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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.

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Born to Dance

Gasser

Born to Dance (1936)

     If I were to grade Born to Dance based on its storyline and acting, I’d give it a Dullsville. When considering the dancing alone, however, this flick would be worthy of a Ring a Ding Ding rating. Assuming that my screwy rating system in some way equates to numbers, the math had me conclude an in-between rating of Gasser was appropriate.

     Eleanor Powell was one hell of a dancer. Growing up around tap dancers, I consider myself not easily impressed by the dancing performances of these bygone eras that stand up as mediocre against today’s performers. Powell, however, was top tier among on-screen dancers in the 1930s. In fact Born to Dance, her third film, was used by the dancer as a way to showcase her talent and attract the attention of other Hollywood dancing greats, such as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, who indeed took notice. Powell was a hoofer –or tap dancer by today’s terms– and could move her feet as fast as Astaire. She could also turn better than any other movie musical star of which I can think. On the acting front, however, I find her miserable to watch.

     Powell’s overly toothy smile has less emotion behind it than a smile would suggest. Her facial expressions seem terribly limited and the romantic story she finds herself in here seems utterly lost on the young woman. Her final dance routine in the flick is much more enjoyable if you avoid looking at her face.

     Powell is Nora, a girl who’s been living in New York a short while hoping to land a job as a dancer, if only she could get a break. She ends up rooming with a woman whose sailor husband has been at sea for all four years of their marriage and has no idea he has a daughter. This woman, Jenny (Una Merkel) works as a hotel desk clerk and seems to reside in a room behind the desk.

     So at the same time Nora is dancing around this hotel lobby, a naval ship is docked in New York harbor and Gunny Sacks (Sid Silvers) –that estranged husband– and Ted Barker, played by Jimmy Stewart, are heading to shore. Upon reuniting with her husband, Jenny is unthrilled with her selection of a mate and rejects him. Ted and Nora, however, hit it off immediately. Their romance is complicated, however, when musical theater star Lucy James (Virginia Bruce) looks to date Ted as a publicity stunt before actually falling for him. The drama leads to a break between Nora and Ted and eventually to Nora standing in for Lucy on opening night of her new musical.

     Cole Porter (my favorite song writer) wrote the music for Born to Dance. Although many of the songs would not find life beyond this picture, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “You’d Be So Easy to Love” find a home here as well. Even the unmemorable songs are better than the average musical number found in many of the musicals of the 1930s, but that’s Porter for you. And thanks to Powell, the dance routines are more entertaining than average also, I found. Thankfully they rely less on mass groups of out-of-sync dancers and focus on Powell and a few accompanying dancers. No Busby Berkeley-style productions here.

     Stewart seems entirely out of place in a musical, but he survives alright. His acting makes up for the lack of performance coming from Powell’s face. His singing is rough, but not awful. Originally, another singer recorded the tracks for him, but producers found the singing too smooth and different from Stewart’s singing voice, so they were sacked. No dancing from Stewart in Born to Dance, so he at least saved face on that front.

  • Born to Dance is set for 10:30 a.m. ET July 22 on TCM.

Source: Robert Osborne

Rhapsody in Blue

Ring a Ding Ding

Rhapsody in Blue (1945)

     George Gershwin is probably my favorite composer after Cole Porter, so I was naturally interested in Rhapsody in Blue, a docudrama about his life. I can honestly say, however, that my conclusion of this film’s worth is independent of whatever favorable bias I might have. It’s a really darn good movie.

 
     I have found that with nondocumentary features about someone’s life, one has to take the story with grain of salt. I think this is especially true for older movies of this sort, and I point directly to Night and Day about Cole Porter, which was referenced in the contemporary Delovely as being quite the fanciful take on the homosexual composer’s life. That being said, I cannot attest to the accuracy of Rhapsody in Blue as I have not read up on the actual life and times of the great Gershwin. In fact, TCM.com calls the movie a “fictionalized” account of his life, so who knows what was taken from reality.
 
     Robert Alda plays George, who grew up on the lower east side of Manhattan with his parents and older brother Ira (who would eventually become a lyricist and contribute to a great number of his brother’s scores). He has an early knack for piano playing and works his way through various teachers until sticking with Professor Frank (Albert Basserman). He tries various jobs including substitute pianist for Chico Marx (yet to be seen on screen) and pianist at a shop selling sheet music. It is in the latter job that he meets Julie Adams (Joan Leslie) when demonstrating sheet music, including something of his own.
 
     George eventually has his music published after Al Jolson, playing himself, sings “Swanee” in a show, and he starts to write songs for a variety of stage productions thereafter, ever growing in popularity. He eventually strives to compose a concerto and “Rhapsody in Blue” is born. Now George goes to France to study music, but ends up fawning over an artist, Christine Gilbert (Alexis Smith) and brings her back to New York where girlfriend Julie is crushed. Nevertheless the new woman eventually goes her own way leaving George to live the single life. Next up is an opera, which becomes “Porgy and Bess”. George dies rather suddenly after trying to reconnect with Julie.
 
     Perhaps the best part of this movie was the performers playing themselves. Oscar Levant plays himself, apparently a close friend and frequent arranger of Gershwin’s tunes. Bandleader Paul Whiteman was instrumental in bringing some of his songs to success, and the aforementioned Al Jolson. Also showing up were Director George White, jazz pianist/singer Hazel Scott, and Anne Brown, the original Bess from “Porgy and Bess”.  I’ve always enjoyed Levant for his dry humor. He makes a great addition to any picture.
 
     The flick nicely highlights some of the most notable Gershwin classics. The movie plays the full 10 minute orchestration of “Rhapsody in Blue”, which one would expect to get dull, but it sure is riveting.
   
     I also must point out that Alexis Smith plays Gershwin’s love interest in France. She also played Linda Porter, wife to Cole, in Night and Day, which is a strange coincidence.
  • Rhapsody in Blue is set for midnight ET April 30 and 1:30 p.m. ET May 9 on TCM.
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