Film Legends Of Yesteryear: Screen Team & “Musical Screen Teams (September 2022)” featuring… Give A Girl A Break (1953)

We’re back for my second and final entry for my Musical Screen Teams blogathon! This time, we’ve got another film from 1953, Give A Girl A Break, starring Marge and Gower Champion, along with Debbie Reynolds!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Mama’s Little Pirate (1935)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 4 (1933-1935) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 18 minutes, 6 seconds)

Upon listening to his father read about the discovery of pirate treasure in a cave, Spanky (George McFarland) decides to lead the gang on a treasure hunt in a cave. However, his mother is opposed to the idea and orders him not to go. This was yet another entertaining entry in the series. Most of the fun is in watching Spanky try to be smart about how they are exploring the cave, only to have things go completely wrong (with his friend Scotty there to tell him off ahead of time). The over-exaggerated giant (as played by R. E. “Tex” Madsen) adds to the fun when he encounters the kids. I know I enjoyed this one, and look forward to seeing it again!

And Now For The Main Feature…

Rehearsals for the show Give A Girl A Break have begun under director and choreographer Ted Sturgis (Gower Champion), but they’ve hit a snag. Their big star, Janet Hallson (Donna Martell), is angry with Ted for not fawning over her after she performed a number, and demands an apology. His half-hearted apology doesn’t convince her, and she decides to walk out on the show. Without a star, producer Felix Jordan (Larry Keating) suggests they go to Ted’s former dance partner, Madelyn Corlane (Marge Champion), but Ted dislikes the idea, since he is still mad at her for walking out on him. Instead, he suggests putting an ad in the paper, in an attempt to give somebody new a chance to make good. The next day, a great many young hopefuls show up, hoping to get the newly vacant part. Among that group are Suzy Doolittle (Debbie Reynolds), whom Ted’s assistant and gofer Bob Dowdy (Bob Fosse) quickly takes a shine to, and Joanna Moss (Helen Wood), who catches the eye of the show’s composer, Leo Belney (Kurt Kasznar) (since he had seen her dance before at a recital). Both of them are told to come back the next day to audition for the part. When Ted comes up to Felix’s office, he finds Madelyn there, who is also told to come back the next day to audition. That evening, Suzy rehearses at her mother’s insistence instead of going on a date with Bob (although he is understanding, and walks her home from the dance studio). Joanna goes back to her apartment to share the news with her husband, Burton Bradshaw (Richard Anderson), who also has his own news about a potential job that may take him elsewhere. Madelyn tells her boyfriend, Anson Pritchett (William Ching), about the audition, but he convinces her to withdraw. When Ted learns about Madelyn pulling out, he goes to see her and help her get past her fears. The next day, all three women audition, and Felix finds himself unsure as to which one to pick. With the other three men all equally adamant that their girl should get the role, who will win out in the end?

Give A Girl A Break ended up being far different from its initial conception. Originally, the film was to potentially star the likes of Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Ann Miller. However, much was changing in Hollywood at that time, as musicals were falling out of favor with audiences while television’s popularity continued to rise. As a result, the cast consisted of husband-and-wife dance team Marge and Gower Champion, Debbie Reynolds, and newcomer Bob Fosse. While there was still some big talent behind-the-scenes that had contributed to the film (such as composer Burton Lane and lyricist Ira Gerswhin, director Stanley Donen and screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett), they weren’t enough to save the film. The movie lost money at the box office, effectively ending whatever chance the Champions had of becoming big stars (and didn’t do Bob Fosse any good as a movie star, either).

I first saw the film most of a decade ago. At the time, I was coming off of discovering the dance team of Marge and Gower Champion via Lovely To Look At (1952) (to be fair, I had previously seen them in the 1951 Show Boat, but their appearance there didn’t have anywhere near the impact that Lovely To Look At did in my estimation). In Give A Girl A Break, they have two dance routines together, set to the songs “Challenge Dance” and “It Happens Every Time.” In general, their “Challenge Dance” seems to be what they are known for here, as it feels like the better promoted dance of the two. Personally, I don’t care for it that much, and prefer “It Happens Every Time.” Admittedly, the lyrics to “It Happens Every Time” are quite forgettable (not helped by the fact that Gower’s singing voice was VERY obviously dubbed for this song, in spite of him actually singing for an earlier song in the film). The music, however, is quite memorable, and sticks with me long after I finish watching the film. Their dance is equally enjoyable, with them swinging around on a set full of poles. The whole song makes me think of their dance to the instrumental version of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” from Lovely To Look At. I wouldn’t put “It Happens Every Time” on the same level as that one, but it certainly left an imprint on me.

As for the rest of the movie, I think it’s a lot of fun. Realistically, I think that Bob Fosse is what really makes this film. He has three songs and dances, “Nothing Is Impossible” with Gower Champion and Kurt Kasznar, and “In Our United State,” which is used for two different partnered routines with Debbie Reynolds (one a romantic duet in the park, and the other a dream dance sometimes referred to as the “Balloon Dance,” with them dancing “backwards and forwards”). Those three dances are some of the most fun and entertaining in the film, and easily make the movie worthwhile (alongside the previously mentioned “It Happens Every Time”). There are a few other tunes, but, apart from the “Puppet Master Dance” with Helen Wood and Kurt Kasznar, they don’t really stand out that much (and quite frankly, Helen Wood is fairly good as a dancer but very much underutilized compared to the other two leading ladies). It’s not an absolutely great film, as I think the Champions can’t really carry it in the acting department (they’re decent, just not great). Thankfully, Bob Fosse, despite being billed fifth, does a much better job (and is given nearly as much screentime as the Champions). While it certainly would have been fun to have seen what the film would have been like with its original conception, I do think that what we got is entertaining enough. I know I’ve certainly enjoyed seeing it a number of times over the last decade. So, as I have no hesitation about sticking it on when I feel like it, I would definitely have no qualms about giving it some of my highest recommendations!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 22 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Lovely To Look At (1952) – Marge Champion

Lovely To Look At (1952) – Gower Champion

Singin’ In The Rain (1952) – Debbie Reynolds – Susan Slept Here (1954)

Kiss Me Kate (1953) – Bob Fosse – My Sister Eileen (1955)

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Film Legends Of Yesteryear: Screen Team & “Musical Screen Teams (September 2022)” featuring… Kiss Me Kate (1953)

Today, we’re here to get into my first entry for my own Musical Screen Teams blogathon! That would be the 1953 musical Kiss Me Kate, featuring the team of Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel in their final film together!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Washee Ironee (1934)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 4 (1933-1935) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 16 minutes, 38 seconds)

Rich boy Waldo (Wally Albright) tries to get into a football game with the Gang, and ends up falling in the mud. His mother is throwing a society party (at which she expects him to play the violin), so the Gang tries to help wash out his clothes. This one was decently entertaining. In particular, Spanky (George McFarland) going through town in his goat-led “ambulance” (complete with him imitating a siren) was one of the shorts’ more amusing bits, as was the kids making a mess of the society party. It does go a bit wrong when Spanky stops to get help from a Chinese kid at the laundry (the main problem being the way the other kids all treat him by attempting to speak “Chinese”). Apart from that, though, I enjoyed this one, and would gladly watch it again!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Barney’s Hungry Cousin (1953)

(Available as an extra on the Kiss Me Kate Blu-ray from Warner Home Video)

(Length: 6 minutes, 42 seconds)

Barney Bear has come to Jellystone National Park, hoping to enjoy a nice picnic. However, one of the bears living there keeps trying to steal his food! This one was quite fun. Admittedly, it is essentially the same joke over and over, as the one hungry bear keeps stealing Barney’s food, no matter what Barney does to get away from him or prevent it. Still, it serves its purpose in being funny, which makes it worth seeing!

And Now For The Main Feature…

Composer Cole Porter (Ron Randell) has put together a musical version of the Shakespearean play The Taming Of The Shrew, with plans to have it directed by Fred Graham (Howard Keel) with Fred also playing the lead role of “Petruchio.” They both want Fred’s ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson), to play the part of “Katherine,” and they invite her to Fred’s apartment to convince her to be a part of the show. She almost consents until Fred’s current girlfriend, nightclub performer Lois Lane (Ann Miller), shows up. Lilli decides to leave but quickly returns to accept the role when Fred and Cole decide to be sneaky and offer Lois the part of “Katherine.” During rehearsals, Fred and Lilli continue to argue, but start to reconcile right before the show’s opening night. However, Fred sends some flowers to Lois with a note (but his valet mistakenly delivers the flowers to Lilli), and Lilli (who believes the bouquet of flowers were meant for her) reads the note during a moment onstage. In a rage, she starts going off-script and hitting Fred hard. In retaliation, he spanks her onstage at the end of the first act. Having had enough, Lilli decides to leave the show immediately and go to be with her fiancé, Tex Callaway (Willard Parker). Fred at first has no clue how to convince her to stay and finish the show, but he quickly comes up with an idea. Fred learns that his castmate Bill Calhoun (Tommy Rall) (who is actually Lois’ boyfriend) had taken part in a crap game earlier, and lost a lot of money (but signed Fred’s name on the IOU). While he’s initially mad at Bill, due to the two thugs (Lippy, as played by Keenan Wynn, and Slug, as played by James Whitmore) hounding him about the money, Fred is able to make use of the situation by convincing the two men that he can only pay them back if the show is a hit (and it needs Lilli to stay for that to happen). So, the two men force Lilli to go through with the show for a while. However, between acts, the two men find out that their employer has been killed, thus negating Fred’s “IOU.” Without their help, can Fred convince Lilli to stay with him (and the show), or will she go off to live life with a millionaire?

The whole idea was the result of a 1935 performance of Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew in which then-stage manager Arnold Saint Subber watched the show’s stars, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, fight backstage. Later on, as Arnold Saint Subber was becoming a Broadway producer, he decided to make use of the idea as a backstage musical. With the help of his new partner, Lemuel Ayres, he brought in Bella and Samuel Spewack to write the book along with composer Cole Porter to write the score. They were all hesitant about the project, but they were able to come up with a show that would be a big hit with audiences, one of the few to run more than one thousand performances at the time. MGM quickly bought the movie rights, but film production was delayed since they couldn’t start until the Broadway show’s run had ended. In making the transition from stage to screen, the musical kept most of its score (save for at least one song that ended up being spoken), and added the Cole Porter song “From This Moment On” (originally written for the Cole Porter show Out Of This World, even though it was dropped before its premiere). Of course, the song “From This Moment On” is famous here for the fact that Bob Fosse had the opportunity to choreograph a section of the dance for himself and his partner, Carol Haney, which helped him greatly on the path to becoming a famous choreographer.

I picked this film (which I’ve seen many times over the years) to go with my Musical Screen Teams blogathon, with my planned focus on Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel, who had worked together previously in Show Boat (1951) and Lovely To Look At (1952). While I don’t quite think the film itself is the best of the three, I do think that their characters’ relationship works the best here. Unlike the other two films, we don’t see their original romance here. Instead, they’ve already been a married couple and gotten divorced. Yet, the seeds of love between them still exist somewhat despite the anger and hatred that Keel’s Fred keeps causing by his current relationship with Ann Miller’s Lois (even if Lois is just using him to help her own career and that of her boyfriend). On the musical side of things, Keel and Grayson only have two duets (the rest of the time, they are part of an ensemble), but those two songs, “So In Love” and “Wunderbar” are among some of the film’s best moments. “So In Love” is indeed, as it’s title suggests, a beautiful love song, used mainly as an audition for Grayson’s Lilli (and, even though Fred is using it to help manipulate her into doing the show, it still helps show enough of those seeds of attraction I already referred to). “Wunderbar” is just plain fun, as their characters recall a previous show they did together, with them even goofing around and trying to upstage each other, while also dancing together.

Of course, Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson are hardly the only things that make this movie wonderful. One thing this movie is noted for is the fact that it was made as part of the 3-D fad during the early 1950s (when Hollywood was trying to come up with ways to get people out to the theatres due to the rise of television). I personally can’t speak to how good the 3-D is, since I’ve never seen it on a big screen, and I haven’t had any of the technology to see it that way at home (since the Blu-ray came out while 3-D Blu-rays required a 3-D player and a 3-D TV, neither of which have I ever had). Still, one can get a sense of the 3-D aspects through many moments in the film, especially when they throw stuff at the camera during some of the dances. In general, Ann Miller (in some respects, the “third member” of the screen team, since she was also kind of the girlfriend briefly for Howard Keel’s character in Lovely To Look At) gets some of the best moments to show off her dance abilities. Her tap solo “auditioning” for the show to “Too Darn Hot” is one of the film’s highlights (regardless of whether you see it in 3-D or not). She also has “Why Can’t You Behave?” with Tommy Rall on the rooftop, and several routines with him, Bobby Van and Bob Fosse, all of which are fun! In my opinion, this is a very highly regarded musical for good reason, with great music by Cole Porter, great singers and dancers, wonderful comedy and Shakespeare! So, it’s certainly a film I would recommend very highly!

This movie is available on Blu-ray, either individually from Warner Archive Collection or as part of a four-film Musicals collection from Warner Home Video.

Film Length: 1 hour, 50 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #5 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2022

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Lovely To Look At (1952) – Kathryn Grayson

Calamity Jane (1953) – Howard Keel – Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954)

Lovely To Look At (1952) – Ann Miller – Deep In My Heart (1954)

Good News (1947) – Tommy Rall – Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954)

Bob Fosse – Give A Girl A Break (1953)

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What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2018) with… My Sister Eileen (1955)

And here we are for another movie given a new disc release in 2018, the 1955 musical My Sister Eileen, starring Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon and Betty Garrett.

Betty Garrett is Ruth Sherwood, and Janet Leigh is her sister, Eileen. Both of them have come to New York City’s Greenwich Village. There, they find an apartment to stay at, while they try to find work. Eileen hopes to become an actress, but she finds that the producers find HER interesting and not her acting. She becomes close with the manager of a local soda fountain, Frank Lippencott (Bob Fosse), who falls for her, and tries to help her out. Meanwhile, Ruth, who wants to become a writer, tries to submit her work to publisher Bob Baker (Jack Lemmon). He thinks most of her stories are bad, except for one on her sister Eileen. When he says he would like to meet her, Ruth falls victim to her own feelings of inadequacy and tells him that SHE is Eileen.

Apparently, everything came from a series of autobiographical short stories written by Ruth McKenny that was turned into a play (and then made into a movie in 1942 starring Rosalind Russell). It was brought to Broadway again in the early 50s as a musical called Wonderful Town, which prompted Columbia Pictures to make another film version. They had the rights to the story from the previous movie, but the rights to the music from Wonderful Town were apparently too expensive, so a new score was commissioned from Jule Styne and Leo Robin.

I personally think this is a wonderful movie. I am coming off my second viewing of this movie in my lifetime (not sure how long it has been since my first viewing), but I enjoyed it a lot more the second time. I still can’t really say as I care for the music itself, but I do think that it helps tell the story, so that is in its favor. The main appeal of this movie is the dancing, since Bob Fosse was in charge of the choreography. The main routines that are the most fun are the challenge dance between Bob Fosse’s Frank Lippencott and Tommy Rall’s newspaperman Chick Clark, and the song “Give Me A Band And My Baby,” where Betty Garrett, Janet Leigh, Bob Fosse and Tommy Rall are all pretending to play various invisible musical instruments. Now, this movie does have its ridiculous moments (everything connected to the “Conga” moments near the end are just nuts), but I think it all adds up to being the charm of the movie, so I would recommend this movie to everybody just for some good, clean fun!

The movie is available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time as a limited edition with 3000 total copies available through either www.screenarchives.com or www.twilighttimemovies.com and DVD from Sony.

Film Length: 1 hour, 47 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

*ranked #5 on Top 10 Disc Releases of 2018

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Holiday Affair (1949) – Janet Leigh

Mister Roberts (1955) – Jack Lemmon – Fire Down Below (1957)

On The Town (1949) – Betty Garrett

Give A Girl A Break (1953) – Bob Fosse

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954) – Tommy Rall – Invitation To The Dance (1956)

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!