Tula Ellice Finklea was born in Texas on this date in 1921. She became a dancer and by the 1940s Tula was working in Hollywood; after giving the professional name Lily Norwood a brief whirl, she was renamed Cyd Charisse and became one of the greatest stars of the MGM musical.
It seemed fitting to watch Cyd Charisse starring MEET ME IN LAS VEGAS today; it was an especially perfect choice given our recent trip to Las Vegas. I hadn't seen the film since it was cut up on commercial television when I was a teenager (anyone else remember KABC's 90-minute 3:30 movie in Los Angeles in the late '70s?). It almost felt like I was watching a new movie, although parts of it were familiar.
The plot, some nonsense about a ballerina providing gambling luck to a cowboy, isn't worth much, but the movie is a lot of fun for numerous reasons, starting with Charisse's dances; she also displays a real flair for comedy. There are many amusing cameos by stars large and small, and the depiction of the Sands Hotel and Las Vegas of the '50s is a visual treat.
Charisse has several excellent dances. My favorite was a "Sleeping Beauty" ballet choreographed by Eugene Loring, but she's also great dancing to Sammy Davis Jr.'s vocal of "Frankie and Johnny," choreographed by Hermes Pan. This may not be her best film, but these are terrific numbers showcasing her talent at its peak. She's beautifully costumed by Helen Rose.
Dailey doesn't dance much in this film, but he does get a chance to dance with Cyd briefly in a large group number set at a barbecue at his ranch. It's hard for me to warm up to someone as focused on gambling as Dailey's character is in the first half of the film, but once we see him as a rancher he becomes more interesting.
Personable Cara Williams, who played a supporting role in Dailey's film THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (1953), appears here as a possible rival to Charisse for Dailey's affections. The supporting cast also includes Agnes Moorehead, Paul Henreid, Lili Darvas, and Jim Backus. The Four Aces sing the title song.
I got the biggest kick out of a cameo by Tony Martin, begging an introduction to the woman who was his real-life wife. I particularly enjoyed seeing lesser names from the MGM contract roster, such as Jeff Richards and Elaine Stewart, playing themselves watching a show. Several much bigger names appear in cameos as themselves, including Mr. Sinatra himself. There are also celebrity performances; a bizarre specialty number by Jerry Colonna is best forgotten, but Lena Horne puts in a lovely appearance singing at the Sands.
George Chakiris, who would win a Supporting Actor Oscar a few years later for WEST SIDE STORY (1961), has a small non-dancing role as a newlywed married to Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW).
It's fun to see a montage of neon signs for the Vegas hotels of the day; signs for several of the hotels were also seen in VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964). The pink-purple-red hotel interiors are eye-popping. It's also fun to note the Googie influences of the era on building architecture, signage, and interior decor, such as the geometric artwork just inside Charisse's hotel room.
As an aside, during our recent Vegas trip I was musing that while movies such as MEET ME IN LAS VEGAS, VIVA LAS VEGAS, or OCEAN'S 11 (2001) make Las Vegas look quite glamorous, the films don't capture the less pleasant side; for instance, you'd never know, looking at the gorgeous Bellagio casino in OCEAN'S 11, that the building smells of smoke and alcohol! (Smokingwise, modern Las Vegas seems stuck in the '50s.) The movies also tend to edit out the more seedy types which inhabit some of the casinos.
In the UK the movie was shown under the title VIVA LAS VEGAS; the 1964 Elvis film of that title went by LOVE IN LAS VEGAS in the UK.
This film was directed by Roy Rowland. It runs 112 minutes.
MEET ME IN LAS VEGAS has not had a DVD release. It was released on VHS, but unfortunately the video of this CinemaScope film is in a pan-and-scan format. My father has seen this version and reports the color is very washed out.
This film can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies, where it is shown in a beautiful widescreen letterbox print. It aired today in honor of Charisse's birthday, and it will be shown again on March 19th as part of an evening of films about Las Vegas.
TCM has the trailer available here.
April 2011 Update: MEET ME IN LAS VEGAS is now available in a remastered widescreen DVD-R from the Warner Archive. The disc even includes two deleted musical numbers!