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… Without Love (1945)

I’m trying something different* this time around, so, at this point, we’ll start off with the two shorts before moving on to the main feature. So sit back and enjoy my reviews of these two shorts (both of which are extras on the new Blu-ray of Without Love (1945) from Warner Archive Collection)!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Purity Squad (1945)

(Length: 19 minutes, 52 seconds)

A pair of con artists sell a pill that is supposed to help against type 2 diabetes, until the FDA steps in to stop them. A short from the “Crime Does Not Pay” series produced by MGM. Interesting story, and one that, in some respects, seems way too relevant even now. I will admit that it seems well done, although I myself can’t say as I care much for this series (to be fair, this is so far the only one I have seen).

Coming Up Shorts! with… Swing Shift Cinderella (1945)

(Length: 7 minutes, 46 seconds)

The Wolf decides to chase Cinderella around instead of Red Riding Hood. Another fun cartoon directed by Tex Avery, and it shows! In some respects, this is very similar to the earlier Red Hot Riding Hood, with the Wolf chasing after Red/Cinderella, and being chased, in this instance, by the Fairy Godmother. The gags come fast and furious (and so do the laughs!), and it’s a lot of fun to watch! At the moment, it doesn’t appear to have been restored yet (at least, not as an extra on this release), but, restored or not, it’s still got Tex Avery’s brand of fun!

And Now For The Main Feature…

In 1942, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn were teamed up to great acclaim for the movie Woman Of The Year. Of course, audiences wanted more, and they followed up with the drama Keeper Of The Flame, without as much success. Trying to follow up with a comedy, they made use of the Philip Barry play Without Love, which had been written for (and starred) Katharine Hepburn. The original intention was that Spencer Tracy would co-star with her in the play, but the producers didn’t like the idea and cast somebody else. Still, the play was popular, and Katharine Hepburn was able to convince the MGM executives to buy the film rights.

Now that we’ve got some background info out of the way, let’s get into the movie itself. So, no interruptions, please. It’s World War II, and there’s a housing shortage in Washington D.C. Scientist Patrick Jamieson (Spencer Tracy) is in town, and looking for a place to stay. While he is searching, a drunken man hails the cab he is in. This drunk turns out to be Quentin Ladd (Keenan Wynn), who, due to his inebriated state, doesn’t want to return home to his mother, but instead wants to stay overnight at his cousin Jamie’s place. Pat wrangles an overnight invitation out of him, and talks to him a little before Quentin passes out. The morning turns out to be quite interesting.

“How interesting?” (well, someone had to ask!)

Well, it… I forgot to mention, when it comes to “no interruptions,” I meant myself as well. But since I’ve paused anyway…

I would argue that the “morning after” scene is arguably my favorite scene from the whole movie! We start with Quentin waking up, and it would appear that he has completely forgotten the events of the previous evening, although he starts catching up fast as he talks with Pat. Of course, Quentin’s stuck-up fiance, Edwina Collins (Patricia Morison), shows up and starts ordering him around, although Pat hilariously tells her off. Except for Quentin, everybody starts assuming that Pat has come to be the caretaker for the house, including the owner, the widow Jamie Rowan (Katharine Hepburn). But this whole section just really stood out for me, and helped get the movie off to a good start for me, with a few good doses of humor! Anyways, back to the story…

Jamie and Pat butt heads, particularly over relationships, as his own had not gone well, while her marriage, short as it was, gave her enough love for a lifetime (except, she was now withdrawing from the rest of the world as a result). But, she consents to let him stay and be the caretaker for the house, especially when she learns that he is working on an oxygen mask for pilots to help with the war. A few weeks later, in comes Jamie’s friend and business manager Kitty Trimble (Lucille Ball) who…

(waves hand excitedly)

Now, hold on a bit, I’ll get to her… Oh, who am I kidding? For me, Lucille Ball is also one of the best parts of the movie. From her entrance here, she starts in with the wisecracks, and flirts a little with Spencer Tracy’s Pat and he with her, even though it’s obvious the two aren’t really being that serious about it. But her presence and humor lights up the screen whenever she appears. Honestly, if I have much in the way of complaints about this movie, it’s that she’s not there for ENOUGH of it!

Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Kitty is showing the house to Paul Carrell (Carl Esmond), who turns out to be someone that Pat knows. While that is happening, Jamie returns from a trip, and during a moment alone with Pat, she decides to let the past be, and proposes marriage to Pat, although not on the basis of love. Since she intends it to be a relationship devoid or love and romance, while allowing them to be friends and work together, he says yes. While they work together, she spends time with Paul Carrell, who accidentally makes her realize that she loves Pat. When Pat is called to Chicago to demonstrate the oxygen mask, she follows along, much to his delight. However, Pat’s ex is in town, and his repeated attempts to avoid her finally get to Jamie, as she worries that this means that he loves his ex more than he is willing to admit. Out of frustration, she leaves right before the test. At this point, obviously, the question is not “how will the test go,” but “will these two be able to work through their issues and reconcile?”

I can certainly tell you, I did enjoy getting the chance to see this movie. I’ve now had the chance to see five of the nine films that Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn made together, and this one is, to my mind, just as good and fun to watch as any of them. Their chemistry is still the big attraction here, which makes it worthwhile (and funny too), with great support from the other cast members. I’ve only had the opportunity to see this movie via the recent Blu-ray release from Warner Archive Collection, which, according to their press release, used a 4K scan of the best surviving archival elements. To my eyes, this transfer looks fantastic, and between that and the wonderful movie itself, I would easily recommend this release as the best way to enjoy this movie!

Film Length: 1 hour, 50 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

*ranked #7 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2020

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!

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Libeled Lady (1936) – Spencer Tracy – Father Of The Bride (1950)

The Philadelphia Story (1940) – Katharine Hepburn – Pat And Mike (1952)

Having Wonderful Time (1938) – Lucille Ball – Ziegfeld Follies (1945)

* – Disclaimer: the (attempted) humor in this post is in no way indicative of the style of comedy from the movie. It is purely my own as I experiment with trying to do things a little differently than I have been. I hope to refine it as I go, tailoring it a little better to the movies I review (and, of course, feedback is appreciated in the meantime). Fair warning, though, this is something I only intend to do for reviews of musicals and comedies, and will otherwise stick to what I have been doing for dramas.

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2020) on… Abbott And Costello In Hollywood (1945)

Continuing on with today’s celebration of Clean Movie Month 2020 as hosted by the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society, we have another Abbott and Costello movie! This time, it’s their 1945 MGM comedy Abbott And Costello In Hollywood.

Buzz Kurtis (Bud Abbott) and his buddy Abercrombie (Lou Costello) are working at a barbershop for some of the big Hollywood stars. While giving a shave and shoeshine to Hollywood agent Norman Royce (Warner Anderson), they observe how easily he seems to make money, and decide to become agents themselves. As their first client, they take on singer Jeff Parker (Robert Stanton), whom they saw being turned away by Norman. They also have the help and support of their former co-worker-turned-starlet Claire Warren (Frances Rafferty), who takes a liking to Jeff. However, they have trouble with Norman’s star, Gregory Le Maise (Carleton G. Young), who turned down the role for a movie but at the same time, doesn’t want to lose out to a rising newcomer (especially since he has designs on Claire himself). Buzz and Abercrombie are able to get Jeff the role in the movie directed by Dennis Kavanaugh (Donald MacBride), but when Gregory decides to go after the role, Jeff is fired. So Buzz and Abercrombie try to cause trouble for Gregory, helped by him pushing Abercrombie off his boat. Abercrombie is alright, but Buzz forces him to hide and claims he is murdered, which results in Gregory going on the run. However, a disguised Abercrombie accidentally reveals himself to a disguised Gregory, resulting in a chase through a carnival where the movie is being filmed.

This movie is one of a handful of Abbott and Costello films with slightly different titles, depending on the source. Some list it as Bud Abbott And Lou Costello In Hollywood, while others shorten it to Abbott And Costello In Hollywood (personally, I’ll stick with the latter, since it’s shorter and what I’m more familiar with). It’s the third and final movie that the pair ended up making for MGM. While one would think their popularity would have warranted higher production values, MGM still kept things simple, doing a lot of filming on their backlot (well, except for the big musical number that ends the movie). The movie ended up not being that popular, and MGM took the opportunity to terminate their contract with the pair.

I will readily admit, I do feel like this is the movie where things really started to go downhill for Abbott and Costello. I can easily understand why this movie didn’t do so well. For being an MGM film set in Hollywood (and for two of the biggest stars at that time), the celebrity cameos are a lot more minor than you would expect. To be fair, “Rags” Ragland does have one of the film’s better moments, as Lou’s first-ever customer being given a shave, which is quite funny, but the other cameos aren’t exactly big names, either. Admittedly, Lucille Ball, who makes a cameo here, did become bigger in just a few years, but, looking back, her appearance just feels wasted, when you know you’d love to see what her “Lucy” character could really do when working with Lou. Then, of course, there is the problem of the side romance between Frances Rafferty and Robert Stanton’s characters. Yes, I know, the side romances are a common complaint of mine in the Abbott and Costello films, but, going back through these, I do find these two actors doing a relatively poor job, and don’t even feel like they are in the right movie, just dragging everything down.

Still, in spite of my comments, Bud and Lou do have some memorable moments. Besides Lou giving a shave to “Rags” Ragland (and Bud teaching Lou how to shave a few minutes before that), we also have them doing their bit of Lou being unable to sleep one night, with Bud trying to play a record to put him to sleep. Or, there is their attempt to get Carleton Young’s Gregory arrested, first by having him pick a fight with Lou, and then running with the “murder.” Honestly, when not dragged down by the film’s side romance, Bud and Lou are this movie’s best moments. And the movie is a pretty good Code movie. The violence is, at most, comically exaggerated. And while you do get the impression that Carleton G. Young’s Gregory Le Maise is prone to utilizing that old Hollywood problem of the “casting couch” (or, in this case, his beach house) with his female co-stars, he is presented as the film’s villain. As Frances Rafferty’s Claire Warren notes, “Going out to his beach house might help your career, but it hurts your reputation. Personally, I favor my reputation.” So, at least from the Code’s perspective, this is a good movie. However, all that being said, too much doesn’t work like it should here, and for that reason, I really can’t recommend this movie as much as I would some of their previous films.

This movie is available on DVD paired with Lost In A Harem (1944) from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 23 minutes

My Rating: 5/10

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!

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Naughty Nineties (1945)Bud Abbott/ Lou CostelloLittle Giant (1946)

Ziegfeld Follies (1945) – Lucille Ball – Mame (1974)

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2020) on… Having Wonderful Time (1938)

Now, for the first regular post of 2020, we’ll dig into the 1938 comedy Having Wonderful Time, starring Ginger Rogers and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

Ginger Rogers plays Teddy Shaw, a typist who has been looking forward to a two week vacation at Camp Kare-Free. She is very much looking forward to the peace and quiet, away from her family, most of whom are trying to push her back together with her ex-boyfriend, Emil Beatty (Jack Carson). As she is taken to the camp, she meets one of the camp’s employees, Chick Kirkland (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), who angers her when he drops her luggage, and the two are both angry with each other. However, she defends him when he gets in trouble with his employer for something else. Soon, they start spending a lot of time together. However, Chick is worried about his job prospects as a lawyer, and doesn’t want to propose marriage. He does suggest having sex, which sends Teddy running. She ends up going with Maxwell “Buzzy” Pangwell (Lee Bowman), and spends the night at his cabin playing backgammon, first with Buzzy, then on her own when Buzzy has had enough and goes to sleep.

Honestly, some of the best fun with this movie isn’t the leads, it’s some of the secondary characters! Lucille Ball as Teddy’s cabin roommate Miriam is a hoot, as she shows elements of the “Lucy” persona that she would become well known for! She spends a good part of the movie chasing after Buzzy, who has affectionately nicknamed the character “Screwball,” which should give you something of a hint as to what her character is like! And then there’s the other famous redhead, Red Skelton (or, as he is billed in the credits here, Richard “Red” Skelton), making his film debut as Itchy, the camp’s social director. Apparently, he had filmed a lot more, but supposedly some of the studio bosses didn’t like his type of comedy and cut a lot of it. He still gets two main moments, where he demonstrates how some people dunk their donuts in their coffee, and later, in a bit involving more physical comedy, shows how some people go up or down a set of stairs at the camp. Those bits and some other moments are still enough to show his brand of comedy, and how he would become a big star in his own right. There are some other familiar faces here, like Eve Arden, but they don’t really get the chance to show off what they could do.

This movie is based on a 1937 play (of the same name) written by Arthur Kober (who also did the screenplay for the movie). Apparently, the play differed in that the characters were more Jewish in nature, but the film censors wanted that aspect toned down and made more relatable for audiences. Personally, I do think this movie does have a charm of its own. I’ll admit, the relationship between the two leads is one of the weaker aspects of the movie. On their own, both actors work well in this movie, but the chemistry just doesn’t quite seem to be there. Still, as I said before, some of the secondary characters are enough fun to make it worthwhile. And, of course, the movie made use of RKO’s connection to Disney at the time (since I think they distributed the movies), as the song “Heigh Ho” from Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs is sung by party guests later in the film (maybe a little overused, but it is fun). I do enjoy this movie, and I would definitely still recommend giving it a try!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 10 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

Vivacious Lady (1938)Ginger RogersCarefree (1938)

Little Caesar (1931) – Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

Follow The Fleet (1936) – Lucille Ball – Without Love (1945)

Red Skelton – Ziegfeld Follies (1945)

Vivacious Lady (1938) – Jack Carson – Carefree (1938)

Dancing Lady (1933) – Eve Arden – At The Circus (1939)

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!

An Old-Fashioned Christmas Movie On The Farm (2019) & What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2018) on… Mame (1974)

Time for us to “open a new window” and dig into the 1974 musical version of Mame, starring Lucille Ball.

In the late 1920s, young Patrick Dennis’ (Kirby Furlong) father Edward Dennis dies unexpectedly, and he is sent, along with his nanny Agnes Gooch (Jane Connell), to live with his flapper Aunt Mame (Lucille Ball).  She tries to raise him her way, but Dennis’ will had stayed that Patrick should be raised traditionally. The representative of the Knickerbocker Bank (who is supposed to reimburse Mame for raising Patrick the right way) discovered that Mame wasn’t raising him right, and so took him away and put him in a boarding school. Of course, this is also the same time the stock market crashed, so Mame has been wiped out and must find work. She meets Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside (Robert Preston), who falls for her and they spend a few years together until he dies in an avalanche. Meanwhile, Patrick has grown older (now played by Bruce Davison), still loving his Aunt Mame, but he has become more traditional like his father had intended, much to Mame’s dismay.

Personally, I’d like to think that this movie qualifies as a Christmas movie. I know, it’s only for about fifteen to twenty minutes near the beginning of the movie and it supposedly takes place just before Thanksgiving, but I think it’s still enough. It’s a wonderful scene in which we get to see how much Mame and Patrick mean to each other, along with Agnes Gooch and Mame’s butler Ito (George Chiang). We get the song “We Need A Little Christmas,” which evokes the feeling of wanting positive feelings and memories and the general spirit of Christmas, particularly when life was otherwise threatening to drag them down.

I admit, I was a little wary going into this movie after having read a number of negative reviews about the movie, specifically with regards to Lucy’s singing ability (or lack thereof). I will agree, she really couldn’t sing (and I certainly feel sorry for the sound technicians who had to piece together what we did get from many different takes). And I will agree that maybe she might have been too old for the part, but as an actress and comedienne, I like her very well in the role, and I certainly enjoy listening to her and Beatrice Arthur as Mame’s friend Vera Charles trading insults for the “Bosom Buddies ” number. It’s not the best movie in the world, but it is just good fun, and one I would suggest trying out!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection, and is two hours, eleven minutes in length.

Film Length: 2 hours, 11 minutes

My Rating: 7/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Abbott And Costello In Hollywood (1945) – Lucille Ball

The Music Man (1962) – Robert Preston

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2018) on… Follow The Fleet (1936)

And here we are, for my thoughts on the fifth Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie, the 1936 film Follow The Fleet, also starring Randolph Scott and Harriet Hilliard (Nelson).

Fred plays “Bake” Baker, a former dancer who has joined the navy.  In San Francisco on leave, he runs into his old partner, Sherry Martin (Ginger Rogers), at the nightclub where she works.  He gets her fired, hoping to get her a better job, but his leave is cancelled that night.  Meanwhile, his shipmate, Bilge Smith (Randolph Scott) meets Sherry’s sister, Connie (Harriet Hilliard).  He likes her, but she is a little too marriage-minded for him, so he goes with her divorced friend, Mrs. Iris Manning (Astrid Allwyn).  While the fleet is away, Connie tries to repair her father’s old ship, in hopes that Bilge would be the captain.  When the fleet returns, Bake tries to help Sherry (but unintentionally causes her to fail her audition for a big producer), and Bilge tries to avoid Connie.  When Connie can’t pay off her ship, they recruit Bake to put on a show.

Now as far as my own personal opinion is concerned, this movie has two points in its favor: 1) it’s an Astaire-Rogers movie, and 2) music by Irving Berlin.  This movie includes songs such as “We Saw The Sea,” “Let Yourself Go,” “Get Thee Behind Me Satan,” “I’d Rather Lead A Band,’ “But Where Are You?,” “I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket” and “Let’s Face The Music And Dance.”

With “Let Yourself Go,” I’m left with the feeling they expected this song to be a hit.  It’s used multiple times in the movie, starting with Ginger singing it at a nightclub, followed a few minutes later by it being used as music for a “dance contest” that she and Fred dance to.  It is used again when she auditions for a theatrical producer, both with her singing it and also doing a tap solo (her only tap solo in the ten movies she made with Fred).  And of course, several of the characters are singing and humming it throughout the movie.  So if you don’t like it, that might make it a little harder to like the movie.

Then there is the song “I’d Rather Lead A Band.”  This is Fred’s tap solo for the movie, and he is joined partway through by a chorus of sailors.  He “drills” them utilizing different tap steps.  This idea would be used by other dancers later, including Ann Miller in the 1954 movie Hit The Deck.

The highlight of this movie is the song “Let’s Face The Music And Dance,” this movie’s lasting song.  Done as a “show within a show,” it gives Fred his only moment in the movie in his iconic tuxedo.  Of course, it always impresses me what they did, especially since Ginger wore a bead dress that may have weighed about fifty pounds (whether exaggeration or not, I don’t know), with a sleeve that hit Fred in the face and knocked him for a loop in the first take.  Considering how the first was what they used in the movie, I can only say that is just amazing how well-rehearsed he was.  And of course, the way this was filmed is how I prefer dance to be filmed, since the dance was filmed within one take, with no edits or camera changes, not to mention the fact that it was full body shots, allowing us to see them dance the whole time.

As you can tell, I really like this movie, and highly recommend it.  I would rank it about third of the Astaire-Rogers movies, but that is partly because I really like Irving Berlin’s music.  Maybe my opinion is biased because of that, but I do recommend it, just the same.  And of course, keep an eye out for a young (and BLONDE!!) Lucile Ball!

The movie is available on DVD from Warner Home Video.

Film Length: 1 hour, 50 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #3 in Top 11 Movies Watched in 2018

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Top Hat (1935)Fred AstaireSwing Time (1936)

In Person (1935)Ginger RogersSwing Time (1936)

Top Hat (1935) – Lucille Ball – Having Wonderful Time (1938)

Top Hat (1935) – Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers (screen team) – Swing Time (1936)

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!