Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… The Band Wagon (1953)

If you’re not going your way by yourself, then let’s all get on The Band Wagon, the classic 1953 musical starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse!

Washed-up movie actor Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) decides to leave Hollywood and go to New York City to do a Broadway show written by his friends Lester (Oscar Levant) and Lily (Nanette Fabray) Marton. Lester and Lily have convinced actor/ director Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan) to do their show, and he quickly signs ballet dancer Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse) as the leading lady, along with her boyfriend/ manager Paul Byrd (James Mitchell) as the show’s choreographer. However, Tony and Gabrielle don’t hit it off well at first, and Jeff quickly gets out of control making the show quite different than what Lester and Lily had written. When the show opens out-of-town, they find just how badly out-of-control Jeff had gotten, and they all regroup to figure out how to salvage the show.

Similar to the previous year’s classic musical Singin’ In The Rain, The Band Wagon is a celebration of the music of composers Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. The movie shared the title of the final Broadway show that Fred Astaire did with his sister Adele, but the movie was far different, being given a plot, instead of being a musical revue. Only a few songs from the show were retained for this movie: “I Love Luisa,” “Dancing In The Dark” and “New Sun in The Sky.” All the other songs were pulled from other stuff that Dietz And Schwartz did (with the exception of the song “That’s Entertainment,” which was written for this movie). However you look at it, the movie has a lot of wonderful music and dancing, including the song “Shine On My Shoes,” which featured Fred working with a real dancing shoeshine man, Leroy Daniels, and many others (I plan on commenting on some of the others in another post).

As much as I enjoy Fred Astaire’s films, this is one that took multiple viewings before I appreciated it. But I do believe it to be a wonderful movie, with a lot of songs and dances that certainly grow on you over time. For some, it is considered to be as great as Singin’ In The Rain. Personally, I think it’s better! I will agree most heartily with the iconic status of both the “Dancing In The Dark” and “Girl Hunt Ballet” dance routines, as they both leave me wanting to get up and dance myself (although that last part is just as true for a lot of the other music, too)! Yeah, the film’s ending is a little off, but, honestly, I’m not bothered by it that badly, and I would EASILY recommend this movie to anybody interested!

This movie is available individually on Blu-ray and DVD and on Blu-ray as part of the four film Musicals Collection from Warner Home Video and is one hour, fifty-two minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… You Can’t Take It With You (1938)

And now for my entry in the Fifth Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon, we have the 1938 screwball comedy You Can’t Take It With You, starring Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart and Edward Arnold!

Banker Anthony Kirby (Edward Arnold) is trying to create a monopoly on munitions by buying up all the property around a competitor. However, he can’t get his hands on one home, which infuriates him. That home belongs to Grandpa Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore), who refuses to sell at any price. His granddaughter, Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur) works for Kirby’s son, Tony (James Stewart) and has fallen in love with him. Alice insists on Tony’s parents meeting her family, but Tony purposely brings them over for dinner the day before, in order for his parents to see what her family is really like. However, things go wrong, and they are all arrested. When Alice sees how much Tony’s mother doesn’t like her family, Alice decides to break off the engagement and disappears.

Well, since I’m doing this for a blogathon on the Barrymore family, I suppose I should have *SOMETHING* to say about Lionel Barrymore. 😉 At the time, his arthritis was really bothering him, leaving him so stiff he could hardly walk, and required hourly shots to help ease the pain. But he wanted to do the part of Grandpa Vanderhof, and decided to try doing it on crutches. It was written into the script for the movie that his character had injured his foot sliding down a bannister on a dare from his granddaughter, and, considering how well Lionel does with the part, I believe it! Sadly, even on crutches, he was still in a lot of pain, and would mainly be using a wheelchair for the remainder of his career. Like many, I mainly associate Lionel with his role as the cranky Mr. Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life, and his role here is certainly quite different from that one!

Getting into the movie itself, it’s a screwball comedy directed by Frank Capra, one of the best directors for the genre. And the movie is crammed full of many wonderful actors and actresses who can all handle the comedy well! From Charles Lane’s quick appearance as an IRS agent trying to find out why Grandpa Vanderhof hasn’t paid any income tax to James Stewart and Jean Arthur running into his parents at the restaurant to many other such wonderful moments! Of course, Edward Arnold deserves some mention, too, for portraying the redemption of his villainous Anthony Kirby, a rarity in Capra’s films. While the movie definitely deviates from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play it is based on, I like some of the changes that were made! And, of course, I have a hard time getting through this movie without getting the song “Polly Wolly Doodle” stuck in my head (but you won’t hear any complaints from me on that)! All in all, a movie I would highly recommend!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and is two hours, six minutes in length.

My Rating: 9/10

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TFTMM 2019 & WOIANRA 2018 on… Home From The Hill (1960)

Next up, we have the 1960 drama Home From The Hill starring Robert Mitchum, Eleanor Parker, George Peppard and George Hamilton.

Wade Hunnicutt (Robert Mitchum) is a big man in town. However, his son Theron (George Hamilton) is a bit of a “mama’s boy.” After some of the men in town play a prank on Theron, Wade decides to teach him to be more of a “man’s man,” much to the dismay of his mother Hannah (Eleanor Parker). Wade has Rafe Copley (George Peppard) help Theron learn to hunt. Theron learns hunting quickly, and becomes a town hero after he single-handedly kills a wild boar that has been terrorizing the area. Theron also asks Rafe for help in asking out Libby Halstead (Luana Patten). While her father doesn’t approve, she likes Theron, and they go out together. However, when Hannah tells Theron that Libby’s father didn’t want Theron dating his daughter because Wade had a reputation of sleeping around (a fact Hannah had tried to keep hidden from Theron), then he tries to go off on his own, which results in even more trouble.

Coming off my first time seeing this movie, one word kept going through my mind : “Wow” (and I mean that in a good way). For the most part, I’ve never really gone in much for melodramas, but I enjoyed this one! The cast alone is fantastic! Robert Mitchum gives a wonderful performance as a flawed but powerful man who usually gets what he wants (except from his own wife). Eleanor Parker is wonderful as his hate-filled wife, angry with him ever since… wait, I didn’t mention it in the plot description, so I better shut up, but still, it is such a departure from the main role I associate her with, that of the baroness in The Sound Of Music. George Hamilton as Theron does well as a son who wants his father’s approval, but the constant hate between his parents has driven him to improve himself on his own. But George Peppard has the greatest presence, as a guy who has had to work hard his whole life and live in a less than ideal situation, all the while still making the best of things. All wonderful performances, which easily make this a movie I would highly recommend!

I tried this one mainly after seeing Warner Archives announce it for Blu-ray (also available from them on DVD).  I had some recognition of some of the cast members from other movies that I’ve seen over the years, not to mention director Vincente Minelli, so I thought it would be worth trying (and it was). As usual, Warner Archive has given us a first-rate transfer, and it just helps bring to life a fantastic story! This movie is two hours, thirty minutes in length.

My Rating: 9/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Robin And The 7 Hoods (1964)

“Oh gee, I’m a hood! I’m a hood! Ho!” – Allen A. Dale (Bing Crosby)

“That’s a hood?” – Six Seconds (Hank Henry)

We now have another take on the Robin Hood legend. This time, the story has been transplanted to late 1920s/1930s Chicago in musical form (with music provided by Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen), and features Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Bing Crosby in Robin And The 7 Hoods.

When gangster Big Jim (an uncredited Edward G. Robinson) is gunned down by all the gangsters in town, Guy Gisborne (Peter Falk) takes over, charging everyone for “protection” provided by the sheriff. Robbo (Frank Sinatra) and his men don’t want to go along with that. In their feud, the two groups end up destroying each other’s nightclubs. Meanwhile, a young lady named Marian (Barbara Rush) (who turns out to be Big Jim’s daughter) wants Big Jim’s murder avenged by Robbo (who doesn’t want to do it). When Guy offs the sheriff for not preventing the destruction of his own nightclub, Marian tries to pay Robbo. Wanting nothing to do with the money, he orders it to be given away. It ends up going to an orphanage, and the resulting publicity, started by Allen A. Dale (Bing Crosby), who worked at the orphanage, turns Robbo into a popular celebrity in Chicago. This makes Guy mad, and he tries (and fails) to take Robbo down.

For me personally, this movie has always felt like it had two halves. The first half mainly features the feud between Robbo and Guy. While it certainly has comedic elements to it, they mostly take a back seat to the action. Then, a little before the halfway point, Bing Crosby shows up as Allen A. Dale and the comedy aspects come to the forefront. Personally, I have always enjoyed the second half more because of Bing Crosby, as I think he got some of the movie’s better songs (even if Frank did come out of this movie with the song “My Kind Of Town,” which seems to be the film’s big hit).

One of those songs that I like is the song “Style.” Apparently, Bing Crosby was colorblind, and was generally known for wearing some loud outfits because of that. With this song (or rather, the stuff they are doing while singing it), it seems like they are poking a little fun at Bing for that. But the real fun here is getting to hear Bing, Frank and Dean Martin singing together (and, of course, the song itself is fun and catchy, too)!

Next up is the song “Mr. Booze.” For one scene, Guy, out of frustration, wants to destroy Robbo’s newly rebuilt club, this time through an official police raid. However, Robbo made sure the new architect made preparations for such an event, and they turn the club into a room for a “revival” meeting. With Bing’s Allen A. Dale “acting” as the reverend leading the meeting, they end up going into the song “Mr. Booze.” It’s just a hilarious song (and I can’t help but laugh when they show some of the raiding policemen really getting into the meeting)!

The last song I want to mention is “Don’t Be A Do-Badder.” This song seems to be the theme for the character Allen A. Dale, as it seems to accompany him in the background for some of his appearances. When it is done as a full musical number, it is done with him and all the kids in the orphanage. Apparently, they were going for a similar staging to the Oscar-winning song “Swingin’ On A Star” from the Bing Crosby movie Going My Way. While it wasn’t quite that effective, I still think it was fun!

These were the three main songs that I enjoyed in this movie (although I believe it has many more wonderful moments)! I think one half is better than the other, but I like the whole movie and would easily recommend it!This movie is available individually on Blu-ray and DVD, and as part of the five film Frank Sinatra Collection from Warner Home Video, and is two hours, three minutes in length.

“Take it from me, don’t be a do-badder…”

My Rating: 9/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Ocean’s 11 (1960)

Now we have one of the movies that featured the “Rat Pack,” the classic Ocean’s 11, starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Angie Dickinson.

Spyros Acebos (Akim Tamiroff) wants to rob the Las Vegas casinos, but, due to his criminal record, he can’t get in without raising suspicion. So he hires Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra) to do the job. Danny recruits some of his buddies from the 82nd Airborne unit of paratroopers to pull it off. After getting the men together, they make plans to pull the job at midnight on New Year’s Eve. By New Year’s Eve, they are ready and in position to pull off the heist. Everything goes as planned, but after the job is done, one of the men suffers a fatal heart attack. Then a few other problems start to crop up.

I will admit, this is one of those “Is it or is it not a holiday movie” types. Particularly in starting off the movie, we do get a sense that the Christmas season is upon them, and it maintains a presence, at least in the background, for a good deal of the movie. Then, of course, the heist itself takes place on New Year’s Eve. Personally, I have a hard time wanting to classify this movie as a Christmas film, just due to the main concept. However, I do feel like it at least fits in as a New Year’s movie, since they do more solidly celebrate it, not to mention some of the unforeseen events that occur within the new year.

I will say, this is a movie that I have come to enjoy.  My first viewing didn’t leave me feeling that impressed, but after some time between, I enjoyed it more the second time around.  For me, the cast makes it work, with so many familiar faces.  Admittedly, the “not quite a musical but wants to go in that direction” aspect of the movie still bothers me (especially since Frank doesn’t even do any singing), but for a movie set in Las Vegas, I can live with it. But like I say, I like the cast here, which makes it more fun (just don’t expect me to try the remake or the franchise it started). So, yes, I do recommend this movie!

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

My Rating: 8/10

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TFTMM 2019 & WOIANRA 2018 on… Never So Few (1959)

We’re off to the jungles of Burma for the 1959 war movie Never So Few, starring Frank Sinatra and Gina Lollobrigida.

Captain Tom Reynolds (Frank Sinatra) leads a force of American and Kachin fighters in Burma during the second World War. After losing his aid in a skirmish with the Japanese, Tom sends a message to headquarters to request a meeting with his commander. In Calcutta, he demands medicine and a doctor to help deal with his wounded soldiers. Tom and British Captain Danny De Mortimer (Richard Johnson) are forced to take two weeks leave. They are invited to stay with a wealthy merchant named Nikko Regas (Paul Henreid). Tom immediately falls for Nikko’s mistress, Carla Vesari (Gina Lollobrigida), but she rejects him at first. Tom and Danny return to their troops in time for Christmas, but during the holiday celebrations, they are attacked by the Japanese. They are able to repel the attack, but Tom is wounded and sent to the air base hospital. When he recovers, he is given orders to attack an airfield, with support from a supply convoy. When the convoy doesn’t come, they go on ahead to the airfield. Their attack is successful, but they lose quite a few men in the process. On the return trip, they run across what remains of the supply convoy, which was apparently attacked by a group of rogue Chinese, and so they cross the border of China to go after them, which has political consequences.

Originally, this movie was apparently intended to feature three members of the “Rat Pack:” Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford and Sammy Davis, Jr. However, an argument between Frank and Sammy over some of Sammy’s recent comments resulted in him being fired. So then-newcomer Steve McQueen (who at that time was mainly known for the western TV series Wanted: Dead Or Alive) was cast in his place. Between the director, John Sturges, and Frank’s urging, Steve McQueen was given a relatively prominent role, which gave him his big chance in the movies. Several years later, McQueen would work with the director again in the classic The Great Escape.

Honestly, my main problem with this movie is the romance between Frank’s Captain Reynolds and Gina’s Carla Vesari. It just feels off, and because of that, it takes up a little too much of the movie’s two hours and five minutes runtime. If there could have been less of that, and a little more time spent with the men under Captain Reynolds’ command, including a young Dean Jones (before he started doing live action movies for Disney) and Charles Bronson, the movie would have been much better. I think the war scenes work quite well (although anybody expecting lots of blood and gore would come away disappointed, as I think the censors still had enough power at the time to minimize that). So, while it has its problems, I do like this movie and would recommend giving it a shot!

Previously available on DVD from Warner Home Video, Never So Few has been given a Blu-ray upgrade by Warner Archive Collection. As the Blu-ray is my first time seeing the movie, I can’t really speak to any earlier releases/transfers, but I think that Warner Archive has given this the transfer it deserves (or better, depending on your opinion of the movie). I have no complaints on the picture quality, which allows the action and the scenery to shine through!

My Rating: 8/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Guys And Dolls (1955)

Ok, fellas, who’s got the dice? If you’re looking for the “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York,” then look no further than the 1955 musical Guys And Dolls starring Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra and Vivian Blaine.

With all the big gamblers in town, Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) is looking for a location to hold his floating crap game (since he has to change locations to prevent the police finding it). However, Lt. Brannigan (Robert Keith) is really putting on the heat, and the only place Nathan can find will cost him $1000 (money he doesn’t have). So he makes a bet with Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando) that he can’t get Sgt. Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) of the Save-A-Soul Mission to go with him to Havana. Sky tries and fails repeatedly, but he is able to convince her when he gives her his marker, promising to provide the otherwise failing mission with at least a dozen sinners for their big prayer meeting. However, he finds himself really falling for her, which becomes a problem when they return and find the gamblers using the mission for their crap game.

Most of the behind-the-scenes stuff about this movie seems to center on the feud between Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. From what I’ve read, Frank was cast as Nathan Detroit and then found out that the role of Sky Masterson would be bigger and more romantic. However, Marlon Brando was cast in the role, and, at the time, he was a bigger star than Frank, who had been making a comeback after his Oscar win for From Here To Eternity (but not enough yet to have the pull to get the role of Sky Masterson). While Marlon Brando was at first open to working with Frank to improve his own singing, Frank made his feelings known and things went downhill from there. Whatever their problems were offscreen, I think they worked together well onscreen. Prior to my first viewing of this movie, I generally didn’t care for Frank Sinatra, and the only movies of his that I had seen and enjoyed, I liked because of his co-stars. This was the first movie I liked him in, and I’ve had fun watching a few of his other movies, too.

I think this is a wonderful movie! From the start, you can see that everything will be happening in a highly stylized New York City, and that opening is itself quite a lot of fun to watch. But one of my favorite moments from this movie is the whole scene with all the gamblers in the sewer. The whole dance with the gamblers playing craps just seems like one of those things that shouldn’t work, and yet it does (ok, so it’s obvious that the dancers aren’t actually using dice, but you can’t really expect them to, with some of those leaps)! Equally as memorable is when Big Jule (B. S. Pully) forces Nathan Detroit to play craps with him using his own “dice” (which had the spots removed, although he claims to remember where the spots were originally 😉 ). All in all, this is a fun movie, and one I would quite heartily recommend!

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

My Rating: 10/10

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