Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Anything Goes (1956)

ANYTHING GOES is a surprisingly bland musical despite three excellent leads, Bing Crosby, Donald O'Connor, and Mitzi Gaynor. The film has some pleasant moments, particularly O'Connor and Gaynor's dance duet "It's De-Lovely," but overall this is a dull movie without much fizz.

Crosby and O'Connor's characters are going to play the leads in an upcoming Broadway show. On a trip to Europe before beginning rehearsals, Crosby finds the perfect leading lady in Mitzi Gaynor, while O'Connor signs a French dancer (Jeanmaire) as their costar. All four actors head for the U.S. on an ocean liner, where O'Connor must let Jeanmaire know she won't be in the show after all.

Part of the film's problem is its downer plot: the viewer waits through much of the movie for O'Connor to let Jeanmaire know she can't be in the Broadway show, and worries about sweet Mitzi Gaynor finding out she's got unexpected competition for the part; Jeanmaire, it's clear, can take care of herself.

Meanwhile, a Treasury agent has followed Gaynor's father (played by Phil Harris) onto the U.S.-bound ship; dear old dad will be arrested for tax evasion when the boat docks. The viewer basically spends most of the film anticipating unpleasant events. It's a full 90 minutes into the 106-minute film before the characters start untangling their issues.

I also didn't find Jeanmaire very interesting; her mannish costume for "I Get a Kick Out of You" was unattractive, and the male dancers' costumes were even worse. The costumes for the final "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" number were also disappointing -- those hats!

Whether costumes or sets are the issue, the film as a whole could have been more visually appealing, especially given that the movie was shot in the wonderful VistaVision process. When O'Connor and Gaynor dance on the ship's deck -- the film's best scene -- it's extremely obvious they're simply on a set in front of a painted backdrop. Such sets are common and easy to accept in many films but the fakery is especially obvious here, in a film which should have had better production values.

A final issue with the film is that for much of the movie Mitzi Gaynor plays the only truly likeable person. Crosby and O'Connor's characters have good-sized egos and are sometimes depicted as phonies. O'Connor shows immaturity when he makes a mistake, signing a leading lady without permission, and then won't step up to the plate to rectify matters. In addition, Jeanmaire's character is portrayed as quite calculating and worldly, which makes her all wrong for a Leslie Caron style ballet choreographed by Jeanmaire's husband, Roland Petit. (Petit and Jeanmaire have been married for over half a century.)

The score has a number of excellent Cole Porter standards. Unfortunately, the Porter songs are supplemented by some pretty bad Jimmy Van Heusen-Sammy Cahn songs; the Van Heusen-Cahn song which opens the film, "Ya Gotta Give the People Hoke," is on the painful side.

The supporting cast includes Kurt Kasznar, Walter Sande, and Argentina Brunetti.

ANYTHING GOES was directed by Robert Lewis, who was also an actor and a Broadway director. This was the only complete feature film directed by Lewis; he also directed a segment of MGM's ZIEGFELD FOLLIES (1945) and a couple of TV shows.

ANYTHING GOES is available on DVD. The DVD case, incidentally, has an incorrect plot description.

I really wanted to like this movie more, but for the most part I found it a misfire.


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