Friday, December 30, 2016


Broadway director Ted Sturgis' new revue "Give a Girl a Break" is in rehearsals until the star throws a tantrum about feeling ignored by Ted (Gower Champion). He apologizes but she quits anyway. To save the show, Ted, his assistant Bob (Bob Fosse), and his producer Leo (Kurt Kaszner) decide to go for a PR stunt; instead of hiring another big name, they'll do a well-publicized talent search for a star, literally giving an unknown girl a big break. The choice is quickly narrowed down to three, each one championed by one of the men: Suzy (Debbie Reynolds) is a young dancer with little experience but a cute face and a bubbly personality whom Bob has fallen head over heels for, despite her overbearing stage mother; Joanna, an older and more experienced dancer (Helen Wood) is the favorite of Leo, but he doesn't realize that she's married, and that her husband may expect her to give up her career to follow him to Minnesota for a teaching job; Ted's choice is his former dance partner—and, we assume, ex-lover—Madelyn (Marge Champion), who has a comeback on her mind, despite the lukewarm reception that her idea receives from her current boyfriend. We see three fun fantasy dance numbers, each dreamt up by one of the men, and ultimately the choice is not so much up to the men as to the life decisions made by each woman.

By cosmic coincidence, I saw this movie just days before Debbie Reynolds passed away, and I'd like to see it again. It's basically a B-movie musical; it looks colorful and it has a few very good numbers, but the script is thin, the songs are fairly blah, and the performances feel second-string. I can't help but think how much better Gene Kelly would have been as the director (apparently the movie was first intended as a vehicle for Kelly, Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, but when they were unavailable, the budget got cut). Kaszner seems to be trying to channel Gregory Ratoff's producer performance in ALL ABOUT EVE but fails. Helen Wood and Marge Champion are unmemorable, which leaves the whole thing riding on the shoulders (or, more to the point, the dancing feet) of Reynolds and Fosse, and the two do manage to carry a good chunk of the movie. It feels like they have as much screen time, if not more, as the Champions, who are supposed to be the stars: they have great chemistry, they're both cute as hell, and they look like they're having a ball. The highlights of the movie are their two dance numbers, one in a Manhattan park and one, the dream number, which features hundreds of colorful balloons and Reynolds and Fosse dancing backwards—thanks to well-handled trick photography. There's an amusing running joke about Ted using the word "palaver" all the time. For me, Reynolds' peak was her first big movie (SINGIN' IN THE RAIN) but in these lower-budget musicals she did for MGM, she's delightful, and is usually a good enough reason to watch. This may not be a top-rank MGM film but it's fun, and it's a chance to enjoy Reynolds and Fosse (pictured above) in their youth. We'll miss you, Debbie. [TCM]

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