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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Guys And Dolls (1955)

Ok, fellas, who’s got the dice? If you’re looking for the “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York,” then look no further than the 1955 musical Guys And Dolls starring Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra and Vivian Blaine.

With all the big gamblers in town, Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) is looking for a location to hold his floating crap game (since he has to change locations to prevent the police finding it). However, Lt. Brannigan (Robert Keith) is really putting on the heat, and the only place Nathan can find will cost him $1000 (money he doesn’t have). So he makes a bet with Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando) that he can’t get Sgt. Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) of the Save-A-Soul Mission to go with him to Havana. Sky tries and fails repeatedly, but he is able to convince her when he gives her his marker, promising to provide the otherwise failing mission with at least a dozen sinners for their big prayer meeting. However, he finds himself really falling for her, which becomes a problem when they return and find the gamblers using the mission for their crap game.

Most of the behind-the-scenes stuff about this movie seems to center on the feud between Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. From what I’ve read, Frank was cast as Nathan Detroit and then found out that the role of Sky Masterson would be bigger and more romantic. However, Marlon Brando was cast in the role, and, at the time, he was a bigger star than Frank, who had been making a comeback after his Oscar win for From Here To Eternity (but not enough yet to have the pull to get the role of Sky Masterson). While Marlon Brando was at first open to working with Frank to improve his own singing, Frank made his feelings known and things went downhill from there. Whatever their problems were offscreen, I think they worked together well onscreen. Prior to my first viewing of this movie, I generally didn’t care for Frank Sinatra, and the only movies of his that I had seen and enjoyed, I liked because of his co-stars. This was the first movie I liked him in, and I’ve had fun watching a few of his other movies, too.

I think this is a wonderful movie! From the start, you can see that everything will be happening in a highly stylized New York City, and that opening is itself quite a lot of fun to watch. But one of my favorite moments from this movie is the whole scene with all the gamblers in the sewer. The whole dance with the gamblers playing craps just seems like one of those things that shouldn’t work, and yet it does (ok, so it’s obvious that the dancers aren’t actually using dice, but you can’t really expect them to, with some of those leaps)! Equally as memorable is when Big Jule (B. S. Pully) forces Nathan Detroit to play craps with him using his own “dice” (which had the spots removed, although he claims to remember where the spots were originally 😉 ). All in all, this is a fun movie, and one I would quite heartily recommend!

This movie is on Blu-ray and DVD individually and on Blu-ray as part of the five film Frank Sinatra Collection from Warner Home Video, and is two hours,

My Rating: 10/10

Audience Rating:

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Screen Team VS: Bing & Fred vs. Frank & Gene

In 1941, a chance meeting between director Mark Sandrich and composer Irving Berlin resulted in them planning on a musical inspired by various holidays. It was planned as a vehicle for Bing Crosby, and they also decided that it would be right up Fred Astaire’s alley, too. And so we had those two friends paired together for the classic 1942 Paramount movie Holiday Inn. A few years later, MGM responded with their own song-and-dance team of Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh. While I haven’t seen anything that makes them out to be rival teams, considering the individual members were indeed rivals, one can’t help but want to compare them. While I certainly have my preference as to which I enjoy watching more (and so, like on the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway, the points don’t matter), I still feel like talking about the two teams, mainly sticking to the movies they made together.

Holiday Inn (1942) (no review from me yet, but I’ll post the link here when I do it) – My Rating: 8/10

Blue Skies (1946) – My Rating: 10/10

Anchors Aweigh (1945) – My Rating: 5/10

Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949) – My Rating: 9/10

On The Town (1949) – My Rating: 8/10

Screen Team Edition: Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire

Screen Team Edition: Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly

So let’s start with some of the more obvious differences. Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire made two movies together, while Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly made three. Between their two films, Bing and Fred have two songs that they work together directly and two more that they are both involved together (just not as much). Frank and Gene can claim about twelve songs that they work together in pretty solidly through their three movies. Irving Berlin provides all the music for Bing and Fred, while Frank and Gene are served by the likes of Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn, Roger Edens, Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein.

To get a little deeper into the elements of that differentiate the two, I would say at least two come to mind: how their friendships are portrayed on screen, and how their offscreen careers may have affected the films. On screen, Bing and Fred were similar to Bing and Bob. They were both romantic rivals, and they had no troubles double-crossing each other when it came to romance in Holiday Inn. While Blue Skies started out with a similar relationship, partway through, Fred’s character started to soften, and care enough for the film’s leading lady that he wasn’t as willing to come between them. Meanwhile, Frank and Gene portrayed their characters as good buddies. Admittedly, Gene mainly tried to help Frank to get him off his back in his own attempts at romance, but he still felt like he was betraying a good friend when he fell for the same girl that Frank first fell for. Admittedly, some of that might be different just purely from occupations, as Bing and Fred portrayed characters in show business, and in two of their three movies, Frank and Gene were sailors who no doubt had gone through a lot together.

I also believe their movie careers affected these movies. When Bing and Fred were teamed up, they had both been in the movies for nearly a decade, and were some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. When Frank and Gene were paired together, neither of them had been in the movies for very long (in fact, I get the impression Anchors Aweigh was Frank’s first starring role). Consequently, that affected the various situations. I get the impression from what I have read that both Bing and Frank weren’t big into rehearsing, while Fred and Gene were both perfectionists who put a lot of work into what they did. With Bing as a more established star, he apparently didn’t feel the need to rehearse as much (and I can only imagine that must have driven Fred nuts), thus his dancing comes off poorly. With Frank not as established, he had to put in more rehearsal time with Gene, and so we see them looking at least decent together (and who knows how much natural talent Frank might have had as a dancer compared to Bing). Of course, age might also come into play, too, and Frank and Gene were both in their late 20s/early thirties when first paired together, while Bing was in his late 30s and Fred already in his forties.

Personally, I can’t help but wish the four had made a movie together (and no, I’m not including the first That’s Entertainment movie that they all co-hosted, since they never actually share the screen at any time). Of course, I do know that they had some team up here and there. Rivals Bing and Frank worked together in High Society, Robin And The 7 Hoods, The Road To Hong Kong (Frank makes a cameo appearance), and several TV specials. Fred and Gene worked together for one song in Ziegfeld Follies and again as co-hosts of That’s Entertainment Part 2. Not to mention Bing and Gene making cameo appearances in the Marilyn Monroe movie Let’s Make Love (although they don’t appear together). I think both teams were truly wonderful to watch, but I will always pick Bing and Fred as the more fun team to watch together.

Holiday Inn

My Rating: 8/10

Audience Rating:

Blue Skies

My Rating: 10/10

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Anchors Aweigh

My Rating: 5/10

Audience Rating:

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

My Rating: 9/10

Audience Rating:

On The Town

My Rating: 8/10

Audience Rating:

Winner: Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire (again, just my opinion)

Screen Team Edition: Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly

Now we are here to consider MGM’s big song-and-dance team from the 1940s, that of Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. When they were first paired together for the 1945 musical Anchors Aweigh, they were both rising stars, having just been introduced to the movie-going public within the last few years. From what I’ve read, I do get the impression that they became friends after working together on that movie (although their friendship certainly had its problems). That first movie certainly turned out to be a success, enough so that they were teamed up again for two more movies in 1949, Take Me Out To The Ball Game and On The Town. So, without further ado, let’s get through the plot descriptions, all borrowed from the individual reviews.

Anchors Aweigh: While on leave, sailor Joe Brady (Gene Kelly) is looking for a good time with his girlfriend Lola, and his shy shipmate Clarence Doolittle (Frank Sinatra) wants his help and advice on finding a girl for himself.  Before they can get too far, the police ask for their help with a young kid (Dean Stockwell), who has run away from home to join the navy. They take him back to the home of his aunt, Susan Abbott (Kathryn Grayson), whom Clarence decides he wants to go out with. Joe tries to help him out (and get him off his back), but they find themselves in a lot more trouble than they bargained for when Joe lies and tells her they know movie star José Iturbi (himself) and can get her a screen test. They try to talk to Iturbi, but they just keep missing him. Meanwhile, Joe is developing feelings for Susan, and Clarence realizes that he likes the waitress at the restaurant that Susan works at. (Length: two hours, twenty minutes)

Take Me Out To The Ball Game: During the off season, baseball players Dennis Ryan (Frank Sinatra) and Eddie O’Brien (Gene Kelly) tour the country on the vaudeville stage, but it’s time to return for spring training! When they rejoin their team, however, they find that the owner has died, and a distant relative has inherited the team. They soon find out the new owner is K. C. Higgins (Esther Williams), and she knows her stuff! Dennis immediately falls for her, but Eddie doesn’t get along with her at all. Once the season starts, Dennis finds himself being chased by Shirley Delwyn (Betty Garrett). At a big party for the team, Dennis realizes that he likes Shirley, and Eddie finds out that Katherine Higgins likes him! Of course, there are also some gamblers causing trouble by trying to fix things so that the team won’t win the pennant. (Length: one hour, thirty-three minutes)

On The Town: On leave for just one day, sailors Gabey (Gene Kelly), Chip (Frank Sinatra) and Ozzie (Jules Munshin) explore New York City. While on the subway, Gabey sees a subway worker putting up a poster of Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen), the new Miss Turnstiles. He decides to find her, and his buddies try to help. Along the way, they are helped by cab driver Brunhilde Esterhazy (Betty Garrett), who takes a shine to Chip, and Claire Huddesen (Ann Miller), who likes Ozzie. Gabey does find Ivy, and they all go out as a group (at least until Ivy sneaks away to get to her job). Gabey tries to find her again, all the while the group has to evade the police, due to the dinosaur skeleton that Ozzie had accidentally knocked over at a museum that they visited, as well as the cab that Brunhilde was driving beyond her shift. (Length: one hour, thirty-eight minutes)

Since by now, you should have read my comments on those movies, my purpose here is to talk about them as a team. In Anchors Aweigh, as in the other two, their characters spent a lot of time together, and they ended up being paired together for three songs: “We Hate To Leave,” “I Begged Her” and “If You Knew Susie.” Take Me Out To The Ball Game is a slightly different case, as we still have Frank and Gene doing the title song and “Yes, Indeedy” together, but, with the likes of “O’Brien To Ryan To Goldberg” and “Strictly U.S.A,” we start seeing them make the transition into a three-man team, with Jules Munshin joining in. With On The Town, it pretty much IS a three-man team, with them doing “New York, New York” and “That’s All There Is, Folks” as a trio, plus “Prehistoric Man,” “On The Town” and “Count On Me” with the gals.

With three films and a changing dynamic, it’s difficult to nail down commonalities between the movies. To a large degree, Frank and Gene do essentially play relatively similar characters in all three, with Gene generally being a ladies’ man, and Frank playing somebody who is shy and a lot more awkward in his attempts at romance. But in all three movies, they are good friends, willing to help each other out, and wary of betraying each other, especially in the first two when Gene’s characters find themselves falling for the gals that Frank’s characters first liked. And it is that friendship that helps drive these films, whether it just be the two of them, or three, with Jules Munshin joining in. As far as I know, these are the only three times that Frank and Gene worked together (outside of them both hosting the first That’s Entertainment movie, albeit separately). If there are any other times they worked together, I don’t know about them yet, but they are a fun team to watch! I certainly would recommend seeing their three movies together (although I would recommend the second and third moreso than the first movie).

Anchors Aweigh

My Rating: 5/10

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Take Me Out To The Ball Game

My Rating: 9/10

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On The Town

My Rating: 8/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… On The Town (1949)

And we’re back from the sea for another musical romp with Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Jules Munshin as they go On The Town with Betty Garrett, Ann Miller and Vera-Ellen.

On leave for just one day, sailors Gabey (Gene Kelly), Chip (Frank Sinatra) and Ozzie (Jules Munshin) explore New York City. While on the subway, Gabey sees a subway worker putting up a poster of Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen), the new Miss Turnstiles. He decides to find her, and his buddies try to help. Along the way, they are helped by cab driver Brunhilde Esterhazy (Betty Garrett), who takes a shine to Chip, and Claire Huddesen (Ann Miller), who likes Ozzie. Gabey does find Ivy, and they all go out as a group (at least until Ivy sneaks away to get to her job). Gabey tries to find her again, all the while the group has to evade the police, due to the dinosaur skeleton that Ozzie had accidentally knocked over at a museum that they visited, as well as the cab that Brunhilde was driving beyond her shift.

This is the third and final movie that Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly made together (well, unless you want to count them both being hosts of the first That’s Entertainment documentary). And of the three, it was the only one that Gene Kelly actually got paired up with a dancer, as Kathryn Grayson was mainly a singer and Esther Williams a swimmer. This movie is based on a Broadway show with music by Leonard Bernstein, although only a handful of songs were retained, with new music provided by associate producer Roger Edens. Of course, this movie is remembered as much for the behind-the-scenes team of Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen (who had worked together as choreographers for some of Gene’s movies and co-wrote the story for Take Me Out To The Ball Game) being upgraded to co-directors, a team that also co-directed the classics Singin’ In The Rain and It’s Always Fair Weather.

I enjoyed this one. I do have to admit, it took me several viewings over a number of years, but my opinion has improved. While it does veer back into the “sailors-on-leave” territory that Frank and Gene did with Anchors Aweigh, it maintains some of the improvements made for Take Me Out To The Ball Game (TMOTTBG), including the shorter runtime and Jules Munshin as the third buddy. I will say I don’t like the music quite as much as TMOTTBG, but it is a huge improvement from Anchors Aweigh. And, to a lesser degree, I almost wish they had given Jules Munshin a little more screentime, as he is the only one of the sailors that we don’t see on his own when they all separate. But, again, that’s just a minor complaint. For me, this is an increasingly fun film to watch, and one I would heartily recommend.

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD individually and on Blu-ray as part of the five film Frank Sinatra Collection from Warner Home Video, and is one hour, thirty-eight minutes in length.

My Rating: 8/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)

Now for a patriotic turn, we have the classic 1939 drama Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, starring Jean Arthur and James Stewart!

When U.S. Senator Foley dies, Governor Hopper (Guy Kibbee) has to appoint a new one. Political boss Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) has a man in mind that he orders the governor to appoint, but some citizen committees have somebody else. Governor Hopper’s own children have a recommendation of their own: their leader of the Boy Rangers, Jefferson Smith (James Stewart). Taylor and Senator Joe Paine (Claude Rains) decide to let the choice of Jeff Smith be. When Jeff gets to Washington, he explores the monuments, and enjoys the feeling of history. However, some of the reporters make fun of him, and make him realize his appointment is honorary, and that he is expected to be nothing more than a “yes man,” going along with what Senator Paine tells him to do. With the help of his secretary Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), he tries to introduce a bill for the creation of a boys’ camp. When it is discovered he wants to use land that Taylor owns and is planning to sell for use for a dam in another bill, Taylor visits Washington to straighten him out, or else. Jeff tries to speak up about the graft, but HE is instead accused of graft and tries to run away. Saunders stops him, and helps him to go into a filibuster to delay his expulsion from the Senate.

For me, this is one of those wonderful movies that was really well done by all those involved. I have great admiration for the set crew, who had to recreate the Senate chamber in Hollywood (since they couldn’t use the real location for filming). James Stewart works so well in his role as Jefferson Smith, it’s easy to see why he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. Yes, as the audience, we learn all about the corruption in power early on, but it’s hard not to get swept up by Jeff’s earnestness and admiration for the Capitol and all the landmarks. And of course, director Frank Capra does a great job with Jeff’s big filibuster. While it lasts for quite a while, it doesn’t get stale or boring, especially interspersed with all the action as Edward Arnold’s James Taylor goes to work trying to tear him down in the state while Jean Arthur’s Saunders tries so hard to reach the people! I do enjoy this movie very much, and it is one I would highly recommend (especially in high definition, allowing you to see so many more details in the sets)!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, and is two hours, ten minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949)

Batter Up! We’re here now for the second Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly film, the 1949 musical Take Me Out To The Ball Game. Also starring Esther Williams and Betty Garrett.

During the off season, baseball players Dennis Ryan (Frank Sinatra) and Eddie O’Brien (Gene Kelly) tour the country on the vaudeville stage, but it’s time to return for spring training! When they rejoin their team, however, they find that the team owner has died, and a distant relative has inherited the team. They soon find out the new owner is K. C. Higgins (Esther Williams), and she knows her stuff! Dennis immediately falls for her, but Eddie doesn’t get along with her at all. Once the season starts, Dennis finds himself being chased by Shirley Delwyn (Betty Garrett). At a big party for the team, Dennis realizes that he likes Shirley, and Eddie finds out that Katherine Higgins likes him! Of course, there are also some gamblers causing trouble by trying to fix things so that the team won’t win the pennant.

Of the three Sinatra-Kelly films, I consider this one to be the most fun! I really enjoy the music, from the title tune, to “Strictly U.S.A,” to “The Hat My Dear Old Father Wore Upon St. Patrick’s Day!” Just about all of the music can easily get stuck in my head whenever I watch it! The humor generally works for me, too, especially how much they poke fun at Sinatra and how light he was, whether it be by Betty Garrett carrying him over her shoulder with ease, or all the stuff he was trying to eat to get his weight up during the spring training montage. At one hour, thirty-three minutes in length, this movie does away with the length problem of the earlier Anchors Aweigh, and everything seems to fit so much better. And the addition of Jules Munshin as Gene and Frank’s buddy manages to make things work, especially for the little comedy bit that the three of them do for goofing around for the fans a few times before some of the games.

Now, is the movie perfect? No, it does have its problems. There are aspects that feel like a re-tread of Anchors Aweigh, with Frank again playing a guy who is shy around women, and needs the help of Gene Kelly’s ladies’ man. Not to mention Frank falling for one gal, only to realize he likes somebody else while Gene falls for the first girl. Plus, the song “Yes, Indeedy” seems to fill the “locker room talk” song role that “I Begged Her” filled in Anchors Aweigh (although, given the choice between the two, I’ll live with “Yes, Indeedy,” as the other song is too slow and would be better removed from that movie). The ending is a little weak, as well. From what I gathered, Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen wrote the story for this movie, but they were never able to come up with a proper ending, so we got stuck with a song-and-dance where the four leads broke character. Admittedly, I’ve seen worse endings. And, for some, the fact that actress Esther Williams, known for her underwater ballets, barely spends any time in the water, might also have a problem with this movie (although, to be fair, I’m not sure how they could realistically fit an underwater ballet into the story). Either way, I do enjoy this movie and would highly recommend it!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Home Video.

My Rating: 9/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Anchors Aweigh (1945)

Now we’re shipping out to sea, with the classic 1945 MGM musical Anchors Aweigh, starring Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson and Gene Kelly!

While on leave, sailor Joe Brady (Gene Kelly) is looking for a good time with his girlfriend Lola, and his shy shipmate Clarence Doolittle (Frank Sinatra) wants his help and advice on finding a girl for himself.  Before they can get too far, the police ask for their help with a young kid (Dean Stockwell), who has run away from home to join the navy. They take him back to the home of his aunt, Susan Abbott (Kathryn Grayson), whom Clarence decides he wants to go out with. Joe tries to help him out (and get him off his back), but they find themselves in a lot more trouble than they bargained for when Joe lies and tells her they know movie star José Iturbi (himself) and can get her a screen test. They try to talk to Iturbi, but they just keep missing him. Meanwhile, Joe is developing feelings for Susan, and Clarence realizes that he likes the waitress at the restaurant that Susan works at.

This movie is mainly noted for being the first of three movies that paired together Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. This movie contains a number of famous songs and dances, including Frank singing “I Fall In Love Too Easily” and Gene’s solo dance to “La Cumparsita.” But the movie is probably best-known for “The Worry Song,” the famous dance duet between Gene Kelly and Jerry the mouse of “Tom and Jerry” fame (and Tom makes a quick cameo, too). And I always find it interesting they had originally been planning to borrow Mickey Mouse. But, at the same time, I think Jerry the mouse works better, as I just can’t imagine Mickey in the situation we were given, which was that of a king (Jerry) who couldn’t sing or dance and therefore banned his subjects from singing or dancing on the basis that the king should be able to do everything at least as well as his subjects. Again, that just doesn’t sound like Mickey at all.

Personally, I consider this movie to be the least of the three Sinatra-Kelly movies. At two hours, twenty minutes in length, it feels LONG. With a mixture of then-new songs and some old, I feel like the older stuff was better. On a great many levels, I just do not like the Sinatra-Kelly duet of “I Begged Her,” and I feel like several of Gene’s dances, most particularly the “Mexican Hat Dance,” could be dropped and the movie would be better for it (and believe me, I hate saying that about any of the dances). Despite my complaints, I do like this movie, but I have a hard time recommending it.

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD individually, and on Blu-ray as part of the five-film Frank Sinatra Collection from Warner Home Video.

My Rating: 5/10

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