Friday, June 27, 2008

ONE IN A MILLION (1936)

My first (and maybe last) Sonja Henie movie. Henie, a Norwegian skater, had just won her third Olympic gold medal in 1936 when she decided to go professional and head to Hollywood. 20th Century Fox signed her and had some success with her in a short string of films over the next ten years. Based on this one, my guess is that, while a pleasant enough personality, she couldn't have made the leap to non-skating roles. An all-girl band led by Adolphe Menjou and his wife (Arline Judge) is on a bus tour of Switzerland. Their hotel burns down just before they arrive, so they wind up taking over most of the rooms at a small inn run by Jean Hersholt and his daughter, Henie. Years before, Hersholt had won a gold medal in skating but had it taken away because of some doubts about his amateur standing. He has been training Henie to compete in the current Olympics, and when Menjou sees her practicing, he asks her to join the band as a specialty act. She says she can't get paid for her work until after the Olympics, but she does join them in an "exhibition" performance. The problem is that Menjou and the band have gotten paid for the show, so when competition time comes around, Henie wins, but the question of whether or not the show was "professional" work raises its ugly head. Don Ameche, a reporter who is convinced that a mysterious guest (Montagu Love) may be a dangerous anarchist, gets involved with Henie and her problems and helps to save the day. The skating routines are well shot, but Henie's moves are not nearly as elaborate as those of modern-day skaters. There are a few songs (none sung by Henie) and a couple of novelty bits by the Ritz Brothers, most notably 'The Horror Boys of Hollywood" in which they caricature Charles Laughton (as Mutiny on the Bounty's Bligh), Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff. Russian harmonica player Borrah Minevitch does his own little comic novelty bit. Good old dour, dry Ned Sparks is fun as Ameche's sidekick. Ameche hadn't yet settled into a persona and seems a little shrill here, and Henie isn't required to do much more than skate and look pretty; overall the movie is harmless fun but I don't know that I need to see another Henie vehicle. [FMC]

1 comment:

Enoch Ardor said...

I recently saw my first Henie vehicle too, Sun Valley Serenade (1941)--I really liked it!

She demonstrates a decent flair for comedy in that one, they let her have a lot of fun with John Payne on the ski slopes (where I imagine she did her own stunts) and I even liked the ice dancing

Also, as usual with a Fox musical, they don't make the star carry the film--and this is one is particularly rich in support--with the Nicholas Brothers (doing "Chattanooga Choo Choo"), the Glenn Miller Orchestra (playing the aformentioned, plus a few more awesome songs by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon), the amazing Lynn Bari (whose career arc really puzzles me), John Payne (who is always likable, I think) and even the young Milton Berle (not a favourite of mine, for sure, but interesting to see him in this context)