In the middle of all this royal intrigue, we meet the lowly but hunky Astolfo (Ken Clark, pictured) who has worked his way up to become a squire to Manfredi. For half the movie, I had assumed that Manfredi was the villain, but come to find out, he's actually the good guy—and after he gets killed in battle, we find out that Rudolf may not have Albert's best interests at heart. Luckily, Astolfo becomes our moral compass, and over the course of a couple of distinctly lackluster battles, Riccardo and Grenda are defeated, Albert is crowned king, and Astolfo becomes the royal protector.

Trying to give this movie a fair review is impossible. The original print ran nearly 90 minutes, but the only print available (on YouTube) is just 68 minutes. From what I can figure out, the movie never got a theatrical release in the U.S. This version, which is presented with the title "Scourge of the Barbarians," appears to be a TV edit, made to air in a 90 minute slot. It's also a pan and scan print, though it doesn't actually pan—there are scenes in which two people are talking and we see neither one of them, only the landscape between the two. I'm not sure what's been cut, but big chunks of the movie are gone, which may be why I initially misidentified the good guys and the bad guys. I'm guessing that a lot of Ken Clark's performance wound up on the cutting room floor since he is first billed but is basically a supporting performer with less screen time that Manfredi, Riccardo, or the Baron. Clark, whose high point in Hollywood was probably as the tall blond sailor Stewpot in SOUTH PACIFIC, has developed a minor cult following for his work in B-movies—sci-fi, adventure and spy films. So it's disappointing that he gets relatively little screen time in this bastardized print of what may have been a perfectly fine Italian adventure movie. If a complete print ever shows up, I'll be more than willing to revisit my review, but until then, I can't recommend this odd little mess of a movie. [YouTube]

Sunday, June 07, 2020

D-DAY THE SIXTH OF JUNE (1956)

The men of Special Force Six are heading for Normandy to be among the first soldiers to make the D-Day landing. The leader, British officer Richard Todd, interacts a bit awkwardly with American Robert Taylor. As we soon discover, the two have something in common besides a dangerous mission: they are both in love with the same woman. In a first brief flashback set in 1942, Todd is having a short visit with his gal, Dana Wynter, whose father is a brusque brigadier (John Williams) who is not happy about 1) being put out of commission after being injured at Dunkirk, and 2) the rowdy behavior of American soldiers in England. Todd and Wynter part sadly, making promises of love. Then we're in Taylor's flashback; a married newspaper publisher back in the States, he is stationed in England as an assistant to Lt. Col. Edmond O'Brien. When word gets to O'Brien about an altercation between some Yanks and the unfriendly brigadier, Taylor is sent to smooth things over and winds up striking some sparks with Wynter, now working a nurse and who suspects that Todd may have been killed in a North African mission. Though he's honest about his marital status, the two slowly begin a romantic relationship. Eventually a wounded Todd gets sick leave and returns to see Wynter, but he overhears two nurses referring to Wynter's American boyfriend, and is soon put in charge of Special Force Six when O'Brien suffers a breakdown. Back to the sixth of June, when actions on the beach may determine the outcome of the romantic triangle.

Notice that I barely mention D-Day in the above summary. Odd, given that the military operation is the title of the movie. But, in fact, this isn’t really about D-Day; it's a wartime romantic melodrama sold falsely as a combat film. Yes, we see some action on the beach in the last 15 minutes, but it's over and done with fairly quickly. If this film had a different title, the lack of war scenes might not be so bothersome. However, even taken as a war romance picture, it has problems. The biggest is that the wooden Robert Taylor is the focus of the film. Poor Richard Todd, a handsome and capable actor who is second billed to Taylor, is left with scraps; he seems to get less screen time than supporting actor Edmond O'Brien, whose storyline is not terribly involving and often feels like padding. Though Wynter and Taylor have little chemistry, she does a nice job almost single-handedly making us care about the couple. Williams is fine in a brief but showy role, and other good support comes from Jerry Paris, Ross Elliott, and Robert Gist. I admit I like the ending, which, despite the death of one of the two men, doesn't actually (in my reading) resolve the triangle completely. Pictured are Todd and Taylor. [TCM]

Thursday, June 04, 2020

THE JUNGLE PRINCESS (1936)

In the jungles of Malaysia, an elephant stampede destroys the village of the young girl Ulah, and her father dies saving her from a tiger. Fifteen years later, Ulah (Dorothy Lamour) is a solitary jungle dweller (think female Tarzan but in a sarong rather than a loincloth) with a pet tiger she calls Limau. Her tiger has become something of a legend among the natives, for whenever it appears, the sound of soft laughter is heard nearby. It's called the Tiger Who Laughs, but we see that it's really Ulah, hiding in the trees, who laughs. A small British expedition is about to leave before the rainy season sets in, but Chris (Ray Milland) wants to stay and work on his book, which irritates his fiancée Ava (Molly Lamont). While Chris in the jungle, the laughing tiger appears and starts to attack Chris, whose leg is injured. The native guides run away but Ulah stops and helps him, taking him to her cave and attending to his leg while the two of them, despite their language differences, flirt up a storm. Chris's party looks for him but assumes he's dead and take off, leaving Chris and Ulah to get cozy in the jungle. Time passes, the expedition returns, and Chris feels duty-bound to return to Ava, but Ulah and Limau accompany him. Despite the obvious closeness of Chris and Ulah, Ava insists on holding Chris to his promise of marriage. But eventually, between these romantic entanglements and the belief among the natives that Ulah is a witch, problems ensue.

Despite having the predictable structure and trappings of the average jungle adventure, this feels a little brighter and more fun than the Tarzan movies of the same era, largely due to the chemistry between Lamour (in her first movie) and Milland. She's charming, if mostly called upon to give a one-note performance, and he is still young and vigorous, and it's fun to watch their relationship develop. Though this was made after the imposition of the moralistic Production Code, it has the feel of a pre-Code movie: it's made very clear that Milland and Lamour are having a physical relationship without the benefit of clergy, so to speak, not to mention the specter of forbidden "miscegenation," with the Anglo Chris and the native Malaysian Ulah (with Lamour in what I call duskyface). Another thing this has in common with the Tarzan films is that the rest of the cast, here including Akim Tamiroff and Lynne Overman, makes little impression. There's not a lot of action until the climactic attack of the flying (sort of) monkeys which is pulled off nicely. A fun 30s adventure. [DVD]

Monday, June 01, 2020

IT'S LOVE AGAIN (1936)

Raymond, a producer of London musicals, is ready to cancel his latest due to a lack of talent. Parading around his apartment in a hooded robe (!), he vents about entering a monastery and more or less ignores young Elaine Bradford (Jessie Matthews) who has come for an audition. Woolf, a musician who apparently lives with Raymond (!) plays a cute little song Elaine has brought called "It's Love Again" which manages to rhyme "chop suey" with "fooey" and "screwy," and "heifer" with "zephyr." She has a nice voice and does some interesting high-kick dancing, but Raymond naps through her performance, waking up only when his former star Francine arrives; she left for Hollywood but is back and Raymond agrees to put her in a show. (When a frustrated Elaine asks what Francine has that she hasn't, Woolf replies "Hardening of the arteries.") On her way out, Elaine meets gossip columnist Peter Carlton (Robert Young); they dance for a moment before she goes on her way. Peter and his sidekick Freddie (they also are roommates), tired of scraping the streets for tidbits, decide to create a new celeb, the mysterious Mrs. Smythe-Smythe, and make up reports about her for the paper. London goes crazy for her even though she lives in India and has never been seen in town, and Elaine gets a "brainwave": she decides to pose as Smythe-Smythe, goes to a nightclub, and grabs everyone's attention by dancing with a gigolo friend of hers. Her appearance is a hit, and soon she is in cahoots with Peter and Freddie to play their fictional star for real. Things go swimmingly for a while until Montague, a rival reporter catches on and plans to expose their charade.

Jessie Matthews was a big stage and screen star in pre-war England, though she never really caught on in the States. If American film buffs know her, it's probably for her lead role in 1935's FIRST A GIRL which was based on the same source material used years later for VICTOR/VICTORIA. She reminds me at various times of Ruby Keeler, Loretta Young, Ginger Rogers, and, when she high-kicks, Charlotte Greenwood. I find her inoffensive but not terribly exciting—she can act better than Keeler but she is much less lively than Rogers. But this movie is cute, and I mean that in a good way. Matthews, like her character, soldiers on through all the sticky situations she gets into and you can't help rooting for her. The chemistry between Matthews and Robert Young (both pictured above) is pretty flat, but oddly she sparks with Warren Jenkins as the possibly gay Woolf and with Sonnie Hale as Freddie (understandable as Hale was her real-life husband). Shakespearean actor Ernest Milton is great fun as the flamboyant director Raymond. The production numbers aren't as glossy as the ones you'd find in a Hollywood musical, but they work just fine. Perhaps not a classic but one you can't help but like. [TCM]