Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Lady Be Good (1941)

Songwriting team Dixie Donegan (Ann Sothern) and Eddie Crane (Robert Young) fall in and out of -- and in and out of! -- marriage as they rise to the top of the music charts in LADY BE GOOD.

This black and white musical from 1941 is one of MGM's lesser-known titles, but it's marvelous entertainment. I hadn't seen it since a screening at L.A.'s Vagabond Theater in the '70s, and I somewhat uncharacteristically -- being a huge fan of MGM musicals -- didn't remember anything about it. I was delighted to discover anew how much fun is packed into the movie's 111 minutes.

The entertainment value starts with the cast: in addition to Sothern and Young, who always offer smooth, solid performances, top-billed Eleanor Powell plays Sothern's best friend. John Carroll, MGM's wartime substitute for Clark Gable, plays a crooner also mixed up in the goings-on; for those who are curious, Carroll does his own singing.

Red Skelton is a "song-plugger" who works to turn Dixie and Eddie's songs into hits, and Virginia O'Brien plays his stone-faced girlfriend, who nonetheless can put over a song with the best of them. Lionel Barrymore has a delightful role as an exasperated divorce court judge with a fondness for musical theater.

The film also features the Berry Brothers, a dancing trio who contribute a couple of mind-blowing specialty dance numbers. Their splits and other great moves are reminiscent of the Nicholas Brothers. The Berrys only appeared in a couple other movies.

Then there's the music: the title song and "Fascinatin' Rhythm" by the Gershwins; a batch of tunes, including "You'll Never Know," by Nacio Herb Brown and the film's producer Arthur Freed; and Kern and Hammerstein's "The Last Time I Saw Paris."

"The Last Time I Saw Paris" won the Academy Award for Best Song. It's given a lovely rendition by Ann Sothern, accompanied by film clips of the city's famous sights. Hearing this song in a movie actually produced when WWII was raging in Europe gives the sequence real poignance.

The film includes a splendid montage showing the marketing of the title song as it climbs up the charts. And as for "Fascinatin' Rhythm," probably all that needs to be said is that it's staged by Busby Berkeley. The number starts out with a great vocal by Connie Russell and segues into a Berry Brothers dance routine. Then a pair of tapping feet signal Eleanor Powell's arrival on stage for the grand finale. It's a terrific number.

Earlier in the film Powell has a delightful routine with a very smart little dancing dog. (An article at TCM says Powell trained the dog herself.) Powell also has a nice flair for comedy and a dazzling smile which lights up the screen. Her career would take a backseat when she married Glenn Ford a couple years later; their son Peter was born in 1945.

The supporting cast includes Dan Dailey (then billed as Dan Dailey Jr.), Reginald Owen, Rose Hobart, and Phil Silvers.

LADY BE GOOD was directed by Norman Z. McLeod. It was filmed by George Folsey and Oliver Marsh.

LADY BE GOOD is available on DVD as part of Classic Musicals From the Dream Factory, Vol. 3. Extras include an audio outtake, the trailer, a cartoon, and the Traveltalk short GLIMPSES OF FLORIDA. I collect Traveltalks, which provide interesting Technicolor glimpses of the world as it existed from the late '30s through the early '50s, and this is one of my favorites. (October 2017 Update: LADY BE GOOD has been reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.)

The movie has also had a VHS release.

LADY BE GOOD can be seen on cable on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here.

Recommended for musical fans. They don't make 'em like they used to, that's for sure.


Blogger Tom said...

I've gotta get this DVD.

4:29 PM  

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