Sunday, June 25, 2006


Perhaps because it's been difficult to see over the last several years, this Technicolor Busby Berkeley musical from 20th Century Fox has gained a spectacular reputation that it can't quite live up to. It's essentially a cross between two musical "subgenres": the musical numbers are revamps of the kinds of numbers that Berkeley choreographed for Warners in the 30's (primarily in the Gold Diggers series), and the narrative framework (built around a stymied showbiz romance usually involving mistaken identity) is taken from the Fox musicals of the 40's which featured players such as Betty Grable and John Payne; the novelty of color does seem to inspire Berkeley to ever higher flights of fancy and makes the song and dance routines worth seeing, but the plotline and acting are just average. The story focuses on soldier James Ellison, in New York on leave, who meets singer Alice Faye at the fancy Club New Yorker. He follows her to the Broadway Canteen, one of those wartime clubs set up just for servicemen. She's not supposed to leave the club with any soldiers, but he arranges a meeting later that night and soon they're in love but are forced to part when Ellison's leave ends. Months later, he returns to Faye a hero, but she finds out that he's been engaged for years to a socialite (Sheila Ryan); how will the triangle be resolved? There is more to the plot, mostly some folderol about the Club New Yorker folks rehearsing a huge new show at the country estate of Ryan's rich family, but it's all secondary to the colorful musical numbers, none of which could ever fit inside a real nightclub, including Carmen Miranda's legendary "Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat," which involves the biggest, most phallic bananas one could imagine. Benny Goodman looks very uncomfortable singing "Minnie's in the Money" directly to the camera, Charlotte Greenwood gets one of her traditional high-kicking dances in, and the final number, "The Polka Dot Polka," is spectacular. Ellison's slicked-back hair makes him unappealing, but Faye is quite lovely, and does a fine job in a fairly thankless role. Edward Everett Horton and Eugene Pallette do variations on their usual roles as fussy sidekick and gravelly-voiced grumbler, and entertainers Phil Baker and Tony DeMarco appear as themselves. A couple of amusing lines: Faye saying to Ellison, "Stop acting like Don Ameche and get me a taxi," and Miranda on seeing off a sailor: "It's nice work if you can get him." The movie is worth seeing for the campily excessive dance sequences, but don't believe the hype. [FMC]

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