Saturday, January 03, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Meet the People (1944) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

MGM's World War II homefront musical MEET THE PEOPLE (1944), starring Dick Powell and Lucille Ball, is available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

MEET THE PEOPLE is something of an MGM musical oddity, a black and white film which is short on plot and long on specialty numbers. It's also notable as Dick Powell's only MGM musical, after many years starring in musicals at Warner Bros. -- in fact, it was the last film Powell made before his big career shift to tough guy roles in MURDER, MY SWEET (1944).

Ball appeared in a handful of MGM musicals in the mid '40s, including DUBARRY WAS A LADY (1943) and ZIEGFELD FOLLIES (1945). She plays Broadway actress Julie Hampton, who wants to star in a show about "ordinary people" written by shipyard worker William "Swanee" Swanson (Powell). When Swanee gets a look at how his musical will be "glammed up" for Broadway, he's not happy; he manages to get the rights back and heads back to work at the shipyard.

Julie follows Swanee, hoping to get him to change his mind; she even takes a job as a welder at the shipyard. Julie and Swanee fall in love, but there are more complications before Julie stars in Swanee's show, which is staged to celebrate the launch of a new ship.

That's an outline of a loose and somewhat disjointed plot which sometimes leaves the viewer wondering what on earth the characters are doing. Julie and Swanee visit his friends (Rags Ragland and his son Robert "Bobby" Blake), attend a party where pal Bert Lahr sings a comic number, and go on a brief picnic; they also periodically go to work at the shipyard, where the employees seem to watch morale-boosting entertainment more than they work!

Virginia O'Brien and June Allyson are among the shipyard workers who get their own songs; O'Brien sings "Say We're Sweethearts Again" during the big final show and joins Allyson, Vaughn Monroe, and the King Sisters for "I'd Like to Recognize the Tune" at a shipyard dance.

Spike Jones and His City Slickers perform a truly bizarre number. The mishmash of entertainment also includes an acrobat, Miriam LaVelle, and a dance by Mata and Hari.

With its weak narrative structure, low-budget production values, and so-so score by a variety of composers, MEET THE PEOPLE is a lower-tier MGM musical. Still, fans of the cast will want to take a look. Powell is charming and oh-so-handsome, and it's great to hear him sing onscreen again; his big song is "In Times Like These." It's also fun to watch cute June Allyson -- who would become Mrs. Powell the following year -- before she hit it big. Ball looks lovely; her singing was dubbed by Gloria Grafton.

It's worth noting that costarring actors Powell and Ball would both later have great success in television, with Powell being a founder of Four Star Productions.

MEET THE PEOPLE was directed by Charles Reisner and filmed by Robert Surtees. The dance directors included future director Charles Walters, whose career was celebrated last month on Turner Classic Movies. The film runs 100 minutes.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.


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