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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 5/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Peter Pan (1955 and 1956)

So, normally, I have been covering movies that have been released in theatres, but, occasionally, I will also be doing some programs that were originally shown on television (no TV series, just individual programs). To that end, I will be discussing the 1955 and 1956 telecasts of Peter Pan, both starring Mary Martin in the title role.

One night, when Mr. and Mrs. Darling go to an office party and leave their three children home, Peter Pan (Mary Martin) comes through the window. He gives Wendy, John and Michael a chance to fly away with him to Neverland. There, Wendy is asked to be the mother of the Lost Boys. Throughout their time in Neverland, they have a lot of adventures fighting Captain Hook (Cyril Richards) and his pirates while also befriending Tiger Lily and her band of Indians.

There are a few things I should note here. Anybody that is looking for these to be pristine and look like they were made yesterday (or something along those lines) need not bother here. When these first aired, they were both done “live.” However, at that time, they weren’t being recorded, at least not in the same way that most “live” stuff is nowadays. What we do have are kinescopes, which is essentially where they recorded through a camera that was aimed at a television monitor in the studio, and so the picture quality is already less than what it could have been. Also, according to the booklet that came with this disc release, both of these were filmed in color (although there would not have been a huge number of households that had color TVs at this time), but the kinescope process only allowed for a black-and-white recording.

Mary Martin had starred in Peter Pan in a successful run on Broadway. NBC tried to make plans to present the show on television as a live production, using the sets and cast of the stage show. When it aired on March 7, 1955, it proved to be so popular (with nearly 65 million people tuning in), that they planned to do it again. On January 9, 1956, the second show reached nearly 55 million people. Since they were both live (and not really recorded, outside of the kinescope), plans were made for yet another. However, it took a few more years, and by the time that it did air in 1960, they had been able to record it on videotape, making it easier for them to air that version. However, in the minds of most who have seen all three, the earlier two versions are considered to be better (even if what we have left is only in black-and-white). And I do agree, these are both pretty good (and I’ll take them over the more recent Peter Pan Live any day of the week). The main differences between these two are some technical glitches that occurred during the live broadcast of the first one, leaving lights off when Peter’s shadow has just been sewn back on, and a few of the cast members, mainly Michael and John and a few of the Lost Boys, changed between the two productions. As I said, this was essentially a filmed Broadway show, so they aren’t the most cinematic (you can see the wires holding up Mary Martin and some of the other cast members when they fly), but they are still good fun, and I would easily recommend trying these out!

These two shows have been made available on Blu-ray by Video Artists International (VAI). There was a DVD release as well from them, but it only contained the 1956 version.

Length of 1955 telecast: one hour, forty-two minutes

Length of 1956 telecast: one hour, forty-five minutes

My Rating (1955): 7/10

My Rating (1956): 7/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… My Fair Lady (1964)

Well, it’s May 20, so let’s celebrate “Eliza Doolittle Day” with My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison!

This is, obviously, the tale of common flower girl Eliza Doolittle, as played by Audrey Hepburn.  After listening to Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) bragging that he could help her improve her English enough to work in a flower shop, she comes to his home, offering to pay for some lessons.  Professor Higgins’ guest, Colonel Pickering (Wilfred Hyde-White), makes a bet that Professor Higgins can’t teach her proper English and how to be a lady in time for the Embassy Ball, which Henry takes him up on. Eliza struggles for a while, but finally gets a handle on it.  Sadly, things don’t go quite as well as they had hoped when Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering take Eliza to the races.  However, Professor Higgins is determined, and they keep working to prepare Eliza for the Embassy Ball.

Of course, we can’t discuss My Fair Lady without mentioning the music!  The music is most of the fun with this movie, with songs such as “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “On The Street Where You Live” and many others!  I personally enjoy “I Could Have Danced All Night” the most, but I can easily put on the movie’s soundtrack, and be smiling (and dancing) in short order!  It’s just that much fun!

I should address one of the biggest controversies associated with this movie: Audrey Hepburn’s casting as Eliza instead of Julie Andrews.  Personally, I like Audrey better as an actress and very much prefer her in this role.  I know, she couldn’t handle all of Eliza’s songs, which is why she was dubbed for most of her songs (although she can be heard during a couple of songs, most notably the first part of “Just You Wait”).  I know a lot of the blame lies with two people: Jack Warner (the head of Warner Brothers) and William S. Paley (the president of CBS).  William Paley had financed the Broadway show and held the rights, so he apparently asked for a lot of money.   Besides the high cost of the film rights, Warner Brothers would only have the film rights for a short period of time before the movie reverted to CBS, so Jack Warner needed the movie to be a BIG hit, way too much of a financial risk to rely on the then-unknown Julie Andrews, who had yet to appear on the big screen at the time this movie was being cast. For me, Audrey did a wonderful job, and I just can’t imagine anybody else in that role!

It took me some time, but this is a movie I have come to enjoy very, very much!  I mainly saw it at first due to my late grandmother, who really liked it.  I didn’t care for it as much, but I still enjoyed watching it with her. I probably didn’t really start to care for the movie until we finally made the upgrade to Blu-ray and a high-definition television (which happened long after my grandmother passed away). I enjoyed watching it far more than I thought I would. Not much later, I heard about a new restoration of the movie on the way. I would end up seeing that new restoration when it premiered in theatres (the first of two times I have had the good fortune to see this wonderful movie on the big screen), and again (and again) with the Blu-ray for that restoration! I very much understand why my grandmother enjoyed it, and it has been yearly viewing around May 20 ever since! So, obviously, I recommend this movie!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from CBS Home Entertainment, and is two hours, fifty-three minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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TFTMM 2019 & WOIANRA 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.

My Rating: 7/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Maytime (1937)

Let’s celebrate the month of May by digging into the Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy musical Maytime.

Jeanette MacDonald plays Marcia Mornay, a rising opera star under the tutelage of Nicolai Nazaroff (John Barrymore). When she is presented to the court of emperor Louis Napoleon, Nicolai convinces an important composer to write an opera for her. Later, Nicolai proposes to her, and she accepts out of gratitude. In her excitement, she is unable to sleep and takes a carriage ride. She stops at a tavern when the horse runs away, and she meets Paul Allison (Nelson Eddy), who is instantly smitten with her. She resists, but she still meets him a few more times. Even though she likes Paul, she decides to stay with Nicolai and breaks things off with Paul. However, they meet again a few years later when Nicolai brings her to New York to do an opera there.

Originally, Maytime opened as a Broadway show on August 16, 1917, with music by Sigmund Romberg, and the book and lyrics provided by Rida Johnson Young. It would prove to be quite popular, with a second production running alongside the first, and it would be the second-longest running show of the decade. In 1923, it was made into a silent movie, keeping the story (sadly, this film no longer exists in its entirety, although four out of its seven reels have survived and been restored). It would come back again for the 1937 film, this time being planned as the third film for the then-hot screen team of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. This time, however, they would drop the story (although I get the impression that they kept a few elements of the original story) and most of the score as well, with the exception of the song “Will You Remember,” as they tried to play to the strengths of the two stars.

Of the eight movies starring MacDonald and Eddy, this ended up being the third one I saw, following Rose-Marie and Naughty Marietta (hmm… 2, 1, 3? Sounds like I might have seen the Dudley Do-Right movie too much growing up 😉 ). Anyways, I had no idea going into this one what it would be like. I had some familiarity with the other two, as I had heard some of the music before, and seen a few clips included in the That’s Entertainment films. This one, not so much. The closest I could claim was the song “Will You Remember” being included in the musical biopic on composer Sigmund Romberg, Deep In My Heart, which I didn’t care for after my first viewing (but that’s a story for another time).  With Rose-Marie setting the bar quite high for the series, I found myself feeling disappointed with this movie for the first hour.  Then I got to the May Day section, which included the song “Will You Remember,” and my opinion changed completely. That was the only song retained from the original score, and it was the only one that needed to be. I really enjoyed the song, which so strongly evokes the feeling of spring for me now, and the rest of the movie after that. Especially the finale, which was so wonderful, it gives me chills every time I watch it (but make sure you have a good supply of Kleenex)! And with repeat viewings, this movie just gets better and better! Is it perfect? No, I will admit, it does have some problems with sexism, although how much of that is inherent to the period the movie is set in, I’m not sure. But this is still a wonderful movie, and one I highly recommend!

This movie is available on DVD either individually or as part of a four-film Jeanette MacDonald & Nelson Eddy set from Warner Archive Collection and is two hours, eleven minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Rose-Marie (1936)

And now we’re here for the 1936 version of Rose-Marie, starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.

In this movie, Jeanette MacDonald plays Rose-Marie de Flor, an operatic diva (emphasis on “diva”). When she hears that her brother, John Flower (James Stewart), has broken out of prison and killed a mountie, she decides to come to him in the wilderness. On the way, she runs into Sergeant Bruce (Nelson Eddy), the mountie who has been tasked with finding her brother. Bruce quickly figures out that she is the famous opera diva, but, due to Rose-Marie’s relationship to her brother being kept secret, he doesn’t realize her main reason for being there. After she leaves with her guide, he puts two and two together, and follows her. She loses her guide and is stuck with Bruce (who doesn’t admit that he knows, instead admitting to going a different direction). Of course, on the trip there, they both fall for each other, which makes Bruce’s job that much harder.

What can I say? This is a wonderful movie! This is the second film version of a 1924 stage operetta, following a (now believed to be lost) 1928 silent film and later followed by the 1954 version starring Howard Keel, Ann Blyth and Fernando Lamas. In spite of the fact that this version deviates the most from the play as far as the story is concerned, this is the best-known version. This film does make use of some of the music from the stage operetta to wonderful effect. We have songs such as “The Mounties,” sung by Nelson Eddy and the title tune “Rose-Marie,” sung by Nelson Eddy as a serenade for Jeanette MacDonald’s character (which works until he starts to sing it again and accidentally substitutes another lady’s name for Rose-Marie’s, revealing that he’s used the song before). But the best song would have to be “Indian Love Call” (although, if you don’t like the song, it’s very hard to enjoy the last half hour of the movie, as it’s sung about four times within that time frame). But it is such a wonderful song, and I personally have never heard it sung better than either Jeanette MacDonald or Nelson Eddy.

Speaking of the film’s two stars, this is the second of eight movies that they were paired together for. This ended up being the first of their movies together that I saw (I had previously seen maybe one film each for their solo outings). Any knowledge of these films I possessed previously was from clips of some of their movies being included in the That’s Entertainment trilogy, and, as I have never been terribly fond of opera, I was reluctant to try them out. Then I saw the 1954 film with Howard Keel (whom I did like), enjoyed it and wanted to try this one. I was blown away by how much I liked this one, and it became easy for me to try to seek the others out. I still don’t really care for opera, but I am willing to put up with it for these movies. And this movie in particular has always felt like a lesson in great chemistry, because the movie relies quite heavily on just these two for the vast majority of the film. And it works! And we also have James Stewart in an early (and brief) role as the escaped convict brother, which apparently helped to get him noticed (and a few bigger roles, too) after having only done small bit parts. So, yes, I very much recommend this one!!

This movie is available on DVD either individually or as part of a four film Jeanette MacDonald & Nelson Eddy set from Warner Archive Collection, and is one hour, fifty-one minutes in length.

“When I’m calling you-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo…”

My Rating: 10/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Easter Parade (1948)

Happy Easter! Happy Easter! Happy Easter to you! We’re here now for the classic 1948 MGM musical Easter Parade, starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire!

When his vaudevillian partner, Nadine (Ann Miller) decides to break up the act, Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) starts searching for another partner to prove he can get along without Nadine. He finds Hannah Brown (Judy Garland), who is working at the bar Don stops to drink at. At first, Don tried to make her over like Nadine (without realizing it), but success doesn’t come their way. Once Nadine accuses him of doing so, he decides to let Hannah be herself, and success comes their way. Of course, the whole time, Hannah has been in love with Don, while he still pines for Nadine, which creates trouble between Don and Hannah, especially after he declares his love for Hannah.

Personally, I would say most of the fun here comes from the movie’s stars and its score by composer Irving Berlin! Irving Berlin’s score contains a mixture of new songs written specifically for the movie, some he wrote back in the 1910s (when this movie is supposed to take place) and a few written in between. This ended up being the sixth and final film where Fred Astaire would work with Irving Berlin, and it produced some of their best moments! I know I always enjoy watching Fred do the song “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” I can’t help but whistle along with Fred on “Happy Easter,” I enjoy the romantic “It Only Happens When I Dance With You,” and I love watching Fred sing and dance and play drums to “Drum Crazy!” And of course, I love listening to Judy sing, especially “I Want To Go Back To Michigan.” Honestly, I could easily list any of the songs and dances, as they all are quite catchy, and just further my enjoyment of this movie!

This is a wonderful movie, one I enjoy watching around Easter. I know the connection to the holiday is barely there (depending on your beliefs), with some references to the Easter Rabbit, and the old tradition of wearing special outfits for the day. But I like to think that the variety in color shown onscreen heralds the arrival of spring. Of course, in some respects, it’s just an excuse to watch a wonderful movie once a year, particularly at a time when it readily cheers you up! I will admit, the music doesn’t really serve the plot or characters, but I don’t think it needs to with this movie! So, yes, do yourself a favor and give this one a try!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Home Video, and is one hour, forty-three minutes in length.

“I’m just a fella. A fella with an umbrella…”

My Rating: 10/10

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