Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Up in Actor's Heaven, a theater proscenium arch on a puffy white cloud, former entertainers turned angels sing about their primary chore: to guide struggling actors down on Earth. A somewhat bumbling angel/magician named Phineas botched his last job: as a publicity stunt, he had Terwilliger bury himself alive, but then forgot where he was buried. As a way to redeem himself, Phineas begs to be sent down on another mission, to help aspiring stage actress Karen, currently living in a boarding house fancifully named the Chateau d'Artistes. Karen has been living on a trust fund, but she's soon to turn 21 and the money will come to an end. She's involved in a rather loose romantic triangle with two men living in the same building: her official boyfriend, playwright Paul, though handsome and pleasant, wants her to give up her dream of acting and marry him; her admirer, artist David, who wears glasses and is a little whimsical, encourages Karen to keep trying. Phineas heads down to Brooklyn posing as a producer who wants to put on a show with all of the unemployed actors at the boarding house. He tries to convince a real producer to audition the kids, but of course there are complications, the most important of which is that Paul overhears Phineas in his room talking about "minting" money and assumes that Phineas is a forger—when actually, he is creating the money by magic. Paul calls the police and chaos ensues.

I couldn't come up with a Christmas movie to review this year, but this delightful little gem from the B-studio Republic is close in feeling to a holiday story. It's a fantasy/musical which feels like a cross between two movies which came a couple of years later, THE BISHOP'S WIFE and DOWN TO EARTH. Though the low budget does interfere with total fulfillment of the project, everyone on screen seems so full of cheer and good nature that it seems petty to carp about its production failings. The songs are actually as good as those in any average big-studio musical, even if the actual filmed numbers are a bit lacking. One song, "When You’re In Love," is particularly memorable ("When you’re in love/You're a hero, a Nero, the Wizard of Oz"—though I'm not sure the wicked Nero or the phony Wizard are really good examples of romantic role models.) I like that the rather passive plain-looking David (Robert Duke, who only made two more movies) turns out to be the romantic hero. The boarding house atmosphere is effective. I'd heard of virtually none of the actors except Jay Presson Allen who has a small role as the producer's secretary—she went on to become a screenwriter of some note (CABARET, THE VERDICT). Charles Kemper (Phineas) was a character actor with several credits—in his delivery he reminds me of comic actor Victor Moore. Very fun, and worth hunting down. [Streaming]

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