Saturday, January 27, 2007


This pleasant B-musical seems to have been an attempt by MGM to jump-start the careers of Virginia Weidler and Ray McDonald as juvenile stars to replace the "aging" Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. Neither one went on to bigger and better things in the movies (Weidler's peak was actually a couple of years earlier playing Katharine Hepburn's kid sister in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY), but both actors are fine and the movie is more fun than its critical rep as a one-star bomb would suggest. Weidler's father, Henry O'Neill, is a composer (and ex-con sent up for vehicular manslaughter) who has had an entire score stolen by an unscrupulous Broadway producer. O'Neill tries to kill himself and is saved by a band of boys (including McDonald and Leo Gorcey) who strike up a friendship with Weidler. When they find out that O'Neill's stolen score is set to open on Broadway, the kids decide, in tried and true MGM fashion, to put on their own show with his songs by using neighborhood talent and corralling the opening night Broadway audience in to see it instead of the rip-off version. A janitor (Ben Carter) lets the kids become squatters in an abandoned cafe which had served as a Nazi Bund meeting place, and they later get some help from soft-hearted gangster Sheldon Leonard who uses his fleet of taxis to "steal" the Broadway audience. The last half-hour consists of some decent musical numbers staged by Sammy Lee, including "I Hate the Conga," which really feels like a Garland/Rooney number, but the climax, a sprawling social-consciousness number called "Ballad for Americans" staged by Busby Berekely, falls flat. Other cast members include Richard Hall and Beverly Hudson (who either sounded a lot like Garland or was dubbed by someone who did) as a particularly cute brother and sister act, Darla Hood from "Our Gang," and Margaret Dumont. I've liked Ray McDonald in other MGM films of the time (including DOWN IN SAN DIEGO and PRESENTING LILY MARS); he had a kind of boyish Ray Bolger/Donald O'Connor appeal and I'm sorry his career in films didn't last longer. Weidler is OK, but she just didn't seem to have the charisma needed to break out of the supporting juvenile mold. [TCM]

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