Sunday, August 21, 2016

Tonight's Movie: About Face (1952) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

ABOUT FACE (1952) is a Warner Bros. musical just released by the Warner Archive.

Like STOP, YOU'RE KILLING ME (1952), another Warner Bros. musical released by the Archive the same week, ABOUT FACE is based on a 1938 WB comedy. ABOUT FACE was based on BROTHER RAT (1938), while STOP, YOU'RE KILLING ME was based on A SLIGHT CASE OF MURDER (1938). I've never seen either of the original films, but both are in my collection and will be reviewed here at a future date.

The musical remakes also share in common appearances by Virginia Gibson, a lesser-known performer appreciated by musical fans such as myself for films like PAINTING THE CLOUDS WITH SUNSHINE (1951) and SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954).

Another cast member who appears in both ABOUT FACE and STOP, YOU'RE KILLING ME is Phyllis Kirk, who had a tiny part as a nurse in the latter film. Here she has a key role as Eddie Bracken's wife; she's very cute as the secret bride of the school's nerdy star pitcher. (Her singing, incidentally, is dubbed by Bonnie Lou Williams.) Kirk had been slowly working her way through the ranks and the following year starred in one of my all-time favorite film noir titles, CRIME WAVE (1953).

The plot of ABOUT FACE is somewhat reminiscent of the recently watched WINTER CARNIVAL (1939); both films begin with trains full of young ladies descending on an all-male campus for a festive weekend. In ABOUT FACE the women are arriving at a military college, SMI.

The three ladies are Betty Long (Gibson), who is concealing her identity as daughter of school head Col. Long (Larry Keating); local gal Lorna Carter (Aileen Stanley Jr.), who's just returned home; and Alice Wheatley (Kirk), who is secretly married to Biff Roberts (Eddie Bracken), against school regulations.

Alice surprises Biff with the news that he's soon to be a father, while Tony Williams (Gordon MacRae) and Dave Crouse (Dick Wesson) romance Lorna and Betty.

Since I haven't seen BROTHER RAT yet, I viewed ABOUT FACE strictly on its own terms. It's definitely not a top-flight Warner Bros. musical, due in part to a weak musical score by Peter De Rose and Charles Tobias, but I nonetheless found it colorful, engaging fun, with an appealing cast in a well-told story. Those who enjoy musicals or the cast will probably find it worth a look.

The couples are all cute together, with the highlight being MacRae, Stanley, Wesson, and Gibson performing "Piano, Bass and Drums." Gibson in particular shines as the bubbly Betty, with a lovely wardrobe by Leah Rhodes; I loved the colorful underskirts seen when she twirls! Betty comes through big time near the end, tutoring Biff in chemistry and preventing the guys from being expelled when she's caught in the dorm helping Biff study.

This was the film debut of 20-year-old Joel Grey, who plays a much-put-upon freshman. I wasn't wild about his routine in the chemistry lab, but he has a nice dance with Gibson in the final scene.

The cast also includes Cliff Ferre, James Best, John Baer, and Mabel Albertson.

ABOUT FACE was directed by Roy Del Ruth, who has a cameo in the film as a professor. It was shot in Technicolor by Bert Glennon. The running time is 94 minutes.

The print looks excellent in places. While some scenes are a bit faded, it's not scratched and looks far better than STOP, YOU'RE KILLING ME, perhaps due in part to the fact that STOP, YOU'RE KILLING ME was shot in the inferior Warnercolor process.

There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

"Brother Rat" and I are old pals. It features the screen debut of Eddie Albert who starred in the very successful Broadway play. I had no idea it had been reworked as a musical. Nice cast and it sounds like they kept a lot of the humorous situations. Why mess with success? Sounds like a nice Sunday afternoon diversion.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Glad to get the feedback on BROTHER RAT, it sounds like fun -- any movie with Priscilla Lane is a movie I want to watch. :) A "Sunday afternoon diversion" is the perfect description -- may not be a great film but it's one I enjoyed watching.

Best wishes,

11:36 PM  

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