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Hollywood Movie Memories » Musicals


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Shall We Dance

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Shall We Dance (1937)

Tagline – Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and the Fabulous Gershwin’s… What More Could You Ask For?

Starring – Fred Astaire (Peter P. Peters/Petrov), Ginger Rogers (Linda Keene), Edward Everett Horton (Jeffrey Baird), Eric Blore (Cecil Flintridge).

Released – May, 1937

Directed By – Mark Sandrich

Produced By – RKO Radio Pictures

Distributed By – RKO Radio Pictures

Description – Peter P. Peters is an American ballet dancer working for a ballet company owned by Jeffrey Baird and appearing in Paris. Peter dances under the name of Petrov and has always dreamed of blending the style of ballet with modern jazz dancing.

When Peter sees some photographs of famous tap dancer Linda Keene he is immediately smitten and tells Jeffrey that he will meet and marry her. Peter goes to Linda’s apartment and overhears her telling her producer that she wants to quit show business and return to New York.

When they meet, Peter puts on his best Russian accent and introduces himself as Petrov pretending not to be impressed with her. Nothing could be further from the truth. He is so impressed that he tricks Jeffrey into booking passage for him on the same ocean liner she is taking back to New York.

Before boarding the ship, Peter encounters Lady Tarrington, a former ballerina, who is a dogged admirer of his. Too much so. In an effort to keep her at bay, Peter tells her that he and Linda have been secretly married for four years.

During the voyage the rumors start to fly. Lady Tarrington has told anyone who would listen about the supposed marriage and the rumor mill has stretched the untruth to include the fact that Linda may be pregnant. The sensationalism of the rumor has provided the seed for a massive publicity stunt by Linda’s manager Arthur Miller.

News of the stunt outrages Linda and her real Park Avenue fiance Jim Montgomery. Linda assures Jim that she is not married to Peter. Arthur, who does not want Linda to marry Jim because this will cause her to leave show business, arranges for a publicity man to take a picture of a sleeping Peter along side a mannequin of Linda.

The publicized picture creates chaos. A sham marriage will follow a broken engagement, true love will begin to grow, Peter will be seen with another woman adding to the chaos and threaten the new found feelings of love.

As with many an Astaire, Rogers movie, a beautiful dance number will save the day.

NOTABLE: Shall We Dance received an Oscar nomination for Best Music, Original Song (They Can’t Take That Away From Me).

The films story originated with RKO’s desire to capitalize on the success of Rogers and Hart’s 1936 Broadway hit “On Your Toes.”

In one scene Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance together on roller skates. The added difficulty of the skates required around 150 takes of the scene.

Shall We Dance was the seventh pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

During production of the film, George Gershwin was already suffering the ill effects of a brain tumor and would die two months after the pictures release.



Captain January

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

The Shirley Temple Collection, Vol. 1: Heidi / Curly Top / Little Miss Broadway / Captain January / Just Around the Corner / Susannah of the Mounties

Tagline – Singing, dancing, laughing… in the most lovable story she’s ever had!

Starring – Shirley Temple (Helen ‘Star’ Mason), Guy Kibbee (Capt. January), Slim Summerville (Capt. Nazro), Budddy Ebsen (Paul Roberts), Sara Haden (Agatha Morgan).

Released – September, 1936

Directed By – David Butler

Produced By –  Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Distributed By – Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Description – Helen ‘Star’ Mason lives with Cape Tempest lighthouse keeper Captain January, who rescued the child from the sea after her parents drowned in a shipwreck. Local truant officer Agatha Morgan learns that Star does not attend school and questions arise regarding her upbringing with Captain January.

Morgan visits the Captain and reminds him that she has the authority to send Star to a boarding school if she is not being brought up properly. The Captain replies that Star can read and write as well as any eight-year-old as a result of his teaching.

Miss Morgan still feels that it would be best for Star to be in a school, and sets up a test to check on Star’s grade level and to allow her to attend the local school. The Captain, and his old friend Captain Nazro, take Star to a dress shop to find a new dress for the test.

However, the dress that Star would like costs $41.71 too much for the Captain. At the suggestion of Captain Nazro they will try to borrow the money from the Widow Croft, who has always had a crush on Captain January. She gladly lends the money.

Star takes the test, does very well, and is assigned to the third grade. Everything is going along smoothly until a telegram comes stating that the lighthouse will no longer need the services of Captain January as they will be installing automatic equipment.

Both Star and the Captain are devastated by this news as they realize that without a job the Captain will not be considered capable of taking care of a child. The last chance for the Captain and Star will be to go live with the Widow Croft, but it may be too late.

Truant officer Agatha Morgan, along with the sheriff and a court order, are on their way to take Star from the Captain.

NOTABLE: The popularity of young Shirley Temple was clearly evident in this picture as Captain January broke box office records in Boston, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee.

Censorship issues were so sensitive at this time that a scene where Shirley Temple dances the hula had to be removed as it was considered too immoral.

The original film script ending was changed as it was determined to be too sad. The script called for Captain January to die from a massive heart attack right after allowing Star to light the candle in the lighthouse lamp for the last time.


Swing Time

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Swing Time

Timeline – A glorious songburst of gaiety and laughter!

Starring – Fred Astaire (John ‘Lucky’ Garnett), Ginger Rogers (Penny Carroll), Victor Moore (Pop Cardetti), Helen Broderick (Mabel Anderson), Betty Furness (Margaret Watson), Eric Blore (Gordon).

Released – August, 1936

Directed By – George Stevens

Produced By – RKO Radio Pictures

Distributed By – RKO Radio Pictures

Description – Gambler and dancer Lucky Garnett is getting ready to marry Margaret Watson, only his friends have other plans. They feel that this wedding would break up their song and dance act and are determined to keep Lucky in show business.

Lucky’s friends deliberately cause enough delay’s to make him late for the wedding and Margaret’s father, Judge Watson, is furious and calls the affair off. Unaware of the cancellation, Lucky agrees to a bet with his friends who say he will not marry Margaret.

After realizing that he has been tricked, Lucky speaks with Margaret’s father who now says that in order for Lucky to marry his daughter he must come up with $25,000 to prove that he is sincere. While Lucky has a plan to dance in New York City and earn the money, he now has no money for the train tickets as he had to pay off the bet with his friends.

Lucky and his friend, Pop Cardetti, hitch a ride on a freight train and arrive in New York broke. Down to his last “lucky quarter,” Lucky asks a woman on the street for change. She is Penny Carroll a dance instructor who gives lucky the change. Pop, sad that Lucky has had to give up his lucky quarter, removes it from Penny’s purse after she drops it. Realizing the quarter is gone, Penny believes Lucky has taken it.

Lucky and Pop want to apologize for their actions and follow Penny to work. She is not interested in any apology and Lucky realizes that the only way he will be able to speak with her is to take a dance lesson. She refuses to teach him and is overheard by her boss who fires her.

Having made things worse, Lucky forces a dance with Penny in front of her boss just to show him how much he has learned from her. As you can imagine, her boss is impressed. He gives Penny her job back and arranges an audition for the dancing duo.

Without a tuxedo for the audition, Lucky tries to get one off a drunk man. Not only does he not get the tux, but he loses his own clothes. The audition is missed and Penny is mad at Lucky again, this time even more so.

Lucky softens Penny a bit when he arranges another audition, but again there is a problem. The clubs band leader, Ricardo Romero, has left to work at the Club Raymond Casino to pay off a debt. Here’s where the gambler side of Lucky comes in handy. He wins enough at the casino to get Ricky back so they can audition.

Lucky has also almost won the $25,000 he needs to marry Margaret when he decides to stop gambling  He is just beginning to realize that he is falling for Penny when Ricky also declares his feelings for her.

Lucky has told Penny nothing about Margaret and has finally broken the ice with Penny as she is now becoming attracted to him. That is until Pop lets it slip about Lucky and Margaret and Margaret shows up in town looking for Lucky. Furious again at Lucky, Penny agrees to marry Ricky.

When Margaret finds Lucky she tells him that she has fallen in love with someone else and they can’t marry. It looks as though Lucky is out of luck with both women. Well, maybe not just yet.

NOTABLE: Swing Time won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song (The Way You Look Tonight), and was also nominated for Best Dance Direction.

In 2004, Swing Time was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

The song and dance routine “Never Gonna Dance” required 47 takes, all in the same day, and left Ginger Rogers with bruised and bloody feet.

Ginger Rogers has said that of all her films with Fred Astaire this was her favorite.

In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked Swing Time #90 of it’s Greatest Movies of All Time list.

Personal Note: As a lover of all things Astaire and Rogers, Swing Time is one of my favorites. While the plot may be a little thin, the music and dance numbers are thoroughly entertaining with four dance routines considered classic.

The Oscar winning “The Way You Look Tonight” is performed twice. Once with Astaire seated at a piano as Rogers is washing her hair, the second time on the dance floor where Ginger Rogers facial expressions are priceless.




Show Boat

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Show Boat (1936)

Tagline – The Grandest Show You’ll Ever Know!

Starring – Irene Dunne (Magnolia Hawks), Allan Jones (Gaylord Ravenal), Charles Winninger (Cap’n Andy Hawks), Paul Robeson (Joe), Helen Morgan (Julie LaVerne), Helen Westley (Parthy Hawks), Queenie Smith (Ellie May Chipley).

Released – May, 1936

Directed By – James Whale

Produced By – Universal Pictures

Distributed By – Universal Pictures

Description – Magnolia Hawks is a naive eighteen-year-old on the Cotton Palace, her family’s show boat that travels the Mississippi River. Magnolia is a talented singer and hopes to be a star in the show one day.

She is best friends with the current star Julie LaVerne. Julie is part African-American and is married to Steve Baker. Julie’s mixed race is kept a secret due to the racial feelings of the time. However, her secret comes out, and she and Steve are forced to leave the show boat and town. Their marriage is also considered to be illegal.

Just prior to this, Magnolia has met charming gambler Gaylord Ravenal with whom she has fallen in love. Magnolia and Gaylord replace Julie and Steve as the show boat’s headliners and are a huge hit.

Pete Gavanaugh, who is responsible for giving away Julie’s secret because she refused his advances, now claims that Gaylord is a murderer. While it is true that Gaylord was tried for murder he was acquitted with a verdict of self-defense.

The success of the show continues. Magnolia and Gaylord marry and have a daughter they name Kim. But, everything is not as great as it may seem. Gaylord has managed to gamble away all of the couples money, while Steve has abandoned Julie who has now become an alcoholic.

Only time will tell if anyone can rebuild, or repair the damage that has been done to all their lives.

NOTABLE: In 1996, Show Boat was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

This was the first all-sound version of the hit Broadway musical based on the Edna Ferber novel.

During filming it was necessary to obtain permission from the Hays office to include the famous “miscegenation” scene in the film. The scene had been omitted from the 1929 version of the film.

Director James Whale has stated that this film was his favorite of all the pictures he had directed.

Paul Robeson’s performance of the song “Ol’ Man River” was ranked #24 on the American Film Institutes top 100 songs featured in films.

In 2006, this version of Show Boat was voted, by the American Film Institute, as one of the top 25 film musicals of all time.

Production costs for the film quickly got out of hand. Studio head Carl Laemmle, Jr. was forced to borrow money to save both the film and the studio. He reneged on repaying the loan, and Universal Studios was taken over by the New York lending institution. Laemmle would lose his position at the studio his father had started, and would never work in Hollywood again.



The Great Ziegfeld

Monday, October 17th, 2011

The Great Ziegfeld

Tagline – The Last Word In Entertainment!

Starring – William Powell (Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.), Myrna Loy (Billie Burke), Luise Rainer (Anna Held), Frank Morgan (Jack Billings).

Released – April, 1936

Directed By – Robert Z. Leonard

Produced By –  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Distributed By – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Description – Florenz “Flo”Ziegfeld, Jr., the son of a respected music professor, wants one thing more than anything else… to make his mark in show business. And he is willing to work his way up to the top.

He starts at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair promoting the “world’s strongest man.” His acts main competition comes from Jack Billings and his belly-dancing Little Egypt. A little smart marketing is all it takes to draw the attention away from the beautiful belly dancer. Ziegfeld invites the women in the audience to come up and actually feel the strongman’s muscles. The women flock to the opportunity and bring their men with them.

This is not the last time that Ziegfeld will get the better of Billings. On an ocean voyage to England the pair run into each other again. Billings is on his way to sign beautiful French star Anna Held to a contract.

Although Ziegfeld has lost all his money gambling in Monte Carlo, he is able to use his considerable charm to get Anna to sign a contract with him. His marketing efforts for the star are unsuccessful at first, until another bright idea comes his way.

Ziegfeld lets the newspapers learn that he sends gallons and gallons of milk to Anna’s room so that she may take the newest beauty treatment, a milk bath. The curious public now pack the theater. So delighted with their success together Ziegfeld and Anna marry.

Ziegfeld now has his sights set on a new type of entertainment that will “glorify” the American woman. The lavishly produced Ziegfeld Follies are born. The production is filled with beautiful women, and with Anna still performing her own show, a strain is put on their marriage.

The Follies are a great success and lead to a series of shows. Ziegfeld has a new star in mind in Audrey Dane. The attention that Ziegfeld pays on Dane heighten’s the strain of his marriage to Anna and the pair divorce. This is heartbreaking to Anna.

Audrey Dane never becomes the star Ziegfeld hoped for as an alcohol problem ruins her chances. Not long after, Ziegfeld meets Billie Burke. The couple marry and would have a daughter named Patricia.

The hits for Florenz Ziegfeld continue until a change in the public entertainment desires threaten to ruin his career. The public has begun to feel that the times have passed Ziegfeld by, and the popularity of movies over live stage shows is hurting attendance.

Not one to give up easily, Ziegfeld vows to have four hits on Broadway at the same time. He succeeds at this, but then is bankrupted by the stock market crash of 1929. A career with seemingly many more downs than ups, it appears that this will be the end of the great Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.

NOTABLE: The Great Ziegfeld won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Luise Rainer), and Best Dance Direction. The film was also nominated for Best Director (Robert Z. Leonard), Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, and Best Writing, Original Story.

Luise Rainer’s Academy Award was the first in film history awarded to a cast member of a musical motion picture. She would win the best actress award again next year with her role in The Good Earth.

Real-life Ziegfeld performers Fanny Brice and Ray Bolger play themselves in the film.

The musical sequence, “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” took several weeks to film, featured 180 performers, cost $220,000, and required 4,300 yards of rayon silk for the curtains.

Strongman, Eugen Sandow, played by Nat Pendleton, was not your stereotypical “dumb strongman.” He was, in fact, a great businessman who was the first to sell his body as a work of art. His association with Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. opened the door for him to become a very wealthy man with a successful mail-order business, a series of gyms, souvenir photographs, books, and personal appearances. He became so well-known that a mountain in Alaska is named after him, as well as a railroad, and a small town in Texas.

Personal Note: Although a highly fictionalized account of the life of Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.’s life the film does justice to his flamboyant personality and is very entertaining.

Actress Luise Rainer clinched the Best Actress award with her wonderfully performed telephone conversation scene where her charactor, Ziegfeld’s first wife Anna Held, telephones Ziegfeld, upon hearing of his marriage to Billie Burke, and although totally heartbroken, pretends to be happy for him.