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I picked up a copy of Three for the Show from February 1955 which stars Betty Grable, Jack Lemmon and Marge&Gower Champion (on loan-out from M-G-M). This was a Columbia musical remake of the studio's own Too Many Husbands from 1940. In both versions, a woman thinks her husband is dead, marries another man and then has the first husband return from the dead. (Grable plays the woman in Three for the Show, Lemmon plays the first husband and Gower Champion plays the second husband. Marge Champion is on hand as Grable's friend who has her own designs on Gower Champion.)

If you feel like you've seen this story before, you have. Not only is there the Too Many Husbands-Three for the Show lineage but there's also the My Favorite Wife (also 1940, with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne)-Something's Got to Give (the never-completed 1962 version with Marilyn Monroe [who died before it could be completed], Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse)-Move Over, Darling (the 1963 version with Doris Day and James Garner) lineage.

In any event, Three for the Show is a middling movie musical from the 50s with a lot of the flaws that were common to the musicals of that period. The great Jack Cole was the official choreographer but most of his work here plays like outtakes from other, more successful films. There's a garish male harem number with Grable, Lemmon and Gower Champion that strives for the magic of his "Ain't There Anyone Here for Love" number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and fails miserably. There's also a "dream ballet" for Marge Champion which is full of portentous "psychological" content. These were very common in the 50s but age has not been kind to them.

Probably the best thing in the movie is a late-in-the-movie duet between Marge and Gower Champion, which was definitely choreographed by Gower Champion. Also of interest (although unintentionally so) is comparing Grable's dancing to that of Marge and Gower Champion in the movie's opening number. Seeing them side-by-side you can really see the difference between a hoofer (Grable) and two real, professionally trained dancers (the Champions).

Lemmon gives his all in this to no great avail. No cause for despair, though -- his Oscar-winning turn in Mister Roberts was his next film!

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Another studio shift but with an MGM star, Franchot Tone in Joseph von Sternberg's "The King Steps Out'" filmed at Columbia. Very unusual scene (linked below).

Von Sternberg and Lucien Ballard, the cinematographer, set the singer, Grace Moore, within an open window with out of focus curtains and what looks like an out of focus potted geranium. Way in the background the singer's backside is caught in a reflection on the glass of a picture. When Moore comes forward for the climax of the song, she's completely enveloped in shadow Very subversive on von Sternberg's part - something Degas might do but few cameramen/ directors would - except Welles, who learned from Sternberg - or James Wong Howe.

Also highly unusual was that the singing was recorded live, not dubbed.


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I picked up a copy of the 1953 M-G-M melodrama Never Let Me Go, starring Clark Gable as a newspaper reporter who falls in love with Soviet ballerina Gene Tierney (or Gene Tiernechova, in Ballets Russes-ese.) Basically, the storyline has Clark falling in love with Gene but the Soviets won't let Gene leave Russia. So, Clark has to smuggle her out.

The reason I bought a copy of this forgotten picture and am discussing it in the 'M-G-M' musical thread is that the movie features the London Festival Ballet (LFB) as the 'Moscow Ballet,' Anton Dolin as 'Gene Tierney's Dance Partner,' and Belita as Gene's treacherous fellow dancer who's more loyal to Joe Stalin (or maybe her career at the 'Moscow Ballet') than she is to Gene. You get to see the LFB in various parts of Swan Lake and, while the dance sequences aren't numerous or extensive in any sense, you do get a little glimpse into what a ballet company of that era would have looked like. Dolin only partners in this but he still looks fit given that he was 48 at the time this was made. (One wonders if careers lasted longer then because mid-20th century bodies didn't have to contend with people like Wayne McGregor.) In any event, Dolin's billing should have been 'Gene Tierney's Dance Partner in Extreme Close-Up' and 'Dance Partner to the Stunt Double in Everything Else'.

The movie itself is nothing special and has a strange structure: The first 30 minutes (set in Russia) is romantic melodrama, the next 45 minutes (in which Tierney is absent) is action-adventure as Gable&co. develop and implement their plan to get Tierney our of the Russia, and the final 15 minutes is like a proto-version of the von Trapp family fleeing Austria in The Sound of Music. Never Let Me Go was one of Tierney's first pictures after her contract with Fox expired, and she is ravishing-looking in it. Hard to believe she experienced so much stress and heartache in her personal life.

This was Clark Gable's third-to-last picture for M-G-M, to which he had been contracted since 1931. Never Let Me Go performed indifferently at the box office but Gable would go out on a high at M-G-M. His final two pictures for the studio, 1953's Mogambo (w/ Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly) and 1954's Betrayed (w/ Lana Turner [!] and Victor Mature [!!]), were both big earners.

Recommendation: Fun to watch on a slow night and of historical interest because of Dolin and the London Festival Ballet.

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canbelto - I have Night Nurse on one of my Forbidden Hollywood sets. What you said about Clark Gable is what I see with Barbara Stanwyck. I feel like she was more or less the Barbara Stanwyck we all know and love in 1931. She just needed the Hollywood studio system to polish her up a bit.

Here's another clip w/ Clark Gable from 1931. (He was sixth-billed behind, among others, Joan Crawford and Cliff 'Ukelele Ike' Edwards.)


"Oh, so that's what's become of Bonnie! Hahahaha!!"

"Oh, Sylvia!"

Did Belita skate?

No, she just stands around playing a stereotypical Soviet heavy. It would have been a more interesting movie if they had thrown in a completely gratuitous skating scene!

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miliosr, I love the vintage clips of big studio stars before they were, well, big studio stars.

Here's Clark Gable and Joan Crawford introducing Fred Astaire:

By the way, the vintage clips show Joan Crawford as really different than her later films. Weird how in the early days she was picked as the wholesome, singing/dancing bubbly girl.

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Crawford was at M-G-M for a long time -- from 1925 (still the silent film era) to 1943 (WWII-era). She was smart about evolving her image, just as her great rival at the studio, Norma Shearer, was. They both intuited -- correctly -- that, if they stood still, audiences would tire of them. So, Crawford evolved out of her "great gal" Charleston dancer persona into, eventually, the more hard-boiled persona that let her slide effortlessly into Mildred Pierce when she moved over to Warner Brothers in 1945. And Shearer evolved out of her girl-next-door persona in silents into her free-living persona of the early talkies and, eventually, into her "classy lady" persona of the late-30s and early-40s.

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Q: What was M-G-M's most profitable musical of 1953? The Band Wagon w/ Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse? Kiss Me Kate w/ Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel and Ann Miller? Dangerous When Wet or Easy To Love w/ Esther Williams?

A: Wrong on all counts. M-G-M's most profitable musical of 1953 was Lili, starring Leslie Caron and directed by Charles Walters.

Lili takes place in post-World War II France. Caron plays the title character, a naïve, orphaned waif of 16 who finds a temporary home at a travelling carnival. There, she becomes besotted with 'Marc the Magnificent,' a womanizing magician played by the very handsome and very charming Jean-Pierre Aumont. Lili also meets Paul (played by Mel Ferrer), a former premiere danseur who was injured during the war and now can only work as a puppeteer, which he considers to be an inferior art to the dance. Lili unselfconsciously interacts with the puppets in Paul's show; seemingly unaware that the puppets aren't real. Lili's interaction with the puppets makes the act popular to the point where she becomes part of the "act" with Paul and his partner, Jacquot (played by Kurt Kaznar). Complicating all of this is Lili's infatuation with the untrustworthy Marc, and Paul's inability to express his emotions, particularly his love for Lili, except through the puppets.

Lili doesn't enjoy the same reputation that two of Caron's other M-G-M musicals, Gigi and (especially) An American in Paris, enjoy even though, during its day, Lili was every bit as profitable as the other two. Still, while Lili is more of a cult musical than the other two, it continues to have its charms lo these 63 years later. Caron is a standout as Lili and Aumont matches her all the way as the sleazy but charming Marc. They are ably supported by Kaznar and, of all people, Zsa Zsa Gabor as Marc's assistant, Rosalie. (If it's humanly possible for there to be such a thing as a "classic Zsa Zsa Gabor film", Lili may be it.) Perhaps the only weak link is Ferrer, who plays the emotionally distant Paul too well -- you can't blame Lili for not seeing anything in him until, somewhat implausibly, the end of the movie.

Charles Walters directs with his usual light touch (and acts as the dance double for Aumont in one of the movie's two dream sequences.) The M-G-M art direction team does an admirable job with creating and sustaining the illusion of a French carnival. (I may be the only person in this world who prefers M-G-M France to France-France.)

The greatest star of all is composer Bronsilau Kaper's score and especially its hit song, "Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo", which Lili sings with the puppets and which appears in various forms throughout the score.

Filmed in 1952, the M-G-M brass had no confidence in the movie and thought they had a major flop on their hands. Much to their surprise, the film was a huge hit and received six Academy Award nominations for: Best Actress (Caron), Best Directing (Walters), Best Music (Kaper), Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography (Color) and Best Art Direction (Color). (Only Kaper won.)

Alas, the DVD copy I bought of this is of the DVD-R variety. If ever a movie cries out for an official remaster, it's this one as the use of color would look extraordinary in high definition.

When I bought the DVD, I also bought a copy of Kaper's score from Film Score Monthly. Not only do you get to hear all of the musical cues from the movie on the soundtrack but you also get a wealth of unreleased bonus tracks. Recommended!

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The M-G-M art direction team does an admirable job with creating and sustaining the illusion of a French carnival. (I may be the only person in this world who prefers M-G-M France to France-France.)

I can't say that I like MGM France better than the real thing, but I do love it. I've only seen this film once through (and then clips here and there), and I have good memories of it.

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I rewatched Give a Girl a Break this weekend, which was first released in December 1953.

I last watched it two years ago when Debbie Reynolds died. Here's what I wrote then:

"In honor of Debbie Reynolds, I rewatched Give a Girl a Break today. It's no classic but it's better than its reputation. It takes forever to get going but it hits its stride about a third of the way in with the very catchy song, "In Our United State". The first version is sung by Bob Fosse and danced by Fosse and Reynolds. The second version is a vocal reprise by Fosse. The third version is an instrumental version that under pins the "Balloon Dance" with Fosse and Reynolds. (It's a pity Film Score Monthly has never done a full release of the score since, in addition to these three versions, there are various orchestral and piano versions that are threaded throughout the movie.)

Also, quite good are the "Challenge Dance" sequence with Marge and Gower Champion and the lavish "It Happens Every Time" (again with the Champions). Less good is "Nothing Is Impossible," a comic number for Gower Champion, Fosse and Kurt Kaznar, which strains for comedy and never gets there. (It's also the only number in the movie with Gower Champion and Fosse dancing -- too briefly -- together.) The "Puppet Master Dance" with Kaznar is just cruel as poor Kaznar has to stuff his ample physique into a pair of lavender-colored tights and pink ballet slippers. Cruel, I say!

The finale -- "Applause, Applause" -- with Gower Champion and Reynolds is OK in a garish 50s way but it would have been better if it had been reconceived to include Marge Champion and Fosse as well.

Like I said -- no classic. But the tuneful score and the dancing of the Champions, Reynolds and Fosse make for an agreeable enough time. It's also offers an interesting glimpse of what the next generation of movie music performers at MGM would have looked like if the studio system hadn't crumbled so rapidly at MGM between 1953-55."

I stand by what I wrote then although I must admit that the score has grown on me with each viewing. (Watching the movie while wearing headphones really helps with appreciating the score.) There are so many wonderful treatments of "In Our United State," "Give a Girl a Break" and "It Happens Every Time". Truly, this is a neglected film score that deserves the full release treatment. The Ira Gershwin estate would appear to agree with me:




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On ‎12‎/‎18‎/‎2018 at 12:22 PM, dirac said:

Thanks, miliosr. I need to see this again. It's been a long time and I've actually never seen it in its entirety.

Even by M-G-M standards, the plot for Give a Girl a Break is slight. At only 80 minutes, it takes a while to get going and it ends abruptly. But, the movie justifies itself if you stick with it until the middle section arrives:

  • At roughly the 35 minute mark, there's a dialogue scene between Bob Fosse and Debbie Reynolds as they walk along the East River with the United Nations headquarters and the Chrysler building in the background. (Actually, it's all a painted backdrop.) The Fosse/Reynolds theme, "In Our United State," plays as an underscore.
  • Fosse then sings "In Our United State" and he and Reynolds dance to it.
  • This is followed by a brief vocal reprise by Fosse of "In Our United State" after he walks Reynolds back to her apartment.
  • The action shifts to Marge Champion's penthouse apartment where Gower Champion pays her a visit. The scene moves to the penthouse courtyard (how is Marge Champion's character affording all this?) and the Champions launch into the exciting rooftop "Challenge Dance".

(The dancing/singing scenes with the Champions, Fosse and Reynolds takes about 10-15 minutes.)

At the 55 minute mark, there are three successive dream sequences featuring Bob Fosse, Kurt Kaznar and Gower Champion:

  • In the first sequence, Fosse and Reynolds perform the "Balloon Dance" to their theme, "In Our United State".
  • In the third sequence, Gower Champion "sings" "It Happens Ev'ry Time". (In reality, Bill Lee - the male Hollywood counterpart to Marni Nixon -- dubbed for Champion. The dub is noticeable because Bill Lee had a much more robust voice than Gower Champion,) The Champions then perform a beautiful duet, which is -- in my opinion -- the second best thing they did at M-G-M after their "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" duet in Lovely to Look at.

All told, there's about 25 minutes of really stellar dancing surrounded by much more modest material.


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All told, there's about 25 minutes of really stellar dancing surrounded by much more modest material.

That's more than many musicals can offer. :)

Lili certainly looks good and is well done, but I've always found it unpleasant viewing.  Caron, a teenager from the country, shows up in town after the death of her father to find that the family friend who would have taken her in has died.  Because of a timely interruption by Aumont's Marc, she narrowly avoids rape at the hands of a repulsive old man who offers this helpless girl food, shelter, and work.   (When Lili is fired from her waitressing job because she can't focus on anything when Marc is onstage, he casually suggests she go back to this man for a job, saying "he wasn't a bad sort.") Thereafter Lili is maltreated by all the men in the film save Kurt Kasznar. When Ferrer catches her in Aumont's trailer, he jumps to the wrong conclusion and hits her. This is the guy she's going to spend the rest of her life with. Some happy ending.


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5 minutes ago, canbelto said:

Leslie Caron must hold a record for starring in musicals that have an ick factor today. Gigi is another one that has an ick factor, and while An American in Paris doesn't have an ick factor per se it hasn't aged well either and Caron's character is a complete cipher. 


Oddly, I don't find Gigi having any ick factor. It was dealing with a young woman who was being trained to be a courtesan/mistress for a wealthy man. Such a woman would have had a better life than many women in that time and place. For me, An American in Paris hasn't aged well because, although there are charming scenes, the big dance scene doesn't hold up.

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Apart from Chevalier singing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” which probably raised an eyebrow or two even back in 1958, I think that “Gigi” handles the less savory aspects of the story quite well, and I can't say I really feel the ick although I grant you it's potentially there, as the French non-musical "Gigi"  with Daniele Delorme demonstrates. It's much franker, or coarser –  I recall Gigi’s grandmother squeezing Gigi’s arms like she’s sizing up a melon, and the actor who plays Gaston is, well, not Louis Jourdan, and when he moves in on Delorme’s Gigi it’s really ick time.

My opinion of “An American in Paris” and its dream ballet has actually improved over the years  -- and even if it hadn’t, the recent Wheeldon staging, which I saw on PBS not long ago, would have improved it for me. Had I seen it live, my fidgety feet might well have fidgeted right out of the theater. But I digress.

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This Christmas season, I've been listening to the soundtrack of Lovely to Look at, which Rhino Handmade put out in 2003 in a limited edition of 2005 copies. Lovely to Look at was M-G-M's 1952 remake of Roberta featuring Kathryn Grayson, Red Skelton, Howard Keel, Marge and Gower Champion and Ann Miller, and was the second of three musicals the studio made in the early 1950s with the singing team of Grayson and Keel. (The other two being Show Boat [1951] and Kiss Me Kate [1953].)

The Jerome Kern songs are so tuneful and Rhino did a superb job with the remastering of the entire soundtrack. My favorites on the CD and in the film are Marge and Gower Champion dancing to "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes":

And a little bit later in the film, Kathryn Grayson singing the same song:


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Thanks for all the clips. The Smoke Gets in Your Eyes choreography in its gliding and open spacing looks a little like ice skating choreography to my eyes. Not sure if all the Champions' work has that roominess.

Three-strip Technicolor has such a strange color palette – perhaps you could say color iconology – that competes neck in neck with the story and songs. In the Grayson clip there are roses and lavenders and a deep carmine red of the velvet dress, the gray and light browns of the curtain and a nice orangey version of flesh tone against which the twin whites of teeth and right earing flash like subtitles. It's like Egyptian painting in its abstractness or Venetian painting in its color signs. (Was Natalie Kalmus our Caravaggio?)

Ick factor: Hearing Chevalier sing Thank Heaven for Little Girls separated from the film on the car radio and in venues like Ed Sullivan very much had an underlying ick factor, if not being something bizarrely surreal. There's also the ick factor in Caron's filmography of Daddy Long Legs with a 40 year difference in age between the romantic leads.

Edited by Quiggin
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On 12/25/2018 at 5:01 PM, miliosr said:

This Christmas season, I've been listening to the soundtrack of Lovely to Look at, which Rhino Handmade put out in 2003 in a limited edition of 2005 copies. Lovely to Look at was M-G-M's 1952 remake of Roberta featuring Kathryn Grayson, Red Skelton, Howard Keel, Marge and Gower Champion and Ann Miller, and was the second of three musicals the studio made in the early 1950s with the singing team of Grayson and Keel. (The other two being Show Boat [1951] and Kiss Me Kate [1953].)

The Jerome Kern songs are so tuneful and Rhino did a superb job with the remastering of the entire soundtrack. My favorites on the CD and in the film are Marge and Gower Champion dancing to "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes":

Thanks, Millosr. Much of this is so lovely to see and listen to.

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