Saturday, March 12, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Honolulu (1939)

I've seen over 100 MGM musicals, but there are a few I've missed along the way, and I'm making a push to catch up with them!

Tonight it was HONOLULU (1939), an enjoyable comedy featuring the dancing of the fabulous Eleanor Powell.

Eleanor plays Dorothy March, an entertainer who meets movie star Brooks Mason (Robert Young) on the ship to Honolulu. It's just a little complicated as Brooks is pretending to be George Smith (also Robert Young), a lookalike he met on the Mainland, as Brooks wants to have a much needed rest from his enthusiastic fans. George, meanwhile, is pretending to be Brooks on a trip to New York.

The plot is pretty silly, especially when you factor in George Burns and Gracie Allen in supporting roles, but it's a breezy and entertaining 83 minutes. Beyond the goofball moments, there's also something rather poignant to the modern viewer about the innocent depiction of Honolulu as part of an island paradise, just a couple short years before Pearl Harbor.

This was Eleanor Powell's fifth feature film at MGM, and she's charming, seeming natural and at home in front of the camera.

Powell has two especially delightful dances. The first is a shipboard number which includes the use of a jump rope. She makes tapping while jumping rope look amazingly easy! (Note: That's James Millican as the lifeguard at the end of the number, one of his many early-career bit parts.) The other is a stunning "Hawaiian" dance near movie's end, featuring different styles, including hula and tap. Some of the clever hand movements in that number would be right at home in an entertainer's repertoire today.

She's also got a dance on stairsteps in homage to Bill Robinson, but it wasn't my favorite, as it was performed in blackface; her dancing, as always, is tops.

Young's movie star character is at times a little too believably enamored with himself, but Young is very effective managing a dual role, and the special effects are excellent.

HONOLULU isn't an MGM classic but it's pleasant entertainment, and Powell's sublime dancing is reason enough for musical fans to be sure to catch it.

The supporting cast is outstanding, including Rita Johnson as George Smith's fiancee, Ruth Hussey as a movie actress, Tom Neal as an ambulance attendant, and Edward Gargan and Cliff Clark as police detectives. The cast also includes Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Willie Fung, Clarence Kolb, Ann Morriss, Jo Ann Sayers, Sig Rumann, and Bess Flowers.

HONOLULU was directed by Edward Buzzell and filmed in black and white by Ray June.

I watched HONOLULU via the 1995 VHS release which is a very nice print. This film has also been released in a remastered edition from the Warner Archive, and it turns up from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.

The trailer is at the TCM website.


Blogger Rick said...

I just watched this last night (though I think I'd seen it before long ago on a late night TV showing.) It was fun, though alarmingly simple-minded. The whole notion of two look-a-like guys trading places just seems like screenwriters pulling a plot out of a hat and figuring, "ah, that's good enough." Kind of like a soap opera dragging out the old "evil twin" thing when they don't know what else to do.

Robert Young is good, though. Robert Young is always good.

The big surprise to me was that Burns and Allen play supporting roles, but never share the screen until the very, absolute, ultimate, final teensy few minutes of the movie. Up till then, George has little to do, while Gracie foists her typical character on a variety of folks until finally...FINALLY...she and George have a few precious seconds together. Seems to me like strange use of a popular team.

But, Young is good, Powell dances beautifully, and Gracie is fun. It's enjoyable, even if you have to just shake your head at some of the silliness.

2:46 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Yep, that all sounds about right to me. A good time for the reasons you mention, even if it's all kinda giddy and silly.

And it really was rather interesting that they didn't put George & Gracie together till the very end, I wondered what the thinking was behind that choice.

Thanks for stopping by to share your take on the movie!

Best wishes,

3:43 PM  

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