What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… Ziegfeld Follies (1945)

We’re back again to keep things musical this month with today’s entry in the Musicals: With A Song And A Dance In My Heart blogathon, as we take a look at MGM’s all-star musical from 1945, Ziegfeld Follies!

Coming Up Shorts! with… The Luckiest Guy In The World (1947)

(available as an extra on the Ziegfeld Follies Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 21 minutes, 9 seconds)

Charles Vurn (Barry Nelson) struggles monetarily, due to his desire to get rich quick (mostly by gambling). When he accidentally kills his wife, his luck “seems” to change for the better. This was the last short in the “Crime Does Not Pay” series of shorts produced by MGM. It’s an interesting short, that feels well-acted and pulls you in for the story. Amusingly, considering this short’s inclusion as an extra on the Ziegfeld Follies Blu-ray, it includes part of Red Skelton’s skit from the movie done as part of a radio program heard in a car. I’m still no fan of the “Crime Does Not Pay” series, but this one was interesting to see once, anyways.

Coming Up Shorts! with… The Hick Chick (1946)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 1 or as an extra on the Ziegfeld Follies Blu-ray, both from Warner Archive Collection)

Disclaimer: On the disc case, it is noted that the set is intended for the adult collector, which is because these shorts were made at a time when a lot of racist and sexist stereotypes were prevalent. All I’m trying to say is, parents, be careful about just sticking these on for your kids.

(Length: 7 minutes, 10 seconds)

Hick rooster Lem ends up fighting with a city slicker for the affections of his girlfriend, Daisy. A bit of fun here, with the city slicker rooster imitating Charles Boyer, while Daisy also does an imitation of Katharine Hepburn (if I’m correct). Not the most original, with the hick rooster constantly being punched in the face the same way by the city slicker, but it’s still fun. Enjoyed the chasing around (plus the bull being “stripped” of his fur several times). Maybe not Tex Avery’s best work, but I had a few good laughs here, and that alone makes it worth it!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Solid Serenade (1946)

(available as an extra on the Ziegfeld Follies Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 7 minutes, 25 seconds)

Tom the cat tries to serenade his girlfriend, but when he disturbs the sleep of Jerry the mouse, he lives to regret it! An old classic “Tom & Jerry” cartoon, with him famously singing “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby.” I’ve seen this one for years, and always get a laugh out of watching Tom facing off against Killer, the bulldog, when Jerry lets him loose. The gags just get funnier as the short goes on, and this one never gets old!

And Now For The Main Feature…

(Narrator): Ziegfeld Follies is one of those films with a very simple plot.

(Host): How simple is it?

(Narrator): I expected that from you, so I’ll tell you. Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell) looks down from heaven, and imagines what it would be like to put on just one more of his famous Ziegfeld Follies shows using the talent in Hollywood (especially at MGM).

(Host): Yeah, yeah, what else?

(Narrator): That’s it.

(Host): That’s it?

(Narrator): Yep, and that all takes place within the first ten minutes of the movie. After that, it’s a revue like the earlier reviewed King Of Jazz, with different stars singing, dancing, doing comedy skits, whatever their specific talents were.

(Host): So what’s on the program?

(Narrator): Well, here’s a list of what’s included, and we’ll get into the various segments afterwards:

  • “Here’s To The Girls” sung by Fred Astaire, danced by Cyd Charisse and chorus, Lucille Ball and chorus
  • “Bring On The Wonderful Men” sung by Virginia O’Brien
  • “A Water Ballet” featuring Esther Williams
  • “Number Please” with Keenan Wynn
  • “Traviata” sung by James Melton and Marion Bell
  • “Pay The Two Dollars” with Victor Moore and Edward Arnold
  • “This Heart Of Mine” sung by Fred Astaire, danced by Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer
  • “A Sweepstakes Ticket” with Fanny Brice, Hume Cronyn and William Frawley
  • “Love” with Lena Horn
  • “When Television Comes” with Red Skelton
  • “Limehouse Blues” danced by Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer
  • A Great Lady Has “An Interview” with Judy Garland
  • “The Babbitt and The Bromide” sung and danced by Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly
  • “Beauty” sung by Kathryn Grayson

(Host): And that’s all?

(Narrator): Yep, that’s all. Admittedly, there was more filmed, but that’s all that made it into the movie. But, we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.

(Host): Ok, so start at the beginning.

(Narrator): (whispering aside to audience) He asked for it! (winks at audience, then turns back to Host, speaking in normal voice) “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the–

(Host): No, no, NO! Not that far! The making of this movie!

(Narrator): Ok, fine. Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. (1867-1932) was a famous stage producer. On the suggestion of Polish-French singer Anna Held, he started producing the American version of the Parisian Folies Bergère. From 1907 until 1931, he produced a yearly revue of the Ziegfeld Follies, with these shows sporting songs, dances, comedy sketches, and such. They mainly ended when he passed away in 1932. After his death, his widow Billie Burke sold the film rights of his life to Universal Pictures. However, with the rising costs and disagreements between the film’s producer and the studio, Universal ended up selling the rights to MGM. In 1936, MGM released The Great Ziegfeld, to great acclaim, box office, and a Best Picture Oscar win. A few years later, in 1939, studio head Louis B. Mayer planned the idea of a film version of a Ziegfeld Follies show, and gave the project to his new producer, Arthur Freed. However, with Arthur Freed’s new unit only just getting started, it took a while before they could really get into the project. With the success of Ziegfeld Girl in 1941, they really started to focus on the idea. The plan was to try and use some of the various songs, sketches and comedy routines that MGM had been acquiring over the years. At first, George Sidney was assigned to direct the film, but he left after a short while (supposedly, he wasn’t happy with the first month’s worth of shooting) and was replaced by Vincente Minelli (although some of what Sidney filmed was retained for the final product). The movie was originally intended to be released in 1944 to celebrate MGM’s 20th anniversary, but things didn’t work out that way. Filming initially took place between April 10 and August 18, 1944. When the movie was given its sneak preview (with a running time of nearly three hours), audiences didn’t respond as positively as they would have hoped. This resulted in the studio making some changes to the movie, removing many segments and doing some re-takes and additional sequences. Even once finished (as the film is now), they still took their time in releasing it, waiting almost half a year before finally giving it a wide release in 1946.

(Host hands the narrator a small business card)

(Narrator): (reading the card) “And now a word from our sponsor?”

(Pie comes flying in from offstage and hits the Narrator in the face)

(Host): That’s right folks, our sponsor this week is Pie N De Face! If you’re feeling gloomy, and you don’t know what to do (and you’ve got a friend or family member nearby), use Pie N De Face, and you’re sure to bust a gut laughing! Also comes with a portable washing machine (water falls from above the Narrator, drenching him), soap (Narrator is scrubbed with soap, then drenched again), and dryer (a strong gust of wind blows on the Narrator, drying him up and fluffing out his clothing) so that you can use it again in a hurry!

(Narrator): (Angrily walks off-stage, sound of pie hitting him in face again, then sounds of gushing water and wind) (yells) Let’s move on here! Start talking about the movie!

(Host): Alright. Computer, bring in the “This Heart Of Mine” set.

(Computer): Bringing in comedy set.

(Out pops a set with three distinct sections that look like a subway car, a courthouse and a jail cell. There are also two telephone booths and an old CRT television set with what appears to be a bottle of an alcoholic beverage, although nothing inside is visible. A huge pile of sweepstakes tickets drops on the Host, burying him).

(Host): (from underneath the pile of sweepstakes tickets) Ow.

(Narrator): (Walking back onstage) That’s the ticket!

(Audience groans)

(Narrator): Ok, ok, they can’t all be good! Anyways, it may not be what he asked for, but we should mention the comedy sketches. Obviously, opinions will vary for most, but in general, the comedy bits in this movie are among the more controversial aspects of it, as there are those that don’t think they have aged as well as the various musical numbers. There is a degree to which I agree with that. The bit “Pay The Two Dollars” with Victor Moore and Edward Arnold is the worst, as Victor Moore plays a businessman who gets in trouble for spitting on the subway (a minor offense), but, because of the fact that he is unable to pay the fine, combined with the insistence of his lawyer that he fight the charge (even though he just wants to pay the fine), he is sent to jail and then later prison, before being pardoned. In general, this one is just cringeworthy, watching Victor Moore’s character getting in worse and worse scrapes, both financially and with the law, just because his lawyer doesn’t want to lose the case (and charges his client an arm and a leg to do it). Maybe it’s funny once or twice, but eventually this becomes one worth skipping. Computer, drop “Pay The Two Dollars.”

(Computer): Dropping the cheapskate.

(Trapdoor opens up beneath the Host).

(Host): (Falling through the trapdoor with some of the sweepstakes tickets) Aaaaaaaaahhhh!

(Narrator): Moving on, we have the the “Number Please” comedy bit with Keenan Wynn, where he keeps asking the operator for a specific number, but keeps getting the wrong one. This one is decently funny, but, when all is said and done, it’s essentially the “Alexander 2222” (or whatever other name they go with) comedy routine, and, when you’ve seen Lou Costello do that routine, nobody else is as good.

(Phone booth rings)

(Narrator): (Steps in phone booth and picks up phone) Hello? (Muffled voice overheard on phone) Mmm-hmm. (Muffled voice continues) You don’t say. (Muffled voice starts to sound angry). You don’t say! (Muffled voice gets angrier. Narrator cups his hand over the phone and gives the audience a look). I think most of you can predict what I’m about to tell you, so say it with me. (breathes in) “He isn’t saying.” Computer, drop this obscene caller.

(Computer): Dropping the obscene caller.

(Host): (from the other telephone booth, getting quieter as if falling again) Not agaaaaaaaiiiiinnnn!

(Narrator): The next comedy sketch would be “A Sweepstakes Ticket” with Fanny Brice, Hume Cronyn and William Frawley. Fanny Brice was the only featured star in this movie to have actually been one of the big stars from a Ziegfeld Follies show. Different sketches and ideas were thrown around for what to do with her for this movie, but what we got was a sketch in which she plays a housewife that has the winning ticket in an Irish sweepstakes. The problem is her husband, played by Hume Cronyn, has given the ticket to their landlord (William Frawley in what would become a familiar occupation for one of his most famous characters half a decade later) as part of their rent, so they must try to get it back from him. There’s some fun with their attempts to get the ticket back, so it does manage to be slightly more memorable. (speaks loudly) Of course, I’ve got that winning ticket in that pile somewhere…

(Host comes running back onstage and dives into remaining pile of sweepstakes tickets, only to fall through the still open trapdoor)

(Narrator): Knew I forget to take care of something. Computer, close the trapdoor.

(Computer): Closing the trapdoor.

(Trapdoor closes)

(Narrator): Our last comedy sketch is “When Television Comes” with Red Skelton. (Walks over to the television set and takes a swig from the bottle on top) While Red Skelton seems to be one of the more “you love him or you hate him” types, I will admit that I personally like his comedy. I don’t think his comedy bit here is as good as what he did in Lovely To Look At, but it’s still some good fun as he plays an advertiser that gets slowly more drunk on the sponsor’s product while alternating (by the turn of his hat) as a poet with some rather amusing poetry (if you can call it that). Out of all the pure comedy sketches in this movie, this is the one that I enjoy the most. (Takes another swig from the bottle) Ah, that’s good stuff. (To audience) Before you get the wrong idea, I’m drinking the hard stuff. Milk. What? You expected something alcoholic? We wouldn’t let anything of that nature on here! But let’s get back to the movie!

(Host): (weakly from offstage) What about “A Great Lady Has An Interview” with Judy Garland?

(Narrator): Well, that’s kind of a different story. That one is a musical number, which was written by Kay Thompson and Roger Edens for actress Greer Garson, in an attempt to spoof her screen image at the time. When the two writers performed it for Greer Garson and her husband and her mother, they expressed their feelings that it wasn’t for her. Instead, Judy Garland ended up doing it. Personally, while I think that Judy Garland does a good job with it (and I’m glad that she got something in this movie, considering she was another star that had a lot of stuff planned as possibilities that didn’t pan out, and, as big as she was at MGM, she did need to be in this film), I think the humor of the piece falls flat. Maybe I’m saying that coming from a complete lack of knowledge in regards to Greer Garson (having only seen her in the film Blossoms In The Dust which was part of a set of Christmas films I got on DVD a number of years back), but I can’t believe that I’m the only one who has no knowledge of her, which causes this number to age poorly, in my opinion.

(sign drops from above)

(Narrator): (reading the sign) “And now back to our sponsor Pie N De Face?”

(another pie comes flying in from offstage and hits the Narrator in the face).

(Host): (trying to stifle a giggle) If you’re feeling gloomy (starts giggling more intensely), and you don’t know what to do (and you’ve got a friend or family member nearby), use Pie N De Face (busts out in raucous laughter), and you’re… sure to… bust a gut… laughing! (starts rolling on the floor in uncontrollable laughter)

(Narrator): (wiping pie off his face) Oh, very funny. Veeeeerrrry funny. Are you through yet?

(Host still laughing on the floor)

(Narrator): Fine. I’ll finish the ad. (starts speaking fast to get it over with). Also comes with a portable washing machine, soap, and dryer so that you can use it again in a hurry! (In quick fashion, water drops on the Narrator, followed quickly by soap, more water, and then a strong gust of wind fluffs him up again)

(Host): (still on the floor laughing) Had enough?

(Narrator walks offstage muttering angrily to himself)

(Host): (laughter subsides) Ok, let’s try this again. Computer, bring in the “This Heart Of Mine” set.

(Computer): Bringing in “Beauty” set.

(From above, a bunch of soap suds and bubbles drop down, covering the stage and sticking to the Host)

(Host): (spitting out soap bubbles) No, no, no, not that! Computer! Bring in the “This Heart Of Mine” set!

(Computer): Bringing in “Water Ballet” set.

(Host): (dreading what is coming) Oh, no!

(A glass pane comes down covering the front of the stage, with water filling in behind it and washing away all the suds. The Host suddenly finds himself swimming in all the water as the water level continues to rise.)

(Narrator): (walking back onstage in front of the glass pane) Ah, two musical numbers that ended up being far different than what was originally planned. As I’ve hinted at already, a lot of the various stars were being given numerous songs or sketches in the planning stages, some of which managed to be filmed (but were dropped after the initial preview). One of those stars was singer James Melton, who had filmed at least four songs, but only one was retained: the operatic “La Traviata.” Personally, I think that to be one of the weakest (if not THE weakest) segments retained for the movie. I’ve seen it described as being filmed like a song for a TV variety show, which feels quite accurate. Overall, I don’t really like it at all (and only would have been able to tolerate it if it could have been done, for example, by Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy instead of James Melton and Marion Bell).

(The water level continues to rise. The Host swims his way over to the glass pane and taps on it.)

(Narrator): What? Oh, right, the two different musical numbers. Well, we have the one segment with Esther Williams doing her underwater ballet. Originally, this segment was done with James Melton singing the song “We Will Meet Again in Honolulu,” but after the initial preview, Melton’s appearance was cut, with only Esther Williams’ swim routine sticking around. It’s nothing compared to some of the spectacles she would do in some of her later films (at least, those that I’ve seen), but it’s entertaining enough.

(With the water level at the top, an agitated Host pounds furiously on the glass pane.)

(Narrator): (looking back) Now what? (sees water level) Oh, right! Computer, pull the plug.

(Computer): Pulling the plug.

(A hole opens up in the center of the stage, draining all the water. As the water goes down the hole, the Host goes down with it.)

(Narrator): (When all the water is gone) Computer, put in the plug.

(Computer): Putting in plug.

(The hole in the center of the stage closes up.)

(Host): (from down below) Why can’t that thing work that well for me?!?!?

(Narrator): (Ignoring the Host’s complaint) Now where were we? Oh, yes. The song “There’s Beauty Everywhere” was also quite different for its original conception. James Melton also originally sang that song, and director Vincente Minelli envisioned having Fred Astaire, Lucille Bremer and Cyd Charisse dancing among soap bubbles. However, the bubble machine caused a lot of trouble, with the gas from the bubbles causing the cameraman to faint and otherwise became a constant hazard, not to mention the bubbles themselves getting out of control. As a result, they weren’t able to film it right (with the bubbles generally obscuring parts of Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer’s faces), so most of the idea was abandoned. Some of the footage featuring Cyd Charisse was kept in the film, and James Melton was replaced by Kathryn Grayson with some newly shot footage. Personally, I think it’s not really that memorable of a song, especially as it is, and makes me wish they could have (safely) pulled off their original vision.

(From offstage, the sound of machinery fizzling out can be heard. Then the Host walks onstage)

(Host): Darn it. There goes our sponsor’s machine. All those soap suds and that water shorted it out.

(Narrator): (in a mocking tone). Awww, that’s too bad.

(Host): (imitating the Narrator) “Awww, that’s too bad.” (Normal voice) Oh, you’ll get over it. Getting back to the movie, are you finished with the water ballet and “There’s Beauty Everywhere?”

(Narrator): Yes.

(Host): Anything you want to say about the song “Love” before segueing into discussing the Fred Astaire stuff?

(Narrator): Well, “Love,” as sung by Lena Horne, is a fun piece of music, and she does a wonderful job of singing it. I can’t really say much one way or the other about how it was staged, as that aspect doesn’t really feel that memorable. Still, as I said, the song itself sticks quite well in my memory, and is one of the better songs in the film.

(Host): Ready for Fred Astaire?

(A screen drops down from above)

(Narrator): (ducking behind the screen and popping out on the other side wearing a top hat and a tuxedo with tails, and carrying a cane) Ready!

(Host): Alright. We’ll give this one last shot. Computer, bring in the “Fred Astaire” set. (closes eyes and flinches)

(Computer): Bringing in “Fred Astaire” set.

(Host): (slowly opens one eye and looks around to see a set divided into four sections, with one occupied by a group of ladies all decked out in costumes with big headdresses, another occupied by the Chinatown section of London, another in a park with a statue of a man on a horse, and the other with a barren wintry landscape. Seeing the coast is clear, he unflinches and breathes a sigh of relief) Phew. Finally! (Suddenly, a piano drops on his head, knocking him out)

(Narrator): Hmm. That piano sounded out of tune. Oh, well. (pulls the unconscious Host out from under the piano and drags him offstage) Anyways, back to Fred. Compared to some of the many stars who had multiple segments planned that, for one reason or another didn’t make it into the final film, Fred Astaire managed to get four segments in the movie, besting Cyd Charisse and Lucille Bremer, who were tied at two each (while everybody else had one). Even then, Fred still had at least one segment cut, the song “If Swing Goes, I Go Too” (a song that he himself wrote). While the footage of that song no longer exists, the recording of it does. However, that was not included (for some reason) as an extra on the recent Blu-ray release.

Anyways, to get back to what is actually in the movie, after William Powell’s Ziegfeld introduces the idea behind the movie (in what little exists for a “plot”), he hands things off to Fred Astaire to start things off. Fred introduces everything with a few kind words about Ziegfeld, concluding with a reminder that Ziegfeld was a specialist in glorifying girls before launching into singing the song “Here’s To the Girls.” After singing the song and dancing (very, very briefly) with Cyd Charisse, he leaves the stage, leaving Cyd to dance with some other chorus girls, before we have a merry-go-round with ladies all dressed in pink, leading up to Lucille Ball leading a group of cat-like dancers (with a whip in hand). Of course, after glorifying the ladies, Virginia O’Brien shows up on horseback to “Bring On The Wonderful Men” (although it’s just her onscreen, without any men showing up). Neither song is necessarily that great, but they do help start off the proceedings quite well.

Moving on from there, we have Fred’s third appearance in this film (I know I’m doing this out of order, but we’ll get to his second appearance in a bit), dancing alongside Lucille Bremer for the song “Limehouse Blues.” Now, one thing that should be said here. Fred was worried about his song “If Swing Goes, I Go Too” becoming dated (because of the style of music), which is why that was deleted, but, among his song-and-dance routines that survived, “Limehouse Blues” has fared worse over time, with both him and Lucille Bremer made up to look Asian in appearance. But, if you can get past that, this is a wonderful routine that is out of the ordinary for Fred Astaire. For one thing, it’s a bit more balletic, with him doing some tricks like cartwheels, and, for another, both he and Lucille work with fans throughout the dream sequence. In spite of it’s issues, it’s still a very interesting routine that shows how well he could do with a variety of dance styles.

(Host): (Walking back onstage) Have you gotten to Fred and Gene yet?

(Narrator): No, I was just getting there. Fred’s last appearance in the film is for the song “The Babbitt And The Bromide,” which was originally written by the Gershwins for the Broadway show Funny Face starring Fred and his sister Adele. This time, Fred was paired with up-and-comer Gene Kelly, with the two of them providing the choreography for the different sections of the song. Before starting the song, they both rather amusingly reference each other’s big partners (obviously, for Fred it was Ginger Rogers, but for Gene, it was Rita Hayworth, since Cover Girl was still Gene’s big breakthrough at that point). Whatever the case, it’s still a lot of fun to see the two of them dancing together in their prime, as that was to be the only time they could work anything out (yes, I know they also danced together in That’s Entertainment, Part 2, but that was with them both nearly thirty years older than they were here).

(Host): Ok, that’s all fine and dandy, but what about “This Heart Of Mine?”

(Narrator): Yes, I know you’ve been leading to that one, but that’s why we’ve saved the best for last.

(A moving sidewalk starts up underneath the Host, who starts walking to keep up with it)

(Host): This isn’t too bad. Anyways, “This Heart Of Mine” is, in some respects, a shorter version of the story for the other Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer film, Yolanda And The Thief, with Fred playing a thief out to steal something from Lucille Bremer’s wealthy character.

(The Narrator pulls out a remote and presses a button. The moving sidewalk starts to move faster, forcing the Host to start jogging, then running.)

(Host): (Running out of breath) That’s not so easy! (Angrily points at the Narrator) You were planning this, weren’t y- (Host trips and falls on the moving sidewalk, which is going so fast now that he practically flies offstage. A commotion is heard backstage as he crashes into various objects.)

(Narrator): And off he goes again. Getting back to the “This Heart Of Mine” segment, it’s arguably one of the film’s best moments. We’ve got Fred and Lucille doing a ballroom dance together, with a beautiful piece of music to back them up. I know I like it, and the song itself gives me chills, especially when the chorus sings it near the end. It’s a longer song, clocking in at over ten minutes, but it’s well worth it for me.

Overall, I find this to be a very enjoyable film. As I’ve indicated, it’s a bit uneven, but, let’s be fair. As a revue, it’s going to be hard to keep everything good. Whatever the case, it’s one I’ve seen many times over the years. Most of the music is good, and there’s some fantastic dancing throughout (mostly provided by Fred Astaire, but there are some others doing well here, too). For me, I always like to sit through the whole thing without skipping through anything (in spite of the variation in quality of the segments). If you can get past the essentially nonexistent plot, then it’s a movie worth recommending (and certainly the best movie revue I’ve seen, even if that is a short list)!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection. The Blu-ray features a new transfer that comes from a 4K scan of most of the original camera negative. While some of the original negative is gone, I would say that overall, this transfer is much improved! The detail is much better, and the colors certainly have that three-strip Technicolor look to them! The picture has been cleaned up of dirt and debris. Extras include (besides the three shorts already mentioned) a featurette on the movie and audio-only outtakes of different musical numbers that were originally planned for the movie. I certainly think that this is the best way to enjoy this movie!

(Host comes back onstage carrying a stack of pies on his left hand, and one lone pie on his right, looking like he might throw them)

(Narrator): What are you doing with those?0

(Host): Well, even though the machine is broken, we do still have a sponsor for this post who needs-

(Narrator): (interrupting) Oh, no you don’t! I’ve had enough of Pie N De Face! Now give me those pies!

(Host): Are you sure? (winks at the audience).

(Narrator): Of course I’m sure! Now let me have them!

(Host gives the audience a look. However, that look is long enough for the Narrator to act and push the lone pie into the Host’s face. The Host falls down, and the pies in his other hand go flying. The Narrator starts laughing hysterically, and then all the pies fall down, covering the both of them. They wipe the pie off their faces, look at each other, and burst into uproarious laughter.)

(Narrator): (After finally calming down) Computer, bring the curtain down.

(Computer): Bringing the curtain down.

(The whole curtain falls down from above, landing on the Host and the Narrator).

(Narrator): Well, it seems that the Writer has thrown in almost everything now.

(A kitchen sink falls from above and lands on the Narrator’s head, knocking him out)

(Host): You just had to go there, didn’t you? Well, that’s all folks!

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What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… Million Dollar Mermaid (1952)

This time around, we’re here for the 1952 Esther Williams movie Million Dollar Mermaid, co-starring Victor Mature, Walter Pidgeon and David Brian.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Reducing (1952)

(Available as an extra on the Million Dollar Mermaid Blu-ray)

(Length: 8 minutes, 23 seconds)

Another short from the Pete Smith comedy series, this time on someone trying to lose weight. This time around, the short really wasn’t as fun. The “humor” (if you can call it that) about a woman trying to lose weight is, at best, dated, and, at worst, too mean-spirited to be that funny. It’s always worth trying something different, but sometimes you find a stinker, and this is one of them. Doesn’t seem to be restored either, but, as I said, in this case, it doesn’t matter.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Little Quacker (1950)

(Available as an extra on the Million Dollar Mermaid Blu-ray)

(Length: 7 minutes, 8 seconds)

Tom the cat steals a duck egg, only for it to hatch, and the little duckling turns to Jerry the mouse for help. A fun Tom & Jerry cartoon, and apparently the one that introduced the character “Little Quacker” (or whatever the little duckling was called). This was fun, as it’s been some time since I’ve seen any of the Tom & Jerry cartoons, and I enjoyed seeing this one. This one seemed to be in good shape, like it’s been worked on and/or restored. (Either way, I enjoyed seeing it!)

And Now For The Main Feature…

As a child in Australia, young Annette Kellerman (Donna Corcoran) recovers from polio by trying to learn to swim. Her father, Frederick (Walter Pidgeon), who owns and runs a music conservatory, encourages her to keep swimming, since it has helped her to get stronger, while also encouraging her to learn music and ballet. As she gets older, Annette (now played by Esther Williams) becomes a champion swimmer. However, the conservatory cannot sustain itself financially, so her father takes a job in London and brings her along. On the boat ride there, they meet promoter James Sullivan (Victor Mature), who is taking Sydney, a boxing kangaroo, to London with the help of his friend Doc Cronnol (Jesse White). James takes an interest in Annette and her abilities, and offers to manage her, but her father turns him down, since he prefers to keep her swimming as a hobby and not an occupation. When they get to London, they find out that the conservatory where Frederick’s job was supposed to be had closed down when the owner died, leaving them looking for work. James comes to them and offers Annette some money to help him promote Sydney by a 6 mile swim, to which she makes a counteroffer to do a 26 mile swim. At first, nobody is interested, but along the way, many people hear about it and come to cheer her on. Once she completes the swim, James gets an idea to take her to New York City to perform at the Hippodrome. However, once they get there, the Hippodrome manager, Alfred Harper (David Brian), turns them down, saying that Annette is not a big name in the U.S. In response, James and Annette make plans for her to do another big swim, except they run into trouble when she is arrested for indecent exposure because of the swim suit she was wearing. At the trial, the case is dismissed after convincing arguments on her side, plus some slight alterations to her one-piece swimming suit that cover her up more. The resulting publicity helps out when she and James do a show at a carnival. Things are looking up, and James is planning to ask her to marry him, when she is given an offer by a Mr. Aldrich (Howard Freeman) to do a more dignified lecture tour. James and Annette fight over it, and, although Annette ends up turning it down, James leaves, right before she gets a telegram from Alfred saying that she is being hired for a show at the Hippodrome. Her show is a success, and her father is hired as the conductor. James, meanwhile, starts doing a number of stunts and other things on his own, with little success. While she is at the Hippodrome, Frederick passes away, and Alfred falls for her. After a few proposals, she says yes. Before they get married, they head for Hollywood to do a movie. Only problem is, right before they finish, a glass tank full of water that she is swimming in breaks, resulting in her being badly injured. Will she be able to recover, and will she and James end up together again?

Million Dollar Mermaid was very much a passion project for actress Esther Williams. Annette Kellerman inspired Esther Williams in a lot of what she did, and Esther convinced her to let MGM do the biopic. Annette had some say in what they did with the script, as she tried to keep them from making it too Hollywood-ized. Granted, the film, in typical Hollywood fashion, did take liberties with the story, whether by how they characterized James Sullivan, or how they connected him to the famous dog Rin Tin Tin, among other things. But, Annette was happy with the film, and some of its casting (especially actor Walter Pidgeon playing her father).

My own opinion is that Million Dollar Mermaid is about as perfect an Esther Williams film as you can get. You get a few Busby Berkeley-staged swim routines, including the famous “Fountain And Smoke,” which has been shown in a few places, including in the That’s Entertainment film series. You get a movie that doesn’t need the writers to come up with ridiculous ways to get her into the water (although I don’t mind, as I’m generally used to the idea with musicals in general). And, of course, we have one of Esther’s best performances. I can’t even begin to imagine anybody else as Annette Kellerman. Esther’s performance just wows me here, and makes the movie worth watching. Of course, the rest of the cast is no slouch either! Walter Pidgeon, in particular, does very well as her father, being there to support her, even if he disagrees with her at first about swimming as a career. Honestly, this movie is just wonderful, and it’s very easy for me to recommend it!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection, utilizing a 4K restoration from the original nitrate Technicolor negatives. As usual for them, it’s a fantastic transfer! How fantastic you ask? Well, I can only claim to have seen a handful of Esther Williams’ films before (including the previously reviewed Take Me Out To The Ball Game), and I’ve generally been indifferent to her. I hadn’t previously seen Million Dollar Mermaid, but this transfer brings out the color so magnificently, especially for the swim routines. If Warner Archive can give the rest of her films fresh transfers that look as good as this one (or better, if possible), then I’m certainly an Esther Williams fan now!!

Film Length: 1 hour, 50 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #8 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2020

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949) – Esther Williams

The Girl Of The Golden West (1938) – Walter Pidgeon – Deep In My Heart (1954)

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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, which also stars Esther Williams and Betty Garrett.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Moan & Groan, Inc. (1929)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1 (1929-1930) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 20 minutes, 41 seconds)

The kids ignore the warning of Officer Kennedy (Edgar Kennedy), and go dig for treasure in a haunted house. Personally, I enjoyed this one! While there are no real spooks here, it feels like a good one to watch around Halloween. The bit with the Japanese finger trap is one of the best gags in the short, particularly when Officer Kennedy and his superior both get their hands stuck in one. There might be too much focus on the adults here, but it’s not bad enough for me to trash this one. I can certainly say that I look forward to watching this one again!

Coming Up Shorts! with… The Cat And The Mermouse (1949)

(available as an extra on the Take Me Out To The Ball Game Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 7 minutes, 37 seconds)

Tom the cat is all set for a relaxing day at the beach, when Jerry the mouse interrupts his rest. This was another enjoyable Tom & Jerry cartoon. It quickly becomes obvious that the short goes into a dream sequence when Tom goes underwater (and seems to be “breathing” just fine), but that’s not a problem. There’s some fun with the underwater creatures like a swordfish and an octopus that join in the chasing. Other than that, it’s still a typical Tom & Jerry cartoon, but that’s still very much a point in its favor (as is the laughter it provides)!

And Now For The Main Feature…

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.

The idea for Take Me Out To The Ball Game came from Gene Kelly (although some claim it was very similar to the 1930 MGM musical They Learned About Women), and he brought in Stanley Donen to help finish the story. They were able to sell the idea to producer Arthur Freed for $25,000. At first, the film was considered as a follow-up to Anchors Aweigh, with Kathryn Grayson to be cast as the female lead. That didn’t happen, and Judy Garland was considered next. However, her health issues resulted in her being replaced by Esther Williams. Busby Berkeley was hired to direct the film, but he struggled enough that Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen ended up directing a lot of the film themselves (although they gave Berkeley the onscreen credit, his final credit as a film director). The film turned out to be a success, and Arthur Freed decided to officially give Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen the directing reins for the movie On The Town (which would again pair up Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, with Jules Munshin and Betty Garrett coming along for the ride).

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 ladies’ man Gene Kelly . 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 entirely). I’d also say that the ending is a little weak. From what I’ve read in the biography Gene Kelly: A Life Of Dance And Dreams by Alvin Yudkoff, Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen were never able to come up with a proper ending to their story, so we got stuck with a song-and-dance where the four leads broke character. Personally, I’ve seen worse endings, so it’s not a huge problem. And, for some, the fact that actress Esther Williams, known for her underwater ballets, barely spends any time in the water, might also be a minor problem with this movie (although, to be fair, I’m not sure how they could realistically fit an underwater ballet into the story). Still, she is enough of an athlete herself that she seems to fit the role better than either Kathryn Grayson or Judy Garland would have. Even with these issues, I do enjoy this movie very much, and would highly recommend it!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Home Video.

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949)

On July 20, 2021, Take Me Out To The Ball Game was released on Blu-ray by Warner Archive Collection. I don’t know the exact source of the transfer, since Warner Archive is no longer doing podcasts or press releases via social media, and their newsletter didn’t mention it. My best GUESS is that they did a 4K scan of the original Technicolor negatives. Whether I’m right or not, one thing I can say: this new transfer looks GREAT!! Seriously, they’ve really brought out the color in this movie, and the detail is just exquisite! Plain and simple, they hit a home run with this one! Admittedly, whether you look at it as a bases-loaded grand slam or just a simple home run depends on your opinion of the film itself. Me, I REALLY like it, so it’s a grand slam in my book! Easily recommended!

Film Length: 1 hour, 33 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

My Rating (after Blu-ray): 10/10

*ranked #4 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2021

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Anchors Aweigh (1945)Frank SinatraOn The Town (1949)

Ziegfeld Follies (1945) – Esther Williams – Million Dollar Mermaid (1952)

The Pirate (1948)Gene KellyOn The Town (1949)

Betty Garrett – On The Town (1949)

Easter Parade (1948) – Jules Munshin – On The Town (1949)

Ziegfeld Follies (1945) – Edward Arnold – Annie Get Your Gun (1950)

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!