Sunday, November 29, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Girl Most Likely (1958) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

The Warner Archive has just released a lovely remastered widescreen edition of the Jane Powell musical THE GIRL MOST LIKELY (1958).

I have especially fond memories of THE GIRL MOST LIKELY thanks to seeing it as a young teen at the fabled 1977 RKO retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I believe THE GIRL MOST LIKELY closed out the retrospective's remarkable 128 films, as it was the last movie made at the studio. (As different stages of the movie were completed, the studio permanently shut down each department.) I do vividly remember that one of the reels didn't show up at the LACMA screening and someone in the audience saved the day by going home and retrieving the movie from his garage. Only in L.A.!

Although we didn't know each other back then, my friend Blake Lucas, who regularly comments here, was also there that evening and remembers the "movie in the garage" incident.

Since seeing the movie back then I've seen some pretty faded and scratched prints, so I was anxious to see how the Warner Archive DVD would look. I can happily report that I'm sure THE GIRL MOST LIKELY hasn't looked this great in years! The remastered print shows off the film's green and coral color scheme to perfection. The unremastered trailer included on the disc gives a very good comparison example of how much the new print is improved from prints of recent decades.

The fun starts from the opening credits, with the Hi-Los singing the title tune by Nelson Riddle and Bob Russell. There's great footage under the credits of Powell and Kaye Ballard riding the Balboa Island ferry.

One of the film's pleasures is seeing Orange County on the screen. There are terrific location shots of the ferry landing, which I don't think has changed much since the movie was filmed. Along with the location sequences, many of the film's "exteriors" were filmed in soundstages, including the outside of Powell's cute little house, complete with a sandy front yard.

Incidentally, Balboa Island was also the setting for the film noir THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949) nearly a decade earlier. Our family used to go see classic movies at the nearby Balboa Theatre when I was growing up.

In this remake of Ginger Rogers' TOM DICK AND HARRY (1941), dreamy Dodie (Powell) is a bank employee who lives in Balboa with her parents (Frank Cady and Una Merkel) and annoying kid sister (Judy Nugent). She has a steady boyfriend in Buzz (Tommy Noonan), a hardworking realtor, but she dreams of marrying someone wealthy.

Dodie sees a man get off a yacht  and when he rides a small boat across the bay she impulsively dives off the Balboa ferry to meet him. (David Chierichetti's biography of director Mitchell Leisen quotes the director as saying Powell was "a good sport" about diving into the bay, despite it being very cold!) The charming gentleman (Cliff Robertson) who picks her up asks her out on a date, but she is chagrined to learn later that evening that he's not the yacht's owner, Neal Patterson Jr. (Keith Andes), he's just Pete, a broke mechanic.

No matter, she soon meets Neal too, and within short order finds herself sort of engaged to all three men. She's fond of Buzz, whom she's known forever, and she's even fonder of Neal's money...but it's Pete who makes her see "pink clouds" when he kisses her. What's a girl to do?

In heavier hands the plot could be distasteful, as Dodie strings along three men at once, but she seems simply giddy, enjoying each man's company and genuinely torn between the different lives she could have with each one. It strikes me that in the latter respect it's not too dissimilar from the new movie BROOKLYN (2015), seen this weekend.

This was director Mitchell Leisen's final feature film. The multiple musical fantasy sequences call to mind Leisen's LADY IN THE DARK (1944)...whose leading lady, Ginger Rogers, coincidentally starred in the original version of THE GIRL MOST LIKELY, TOM DICK AND HARRY. The dream sequences play off things which happen in the movie, such as a fortune teller predicting Pete will have nine children, as Dodie's subconscious tries to work through her decision.

Other than the title song, the score is by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane (MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS). The songs are of varying quality; I especially enjoy "Balboa," and "Crazy Horse," with Powell made up like Peter Pan's Tiger Lily, is pretty cute too. The musical numbers were staged by another MGM veteran, Gower Champion.

Ballard's dancing sailor boyfriend, Sam, is played by Kelly Brown. Brown played Carl, one of the "town" dancers, in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954). Brown taught dance in Arizona for many years; his daughter, Leslie Browne, was Oscar nominated for her role as a ballerina in THE TURNING POINT (1977). Brown was only 52 when he passed on in 1981.

It's a particular treat to see Una Merkel as Dodie's mother. Merkel had previously appeared with Powell in RICH, YOUNG AND PRETTY (1951); one of her next films would be Disney's THE PARENT TRAP (1961).

THE GIRL MOST LIKELY was produced by Stanley Rubin. It was filmed by Robert H. Planck. Although the film was shot in Technicolor, the film's strong green and coral design palette, used for both sets and costumes, gives the film a bit of a Cinecolor look, although being Technicolor it looks far better than most Cinecolor films!

THE GIRL MOST LIKELY runs 98 minutes,  It looks absolutely wonderful on the Warner Archive DVD. As mentioned above, the disc includes the trailer.

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 from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Blogger Blake Lucas said...

THE GIRL MOST LIKELY was the logical choice for last movie of the night to end the marathon of the RKO retrospective. But my memory is that it was programmed next to last and they had the missing reel in time for that and for the last film they went to the memorable low-budget gem (so classic RKO!) FIVE CAME BACK. If so, that's a great way to end too. (Truly, though, I'm not sure just exactly how this went in the end except that it was very satisfying).

For me there was something a little sour about the original TOM, DICK AND HARRY and I like THE GIRL MOST LIKELY better. It's not just the elements of Technicolor and musical numbers, but it has a lighter feeling, more playfulness, that helps the premise work (and Jane Powell is not the type to ever seem calculating in any event). I'm sure Mitchell Leisen had a lot to do with this--the tone of his movies generally matched the aesthetics, and this was a good grace note for a great career.

Those who like Jane Powell might be interested that this was one of her last three films, the only ones she made after leaving MGM. Of the other two, I don't know availability of ENCHANTED ISLAND (has been on TCM) but THE FEMALE ANIMAL has just been released on Universal Archive/TCM Vault of whatever it is and is a melodrama worth seeing (and Hedy Lamarr's last film---Powell plays her daughter).

I stayed for some time in Balboa when I was young and I remember enjoying being in a house by the water and walking to some terrific movies at a wonderful theatre there (I don't remember if it was that same one--this was in 1955). So it was always kind of a magical and somehow elusive place for me after that (but finally got back there for an afternoon a few years ago). Naturally, I love movies set there of which there are too few. But at least one of them is THE RECKLESS MOMENT.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Blake! Thanks so much for sharing your memories of the movie, the RKO marathon, and Balboa Island! It's a relatively minor musical yet there's a lot of special stuff wrapped up in in for me and it sounds as though for you as well. :)

It's been a very long time since I saw the original film but based on my memories I agree with you that GIRL MOST LIKELY feels much lighter in tone than TOM DICK AND HARRY. Jane Powell being such a sweetheart definitely helps make the premise work.

Many thanks for the mention of THE FEMALE ANIMAL, I will check it out! I have recorded ENCHANTED ISLAND from TCM but not yet watched it.

The Balboa Theatre has been there a long time, it would make sense if that was the place you went to the movies. I love your description of Balboa as a magical place. I wish there were more classic era films set there and in Orange County in general. FALLEN ANGEL filming in Old Town Orange comes to mind, I wonder what others there are?

Best wishes,

7:17 PM  

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