“To me, dancing is the loveliest way I know to meet a girl. It’s the only way I can hold a girl in my arms in a crowded room and still have her all to myself. Dancing is the whistlestop before romance.” – Gower Champion in Lovely to Look At
Now we’re back for the 1952 musical Lovely To Look At, starring Kathryn Grayson, Red Skelton and Howard Keel.
Tony (Howard Keel), Jerry (Gower Champion) and Al (Red Skelton) have plans for a Broadway show, but find they are under-financed to convince anybody to back the show. Then Al receives a letter stating that his Aunt Roberta had passed, and he had inherited half of her dress shop in Paris. So Tony, Jerry and Al make the trip to Paris to sell Al’s half to finance their show, but they find that the shop, now run by Stephanie (Kathryn Grayson) and her sister Clarisse (Marge Champion), has seen better years. With the creditors closing in, the three men decide to convince them to put on a big fashion show with music, dancing comedy. Of course, there are different romances brewing, as Jerry and Clarisse fall for each other, while Al falls for Stephanie, she likes Tony, and Tony likes her, except his girlfriend Bubbles Cassidy (Ann Miller) shows up (but ends up falling for Al). But when one of the models (Zsa Zsa Gabor) introduces them to producer Max Fogelsby (Kurt Kasznar), who offers them the chance to do their show immediately, will they stay to help with the fashion show or will they return to New York?
As the second filmed version of the Broadway musical Roberta (following the Astaire/Rogers film from the 1930s), this film brought back some songs dropped from the earlier film while retaining some that were written for the previous movie. Having seen the earlier Roberta many times, Lovely To Look At was a movie I was curious about, but had low expectations for when I first saw it nearly a decade ago. All I can say is that I’m glad I was curious, as it has become one of my favorite movies, usually one I try to watch at least once a year!
The score, with music written by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Otto Harbach (and some updated lyrics by Dorothy Fields), is absolutely wonderful! In That’s Entertainment, Part 2, Fred Astaire said that “Jerome Kern wrote some of the loveliest melodies I’ve ever heard, and none lovelier than this one, sung by Kathryn Grayson” (referring, of course, to the song “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”). That’s a sentiment I very much agree with, as I very much prefer this sung version of the song. Kathryn does it so wonderfully and with so much emotion, I know I can’t help but want to cry along with her as she finishes. That being said, the instrumental version used earlier in the movie for husband-and-wife dance team Marge and Gower Champion is even better yet! It is such a wonderful combination of beautiful music and breathtaking dancing, I look forward to it every time I watch the movie (and, for those who noticed, it made my Top 10 Dance Routines list, too)! Also worth noting for Marge and Gower is the song “I Won’t Dance,” a fun and flirtacious dance between the two that is full of fun and lifts as well!
Of course, with Red Skelton in the cast, you can bet there is room for some comedy, too! Early on, he gets a chance as he rides an elevator that looks so unsafe in how it moves that most of us would much rather walk up the stairs after seeing it in action (and then a bit later when somebody else tries to use it, and we listen to him with his badly mangled French). But his best moment is probably his “Irish Tenor” comedy bit later in the movie. Seriously, if you can get through that without laughing, then I don’t know what you’re even reading about this film for, it’s so good!
Overall, this is very much a fun musical that I always enjoy. I admit, the fashion show sequence at the end of the movie is a bit odd (partly due to the fact that that sequence was directed by Vincente Minelli instead of Mervyn LeRoy who directed the rest of the movie), with the Marge and Gower dance routine to “Yesterdays” really being a jolt, but over time and multiple viewings, I’ve still come to appreciate it just as much as the rest of the movie! A very highly recommended movie if you get the chance to see it!
This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection, and is one hour, forty-two minutes in length.
My Rating: 10/10