Tuesday, March 04, 2003


An MGM version of the Warner Brothers backstage musical, and a pleasant surprise as it stars two actors I'm ambivalent about: Clark Gable and Joan Crawford. I'm not a big fan of either one of them after they became superstars in the 40's, but I like them well enough earlier in their careers before their screen personas became so solidified. Crawford plays an ambitious chorus girl who strips at a burlesque house while waiting for a big break. A millionaire playboy (Franchot Tone, in the kind of second fiddle part he did best) falls for her and tries to get her to marry him. A career is more important to her, however, and she gets a job in a Broadway musical being staged by Gable, with backing money from Tone. Romantic complications ensue; just as she gets a shot at a leading role (and just as Gable is finding her attractive rather than irritating), Tone withdraws his support, knowing the show will be shut down and assuming Crawford will settle down with him. In the end, however, she manages to get both Gable and a career.

This is glossier than the WB musicals but also more slowly paced with less witty (and naughty) dialogue. The musical numbers are Berkleyesque, although staged by Sammy Lee and Eddie Prinz. They are all clustered together in the last third of the film and contain stage-defying effects, with the occasional ceiling shot. One interesting effect has people dressed in 18th century clothes who pass through an arch and emerge in modern dress. Another has Fred Astaire (playing himself) and Crawford levitating on a flying carpet. Other cast members include May Robson as Tone's grandmother, Winnie Lightner as Crawford's buddy, and Robert Benchley as a drunken gossip columnist. Look closely and you'll catch Sterling Holloway (as a sensitive and maybe gay playwright), Grant Mitchell, Nelson Eddy, and Eve Arden. Oh, and the Three Stooges if you like that sort of thing. Good fun all around, even if Crawford does make a rather clunky dancer.

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