Saturday, December 02, 2006


An amusing show-biz comedy based on a Rodgers & Hart musical; virtually all the songs were jettisoned for this film version, so it's not really a musical, but it does have two elaborate dance/ballet sequences, one of which, the famous "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue," clearly seems to have been an inspiration for the "Broadway Rhythm" number in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN several years later. The film opens in the 1920's as we meet the Dancing Dolans, a family vaudeville act, consisting of Dad (James Gleason), Mom (Queenie Smith), and our hero Phil (played as a youngster by Donald O'Connor), who has a crush on Vera, a Russian child dancer. One night, Little Phil accidentally takes his curtain call with his pants down around his feet and the audience loves it so much, they keep it in the act. Vera goes on to bigger and better things and years later, the adult Phil (Eddie Albert), tired of still dropping his trousers onstage, leaves vaudeville for "serious" music. He winds up collaborating with a down-and-out Russian composer (Leonid Kinskey) working with a struggling ballet company (headed by Alan Hale) which happens to include the grown-up Vera (Vera Zorina). Hale takes an instant dislike to Albert, and when an under-rehearsed Albert subs for a dancer during a ballet number called "Princess Zenobia," he completely fouls up the dance. The audience, thinking it was an intended burlesque, loves it and the number is a hit. Against his will, Hale is forced by his chief backer (Gloria Dickson) to put on an original ballet of Albert's (the abovementioned "Slaughter"), but he engineers a "hit" on Albert to be carried out by two gangsters during the climactic moment of the dance at the same moment that Albert's character shoots himself. This being a comedy, the killing is thwarted, the show is a success, and Albert and Zorina wind up happy together. Even though fans of the original show have every right to be disgruntled about the disemboweling of the score, this is still a clever and witty comedy with several one-liners that made me laugh out loud, such as Kinskey, after dispensing several nonsensical proverbs from the Old Country, admitting to Albert, "Sometimes I don't understand Russian proverbs myself." Zorina is a fine dancer (choreographed here by the great George Balanchine) though a little light in the acting department, but the rest of the cast is delightful, especially the charming Albert and the blustery Hale. Kinskey does a nice job with a somewhat larger than usual role, and other standouts include Frank McHugh as a stage manager, Berton Churchill as the hotel manager who threatens the troupe with eviction, and the always funny Erik Rhodes as a tempermental dancer. The atmospheric "Slaughter" number is tarnished a bit by a slapsticky ending, but overall this movie is a winner. [TCM]

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