Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Variety Girl (1947)

The real-life history of the founding of the show business children's charity, Variety Clubs International, provides the springboard for a lively all-star tribute from Paramount Pictures.

Variety Clubs was founded when a group of show business executives decided to sponsor an infant abandoned in a theater. The club grew into a worldwide charity, aiding countless children. That much is true.

The story then takes a flight of fancy with a plot in which the original abandoned infant, Catherine (Mary Hatcher), is now a young woman seeking a film career. The fictional head of Paramount, R.J. O'Connell (Frank Ferguson), who was one of the executives who had sponsored the infant Catherine, agrees to give her an audition. However, her identity is confused with an overly vivacious starlet with the stage name Amber La Vonne (Olga San Juan), leading to all sorts of problems.

The wafer-thin plot is merely the excuse for a lot of fun as the audience to accompanies the characters around the Paramount lot, bumping into all sorts of movie stars. If we believe the movie, Paramount was a leisurely place to work, what with Bing Crosby golfing, Bob Hope throwing darts, and Robert Preston and Barry Fitzgerald simply enjoying sitting outside on a sunny day.

Some of the actors seen on the lot, such as Gary Cooper, were clearly filmed separately and don't actually interact with the lesser-known actors, while on the other hand Bing Crosby shares an extended scene with Hatcher.

Between the introduction, the studio scenes, and the gala show at the end of the film, the viewer can enjoy spotting William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Caulfield, Ray Milland, Paulette Goddard, Gail Russell, Alan Ladd (he sings?!), Dorothy Lamour, Veronica Lake, Diana Lynn, Mona Freeman, John Lund, Burt Lancaster, Lizabeth Scott, and more.

Cecil B. DeMille has some of the biggest laughs in the picture, particularly for a line about him when he's no longer on camera.

The musical numbers in the final show are nothing special, but it's quite a novelty just seeing so many stars on screen all at once. Fans of classic films in general, and Paramount in particular, should enjoy this sequence simply as a fascinating slice of cinema history. Indeed, it's all the more reason why this hard-to-find film needs to be more easily accessible to the modern viewing audience.

Mary Hatcher was a new name to me. She appeared in just eight films before leaving the screen, and she's now 82. Hatcher's costar, Olga San Juan, was only in 15 films, the best-known of which may be BLUE SKIES (1946) with Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby. San Juan was married to actor Edmond O'Brien for close to three decades. She passed on in 2009.

STAR TREK fans will enjoy the chance to see a very young DeForest Kelley, in his fourth screen appearance, as a studio talent scout. I was quite startled when I first recognized him, as I'd never seen him on screen at such a young age.

Another interesting aspect to the film is a curious sequence featuring a George Pal Puppetoon, which seems rather like an early version of "claymation."

The film was directed by George Marshall, who also plays himself during a screen test sequence featuring Olga San Juan and William Bendix. Marshall also directed the studio's 1942 all-star extravaganza, STAR SPANGLED RHYTHM. The movie runs 93 minutes.

This Paramount film is only available on VHS. I very much appreciate my friend Carrie letting me view her copy.

January 2013 Update: This movie is now available in Europe on Region 2 DVD.

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