Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Week-End in Havana (1941)

Every so often I need to revisit my favorite '40s Fox musicals starring Alice Faye and Betty Grable. Somehow eight years had gone by since I last watched Faye's WEEK-END IN HAVANA (1941), which I briefly reviewed back in June 2006, so I was due for a re-watch!

WEEK-END IN HAVANA is an 80-minute slice of escapist Technicolor bliss. It was released just a few weeks before Pearl Harbor, and it's interesting to contemplate that some audiences might well have gone to see it that December to forget their fears and worries for a brief time.

Alice Faye plays Nan, a Macy's shopgirl who has saved for years for a dream vacation to Cuba. When her ship runs aground and her vacation plans are threatened, company exec Jay Williams (John Payne) arranges to show her a grand time in Havana, hoping that Nan will then sign a waiver and agree not to sue the cruise line.

While in Havana, Nan is romanced by charming but penniless Monte (Cesar Romero), who's in turn chased after by nightclub performer Rosita (Carmen Miranda). Meanwhile Jay's fiancee (Cobina Wright Jr.) shows up in Havana to find out why he's delayed returning to New York for their wedding.

The storyline is amusing enough, but the plot really isn't the point; it's all about the songs, the sets and costumes, and that amazing Technicolor. I remember sitting in on a musicals class taught by Drew Casper at USC where he rhapsodized about Fox's unique Technicolor look in the '40s, especially their cyan and red, and this movie shows those colors off and then some. The photography was by Ernest Palmer.

It's specifically mentioned that Nan saved up for a fabulous wardrobe, created for the film by Gwen Wakeling. Faye's entire wardrobe is amazing, but I think my favorite is the simple red, white, and blue ensemble she wears near the end of the movie, which brings out the blue in Faye's eyes.

And then there are Carmen Miranda's costumes...just wow. Whoever thought those up?! A truly unique performer in every respect.

I think of Alice Faye as a very intelligent type, so I'm always a bit surprised when I return to this film and am reminded that Nan is a girl of the lower classes who is a bit of a dumb bunny at times. Then she breaks into an elegant rendition of "Tropical Magic" and it's as though there's a whole new Alice on the screen!

Payne and Faye also costarred in TIN PAN ALLEY (1940) and the later HELLO FRISCO, HELLO (1943). They're a nice team, and Payne even gets the chance to duet with Faye briefly.

WEEK-END IN HAVANA was directed by Walter Lang. The supporting cast includes Leonid Kinskey, Sheldon Leonard, Billy Gilbert, and George Barbier.

WEEKEND IN HAVANA is available on DVD as part of the Fox Marquee Musicals series. Extras include a commentary by Jeanine Basinger, a stills gallery, and the trailer.

The movie is also available on VHS.


Blogger Kristina Dijan said...

Love Alice Faye and pretty much all her movies (lucky lady had the best co-stars too). Might be time for me to have a rewatch Fayefest myself!

5:45 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

When the Vagabond Theatre in L.A. opened as a revival house in the mid-70s, the first show was a double feature of this and "The Mark of Zorro.' It was a lot of fun--I hadn't seen either one before. Seems like it was a good choice, since it got them off and running and it was a key venue for a long time.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'd love to hear about your rewatch fest, Kristina! I have a couple more I want to revisit -- and a couple I've not yet seen!

Blake, what a fantastic memory of the Vagabond. And what a great double feature -- ZORRO is one of my all-time favorite films. I've been meaning to watch it again and write about it here, I never have.

I think the Vagabond was my favorite place to go to the movies, maybe even more than LACMA -- although I always remember that scary-looking mural on the left wall LOL. It's fun to think that we must have both been at the Vagabond and LACMA on occasions. Lots of great memories.

Best wishes,

10:18 PM  

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