Friday, August 28, 2015


Famous actress Ann Sothern heads off to Rio on a vacation with her father (Louis Calhern) before she takes on her next musical. But the show's playwright is not happy that a 40-year-old woman will be playing his heroine, meant to be around 20. (It must be said that Sothern looks fabulous here, and could probably easily pass for 20 on stage.) After Sothern leaves, her teenage daughter (Jane Powell, the "Nancy" of the title), part of a summer stock acting troupe, comes to the attention of the playwright who [in Goofy Misunderstanding #1] offers her the part without telling her that Sothern thinks she has the part. So Powell heads down to Rio with a copy of the play, hoping to get her mom to help her prepare for her Broadway debut. On the ship, Powell has the (obnoxious) habit of reading her lines out loud in public, and when she delivers an overwrought monologue about having her child even though her husband has deserted her, well-meaning businessman Barry Sullivan [in Goofy Misunderstanding #2] assumes she's pregnant and alone, and he and many other passengers take her under their wings. When Sullivan expresses his concern and offers of help, she [in Goofy Misunderstanding #3] assumes he's proposing marriage. In Rio, Sothern and Calhern get in on the mix-up and add to it when Sullivan starts flirting with Sothern, and suddenly everyone assumes that [in Goofy Misunderstanding #4] mother and daughter are competing for the same man.

Sometimes my friends chide me for being too serious about my movie watching. "Don't you ever just switch off your brain and enjoy a movie without overthinking it?" they ask. "Not very often," I reply. I would argue that I think differently about different kinds of movies, so I don't approach, say, CITIZEN KANE and DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE with the same expectations. But usually, no matter how popcorny the movie, I'm thinking critically about my experience of watching it. However, this fluffy musical battered my brain senseless with its bright colors, high energy, pretty faces, and the musical genre's great secret weapon, Carmen Miranda (at left). As usual, Miranda's role is totally expendable—I couldn't tell you a thing about her character except she works in an office—but every time she's on screen, she adds an energizing jolt of life to the proceedings, which often threaten to go stale. She gets to perform two songs in her patented "tutti-frutti" style and they are the musical standouts in a very forgettable batch of songs. The only other interesting musical moment is when Sothern, Powell and Calhern do a cute version of "Shine On, Harvest Moon," which only highlights how bland the original tunes are.

In addition to Hurricane Carmen, the movie's other pluses include the sparkling lead actresses, Sothern and Powell, who look gorgeous, act well, and have good mother-daughter chemistry. Powell in particular wears you down pleasantly with her spunky performance. Calhern is fun as a retired actor who can't quit acting, Scotty Beckett (above with Powell) is fine as Sothern's sweet, gawky boyfriend back home, Hans Conreid has a nice couple of moments as Sothern's butler in Rio, and Glenn Anders fleshes out a fairly small role as Sothern's gayish manager. Only Sullivan serves as bit of a buzzkill, never quite letting go enough to fit in with the general antic mood. No attempt is made at making it seem like Rio (maybe 30 seconds of location footage is included), but it was the colorful sets and costumes that really sent me into a fog of non-critical thinking.  Make no mistake: this is not a classic like MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS or SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, but I would gladly succumb to its mild charms again sometime. [TCM]

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