Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Tales of Show Business Past

Started a sunny, windy morning with the 1936 Show Boat. The first half is more-or-less the same as the 1951 version. Magnolia Hawks (Irene Dunne) wants badly to be an actress on her father's (Charles Winninger) steam boat that's basically a floating theater. Her stodgy mother (Helen Westley) objects to any daughter of hers going on the stage. After the troupe's leading lady Julie (Helen Morgan) turns out to be half-black and leaves with her husband before she can be arrested, Magnolia gets her chance. She's joined by handsome gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Allan Jones), whom she ultimately falls for. They marry...but Gaylord's gambling catches up with him, and he leaves. Magnolia becomes a success on the stage to pay for their daughter's care. It's the stage that finally brings all three Ravenals together again when their daughter Kim also becomes a star.

That plot description leaves out the fact that my two favorite characters are the black workers on Captain Andy's boat, Queenie (Hattie McDaniel) and Joe (Paul Robeson). They're just so funny to watch together. They deservedly get one of three songs added for this film version, the delightful duet "Ah Still Suits Me." Robeson's "Ol' Man River" was performed live on the set, and no one has ever done it better. Gaylord's "I Have the Room Above Her" proved so popular, many subsequent stage productions have added it in, including the 1994 Broadway revival. The production number "Gallavantin' Around," with Dunne and the chorus in black face, is far more problematic today.

Once McDaniel and Robeson are out of the picture, the melodrama comes to the fore, and things get a lot less enjoyable. Dunne does her best, but Jones was never much of an actor and can't carry it off. Morgan is far better as the tragic Julie. Winninger is a blast to watch as Captain Andy - check out the scene where he finishes an entire melodrama by himself!

If you prefer your musicals with darker plots or are a fan of Dunne, Robeson, McDaniel, or director James Whale, this is a must-have at the Warner Archives.

Work was almost exactly the same as yesterday - very busy on and off, especially later in the day. We must be getting the tail end of the beginning of the month people. A lack of help, thanks to a quarter of our afternoon and evening employees now concentrating on college, doesn't help. Thankfully, my relief was on time, and I was able to get out with no problems.

When I got home, I changed into regular clothes, then took the trash and recycling canisters downstairs to be cleaned. The trash can smelled something horrible when I took the trash out to the curb. I really need a new trash can, but for now, I scrubbed it and the recycling cans as well as I could.

When I got back in, I made a spinach-mushroom omelet for dinner while finishing Show Boat, then while beginning Mother Wore Tights. This 1947 musical comedy-drama is basically Meet Me In St. Louis with a show business bent. The mother of the title (Betty Grable) starts dancing in a burlesque house in early 1900s San Fransisco. She soon moves up in the world, partnering with the theater's lead dancer (Dan Dailey). The two are a huge success in vaudeville. After they become parents, Grable wants to quit to raise their girls, but ultimately returns to the stage with her husband. The older daughter becomes embarrassed of her parents' profession, but they finally remind her that your parents are your parents and they love you, no matter what they do for a living.

Charming coming-of-age story with some wonderful costumes and really cute numbers. Dailey and Grable were best friends in real life, and it shows in how well they worked together here and in three subsequent movies. This is finally avalible in the 20th Century Cinema Archives if you're a fan of Dailey, Grable, or musical coming-of-age stories. 

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