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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What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… Show Boat (1951)

I’ve got a fun musical today, as I revisit the Show Boat story (although this time, it’s the 1951 version starring Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner and Howard Keel)!

The Cotton Blossom is in town!  Everybody is looking forward to seeing what show Cap’n Andy Hawks (Joe E. Brown) and his troupe are putting on!  His current troupe includes popular leading man Steve Baker (Robert Sterling), his equally popular leading lady (and wife offstage) Julie LaVerne (Ava Gardner), and dancers Ellie May Shipley (Marge Champion) and Frank Schultz (Gower Champion).  However, the boat’s engineer, Pete (Leif Erickson), who has been trying to flirt with Julie, gets into a fight with Steve (and loses).  Out for revenge, Pete goes to the local sheriff with some information about Julie.  Meanwhile, Cap’n Andy’s daughter, Magnolia (Kathryn Grayson), meets gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel) while she is trying to air out the costumes, and they quickly fall for each other.  That night, the sheriff comes during the show, threatening to arrest Julie, a mulatto, for being married to a white man.  They are able to avoid arrest, but they are forced to leave the Cotton Blossom, much to everybody’s regret (well, everybody except Cap’n Andy’s wife Parthy, played by Agnes Moorehead).  But, Cap’n Andy is a quick thinker, and secures Gaylord’s services as a leading man, while giving his daughter Magnolia a chance as the leading lady.  Audiences take to them, and the two become quite popular.  Offstage, they fall in love, and decide to get married.  They leave the show boat, and move to Chicago.  Things are fine for a while, as Gaylord’s gambling is successful.  However, his luck starts to run out, and they have to give up their lavish lifestyle.  When they hit rock bottom and Magnolia calls him out for his obsession with gambling, he leaves her.  Just in the nick of time, Magnolia runs into Frank and Elly, who help her get a job at a local nightclub for New Year’s.  That night, Cap’n Andy goes out to see Frank and Elly perform, hoping to learn where his daughter is, only to find her faltering in her first performance.  With her father’s support, Magnolia pulls herself together and wins over the audience.  Afterwards, she tells her father what happened (including the fact that she is now pregnant), and asks if she can return home to the show boat (which obviously thrills Cap’n Andy).  As time goes on, both Gaylord and Magnolia continue to go their separate ways.  Will they ever be reunited, or will time forever keep them apart?

MGM bought the film rights to Show Boat a few years after Universal Studios released their 1936 version.  The plan was to feature Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, but by then their box office appeal was on the decline.  Still, producer Arthur Freed wanted to do something with the property, and ended up doing so when MGM produced their musical biopic on composer Jerome Kern, Till The Clouds Roll By.  In that film, they borrowed some of the score from Show Boat as they presented a highly shortened version (including actress Kathryn Grayson playing Magnolia Hawks several years before the 1951 film).  At one point, it was also planned to have Lena Horne play the role of Julie (since she had done the part in Till The Clouds Roll By), but a combination of the Code and her stuff being cut in some Southern states prevented her from getting the part.  Ava Gardner got the role, practicing singing to Lena Horne’s recordings, but then she got dubbed by Annette Warren (although her recordings are still extant, and included as extras on the recent Blu-ray release).  The movie proved to be fairly popular with audiences, and they got the gang back together (Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel and the Champions) the next year for another remake of a Jerome Kern musical, Lovely To Look At.

This is a movie that I’ve seen for years, and was first introduced to it by my late grandmother.  It’s one that I’ve come to appreciate more each time I get the chance to see it.  From the first time I saw it, I will readily admit that the moment that has stuck with me the most is William Warfield’s rendition of the classic “Ol’ Man River.”  He does such a WONDERFUL, fantastic job singing it.  It’s always guaranteed to give me goosebumps, it’s so powerful.  Howard Keel is, in my mind, perfectly cast here, and is very enjoyable to listen to.  I will admit, it took me a while to come around to the husband-and-wife dance team Marge and Gower Champion, but after I saw them in Lovely To Look At (and really took to that film), I’ve come to appreciate their dancing here as well.  While I do wish that Lena Horne could have been cast as Julie, I will readily admit that I like Ava Gardner’s performance here, as I have yet to see anything else she did that moves me as much as she did here, as somebody whose life is going downhill, and yet still tries to take care of a friend that tried to defend her.  It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s one I will quite readily admit to wanting to watch with some frequency!  So I would certainly give it some of my highest recommendations!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection, featuring a new master from a 4K Scan of the original Technicolor negatives. One thing that has long been in this particular version of Show Boat‘s favor has been its three-strip Technicolor look. However, that hasn’t been the case for some time, as the film has had less-than-stellar transfers that have robbed it of that look. Finally, FINALLY, this movie has been given a new restoration that has returned it to its former glory! The colors are so fantastically vivid, and the detail is much improved! I know this Blu-ray was only just released in February 2021, but, honestly, I’d be surprised if this isn’t considered one of the best (if not THE best) restorations of the year! So, if you’ve never seen this movie and want to try it (or have seen it, but only through its previous terrible transfers), don’t stop, don’t hesitate, get this one! You won’t regret it!

Film Length: 1 hour, 48 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

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

*ranked #3 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2021

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Ziegfeld Follies (1945) – Kathryn Grayson – Lovely To Look At (1952)

Ava Gardner – Mogambo (1953)

Annie Get Your Gun (1950) – Howard Keel – Lovely To Look At (1952)

You Said A Mouthful (1932) – Joe E. Brown

The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle (1939) – Marge Champion – Lovely To Look At (1952)

Gower Champion – Lovely To Look At (1952)

Dark Passage (1947) – Agnes Moorehead – The Opposite Sex (1956)

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Lovely To Look At (1952)

“To me, dancing is the loveliest way I know to meet a girl. It’s the only way I can hold a girl in my arms in a crowded room and still have her all to myself. Dancing is the whistlestop before romance.” – Gower Champion in Lovely to Look At

Now we’re back for the 1952 musical Lovely To Look At, starring Kathryn Grayson, Red Skelton and Howard Keel.

Tony (Howard Keel), Jerry (Gower Champion) and Al (Red Skelton) have plans for a Broadway show, but find they are under-financed to convince anybody to back the show. Then Al receives a letter stating that his Aunt Roberta had passed, and he had inherited half of her dress shop in Paris. So Tony, Jerry and Al make the trip to Paris to sell Al’s half to finance their show, but they find that the shop, now run by Stephanie (Kathryn Grayson) and her sister Clarisse (Marge Champion), has seen better years. With the creditors closing in, the three men decide to convince them to put on a big fashion show with music, dancing comedy. Of course, there are different romances brewing, as Jerry and Clarisse fall for each other, while Al falls for Stephanie, she likes Tony, and Tony likes her, except his girlfriend Bubbles Cassidy (Ann Miller) shows up (but ends up falling for Al). But when one of the models (Zsa Zsa Gabor) introduces them to producer Max Fogelsby (Kurt Kasznar), who offers them the chance to do their show immediately, will they stay to help with the fashion show or will they return to New York?

As the second filmed version of the Broadway musical Roberta (following the Astaire/Rogers film from the 1930s), this film brought back some songs dropped from the earlier film while retaining some that were written for the previous movie. Having seen the earlier Roberta many times, Lovely To Look At was a movie I was curious about, but had low expectations for when I first saw it nearly a decade ago. All I can say is that I’m glad I was curious, as it has become one of my favorite movies, usually one I try to watch at least once a year!

The score, with music written by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Otto Harbach (and some updated lyrics by Dorothy Fields), is absolutely wonderful! In That’s Entertainment, Part 2, Fred Astaire said that “Jerome Kern wrote some of the loveliest melodies I’ve ever heard, and none lovelier than this one, sung by Kathryn Grayson” (referring, of course, to the song “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”). That’s a sentiment I very much agree with, as I very much prefer this sung version of the song. Kathryn does it so wonderfully and with so much emotion, I know I can’t help but want to cry along with her as she finishes. That being said, the instrumental version used earlier in the movie for husband-and-wife dance team Marge and Gower Champion is even better yet! It is such a wonderful combination of beautiful music and breathtaking dancing, I look forward to it every time I watch the movie (and, for those who noticed, it made my Top 10 Dance Routines list, too)! Also worth noting for Marge and Gower is the song “I Won’t Dance,” a fun and flirtacious dance between the two that is full of fun and lifts as well!

Of course, with Red Skelton in the cast, you can bet there is room for some comedy, too! Early on, he gets a chance as he rides an elevator that looks so unsafe in how it moves that most of us would much rather walk up the stairs after seeing it in action (and then a bit later when somebody else tries to use it, and we listen to him with his badly mangled French). But his best moment is probably his “Irish Tenor” comedy bit later in the movie. Seriously, if you can get through that without laughing, then I don’t know what you’re even reading about this film for, it’s so good!

Overall, this is very much a fun musical that I always enjoy. I admit, the fashion show sequence at the end of the movie is a bit odd (partly due to the fact that that sequence was directed by Vincente Minelli instead of Mervyn LeRoy who directed the rest of the movie), with the Marge and Gower dance routine to “Yesterdays” really being a jolt, but over time and multiple viewings, I’ve still come to appreciate it just as much as the rest of the movie! A very highly recommended movie if you get the chance to see it!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 42 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #5 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2019

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Show Boat (1951) – Kathryn Grayson – Kiss Me Kate (1953)

Ziegfeld Follies (1945) – Red Skelton – Susan Slept Here (1954)

Show Boat (1951) – Howard Keel – Calamity Jane (1953)

Show Boat (1951) – Marge Champion – Give A Girl A Break (1953)

Show Boat (1951) – Gower Champion – Give A Girl A Break (1953)

On The Town (1949) – Ann Miller – Kiss Me Kate (1953)

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!

Top 10 Dance Routines

Well, I seem to have made it to the 100 post mark for this blog, so I felt the need to celebrate! Considering I have always been quite fond of musicals, which originally inspired me to take up dancing, I feel like doing my top 10 dance routines from the movies! Now, I did set up a few limits. Mainly, I tried to limit the number of dance routines featuring any specific dancers to about one solo routine and one partnered routine per person (otherwise, I could easily list quite a few for some dancers with ease)! I should also mention, that it’s not just the dancing itself, but sometimes the music that influences my opinion as well. Again, this list is entirely my own opinion, and not necessarily even my favorite dance routines and/or songs, but those that just mesh well. They will be presented as song, dancer(s), movie.

1. “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” Fred Astaire, Blue Skies

Fred Astaire’s big tap solo that was originally intended to be his last, as he went into retirement after this movie (which, thankfully, was short-lived). This routine allowed Fred to show he still had some considerable skill, improved by using special effects, such as his cane flying into his hand from the ground. But most famously, we have Fred dancing with a background chorus that consisted entirely of him (long before the days of CGI), which demonstrates just how well-rehearsed and precise he could be with his movements!

2. “Never Gonna Dance,” Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Swing Time

While Fred Astaire partnered with a number of talented ladies over his career, few are better remembered than Ginger Rogers, who brought her talents as a dramatic actress to the table. It took a lot of thought to pick which one of their routines to add to this list, but I went with “Never Gonna Dance.” This wonderful dance showcases their dramatic abilities, coupled with superb dancing (not to mention beautiful music that also brings back “The Way You Look Tonight” and “Waltz In Swing Time”)!

3. “Singin’ In The Rain,” Gene Kelly, Singin’ In The Rain

Of course, no list of famous dances would be complete without this classic! You can’t help but smile when thinking of Gene Kelly’s iconic dance, joyful in what could otherwise be depressing weather! So grab an umbrella and start dancing (and singing!) in the rain!

4. “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” Marge and Gower Champion, Lovely To Look At

For me, this one just HAS to be on the list. The husband-and-wife dance team of Marge and Gower Champion wasn’t renowned for their acting ability, and neither made a huge mark in the movies, but this movie (and most particularly this routine) was one of their best. From their kiss at the beginning of the routine that sends them “up among the stars” to the end of the routine, we are treated to some wonderful dancing, some superb lifts and one of the most beautiful orchestrations of this (or any other song) that I’ve had the chance to enjoy!!

5. “Barn Dance,” group dance, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers

Ok, so I’m simplifying things by calling it a group dance, but if I listed everybody, you’d spend too much time reading that list! But still, who can pass up the chance to watch the six brothers constantly one-up the men from town as they show off for the ladies! Between the music, the high-flying leaps and flips, this is always fun!

6. “Make ‘Em Laugh,” Donald O’Connor, Singin’ In The Rain

Yep, Donald O’Connor’s classic comedy dance is here, too! While the music might have borrowed heavily from the Cole Porter tune “Be A Clown,” Donald brought all of his abilities to hear, with pratfalls, and many different comedy bits (and some dancing as well)! Always fun to watch (and good for a laugh)!

7. “Ragamuffin Romeo,” Marion Stadler and Don Rose, King Of Jazz

As I’ve said before, a wonderful example of some old vaudeville style dancing! While neither of the two dancers here have any lasting fame, what they do is still impressive! She’s supposed to be a doll made up of rags, and, with her flexibility, she acts and moves just like it! The lifts are just phenomenal, and I could easily watch this dance time and time again!

8. “Yankee Doodle Boy/ GiveMy Regards To Broadway,” James Cagney, Yankee Doodle Dandy

While he was a song-and-dance man himself, James Cagney ended up being typecast as a gangster for a lot of his movies with Warner Brothers. But this movie (and most particularly these two songs paired together) helped change that. Cagney successfully portrayed George M. Cohan, making use of the real Cohan’s style of dance, while still maintaining his own!

9. “Honolulu,” Eleanor Powell and Gracie Allen, Honolulu

This is one of those dances I just love to watch! For me, it was this dance that proved to me what I had heard many times, that Eleanor Powell was one of the few women at that time who could out-dance Fred Astaire. The music is fun, as is watching Gracie Allen dancing with Eleanor, but once Eleanor starts with her solo section, that’s when the real fun begins! I love watching her tap dance and jump rope at the same time (personally, I would probably get tangled up in a hurry if I tried)!

10. “Heather On The Hill,” Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, Brigadoon

As wonderful a dancer as she is, of course Cyd Charisse needed to be represented on this list! While there are other dances that she did that I enjoyed more (but can’t include because of my own silly rules), I can’t deny the beauty of this duet with Gene Kelly. With some beautiful music to help, this romantic routine with its lifts and balletic quality is certainly still worthy of inclusion!

Well, that’s my list! I hope everyone enjoyed it (and I’d certainly like to hear what everybody else’s lists would be)! Also, if there’s enough demand/ interest, later on I might just do a “Top 5 Dance Routines I Would Love To Learn!” But that’s all for now!