The Road to Singapore

Dullsville

Road to Singapore (1931)

     Before you get ahead of yourself I must warn that this is not a post about the Bing Crosby-Bob Hope road movie. This unsavory William Powell romance has nothing to do with the string of movies that all but trademarked the title “Road to …” . This flick came nine years prior to the comedic film of the same name that was the first in the duo’s series. If you find yourself inadvertently watching this movie, you’re sure to be displeased as not only does this Road to Singapore lack laughs, but it might be the least desirable character Powell has played.

     On the boat to British-occupied Khota, a drunken Powell as Hugh Dawltry has been attempting to court Phillipa (Doris Kenyon) not knowing her travels are driven by a pending marriage to a doctor at the tropical locale, George March, played by a young Louis Calhern. Upon departure from the vessel, Dawltry escorts the young woman to what she thinks is her fiancée’s home only to discover she has actually been lured to the man’s own home. She resists his advances at this point and never tells her husband of it.

     As the story goes along, Phillipa and George are married and live with George’s younger sister Rene (Marian Marsh). George hates Dawltry because gossip continues about how he broke up another woman’s marriage and the man is a notorious philanderer. Rene is openly fascinated by the man but Phillipa hides her growing interest. When both George and Rene are scheduled to leave town to deliver a patient, Phillipa accepts an invitation to Dawltry’s home where the two seemingly copulate. The patient, however, dies before the ship leaves, so George returns home to find his wife missing and a note from her lover on the dresser.

     We are meant to feel pity for Phillipa and her unhappy marriage to a man who is far more interested in his career than his wife. The trouble is, Powell does not come off as the dashing answer to the woman’s woes. He is dishonest and offers no indication he will supply the love Phillipa’s life lacks, merely the passion. The ending gets a bit confusing as Dawltry is both confessing and denying his involvement in the notorious case of the other woman’s divorce. We cannot determine from either character’s emotions if they will flee together or if one or the other is not that interested. This therefore makes the ending not terribly satisfying as we think neither person is really that into the relationship.

Anything Goes

Gasser

Anything Goes (1956)

     I have been wanting for some time to see any version of Anything Goes I can manage to because I am such a big Cole Porter fan. The version I found is one of three featuring Bing Crosby in a lead part. He starred in the Broadway play, a 1936 version and this one, which has a different plot than the other two. In this instance (1956), Donald O’Connor teams with Crosby (Imagine my delight!) in a story that pits the two men against two women, in a way.

     Crosby as Bill Benson is a big-time song-and-dance stage star and is looking to make a show that requires another strong male lead and a woman. O’Connor’s Ted Adams is a new star to the scene who thinks he is doing the old man a favor by starring in his show. The two basically agree that Bill will find the leading lady, but when they both visit Europe, each signs his own girl.

     Ted has found a French dancer to play what was supposed to be an American role and signs her to a contract. Bill discovers an American in England who wows him during a musical revue. The two couples meet up on a boat back to the states already aware that they have hired conflicting actresses. Ted is meant to drop Gaby (Jeanmaire) before boarding but fails to, while Bill is forced to hide the other woman from his discovery, Patsy (Mitzi Gaynor).

     The men end up falling in love with the woman the other had chosen for the role, but still seem to agree Patsy is best for the part. The gang also hits trouble when the arrival of Patsy and her father (Phil Harris) in New York means the old man will be arrested for past tax crimes.

     Anything Goes is marked by fantastic dance numbers and songs, as would be expected from the leading men. Ballerina Jeanmaire is a welcome addition for her dancing talent far more than for her acting skills. She is also disappointingly unattractive, which makes it easy for the audience to favor Patsy for the job while making the romance between Gaby and Bill unfulfilling. The Cole Porter songs, however, do not disappoint. The routine for “You’re the Top” utilized an amusing screen divide of sorts as the respective professional couples rehearse in side-by-side rooms while singing the same song to each other. O’Connor and Gaynor engage in an entertaining romantic melody of “Delovely” while dancing on the more functional portions of the steamship, including the railing.

     I enjoyed this version of Anything Goes but would have loved to see the Gaby part cast differently because I found her so intolerably undesirable. The story is otherwise charming and romantic at parts and a cute reimagining of the story that suits Crosby and O’Connor well.

What to Watch Thanksgiving: Musicals

Musicals tend to be very family friendly fare, which is possibly why Turner Classic Movies has sprinkled several throughout the day and night Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. At the top of my list is Judy Garland‘s great Meet Me in St. Louis.

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

I feel like the plot of this story of a large St. Louis family in 1903 does not matter much in the grand scheme of things. The narrative is marked by the romances of Garland’s Ester with the neighbor boy and sister Rose (Lucille Bremer) hopes her long-distance boyfriend will get around to proposing. The family as a whole also struggles with the idea of moving to New York as a year goes by.

The songs in Meet Me in St. Louis are among the reasons to watch the flick. Many famous numbers we still remember today are just as enjoyable out of the context of the film as they are in. Among them is the title song, the Oscar-nominated “Trolley Song” that was filmed in one take and Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

This picture marks the first encounter of Garland and Director Vincent Minnelli. The two feuded on set until Garland viewed the daily rushes and discovered how beautiful Minnelli was making her look. The young star had all kinds of confidence issues about her appearance, some of which stem from Louis B. Mayer’s pet names of “ugly duckling” and “my little hunchback.” The woman had also been reluctant to take the part that returned her persona to that of a teenager because she had finally found success in adult roles, such as For Me and My Gal. The new-found chemistry between the star and director led to a marriage in 1945 and four subsequent films. Despite being gay, Minnelli would father Liza with Judy before the two divorced in 1951.

Meet Me in St. Louis is a great way to see Judy in one of her best roles and to sing along with the family to the memorable songs.

Musicals scheduled on TCM for Turkey Day include:

  • Meet Me in St. Louis at 10 a.m. ET.
  • The Music Man at 1:45 p.m.
  • Anything Goes at 8 p.m.
  • Shall We Dance at 3 a.m.
  • Flying with Music at 5 a.m.

Source: Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clark

We’re Not Dressing

Gasser

We're Not Dressing (1934)

    I know I’ve raved about Carole Lombard before but haven’t actually managed to review any of her movies –but it’s not my fault! I went through a couple month phase a year or so ago when TCM was playing a bunch of her stuff, but the channel has not managed to devote time to her since. Thank goodness for Netflix. I’ve queued the “Carole Lombard Glamour Collection”, so expect a number of reviews from that set over the next couple months.

     I would call We’re Not Dressing minor Lombard as it is not her best work, but still the actress’ traditional role: wealthy beauty in a romantic entanglement. It came smack dab in the middle of her Hollywood career and would feature a rather young-looking 31-year-old Bing Crosby, only a few years into acting. Bing as Stephen is a deckhand on the yacht of Doris Worthington, played by Lombard. Doris is being courted by two prince brothers, one of which is played by a very young “Raymond” Milland. Along for the voyage are Doris’ uncle Hubert (Leon Errol) and friend Edith (Ethel Merman). Despite the pining princes, Doris is distracted by Stephen, who has been tasked with looking after her pet bear cub (inspiration for Bringing Up Baby?). The heiress is playing cruel to the young man, however, to mask her feelings for a subordinate. 

     A drunken George manages to somehow cause the boat to sink by spinning with the wheel, so Stephen rescues Doris, who has been knocked unconscious by the crumbling ship, and her bear. The duo, along with the princes, George and Edith, wash up on an island, where the parties assume Stephen should be waiting on them. Toppling the social structure, Stephen tells everyone they must work and begins building his own hut and fire and cooking his own clams.  The others stick with stubborn Doris until they are hungry enough to agree to dig their own clams and gather firewood. Doris eventually “earns” some food when she delivers a sack of what turn out to be empty clam shells, angering Stephen. We soon learn that there is a couple conducting research on another part of the island whom Doris discovers, but fails to tell the others. A romance is blooming between she and Stephen, but he eventually takes the whole situation as a prank.

     There’s a great repeated exchange between Bing and Lombard that cements for us that they have feelings for each other. While aboard the ship, a subordinate Stephen is honest with Doris about a roller-skating incident involving her bear, which angers the gal to the point of slapping the deckhand, who responds with a peck on the lips. Later, when Doris delivers the empty clam shells, Stephen slaps Doris, hard, and she kisses him. 

     I must make note of Ethel Merman. I have known the woman only by her grating singing voice and as an older woman in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, so I was hardly expecting the beautiful young woman with a great body. This was only her second film and her singing voice had yet to mature to the annoying extend to which I’m accustomed. Additionally, Gracie Allen plays the dumb wife of the researcher (George Burns) whose ditsyness makes one think he is listening to a Marx brother. She develops a “moose trap” meant to catch  four mice because one is a mouse, two is mice and two mice are a moose. This film might be worth checking out just for her:

Gracie Martin: We just caught Tarzan’s mate!
George Martin: Tarzan is a character in a book.
Gracie Martin: Well, maybe he got out!

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

Dullsville 

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949)

      I am never one to pass up a Bing Crosby musical, but that is not to say a Bingo flick is a guaranteed smash hit. With A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court I find my stance goes against the grain of opinions at the time the film was released. Although I truly fought the instinct to turn the movie off, moviegoers in 1949 loved Bing’s designated Technicolor extravaganza of the year. The singer was a huge draw in the 1940s no matter if the subject was a large- or small-scale production. The movie also earned Director Tay Garnett a shot at a nonexclusive contract with Paramount, which he regrettably turned down.

     I have never been a huge fan of subject matter that occurs before 1880, so perhaps the medieval theme deterred my fascination with A Connecticut Yankee. Perchance it was the song selection, which I found a bit dull and arbitrarily sprinkled throughout the story. Maybe the story was just a bit too haphazard to maintain my attention. Regardless the reason, I found myself disappointed.

     Crosby plays a 1905 blacksmith/auto mechanic who recounts the story in flashback. Somehow while in his home state of Connecticut, a lightning storm knocks him from a horse and leaves him unconscious only to wake to a Camelot knight poking him in the chest with a lance. Crosby’s Hank takes little convincing to believe he truly has been transported to 528 A.D. England, and the stranger is whisked to the presence of an aging and ailing King Arthur (Sir Cedric Hardwicke). The knight who has captured Hank, Sir Sagramore (William Bendix), tells a tall tale of how the beast transformed from ogre to dragon to his current form, and Arthur declares Hank must be burned at the stake. Just before his intended demise, however, Hank uses the glass from his pocket watch to ignite a bit of paper, convincing all, including Merlin, that he is a sorcerer, thus securing his freedom. Having hence been knighted, Hank mingles with the “people of quality” in the castle and courts Rhonda Fleming‘s Alisande, who happens to be betrothed to Sir Lancelot. Merlin, an evil character, sends for Lancelot when he sees the couple kissing to ensure a hasty end to Hank’s visit.

     Lancelot engages Hank in a joust, but knowing he can either run away as a coward or die as a hero, Hank opts to clamor unarmed onto a smaller horse (the one that traveled with him from Connecticut) and out maneuver the iron clad knight. He lassoes the man and makes a fool of him, which only drives Alisande into her fiancée’s arms. Next, an experience with a poor family who has seen naught but the ill favor of the throne inspires Hank to ask King Arthur on a common-man’s journey to London. Dressing as vagabonds, Hank, Arthur and Sagramore (who has been Hank’s servant) wander about while Merlin plans their end. The trio is captured, sold as slaves, escapes and faces beheading before Hank can use a solar eclipse –described in the modern almanac he carries– to convince the spectators of the group’s true identities.

     We are given no explanation as to how Hank happens to return to his home time, but one has to question why Hank made no effort whatsoever to find a way back. He seemed utterly content to act as a blacksmith and inventor thousands of years before his correct era. I found the story line to be a bit fragmented also. Besides the romance plot between Hank and Alisande, the modern man’s adventures are rather scattered and unconnected. If one ascribes to the theories of time travel that suggest any change in the past will forever alter the future, Hank sure is screwing things up. He “invents” a safety pin and pistol, alters Arthur’s role as king and introduces scandalous dance moves and music to the medieval people.

     The story is based on the Mark Twain novel, but being ignorant of that work I cannot offer a comparison of the drama. The book must have been popular as movie versions were make several times, with this being the musical adaptation.

Source: Robert Osborne

Cinematic Shorts: White Christmas

Ring a Ding Ding

White Christmas (1954)

     I generally am not much of a fan or celebrater of Xmas and I particularly dislike the classic songs that accompany the holiday from November onward. So for me to be fond of a film with the December tradition in the title is a bit of a rarity. I discovered White Christmas, oddly enough, during a summer showing a couple years ago at the Ohio Theatre in Columbus, where classic movies are projected on a big screen at the electric pleasuredome for a couple of months each year. I sought it out through a growing admiration of Bing Crosby and found my loyalty to the actor supremely rewarded.

     What I enjoy greatly about White Christmas is that although the holiday found its way into the title, the movie is not at all about it. The plot happens to take place around Xmas and the most famous song from the film happens to share the title, so thus we have White Christmas. It follows two army pals (Crosby and Danny Kaye) who went into show business together and a scheme to brighten the existence of their former general, who now owns a floundering country inn. Along the way they take on a sister act with Kaye’s character, Phil, instantly falling for Vera-Ellen‘s Judy. An adorable, complicated romantic plot develops between Crosby’s Bob and Betty, played by Rosemary Clooney.

     The picture is bolstered by the music of Irving Berlin, who ranks among my favorite song-writers. Outside of “White Christmas”, the movie also offers the goofy “Choreography” number and seasonal tunes such as “Snow”. In fact, I have “Sisters” stuck in my head as I am writing this. It is a fabulous soundtrack, and I would argue that Bing Crosby should be the only person permitted to sing the title tune — that mellow baritone voice of his compliments it perfectly. White Christmas was also how I came to adore Clooney (who, if you’re wondering, is the aunt of George). Her character is supposed to be the dowdier of the two sisters, but standing next to anorexically thin Vera-Ellen, Clooney’s curves make her the more appealing of the duo from my standpoint. Nevermind that her voice is absolutely awesome. Just try sitting through the “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” number and tell me you don’t love her.  

Sisters?

  • White Christmas is set for 8 p.m. ET Dec. 16 on AMC.

Cinematic Shorts: High Society

Wowza!

High Society (1956)

     I have always considered myself a fan of musicals, but in recent years I have discovered I am a bit choosy on that front. For instance, I cannot stand The Sound of Music or South Pacific and was fairly bored with The King and I. If Kathryn Grayson is singing in a picture, forget it. I really enjoyed Show Boat, but I literally fast-forwarded through her songs.

     High Society, however, was the perfect combination of elements for me. Not only does it feature some of my favorite singer-actors, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, but offers Cole Porter songs (my favorite songwriter) and the glorious Grace Kelly in her final role before becoming Princess Grace and in her only on-screen singing spot. Add in Louis Armstrong as himself, and this had no choice but to be a favorite.

     The story is a musical version of The Philadelphia Story that transplants the action to Newport News, New Jersey. The dialogue is identical in many cases, yet the roles seem to fit the respective actors perfectly. I understand that many people will side with Philadelphia Story when presented with this adaptation, but I saw High Society first, so I am biased. I definitely enjoy the original that transformed Katharine Hepburn from box office poison to gold, but why not go for the version with songs?

"Well did you eva?"

  • High Society is set for 6 p.m. ET Nov. 21 on TCM
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