Yet Another Month of Old Movies
February 2, 2006

Quality Street — Katharine Hepburn sends her love off to the Napoleonic Wars. When he returns, 10 years later, he thinks she’s her own younger niece in this costume romance, a Harlequin made flesh. Silly stuff to while away the time during the Depression (not me, the period it was made).

Stage Door Canteen
Stage Door Canteen
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Susan Slept Here — Completely unbelievable. I’m supposed to accept apple-cheeked teen Debbie Reynolds as a juvenile delinquent. Who’s dropped off on Christmas Eve to stay overnight with the 50-plus Dick Powell (supposedly 35) by a couple of cops only so that he can get material for a screenplay. (They tell him, “she’s underage, so no funny stuff,” and that’s supposed to be sufficient.)

But worse than that, I’m supposed to believe that Powell and the young guy living with him, who were in the Navy together and tend to have conversations in the bathroom while one of them is showering, are purely platonic buddies. (The guy is played by Alvy Moore, better known as Green Acres‘ Hank Kimball.) Oh, sure, the script says that Anne Francis, looking like a living Barbie doll, is his girlfriend, but there’s a reason that they never seem to get together, right? To top the ludicrousness off, the whole thing is narrated by an Academy Award that’s later used as a nutcracker. I lasted almost half an hour before shutting it off.

7 Faces of Dr. Lao
7 Faces of Dr. Lao
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Give a Girl a Break — Forgettable musical about trying to cast a Broadway show. Stars Debbie Reynolds (again), Marge & Gower Champion, and Bob Fosse (the reason I watched it). The only memorable part was a dance number with Bob and Debbie that runs the film backwards (so they’re going up steps and unpopping balloons) and then forwards again.

Stage Door Canteen — A wonderful slice of history in so many ways. Stars of the day do their bits, many of whom were known for their stage work and aren’t otherwise often on film. It’s amazing how everyone pitched in to help the soldier when anyone’s brother or son might have been drafted to serve.

7 Faces of Dr. Lao — Much more interesting than I thought it would be, a fable that shows off Tony Randall’s versatility and the delusions of human nature.

Broadway Melody of 1940
Broadway Melody
of 1940
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Broadway Melody of 1936 — The only movie in which my old-movie heartthrob, Robert Taylor, sings (a wacky little ditty called “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin'”). At the same time, a dancer plays leapfrog with a line of chorus girls (it’s actually pretty impressive that he can jump that high that many times from a standing start). Also features “Sing Before Breakfast” by Buddy Ebsen (incredibly lanky and gawky) and his sister (who seems like a nice girl, but you can see why she didn’t have a big movie career); “You Are My Lucky Star” (which I was surprised to find a co-worker had never heard of); Jack Benny terribly miscast as a hard-nosed gossip columnist; Eleanor Powell imitating Katherine Hepburn; and a guy who demonstrates a whole variety of snores. I think that part passed for comedy. Overall, a classic musical about trying to put on a musical.

Broadway Melody of 1938 — Robert Taylor returns but refuses to sing. Buddy Ebsen’s back without his sister but with Judy Garland. The snore guy has switched to sneezes. Future senator George Murphy (whom I know from Tom Lehrer’s song) and legend Sophie Tucker also join in. There seem to be fewer musical numbers in this one, but maybe they just aren’t as memorable. There’s a nostalgic feel to the whole thing, a look back to “things were better then”… not surprising, given the year.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely
Hearts Club Band
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Broadway Melody of 1940 — Robert Taylor’s been replaced by Fred Astaire, and the plots have gone from trying to put on a show to the more typical approach of trying to get a role in someone else’s show. It looks like they just wanted to use the title without paying much attention to the other films in the series. Cole Porter does the songs, but I didn’t get much out of them until the big final “Begin the Beguine” number.

The Major and the Minor — I love this wacky romantic comedy, even if it’s completely unbelievable that Ginger Rogers could ever be mistaken for a 12-year-old.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — A guilty pleasure, this DVD was given to me a while back as a gag gift, I think it was. Aside from one of the Bambi revivals, this is the first movie I remember watching in a movie theater. (The Aerosmith version of “Come Together” scared me silly.) Definitely a portrait of the times, with everything bigger than life and packed with stars of the 70s (such as they were). Lots of fun to watch some of the musical performances, though, especially Steve Martin doing Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.

4 Responses  
Garrie Burr writes:  

“Broadway Melody of 1936″ is probably my favorite of that series, the one with the most memorable songs. “Singing In The Rain” reprised quite a few of those songs for its own production so I’m surprised, too, that there are people who haven’t heard “My Lucky Star”.

“Broadway Melody of 1937″, also starring Benny (along with Burns & Allen) is reportedly the best of the bunch, but does not seem to be available on video and I’ve never seen it.

Re: Benny as “miscast”… I thought that was the joke of the film, that he -wasn’t- really a hard-nosed reporter, just someone -trying- to be hard-nosed. Oh, well. He’s much better served film-wise in “To Be Or Not To Be” and “The Meanest Man In The World”.

Finally… regarding your earlier post with Cary Grant “sightings” … next week sees the arrival of another Cary Grant box-set, but this one is definitely the best — with the selection of Holiday, Only Angels Have Wings, The Talk of the Town, His Girl Friday, and The Awful Truth.

Johanna writes:  

Holiday’s finally coming to DVD? Great! That’s one of my favorites — I prefer it to Bringing Up Baby, which isn’t the usual take. I’ve been looking forward to seeing Awful Truth for a long while now, and I haven’t heard of Talk of the Town. I’ll have to check that out. Thanks!

Lea writes:  

“7 Faces of Dr. Lao” is an awesome movie.

Rob Staeger writes:  

SPLHCB was my first conscious exposure to Beatle’s music. “Come Together” scared all hell out of me, too. And while I’ve gotten used to “Strawberry Fields” being sung by a man, I still think “She’s Leaving Home” should be sung by robots.


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