Sunday, August 31, 2008

Tonight's Movie: The Girl Next Door (1953)

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR is a marvelous little musical which has been largely overlooked since its release in 1953. Thanks to the wonders of DVD, musical fans such as myself have recently been discovering it for the first time.

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR is played by June Haver, who is at her Technicolor loveliest as a musical star who buys a suburban home and finds herself falling in love with the widower next door. The widower, a cartoonist, is played by Dan Dailey, and his son is played by Billy Gray, who appeared for years in FATHER KNOWS BEST.

Haver and Dailey are a terrific dance team. They are showcased in several numbers, the best of which is an inspired noirish number called "Nowhere Guy." Gray gets a chance to shine himself in a nicely staged number in which he and Dailey toss breakable dishes back and forth. The movie also features a couple cute UPA animation sequences. The cartoon sequences and the movie's eye-catching set design, in particular, provide a great '50s time capsule.

Tenor Dennis Day -- best known as Jack Benny's sidekick -- plays Haver's financial manager, who has a yen for Haver's best friend, engagingly played by Cara Williams. Williams later received an Academy Award nomination for THE DEFIANT ONES (1958) and was Emmy-nominated for her role in the TV series PETE AND GLADYS.

The supporting cast includes child actress Mary Jane Saunders. I recently wrote a bit about Saunders' career in this post on A WOMAN OF DISTINCTION.

The cast also includes a couple familiar '60s TV faces, Natalie Schafer (GILLIGAN'S ISLAND) and Hayden Rorke (I DREAM OF JEANNIE).

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR was June Haver's last movie. In 1954 June married a widower in real life, actor Fred MacMurray, and she retired from the screen. Haver and MacMurray adopted twin girls. They were married until MacMurray's passing in 1991. Haver died in 2005.

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR runs 92 minutes and was directed by Richard Sale. Sale also directed the 1951 Loretta Young-Joseph Cotten comedy HALF ANGEL (reviewed here), which had a very similar candybox color palette. (THE GIRL NEXT DOOR was filmed by Leon Shamroy.) June Haver's beautiful costumes were designed by Travilla, who likewise worked on HALF ANGEL.

The DVD was released as part of the Fox Marquee Musicals series. The print is beautiful. Extras include three featurettes, including "Rediscovering The Girl Next Door" with musical historians Drew Casper and Miles Kreuger. Billy Gray participates in the featurettes as well.

The movie has also been released on VHS.

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR can also be seen on Fox Movie Channel, where it next airs September 17, 2008.


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