miliosr

The M-G-M Musical

65 posts in this topic

Ruth Etting's version:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbeEtXTH_UM

Jane Powell wanted to play Ruth Etting in MGM's 1955 version of Etting's life, Love Me or Love Me and was under contract to the studio at the time. But the studio went with Doris Day instead. Interestingly, Etting's Wikipedia page states that she thought Day's portrayal of her was too tough and that Jane Powell would have done a better job.

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From one of my favorites, 1972's The Ruling Class:

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Too much fun, Mme. Hermine!

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Ruth Etting's version:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbeEtXTH_UM

Jane Powell wanted to play Ruth Etting in MGM's 1955 version of Etting's life, Love Me or Love Me and was under contract to the studio at the time. But the studio went with Doris Day instead. Interestingly, Etting's Wikipedia page states that she thought Day's portrayal of her was too tough and that Jane Powell would have done a better job.

Etting was right about Day, IMO. But then I think Love Me or Leave Me is a wee bit overrated and Day with it. From what I have seen and heard of Etting, she was a much softer presence than Day is in the movie.

I didn't know that about Powell. It's an interesting idea. Possibly the public might not have accepted Powell in the role, but I'd have liked to see her in it.

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From one of my favorites, 1972's The Ruling Class:

https://8g

"Whenever I pray to God, I find I'm talking to myself."

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"Everybody! Down on your heels..."

And then look at what YouTube gave me next!

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I didn't know that about Powell. It's an interesting idea. Possibly the public might not have accepted Powell in the role, but I'd have liked to see her in it.

I would have as well. I've always liked her, especially in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Royal Wedding, where she was a replacement for a replacement. (June Allyson was originally cast but dropped out due to pregnancy. Judy Garland replaced her but was so unreliable that the studio fired her.)

Powell's instincts were sound in lobbying for the part as she no doubt sensed that audiences would tire of her "girl next door" image eventually and, in any event, that the M-G-M of the mid-50s wouldn't be making movies that featured her style for very much longer. But, as you say dirac, the studio may have felt that casting Powell opposite James Cagney in a "tough gal" part was a bridge too far for audiences of the era.

While we may wonder what Powell would have been like in the part, it's hard to quibble with M-G-M's decision since Love Me or Leave Me was a big moneymaker w/ Doris Day as Ruth Etting. Certainly, it was the one musical bright spot in a year of financial disasters: Kismet (-$2,252,000), Jupiter's Darling (-$2,232,000), It's Always Fair Weather (-$1,675,000) and Hit the Deck (-$454,000.) All of these flops would finish off many of the studio's musical performers: Esther Williams, Howard Keel, Marge&Gower Champion, Vic Damone and Powell herself.

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"Whenever I pray to God, I find I'm talking to myself."

That picture is just chock full of great lines, isn't it? :)

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That picture is just chock full of great lines, isn't it? smile.png

Endlessly quotable. "For what I am about to receive, may I make myself truly thankful."

"We'd all be pretty crackers if we went around doing just what we wanted to, wouldn't we?"

Yeah, I've seen it more than once......

I've always liked her, especially in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Royal Wedding, where she was a replacement for a replacement.

I do, too. Fred Astaire said of her in Royal Wedding that "She surprised everyone by her handling of the dances."

I did wonder about Fred and Jane's mother, who waited thirty years between babies.

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Fred Astaire said of her in Royal Wedding that "She surprised everyone by her handling of the dances."

John Mueller, in his film-by-film retrospective of Astaire's career, Astaire Dancing, was very complimentary of Powell, and considered her one of the best things about the movie (and one of Astaire's best post-Rogers partners.)

It's tempting to speculate how Royal Wedding would have been with either June Allyson or Judy Garland in the part of Astaire's sister. Allyson's casting would have reunited her with Peter Lawford, with whom she had great chemistry in Good News. Garland's casting would have reunited her with Astaire and Lawford from their great success in Easter Parade. But I wonder if either Allyson or Garland could have sung a song like "Too Late Now" with the same delicacy with which Powell sang it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GX1c8ddVVX8

I like Allyson's foghorn singing voice but I would never use the word "delicate" to describe it. And Garland, by 1951, was already well on her way to her mature style, which I am by no means a fan of.

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Powell is great in Royal Wedding, although I might not go as far as Mueller. I think Allyson would have been all right (and she could have sung a very tender "Too Late Now," if not with Powell's delicacy). Judy - as a rule I'd rather see her on an off day than not at all, she's just more interesting to watch in most circumstances. But if she brought to the song the same attack she brought to the ballads in Easter Parade, then I definitely agree with you.

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But if she brought to the song the same attack she brought to the ballads in Easter Parade, then I definitely agree with you.

In his book on Astaire, Mueller goes after Garland for her brassy delivery and harsh vibrato when he discusses Easter Parade. (And I agree with him.)

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Garland had apparently made good progress with the Royal Wedding score before her dismissal and Saul Chaplin said she handled it beautifully, so who knows.......

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That's interesting about Garland and the Royal Wedding score. I never realized that her participation had even gotten that far.

Rhino put out a complete Royal Wedding soundtrack on CD during the 00s but it didn't have any Garland tracks on it. (The Rhino version of Annie Get Your Gun, by contrast, has the long-unreleased Garland versions of the songs.) I imagine any Garland tracks from Royal Wedding sessions are lost forever if they didn't make it onto the CD release.

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Since this thread has kind of evolved into an all-purpose M-G-M thread, I thought I would mention that Van Johnson's daughter posted a positive review (in the reviews section of Amazon.com) of a biography of her father, which came out over a decade ago. The best part, though, is that she continues to respond to other posters in the comments section of her review.

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It's tempting to speculate how Royal Wedding would have been with either June Allyson or Judy Garland in the part of Astaire's sister. Allyson's casting would have reunited her with Peter Lawford, with whom she had great chemistry in Good News. Garland's casting would have reunited her with Astaire and Lawford from their great success in Easter Parade. But I wonder if either Allyson or Garland could have sung a song like "Too Late Now" with the same delicacy with which Powell sang it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GX1c8ddVVX8

I like Allyson's foghorn singing voice but I would never use the word "delicate" to describe it. And Garland, by 1951, was already well on her way to her mature style, which I am by no means a fan of.

To come full circle, Royal Wedding also would have reunited Allyson with Chuck Walters who also directed Good News. Walters pulled out of Royal Wedding when Garland was cast. Although her close friend and frequent collaborator (he directed Easter Parade and Summer Stock, choreographed and staged numbers in other films for her, and later worked with her on her concerts), he had had it with Garland by the time Royal Wedding came around.

I actually like some of Garland's delivery in Easter Parade. For me, it's more that by 1951, the abuse and air pockets in her voice started to become apparent.

Actually, to bring it back to Good News again, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were the the first choices to play the leads. (I suppose a 5'2 quarterback is no more unbelievable than a decidedly British one.)

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That's interesting about Garland and the Royal Wedding score. I never realized that her participation had even gotten that far.

Rhino put out a complete Royal Wedding soundtrack on CD during the 00s but it didn't have any Garland tracks on it. (The Rhino version of Annie Get Your Gun, by contrast, has the long-unreleased Garland versions of the songs.) I imagine any Garland tracks from Royal Wedding sessions are lost forever if they didn't make it onto the CD release.

Chaplin was commenting on rehearsals, I think, and it's unlikely Garland got to the pre-recording stage on the picture. Too bad. Powell is fine in "How Could You Believe Me...", for instance, but with Judy it might have been another classic routine like "A Couple of Swells."

I thought I would mention that Van Johnson's daughter posted a positive review (in the reviews section of Amazon.com) of a biography of her father, which came out over a decade ago. The best part, though, is that she continues to respond to other posters in the comments section of her review.

Thanks for the tip.

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Powell is fine in "How Could You Believe Me...", for instance, but with Judy it might have been another classic routine like "A Couple of Swells."

I've always thought this number was a real triumph for Powell because it went so far against the grain of what she had done up to that point and, most likely, what anyone thought she could do.

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She's very nice in it. Interestingly, she herself doesn't seem to have regarded it as any special breakthrough, or at least she didn't describe it as such in her book.

For a change of pace, here's the Stan Getz Quintet Varsity Drag for interested listeners.

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I recently watched Give a Girl a Break; a "neglected" M-G-M musical from the waning days of the studio's musical era.

Released on 12/03/53 (one week after the release of Kiss Me Kate), Give a Girl a Break stars Marge and Gower Champion, Debbie Reynolds and Bob Fosse. Directed by Stanley Donen (in-between his twin triumphs of Singin' in the Rain [1952] and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers [1954]) and featuring an original score by Ira Gershwin and Burton Lane, the movie occupies an uncertain place between an "A" picture and a "B" picture. The plot, which pits three women against one another for the lead in a big show, is paper thin and was at least 10 years out of date when they made this musical. The score is only serviceable w/ only one really catchy song ("Our United State," sung by Fosse) and the star wattage is largely retrospective given that the Champions were supporting players in M-G-M musicals (Show Boat [1951], Lovely to Look at [1952]) and Reynolds and Fosse weren't A-list stars at that time.

Still, this movie is something more than a "B" picture given the obvious money the studio spent on the various dance numbers, of which there are quite a few. The best of the bunch are the two numbers with Fosse and Reynolds dancing together and another two with the Champions dancing as a duo. As I mentioned, Fosse sings (charmingly) "Our United State" to Reynolds and then they have a dance (choreographed by Fosse) in a courtyard. Fosse reprises the song again in a cute scene where he walks Reynolds home. The song was reprised one more time as the instrumental theme for the semi-famous "Balloon Dance" in which Fosse and Reynolds danced their way down a series of interconnected platforms only to have Donen reverse the footage to make it look like they were dancing their way back up to the top of the platforms. On their way back down, they begin popping a whole series of balloons, some of which appeared on their way back up. (Got all that?)

Fosse and Reynolds make for a cute dancing couple even though there was tension between them. (Apparently, the set broke down into two factions: Donen and Fosse in one and the Champions and Reynolds in the other.) Still, as professional actors, they faked it very well. And, it's interesting to watch them side-by-side as you get to make a comparison between a good dancer (Reynolds) and a great one (Fosse).

The Champions' two numbers are both excellent and very much in their style; one a jazzy, athletic rooftop number and the other a lyrical fantasy number set in what seems like a forest of poles. They do well enough in their acting scenes together. But they were never really leads and their best moments at the studio were in support to other players (most notably in Lovely to Look at where their three dances together led to them swiping the picture from Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel and Red Skelton.)

The movie also contains a number for the three female leads (the third lead being a ballet/modern dancer by the name of Helen Woods, who had had some success during that period on Broadway.) Gower Champion, Bob Fosse and Kurt Kaznar (who seems like he was in every single M-G-M movie during this period) have a comedic dance together which is OK but, since Kaznar cannot dance, we are deprived of seeing Gower Champion and Fosse going all-out in a dance together.

There's a concluding number between Gower Champion and the "girl" who ends up winning the part in the big show (I won't tell you who) that is big and empty in the late-period M-G-M manner. The most interesting part of it is that one of the male corps dancers is someone I spot all the time in M-G-M musicals, going as far back as the 'Great Lady Gives an Interview' segment (w/ Judy Garland) from Ziegfeld Follies (released in 1946 but filmed in 1944). I've seen this guy in Till the Clouds Roll By [1946, again w/ Garland], Good News [1947], Words and Music [1948, w/ Ann Sothern], Summer Stock [1950, again w/ Garland], Texas Carnival [1951, w/ Ann Miller] and Give a Girl a Break. I have no idea what his name is but . . . talk about having a great "corps" career!

In any event, I would give this "B+" picture a "B+" based on the quality and vivacity of the dancing of the Champions, Reynolds and Fosse. Worth a look on a slow night.

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Thanks, miliosr! It sounds like one I would enjoy.

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I'll have to look for this one. I wouldn't have pegged Champion and Fosse as stylistically compatible -- in Kiss Me Kate, in the "From This Moment On" number, Fosse's duet seems like a significant break from the received hoofing style of Ann Miller and Tommy Rall.

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Thanks, miliosr! It sounds like one I would enjoy.

Your welcome. If you go into it with modest expectations, you'll actually find there's a lot to enjoy from a dance standpoint.

I wouldn't have pegged Champion and Fosse as stylistically compatible -- in Kiss Me Kate, in the "From This Moment On" number, Fosse's duet seems like a significant break from the received hoofing style of Ann Miller and Tommy Rall.

Keep in mind that M-G-M filmed Give a Girl a Break before Kiss Me Kate but released the former one week after the latter. At the time, Fosse was annoyed that the studio had assigned him to Kiss Me Kate because he felt his part as a tertiary lead (w/ Bobby Van) after Howard Keel and Tommy Rall was a step down for him after being a secondary lead in Give a Girl a Break.

In Give a Girl a Break, the later Fosse style is not so much in evidence in the numbers he choreographed. He's still very much in a Fred Astaire style. And, in any event, even if Fosse had already hit on the innovation he showed in his duet portion of "From This Moment On" in Give a Girl a Break, Debbie Reynolds would never have been the kind of dancer to bring it to life the way Carol Haney did. (Note to all: Hermes Pan is credited as the choreographer for Kiss Me Kate but Fosse choreographed for Haney and himself in their sub-section of "From This Moment On".)

I actually think Fosse does a good job of harmonizing with Ann Miller and Tommy Rall in "Tom, Dick and Harry" and the group sections of "From This Moment On". The person who really stands out as the weak link is Bobby Van, especially in the "Tom, Dick and Harry" number.

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Your welcome. If you go into it with modest expectations, you'll actually find there's a lot to enjoy from a dance standpoint.

Keep in mind that M-G-M filmed Give a Girl a Break before Kiss Me Kate but released the former one week after the latter. At the time, Fosse was annoyed that the studio had assigned him to Kiss Me Kate because he felt his part as a tertiary lead (w/ Bobby Van) after Howard Keel and Tommy Rall was a step down for him after being a secondary lead in Give a Girl a Break.

In Give a Girl a Break, the later Fosse style is not so much in evidence in the numbers he choreographed. He's still very much in a Fred Astaire style. And, in any event, even if Fosse had already hit on the innovation he showed in his duet portion of "From This Moment On" in Give a Girl a Break, Debbie Reynolds would never have been the kind of dancer to bring it to life the way Carol Haney did. (Note to all: Hermes Pan is credited as the choreographer for Kiss Me Kate but Fosse choreographed for Haney and himself in their sub-section of "From This Moment On".)

I actually think Fosse does a good job of harmonizing with Ann Miller and Tommy Rall in "Tom, Dick and Harry" and the group sections of "From This Moment On". The person who really stands out as the weak link is Bobby Van, especially in the "Tom, Dick and Harry" number.

I think you put your finger on it here -- this is a transitional period for Fosse. I agree, he seems much more "a part of the group" in "Tom, Dick, and Harry," dancing someone else's choreography he was still a quick study and a clear technician. And absolutely yes, Debbie Reynolds would not have been anywhere near the match for Fosse's emerging style that Carol Haney was in "From This Moment On." When I taught dance history, I would show that number as an example of how jazz was changing in mid-century.

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I enjoy "Give a Girl a Break" too. Wally Heglin, who also did "Singing' in the Rain," among many other credits, orchestrated the dance numbers and they sound fabulous. (André Previn was the music director.)

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