Musical

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

*SPOILER ALERT*

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.

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22 thoughts on “Don Ameche: An Ideal Husband

  1. Great review and I’m with you all the way! Don Ameche was such a sweetie in the film only to nobly accept defeat and divorce. Oh well, we can only hope that he and Ethel Merman’s character cross paths– she was smart enough to evade the grumpy young Tyrone.

    (I also enjoyed how WWI lasted for exactly one 30-second montage. Such a pleasant little war.)

    That being said, this was still one of the only musicals I would sit through as a kid (or as an adult, come to think of it) mainly because I loved Alice Faye, Don Ameche and Ethel Merman so much.

    Team Ameche!

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    1. Ha ha – a pleasant little war, indeed! I don’t think Tyrone Powers’ hair was even mussed up.

      I love the music in this film, and the cast is terrific. Alice Faye is really good – especially the scene where she sings “Blue Skies” while her heart is breaking.

      And Ethel Merman is always such a treat!

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  2. If I recall poor Don was in a somewhat of the same predicament in 37’s In Old Chicago with the same costars. Tyrone was in the midst of the studios push for super stardom which left Don on the outside when it comes to the final reel in many cases.

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    1. I know that in many romantic movies, someone has to be the “loser” (I’m looking at you, Gail Patrick and Ralph Bellamy), but the formula backfired this time. I’ll have to check out Old Chicago – thanks!

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  3. Big Alice Faye, Ty and Don fan checking in: Don was somehow always the third wheel, the nice guy who got the shaft. shame, but it sure made him lovable to us viewers. I second the recommend for In Old Chicago, and maybe better, for Lillian Russell, where Don gets Faye, only for a while, but I’m not spoiling…

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  4. Totally agree with your review after seeing this a few weeks ago – I was really rooting for Alice to end up with Don! I can’t say I’m a big Tyrone Power fan anyway (I find him a bit boring, though maybe I haven’t seen him in the right films), and in this part he is definitely overshadowed by Ameche. But the music is fantastic, anyway!

    Something that slightly puzzled me in this film was whether Power is supposed to have been injured in the war – he turns up with a walking stick at the end, but then there doesn’t seem to be any explanation of that, or maybe I missed it.

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    1. I don’t think the war injury was fully explained. It was only WWI, after all – a minor plot point. 😉

      Poor Tyrone is definitely overshadowed by a lot of things here, and having an unlikable character certainly doesn’t help his case.

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  5. I agree with you (and everyone else). This flick is definitely a bit lackluster, but any movie with Don Ameche is that much better for his presence. I’ve never seen a role in which he doesn’t shine. Don is even exceptional as Rose’s dad (a monk!) in an episode of The Golden Girls. Not to mention that smile, and a voice that could lull angels to sleep. He is one of my favourite actors AND dream husbands. Fortunately, he fares better with the ladies in some of his 1940s movies.

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    1. Ha ha – I like your description of Don as a “dream husband”. He certainly is!

      Yes, things certainly look better for Don in the 1940s. I did not know he was in an episode of The Golden Girls! I will ask my local Golden Girl afficionado for his opinion on Don’s appearance. (Yes, we have a local Golden Girls expert.)

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      1. Of course you do! I am my local Golden Girls expert. The episode is from 1990. It is notable for Don Ameche’s appearance, and provides us with another St. Olaf backstory. Don is a monk. His soothing voice is still intact. Enough said!

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  6. wow. haven’t heard that opening number for years. reminds us of tap dancing lessons after school while the english rains pelts down outside the little studio.

    best line from the movie:

    “it’s a bit crazy, do you mind?” “not at all, i’m a little cracked myself”

    aren’t we all 😉

    *waving*

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  7. I do remember this film, though I wasn’t impressed with it. I doubt it was the movie’s fault, to be honest. There was a time where I wasn’t all that enamored with Don Ameche. Bartolini is my Mother’s family name. My real surname is very close to Mr. Ameche’s. Add “John” instead of “Don” and you have half a lifetime spent saying, “No, we are not related.” I say half a lifetime because not many today know of him. There was one time I did admit we were related. I was in 1st or 2nd grade and Don Ameche brought the circus into our homes every Friday night on the TV. Tired of explaining every Monday that we weren’t related, I told my classmates that yes, Don Ameche was my uncle and that he was bringing the circus when he next visited us. You can well imagine the excitement and how not happy the nuns were. Mom met me in the Principal’s office, where I learned the importance of being honest. 🙂

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    1. Ha ha! That is a great story! I can see why a person would grow weary of that.

      When my husband & I were dating, a friend asked him if he was related to a well-known candy manufacturer. My husband said he was. When I looked at him in astonishment, he shrugged his shoulders and whispered, “It’s just easier than explaining it all the time.”

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      1. If you get to see that bio pic, try and make it a double feature with Tracy’s Edison The Man. Gene Lockhart and Charles Coburn are in both. Matter of fact, if you throw in Swanee River another Ameche biopic, you have a nice trifecta of excellent bio pictures!

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  8. Ruth, I confess I haven’t had the opportunity to see ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, but I’d take lovable Don Ameche (and his phone, too :-)) over a grumpy Tyrone Power anytime! But hey, with Ethel Merman on tap, surely it can’t be all bad? 🙂 In any case, your witty blogpost is a delight, my friend, as always! 😀

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    1. I really liked Ethel Merman in this movie – she’s a bit of a scene stealer. Watching her in this flick, you can tell she was going to be a Star.

      I hope you get the chance to see this, Dor…but I wouldn’t go out of my way to make it happen.

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  9. Wonderful post, Ruth! I agree, Alice Faye must not be playing with a full deck. Why would anyone with any sense at all fall for Powers instead of Ameche? Great point about the ties, though. I also loved your comment about “divorce along with a warm glass of milk!” I would like to see this film just for the music. Thanks for the warning about a sad love triangle!

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    1. There is SO MUCH famous music in this movie. I was surprised at how many of the songs I knew! The music is worth it – in fact, the ending seemed superficially long to me. It felt as though the filmmakers were running out of time and had a few more numbers to squeeze in!

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