Friday, December 02, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Give a Girl a Break (1953)

GIVE A GIRL A BREAK is a neglected MGM musical which has just been released in a beautiful remastered print by the Warner Archive. Hopefully new audiences will now discover a pretty swell little movie.

GIVE A GIRL A BREAK was directed by Stanley Donen, who also choreographed the film along with leading man Gower Champion. Gower plays Ted Sturgis, the director of a Broadway show which loses its leading lady (Donna Martell) shortly before opening night.

Ted auditions three potential replacements: unknown Suzy Doolittle (Debbie Reynolds), who immediately captures the heart of Ted's assistant Bob (Bob Fosse); Joanna Moss (Helen Wood), a ballerina favored by the show's composer (Kurt Kasznar); and Ted's ex-wife, Madelyn (Marge Champion), who's been off the stage for a couple of years. Most of the movie is enjoyably spent deciding which girl will get the break.

Like the same year's breezy I LOVE MELVIN (1953), which also starred Reynolds, this movie is a great deal of fun. GIVE A GIRL A BREAK's 82-minute running time is five minutes longer than I LOVE MELVIN, and the script by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (THE THIN MAN, SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS) has a little more substance and tang, based on a story by Vera Caspary (LAURA). That said, it's still mostly an excuse for a string of musical numbers, and that's just fine.

The Burton Lane-Ira Gershwin score for the most part isn't memorable, but musical fans should nonetheless enjoy the film tremendously thanks to one great dance after another, choreographed and performed by some of the best in the business. My favorite sequence is a highly charged rooftop number danced by the Champions that's as good as anything in better-known MGM musicals. The Champions always bring interesting layers of emotion and heat to their routines, along with their impressive dancing and athletic skills.

And it may not be possible to get any cuter than Bob Fosse and Debbie Reynolds dancing "In Our United State," which like so many Fosse numbers includes a hat in the routine, not to mention an impressive backflip. (A clip of the entire dance is available at the TCM website.) This is perhaps the best song in the movie, and an instrumental version is used later in the film for a Fosse-Reynolds dance on a set filled with colorful balloons; Fosse and Reynolds' yellow and white outfits, along with the red and blue balloons, look absolutely terrific in this lovely print.

It's also a lot of fun to see two future directors of classic Broadway musicals, Gower Champion and Bob Fosse, dancing together in "Nothing is Impossible" -- although I kept wishing Kurt Kasznar would get out of the way, as his presence keeps the dance from completely taking off the way it should, given the talent involved.

The weakest number is perhaps the bland finale, "Applause, Applause," featuring Reynolds and Gower Champion, but even there, it's fun to spot George Chakiris dancing in the background.

Early on in the movie Helen Wood seems more of a human pretzel than a ballerina, but she has a chance to shine as a dancer later in the film. She's also got a couple of cute scenes with Richard Anderson, who plays her musician husband.

The supporting cast includes Lurene Tuttle as Reynolds' pushy stage mother, Larry Keating as the show's producer, and William Ching as Marge Champion's controlling beau.

The Technicolor cinematography was by William C. Mellor. Helen Rose designed the women's colorful costumes.

GIVE A GIRL A BREAK was released on VHS back in 1998.

This movie can also be seen from time to time on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer can be seen here.


Blogger Sally said...

My brother gave me this movie for birthday last year and I'm so glad he did! I love Bob Fosse and Debbie Reynolds and I'm growing to love Marge and Gower Champion too. I really like "In Our United States" as well. So cute! I must admit, though, that it really bothers me that Joanna and Madelyn have to sacrifice something to be happy. I don't like that they're made to compromise. And I don't like that the men keeping push them around. But I do like watching the dancing. It's incredible to have so much talent together in a movie.

6:14 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Sally!

I'm so glad you've enjoyed this too! What amazing dancing. I just wish the Warner Archive DVD had chapter stops for each dance.

You make a good point, it's interesting that two of the characters have to make a sacrifice. No "having it all" for those ladies. I liked Joanna's husband a lot, but Madelyn's beau was a jerk (grin).

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Best wishes,

12:35 AM  

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