If the idea of Joan Crawford and Jimmy Stewart as ice-skating pros excites you, The Ice Follies of 1939 will disappoint you. Despite their characters’ professed careers, the actors do not really do as much on the ice as their body doubles do, nor as much as the International Ice Follies, members of which are included in the cast.
The Ice Follies is essentially the Ziegfeld Follies –you guessed it– on ice. Stewart’s character Larry Hall is a great skater who has the ambition of creating a show that features skits and songs written just for ice skaters. He starts the film working with his long-time partner Eddie Burgess (Lew Ayres) and newly acquired partner/girlfriend Mary McKay (Crawford). That act quickly gets the axe, however. Larry and Mary foolishly get married despite the financial turmoil, but the woman goes out to find a job in Hollywood and gets picked up as a star.
The third-wheel position has Eddie hit the road, and it is not long before Larry gets the same idea given Mary’s fame has grown beyond his tolerance. As part of the actress’ contract, she must remain single, so their marriage is kept secret.
Once on his own, Larry reunites with Eddie and the two work up the funding to back the Ice Follies concept. As time goes by, Mary becomes a sensational star on screen while Larry becomes the king producer of the ice show. The couple tries to reunite but finds the career demands on each member too great to overcome, at least until movies and ice skating unite.
This black and white picture concludes with a lengthy color sequence featuring our stars watching their on-screen collaboration: a movie starring Mary and featuring Larry’s direction of ice skaters. This ending epitomized what the movie was really about: an excuse to feature the International Ice Follies. True, some of theBroadway Melody and other follies-esque movies were mere platforms to feature certain talents, but it was unfortunate this ploy became part of a movie featuring three really great stars. Stewart, Crawford and Ayres could have held their own in a romantic movie without the backdrop of ice skating, yet there the gimmick is.
The Ice Follies of 1939 sits among the many frivolous romantic movies Joan Crawford made early in her career. The main actors’ performances were just fine despite their inability to ice skate. The picture could have been a really heart-string tugger had it been developed separately from the Follies’ inclusion. The story of a movie star and the estranged husband who pulls himself up to equal social stature while still failing to reinstate their romance has potential. It just was not realized here.