The Algonquin Table of the Old West

Gordon MacRae's pimped-out surrey, with a fringe on top. Image: lsdkjf askdjf

Gordon MacRae’s fully-loaded surrey, with a fringe on top. Image: Los Angeles Times

You would have a skewed view of life if you only watched musicals.

For example, look at the recently-restored Rodgers and Hammerstein western-comedy musical, Oklahoma! (1955). This film is about a group of farmers and ranchers in turn-of-the-20th-century Oklahoma, who hold a box lunch social to raise money for the schoolhouse roof.

This film makes it look like these farmers and ranchers have nothing to do but sing and dance and make merriment. In one scene, a train pulls into the station and everyone on the station platform suddenly – and without warning – leaps into a impromptu hoedown.

The rustic Oklahoma in this film looks gla-mor-ous. Men’s tailored shirts are neatly pressed, and women’s Orry-Kelly gowns dresses are made of sumptuous fabrics. Life is so effortless, folks do their chores while wearing crisp, white clothes. There’s not a drop of sweat in sight.

You’ll notice a lot of dancing in this Oklahoma, even interpretive dance where themes of innocence and exploitation are examined.

The villain in this neck of the woods is played by Rod Steiger, a surly and vaguely creepy man who is the only one in the film with grime on his clothes. He lusts after young Shirley Jones (in her film debut) and resents the cowboy Gordon MacRae for wooing her.

You could be forgiven for thinking these are simple, unsophisticated folk. Indeed, the film opens with MacRae (in a glorious CinemaScope tracking shot) riding his horse along a row of corn, underneath a dazzling blue sky. He sings about the beautiful morning and a “bright golden haze on the meadow”.

Basic, wholesome people living a basic, wholesome life? Not so fast, partner.

The marvels of Kansas City. Image: alksdj faksdj f

The marvels – wholesome and unwholesome – of Kansas City. Image: Dusted Off

What really makes this film, besides the wardrobe and the scenery, is the song lyrics. The clever lyrics easily outpace the script in wit and innuendo.

Notably, the songs seesaw between the conflicted feelings of the characters. For example, a man sings about his visit to Kansas City and, alternating between amazement and disapproval, he describes life in the prosperous, fast-growing burg:

Everything’s up to date in Kansas City
They’ve gone about as far as they can go!
They went and built a skyscraper seven stories high
About as high as a building ought to grow.

He then goes on to detail, with a twinkle in his eye, various other sights including a burlesque show.

In another scene, MacRae confronts the surly Steiger with a song that swings between threats and flattery. MacRae suggests no man will be more highly praised at his own funeral than Steiger himself:

He’s looking oh so pretty and so nice
He looks like he’s asleep.
It’s a shame that he won’t keep,
But it’s summer and we’re running out of ice.

That’s a bit twisted, no? MacRae is taking chances, singing this kind of stuff to the temperamental Steiger.

In another scene, Gene Nelson proposes to his girlfriend (Gloria Grahame), although she doesn’t really want to settle down. After the he proposes, Grahame replies:

But if a wife is wise, she’s gotta realize
That men like you are wild and free …
Stay up late and don’t come home till three
And go right off to sleep if you’re sleepy.
There’s no use waiting up for me!

Oklahoma! won Academy Awards for Best Music and Best Sound, and raked in $6.8 million at the box office that year. We think you’ll enjoy this cheeky, light-hearted tribute to the 46th state of the union.

Oklahoma! starring Gordon MacRae, Gloria Grahame, Gene Nelson. Directed by Fred Zinneman. Written by Sonya Levien & William Ludwig. Magna Theatre Corp., 1955, B&W, 145 mins.

Guilty Pleasure: Beach Party (1963)

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The life of a California teen – “surfin’ all day and swingin’ all night.”  Image:

Please, no judging.

Here is today’s confession: We are endlessly fascinated by the Frankie + Annette Beach Party movies.

There were a handful of these movies made between 1963-66, each one worse than its predecessor – and that is saying something. These films, made by American International Pictures, were targeted to teenagers and include lots of music, dancing and surfing.

These elements must appeal to us more than we care to admit, because these crazy movies are our ultimate guilty pleasure.

Our favourite is Beach Party (1963), the first of the illustrious series. In this movie, a social anthropologist (a deadpan Robert Cummings), rents a beach house so he can spy on these mad surfing kids and write a book on Post-Adolescent Surf Dwellers.

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Cummings sports a voluminous academic beard. Image: Forgotten Actors

Cummings may be a professor and a noted expert in his field, but he’s as thick as day-old gravy when it comes to l’affaire de coeur. No one is more aware of this than his assistant (Dorothy Malone), a savvy, chic woman who’s half in love with her dim-witted boss.

Among the so-called “surf dwellers” are a young couple, teen heartthrob Frankie Avalon and former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello. Avalon has rented a neighbouring beach house so he can spend the weekend alone with his girlfriend. Unbeknownst to him, Funicello has invited half the state of California to share the house with them, because she’s not ready for The Big Step.

As a result, Avalon and Funicello spend most of the movie trying to make each other jealous. Avalon takes up with a waitress from a local hotspot, while Funicello flirts with Cummings.

There’s a bad guy, too!, in the form of Harvey Lembeck, the leader of an inept motorcycle gang. Lembeck calls his minions “You Stupid”, while his dress and mannerisms spoof Marlon Brando in 1953’s The Wild One.

Eric von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) alkdjf  Image

Marlon Brando – er, Eric von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) is easily defeated. Image: B-Movie Detective

Beach Party doesn’t have a complex plot, but the script is surprisingly funny and self-mocking. Malone delivers some laugh-out-loud punchlines, while Cummings and Funicello share some amusing moments, many of which poke fun at Cummings’ age. In one scene, Cummings takes Funicello for a ride in his twin-engine plane, and she asks how he learned how to fly.

Cummings: “…That was before the war, of course.”
Funicello: “Which one?’
Cummings (wryly): “The Spanish American.”
Funicello: “Oh, you’re teasing. I bet it was World War I.”

One thing this movie never fails to do is remind you of how Hip it is. Scenes incorporate bongo drums and surfing slag as much as possible. The beach fashions are über stylish, and no one appears in the same swimsuit twice. Even the local hangout is hip, featuring poetry as performance art, yoga practitioners and live music by Dick Dale and the Del Tones.

This film also never fails to remind you that teenagers are cool, while the older generation is, well, old. In one scene, Cummings decides to go to the beach in his neck-to-knee 1920s-era bathing suit. Funicello defends the suit by saying tactfully, “I like it. It’s substantial looking.”

Beach Party isn’t cinematic art, nor is it a deep analysis of the human condition. It is, however, an entertaining movie – which makes it a worthy guilty pleasure.

Beach Party: starring Bob Cummings, Dorothy Malone, Frankie Avalon. Directed by Willam Asher. Written by Lou Rusoff. American International Pictures, 1963, Colour, 101 mins.

This post is part of the Beach Party Blogathon co-hosted by Speakeasy and yours truly. Click here to view all the groovy posts in this blogathon.

Beach Party Frankie Annette

The Gold Digger’s Fashion Guide

Moon Over Miami Betty Grable

Betty Grable (centre) calls the front desk and orders a Millionaire. Image: Vintage Clothing Love

We are of the opinion that a person should marry for love. But, for those who insist on finding a millionaire and marrying for money, may we recommend some valuable fashion advice?

We ourselves had no idea what to wear when chasing millionaires until we saw the perfect Millionaire* Chasing Attire in the 1941 musical comedy Moon Over Miami.

(*A million dollars in 1941 is worth $16,528,297.87 today. In case you were wondering.)

About the plot: Betty Grable, her sister (Carole Landis), and their aunt (the scene-stealing Charlotte Greenwood) move to Miami, where “rich men are as plentiful as grapefruit and millionaires hang from every palm tree.” (Take note.)

Grable poses as a rich young socialite on vacation, while Landis poses as her personal assistant and Greenwood as the maid. Turns out Grable meets not one, but two! handsome millionaires (Don Ameche and Robert Cummings), and is faced with the awkward dilemma of which millionaire to marry.

About the wardrobe: Everything in this film is designed to accessorize the clothes, from the sets to the co-stars – Cummings and Ameche being the most prominent accessories in this film. The scrumptious wardrobe was designed by famed Hollywood costume designer, Travis Banton. (For samples of his work, click here.)

Before we begin our Wardrobe Analysis, we must remember one important principle: The millionaire must think he (or she) is catching you, not the other way around. (And let’s face it, Dear Reader, you are a catch.)

Now, let us examine Grable’s wardrobe savour-faire, which we can classify in three main categories.

1. Evening Wear

Grable (left) is Millionaire Hunting. Because Landis (seated) is wearing sleeves, she's obviously not. Image: dkjf jeu

Notice Landis (seated) is wearing sleeves, so she’s obviously not Millionaire Hunting. Image: Beauty Bombshells

As you might have guessed, millionaires attend only the best parties where everyone dresses in Very Expensive clothes. This means your party attire must be made by this season’s most sought-after designer. It cannot be last season’s frock purchased at a designer outlet or – heaven forbid – at any place bearing the word “depot”.

2. Everyday Wear

Notice Grable's green suit. It screams, "I'll look good in your money." Image: tumblr

Notice Grable’s emerald-green suit. It screams, “I look good in your money.” Image: tumblr

Despite all appearances, Millionaire Chasing is not a casual, happy-go-lucky activity, so just forget about polyester-blend attire. No stretchy jeans and no – [shudder] – yoga pants. You must be strict with yourself: this is Serious Business.

3. Cultural Wear

Grable alksdjf djs fImage: alskdjf sd

Notice Grable is ready to perform an impromptu number at a moment’s notice. Image:

If you’re moving to another city/country to pursue your millionaire, you must accept the fact that, at some point, you will star in a floor show at a local nightclub. Here’s your chance to show your spouse-to-be that you elevate the local culture. Make sure your outfit pays homage to the locals, but is obviously something they could never afford.

Now you’re ready. Dress in your best outfit and go find that lucky Millionaire. Be sure to send us an invite to the wedding!

♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦

Appendix: Wardrobe Checklist

1 Cowboy Waitress Outfit (a reminder of your humble roots)

1 Fur-Trimmed Coat-and-Dress Set

1 Gate-Crashing Party Dress

1 Driving-in-the-Country Suit

1 Sight-Seeing Outfit (suitable for submarine travel)

1 Swishy Gown (with sequinned appliqué)

1 Impromptu Cultural Dance Outfit

1 Trench Coat (for hasty getaways)

1 Breakfast Pantsuit

1 Butterfly-Themed LOOK-AT-ME Dress

1 Swimsuit (not for swimming)

Moon Over Miami: Don Ameche, Betty Grable, Robert Cummings. Directed by Walter Lang. Written by Vincent Lawrence & Brown Holmes. Twentieth Century-Fox, 1941, Technicolor, 91 mins.

A Mexican Revenge

Dolores del Rio plays Pat O'Brien like a two-bit Image: kdsjf dksljf

Dolores del Rio is dressed for revenge. Image: Dawn’s Dolores del Rio

They say revenge is a dish best served cold.

We (as in, yours truly) are not very skilled in the “getting even” department, which is why we’re paying close attention to a 1935 comedy about Mexican folks getting even with American folks.

In Caliente is a stylish 1930s musical comedy with dazzling choreography by Busby Berkeley. It stars the über-glam Dolores del Rio as a Mexican-born dancer who is unable to forgive a New York magazine editor for disparaging her talent in print.

Pat O’Brien plays said editor, a rapid-speaking, short-tempered man who believes yelling is better than talking. He is also the worst kind of critic because he writes reviews of performances without ever seeing them.

In his magazine, O’Brien wrote that del Rio was “a bag of bones” and “onion soup without the onions.” (Whoa! Watch that smart mouth of yours, O’Brien.)

So, if you were Dolores del Rio and you knew this cad was vacationing in your hometown the same time you were, would you be tempted to get even? Exactly.

Fortunately for del Rio, O’Brien becomes smitten with her as soon as he sees her, and who could blame him? She’s the Hollywood Gold Standard: thin, beautiful, well dressed. She’s the type who exercises in chiffon.

del Rio and her manager (Leo Carrillo) use O’Brien’s feelings to leverage their revenge. (“His name is engraved on my heart in letters of blood,” says a seething Carrillo.) These two carefully plot their revenge until – uh oh! – del Rio discovers O’Brien is not quite the beast she thought he was and, despite everything, she may be falling for him.

Drat. Another Hollywood story where True Love derails revenge and no one wants to get even any more.

Or do they?

(actor) loves to do business with Americans. (Screencap by yours truly)

Leo Carrillo (left) loves doing business with Americans.

The most interesting revenge in this movie doesn’t involve del Rio at all. It involves the citizens of Caliente.

Caliente, as portrayed by the movie, is a resort town overrun with Americans who can’t spend money fast enough. These Americans are used to having a Certain Level of Service. For instance, they need people to carry luggage, drive taxis and mix cocktails. By default, these thankless tasks must fall to the residents of Caliente.

Not only that, the Americans have turned Caliente into the ideal American resort, with gentrified tennis courts and chaise lounges by the pool. The Americans don’t really want to be in Mexico, they just want to say they’ve been.

What’s a local resident to do?

Whenever possible, the film shows locals cheerfully hustling Americans at the card table or over-charging them to have their picture taken on a mule. A local band charges a small fee to play at your party, but it’ll cost you more if you want them to leave.

There is a wonderful scene (on the golf course!) where Carrillo hustles O’Brien’s assistant (Edward Everett Horton). Carrillo explains del Rio is a great artist but not a business woman and that she’ll need “a little something in advance.” Horton promptly writes a cheque.

See? These locals are only doing what the Americans want, and that is to ease money out of those alligator-skin wallets.

In Caliente is a frilly and beautifully-filmed movie with a talented cast and memorable music. However, you may find yourself rooting more for the residents of Caliente than the main characters.

In Caliente: Dolores del Rio, Pat O’Brien, Leo Carrillo. Directed by Lloyd Bacon. Written by Jerry Wald and Julius Epstein. Warner Bros. Pictures Inc., 1935, B&W, 84 mins.

This post is part of the HOLLYWOOD HISPANIC HERITAGE blogathon hosted by Movie Star Makeover and Once Upon a Screen. Be sure to read all the other contributions!


The Infatuation Drug

Note: This post is part of the Build-Your-Own Blogathon, hosted by the Classic Film & TV Cafe. Today’s movie connects to Speakeasy’s My Darling Clementine via producer/writer Samuel G. Engel.

Pat Boone (left) counsels Dick Sargent on the ways of l'amour. Image: ebay

Pat Boone (left) counsels Dick Sargent on How to Romance Women. Image: eBay

Maybe young Pat Boone didn’t realize how brave he was.

In the 1957 musical comedy Bernardine, the young singer plays a slick-talking but misguided lothario who dispenses advice like he’s dispensing medicine.

“Misguided” could be too soft a word. In one scene, Boone’s character refers to a friend’s girlfriend by saying, “It belongs to Wilson.” In another scene, he sings about “technique” and how women love it when men are deceitful and neglectful.

Pretty offensive stuff – and would be to women in the 1950s – except for one thing: Boone plays the character with such over-the-top sliminess that you become fascinated by his outrageously stupid worldview.

Bernardine, based on the play by Mary Chase, stars Boone and Dick Sargent as high school seniors who are three weeks away from graduating. But Sargent’s grades are so poor, he may not graduate if he doesn’t pass his final exams. Added to this turmoil is Sargent’s inability to romance girls, despite Boone’s prescriptions.

Sargent and Boone have fantasized about the ultimate dream woman whom they’ve named Bernardine Mudd (of all things). Things get complicated when Sargent meets the beautiful Terry Moore, with whom he becomes instantly smitten. Here’s his real-life Bernardine!

However, final exams loom large, and Sargent is forced to put his romantic life on hold. He must remain sequestered in his house for two weeks to cram. He panics: What if Moore meets someone else in the meantime?!!!!!

During his “captivity”, Sargent is jittery, unfocused, irritable – much like someone going through withdrawal. Love/infatuation is a drug, they say, and Sargent’s character is a first-rate addict.

Terry Moore has her pick of men. Image: ebay

Terry Moore is the object of Dick Sargent’s obsessive affections. Image: eBay

Bernardine is a deceptively clever film. Here we have Boone, a smooth talker who employs a $50-dollar vocabulary and good-naturedly teases his chums. But while Boone winks at his friends, the movie winks at us. Can you believe these morons? the filmmakers seem to say.

Yet this movie is not so light-hearted as it first appears. Janet Gaynor, who plays Sargent’s mother, has a rather preachy lecture about parenting, but offers some thoughtful insights. The ending, too, is surprisingly philosophical, and it’s here Boone and Sargent prove they can really act.

In many ways, producer Samuel G. Engel has created a cliché 1950s teen film, with a handsome pop star singing about love and teenagers clad in wide skirts and sweater vests. But its strong characters and witty script give it a timeless feel, along with the obvious infatuation/pharmaceutical symbolism.

Producer Engel was no dummy. Besides producing and screenwriting, he was President of the Producer’s Guild of America (1955-1958), and lobbied to include short films in the Academy Awards. Before he came to Hollywood, he was a successful businessman who owned a chain of retail outlets in Manhattan.

These retail outlets were drugstores.

Samuel Engel was a pharmacologist by trade, who earned his degree at the Albany College of Pharmacy.

Now, we ask you: Who better to show us that infatuation is a drug? Engel has shrewdly done so with the little-known musical Bernardine.

Bernardine: Pat Boone, Terry Moore, Janet Gaynor. Directed by Henry Levin. Written by Theodore Reeves. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 1957, Colour (by DeLuxe), 95 mins.

This post is part of the Build-Your-Own Blogathon hosted by the über chic Classic Film & TV Café. Click HERE to see the other fab entries.


Judy Garland’s Comedic Gifts

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Judy Garland wears her Sunday Best to impress her new fiancé. Image:

Judy Garland made everything look easy.

She could sing and dance and make you believe she flew to an emerald city in a tornado. Combined with her dramatic talents, it’s easy to forget how funny she was.

We marvelled at her comedic gifts when we screened The Harvey Girls (1946), a delightful musical-comedy Western.

Garland plays a young woman travelling from Ohio to the Wild West to marry a man with whom she’s corresponded, but has never met. On the train, she meets a group of spunky-but-respectable gals who are training to be waitresses at a Harvey House restaurant in Arizona. (These railroad-stop restaurants, established in the 1870s, are regarded as the first restaurant chain in the U.S.)

Garland is utterly charming. In an early scene, she sits on the westbound train, glancing enviously at the fried chicken the Harvey girls are eating, while she pokes at a single leftover crust in her lunch basket. Nevertheless, she spreads her napkin with a flourish over her lap and peers into her basket as though she can’t decide which imaginary delicacy to eat first.

When she arrives in town and sees her rough, unglamorous betrothed (Chill Wills), she is horrified. This man is the opposite of his letters, which are romantic and full of curlicues. She realizes she can’t hide forever from her husband-to-be, and she’s too stubborn to get back on the train, so she swallows her alarm and disappointment. But Wills ain’t no dummy; he gracefully asks Garland not to marry him.

Garland promptly joins the Harvey Girls and dons the employee uniform:

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Judy sings and serves steak in the Old West. Image: Sweethearts of the West


The Harvey House is not welcome in town because it represents Manners and Keeping Elbows Off The Table. The saloon across the street, the feather-boa Alhambra, hates the starched-white Harvey House because townsfolk might turn into Respectable People. (You see, the Harvey House is to Civilization what the Alhambra could be to Vegas.)

And yet.

The Alhambra is owned by Ned Trent (John Hodiak), a smirky fellow whose greatest pleasure is sabotaging the Harvey House generally, and Judy Garland in particular.


It was Hodiak who wrote those letters for Wills, the same letters that made Garland fall in love and board a train to the middle of nowhere to marry someone she’d never met.

Oh boy, we’ve gotten off topic. We were talking about Garland’s comedic talents. We’ve only time to describe one more scene, the one where John Hodiak steals all the Harvey House steaks!

Don't mess with Judy. Image: lskdjf a

Don’t mess with Judy. Image: YouTube

When Garland discovers the famous Harvey House steaks are missing, she decides to get ’em back. She snatches two pistols and grimly marches across the street to the Alhambra, guns drawn. She’s All Business, yet she shrieks when she accidentally drops her weapons.

Garland reaches the Alhambra as someone is being forcibly removed. She squats under the saloon-style doors, surveying the territory, pistols cocked in the air à la Yosemite Sam. She finally musters the courage to stand and enter the bar. “Stick ’em up,” she announces, and is almost knocked flat by bouncers trying to eject another patron. “Come on,” she pleads, “stick ’em up now.” But everyone is having too much fun to notice.

If you haven’t seen The Harvey Girls, we urge you to do so. It is a wonderful film that showcases the very amusing and charming Judy Garland.

The Harvey Girls: starring Judy Garland, John Hodiak, Chills Wills. Directed by George Sidney. Written by Edmund Beloin, Nathaniel Curtis, Harry Crane, James O’Hanlon, Samson Raphaelson. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp., 1946, Colour, 105 mins.

Don Ameche: An Ideal Husband

Alice Faye blah blah Image: The Best Picture Project

Alice Faye (left) changes her wardrobe to impress Tyrone Powers (right). Image: The Best Picture Project


Do you ever have the urge to grab a character’s shoulders, shake them thoroughly and shout, “Grab a brain, you moron!”

We had that overwhelming desire when we screened the 1938 musical Alexander’s Ragtime Band. This film pretends to look at the rise of ragtime during the early twentieth century, but it’s really a thinly-woven love story. It’s a romance, frankly, that doesn’t quite work for us.

1930s heartthrob Tyrone Powers plays an inflexible, unlikeable violinist who becomes the leader of a ragtime band. (Alexander’s Ragtime Band – surprise!) He reluctantly hires singer Alice Faye, a woman with gorgeous vintage handbags and lots of feathery clothes.

Faye and Powers fight. A lot. We presume this fighting signals romantic tension between the two; it’s hard to tell otherwise. After an argument about her wardrobe, Faye agrees to shed the feathers so that Powers will fall in love with her…

…proving that Faye’s character is kind of a moron.

We fail to glimpse what, exactly, she sees in Powers. He orders everyone around and is Never Wrong About Anything. We (as in, yours truly) cannot imagine living with such a controlling person. However, we suppose there’s a reason why they make ties of different colours.

Powers (left) bosses someone around off camera. Images: skdfj as

Powers bosses someone around off camera, while Don Ameche (seated) feels sorry for the poor slob. Image: Coffee Coffee and More Coffee

But get this. The band’s pianist (Don Ameche, see above) is a handsome, witty and good-natured soul. He is the Anti-Powers. One scene clearly illustrates the difference between these two men: Ameche defends Faye and Powers abruptly fires him for it.

When Faye becomes a big star on Broadway, Powers goes to World War I to sulk because, you know, she’ll be more famous than he. While he is away, Faye marries Ameche but the relationship doesn’t stand a chance. As long as Powers is alive and making everyone miserable, Faye won’t be happy with anyone else. And Ameche knows it.

In one surprisingly touching scene, Ameche suggests to Faye that they end their marriage. It is late at night and they are in the bedroom; Faye is in bed propped up with pillows while Ameche hands her a glass of warm milk. He himself holds a much stronger drink.

“What you do say we call this marriage off?” he asks her, a little too casually. He sits on the bed, leaning towards her, but he stares into his drink as though he can’t bear to see her reaction.

Faye The Moron admits she is still in love with Powers, so dear Ameche comes to the rescue. Immediately he’s alleviating her guilt. He tells her a bunch of nonsense about how they shouldn’t pretend things they don’t feel.

See? Even in divorce, he’s a wonderful husband. When he sees she’s miserable, he hands her a proposal of divorce along with a glass of warm milk.

But here’s the thing. We know darn well that as soon as Faye marries Powers, she’s going to try to turn him into Don Ameche.

Oh well. Even though is a bit flat, this film is still worth watching for several reasons, including songs by the great Irving Berlin, musical numbers by a young Ethel Merman, and a staggering number feathery costumes.

It’s too bad, though, that in the end, Alice Faye’s character choses an autocratic band leader over a witty, kind-hearted pianist.

Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band: starring Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, Don Ameche. Directed by Henry King. Written by Kathryn Scola & Lamar Trotti. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 1938, B&W, 105 mins.

Crosby & Hope: Road to Friendship

Bob Hope (left) and Big Crosby (right) vie for Dorothy Lamour's affections - and meaningful employment.

Bob Hope (left) and Big Crosby (right) vie for meaningful employment and Dorothy Lamour’s affections. Image: Everyscreen

At first glance, the 1940 comedy Road to Singapore appears to be a silly movie with a thin plot, strung together with musical numbers to give it a legitimate running time.

But there’s more to this film than it would seem, not the least of which is the chemistry between its two stars, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

Road to Singapore is a yarn about two buddies (Crosby and Hope) who flee to southeast Asia to escape the prospect of marrying two perfectly lovely women. (Rejecting these women by bolting to the other side of the world seems a bit harsh, no?)

Crosby and Hope take refuge in Kaidoon where they rent a hut and try to live a life of leisure. No more women for them – no siree! – until they meet Dorothy Lamour, with whom they both fall in love. Two questions then dominate the remainder of the movie: (1) Which man will Lamour ultimately choose, and (2) what will be their primary source of income?

Now, let’s not write this movie off too quickly. For one thing, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud lines. An example is when Crosby’s displeased father (Charles Coburn), learns that Crosby has fled via boat. Coburn responds ruefully, “He must be somewhere – unless he’s fallen overboard, which is too much to hope for.”

In another scene, Hope and Crosby compare notes on their love lives:

Hope: “The minute women look dreamy at you, you send for a preacher.”

Crosby: “Well, the minute women look dreamy at you, their father sends for a preacher.”

Believe it or not, Road to Singapore is a significant film for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was a spoof of popular movies of the era that were set in southeast Asia. Some of these films include Red Dust, Lady of the Tropics, and The Letter. The Crosby & Hope send-up has the exotic feel of these movies with none of the seriousness.

Secondly, Singapore is the first of seven road movies that Crosby and Hope made between 1940 and 1962. All of these comedies were satires of movie genres of the day, and feature running gags introduced in previous films.

Thirdly, the film introduces a couple of elements that would become trademarks of the series. The first is improvisation. Crosby and Hope were clever entertainers and, while the some of their humour may seem outdated, you have to admire their nimble thinking. The series’ second trademark is known as “breaking the fourth wall” where characters address the camera directly. Hope’s characters used this most often in this series but, in the first film, it a woman who addresses the audience when she realizes Crosby has dumped her.

Finally, this was the first movie in which Crosby and Hope starred together. This film cemented a friendship that began in the 1930s in their New York days, when their improvisational banter was the hit of every party. They shared a love of comedy, golf and a great admiration for each other. Their close friendship lasted until Crosby’s sudden death by heart attack in 1977. Hope later said, “If friends could have been made for each other, I would have asked for one just like Bing…. I miss him.”

You could say Road to Singapore is a lighthearted romp through Paramount Pictures’ Polynesian-style sets, but it’s a significant cultural marker and a testimony to a true friendship.

Road to Singapore: Starring Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour, Bob Hope. Directed by Victor Schertzinger. Written by Don Hartman and Frank Butler. Paramount Pictures Inc., B&W, 1940, 85 mins.

This post is part of the “Dynamic Duos in Classic Film” Blogathon, hosted by the lovely Classic Movie Hub and Once Upon a Screen.


In Defense of Lina Lamont – and Her Wardrobe

This post is part of the Fashion in Film Blogathon, hosted by the lovely Hollywood Revue. It runs March 29-30, 2013.

L_R: Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, Jean Hagen. Notice Jean was able to keep the cascading cake from dropping on her dress. What a pro!

L-R: Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, Jean Hagen. Hagen, the ultimate pro, was able to keep the cake from spilling onto her sparkly dress.

We love good movie villains. We like ’em smart, witty and well-dressed.

And who is better dressed than Jean Hagen as super-celebrity Lina Lamont in the epic 1952 musical Singin’ in the Rain?

Yep, we’re talking about you, Lina Lamont – you and your monkey-fur-trimmed coat* that you joyfully flaunt on screen.

*Note: We’re not accusing MGM of using real monkey fur, from real monkeys, in Lina Lamont’s wardrobe. Monkey fur did gain popularity with the wealthy in the early 1900s, and today you can purchase vintage coats made with this material. (Just do a search on For our purposes, however, we’ve convinced ourselves the MGM Wardrobe Department would never harm monkeys in the making of this or any other coat:

No monkeys were harmed in the manufacture of this coat...we hope.

No monkeys were harmed in the manufacture of this coat. La la la – we can’t hear you.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we’ve also resolved to not refer to Lina Lamont a villain. Because she really isn’t. She’s just a regular, misunderstood celebrity – like the rest of us.

Singin’ in the Rain is based on actual Hollywood events. When Warner Brothers introduced a “talking picture” in 1927, movie studios were tossed into the spin cycle. Was sound a passing fad? Or would studios have to spend money on the bizarre idea of mixing visual with audio?

Actors, too, were faced with some ugly possibilities. Some celebrities, who were big box-office draws during the silent era, would be unable to make the transition to sound.

In Singin’ in the Rain, Lina Lamont’s studio is shooting their first film with sound. While the problems they encounter are laugh-out-loud funny, they’re also based on actual frustrations encountered by pioneer film crews. For example, a large microphone is sewn into Lina’s dress on the set but as she says her lines, she swings her head back and forth like someone watching a tennis match. As a result, the sound crew is able to record only every fifth word.

It is clear that our Lina is not going to make it in the era of sound. She has a squeaky voice and a thick, strange accent. The studio assigns her to a diction coach but it is of no use. Lina talks the way she talks.

"And I cain't stand 'um."

“And I cain’t stand ‘im.”

But so what? Lina is a big star and she knows it. “People? I ain’t people,” she explains to a dim-witted studio exec. “I’m a shimmering, glowing star in the cinema fir-ma-ment.”

Such a glowing star needs top-notch wardrobe designer and for this film, it is the award-winning Walter Plunkett. Plunkett’s costumes are lavish and colourful satires of his own designs from the 1920s. The total cost of the Plunkett-designed wardrobe? A whopping $157,000.

Lina’s opulent costumes would steal every scene if Jean Hagen weren’t a pitch-perfect comedic actor. Her wardrobe incorporates ostrich feathers, sequins and crystal, and the aforementioned monkey fur trim.

Her costumes also reflect her moods. For example, when Lina first learns the awful news that the studio is implementing sound in its pictures, she wears rather modest attire, although Plunkett can’t resist a little sparkle:

Lina Lamont's demure crystal-trimmed morning attire.

Lina Lamont’s demure crystal-studded morning suit.

In another scene, Lina ambushes studio executives with a list of demands. She wears a soft lilac ensemble, complete with a wide-brimmed hat that could double as a flying saucer. She looks as sweet as a southern belle, with the same iron will.

Lina Lamont lays down the law.

Lina Lamont smiles as she threatens studio executives.

Poor Lina! Her efforts – and her shimmering career – are eventually hamstrung by conniving co-stars Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. If the end of her career isn’t bad enough, she is also (get this!) publicly rebuffed and humiliated by Kelly, that snake.

We suppose there are reasons to watch Singin’ in the Rain, other than Walter Plunkett’s spectacular costume design, but don’t think that anyone other than Lina Lamont is the glowing, shimmering star of this movie’s fir-ma-ment.

Singin’ in the Rain: starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen. Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. Written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1952, Colour, 105 mins.


Gene Kelly Embraces the Ziegfeld Follies

This post is part of the Gene Kelly Centennial Blogathon, celebrating Kelly’s 100th birthday. It’s hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association and runs August 20-25, 2012.

Rita and Ginger never looked better

Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly ham it up in perfect synchronization.

In some ways, the 1946 musical The Ziegfeld Follies is a rip-off.

Here is a film that features virtually the only on-screen pairing of Gene Kelly with rival Fred Astaire, and it lasts only seven minutes. Seven minutes!! However, we console ourselves with the fact that these are seven mesmerizing minutes, and it is the unexpected chemistry between Kelly and Astaire that provides some of the biggest laughs in the film.

The actual Ziegfeld Follies were a series of lavish Broadway musicals that were hugely popular between the years of 1907 and 1931. They were vaudvillian in nature; they featured music, dance and comedy sketches, but were furnished with spare-no-expense sets and costumes. The Ziegfeld Follies were based on the famous Folies Bergeres of Paris.

American Florenz Ziegfeld was the mastermind behind the Ziegfeld Follies; his business card modestly described him as an “Impressario Extraordinaire”. He personally supervised every detail of the shows, which likely drove the assistants and performers crazy, but no one could argue with his success. He was a born promoter and showman; they say that as a child growing up in Chicago, Ziegfeld sold tickets to the other neighbourhood kids to see – get this – invisible fish. Of course, it was nothing more than a clear bowl of water. You almost have to marvel at such a kid; you can pat him on the head with one hand, but make sure your other hand is firmly on your wallet.

Now this bring us to the second reason why we think The Ziegfeld Follies is a rip-off. Instead of focusing on the life of this colourful man, the script largely shies away from this subject. Can you imagine Gene Kelly, with his charisma and mega-watt smile, as the great Ziegfeld himself? It would make for a fantastic movie!

Yet, casting Kelly and Astaire together was one of those strokes of brilliance that only Hollywood can engineer. In the mid 1940s, Kelly was the younger, up-and-coming dancer; Astaire was the established dancing juggernaut. Kelly’s style is more organic and cutting-edge; Astaire is polished and traditional.

In their scene in the film,”A Babbitt and a Bromide”, Kelly and Astaire are two acquaintances described, with tongue planted in cheek, as “solid citizens”. The scene is true Ziegfeld – a little song, a little dance, a little schtick. The two characters are superficially polite, but they compete constantly with each other.

The scene opens with the two meeting by accident on a park bench. Kelly recognizes Astaire, but Astaire doesn’t quite recognize Kelly. Or says he doesn’t.

Astaire: I can’t quite place you. What kind of business are you in?

Kelly: I dance.

Astaire: At home, for the folks? Picnics and that kind of thing?

Kelly: No, no, in public.

Astaire: On street corners?

Kelly: Did you ever see a picture called Cover Girl?

Astaire: Yes.

Kelly: Well, who did all the dancing in that?

Astaire: You’re not Rita Hayworth?!

Kelly: No… I’m not, Ginger.

Watching the two dance is mesmerizing. Sometimes they move as one person, but Kelly is a bit hammier. They are true performers who generously put differences aside to give us a taste of movie magic.

If you intend to watch The Ziegfeld Follies, may we suggest a quick online search of either the actual Broadway productions and/or of Florenz Ziegfeld himself. (We like this article.) This background info, which would have been familiar to movie audiences in the mid 1940s, is helpful; without it, the film seems disjointed and not a little weird.

But even if you aren’t that interested in the historical aspects of The Ziegfeld Follies, we encourage you to watch it for the Kelly/Astaire scene alone. It is a delightful piece of movie history.

Ziegfeld Follies: starring Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and just about every other big name in Hollywood. Overall Direction by Vincente Minnelli. Sketches written by Peter Barry, David Freedman, Harry Tugend, George White, Robert Alton, Al Lewis, Irving Brecher. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1946, Technicolour, 110 mins.