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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

THREE FOR THE SHOW (1954)

Betty Grable, the top-grossing female star of her era, is something of a lost cause to modern audiences. (Then again, imagine trying to explain Madonna to future generations.) In this, her penultimate film and last musical, made on loan-out to Columbia from 20th/Fox, she’s been given a breathy singing voice (to sound more like Marilyn Monroe?), but is in good company on a trim little musical about a B’way star who finds herself simultaneously, if innocently, married to both halves of her writing team, Jack Lemmon & Gower Champion. (Yep, it’s another variation on ENOCH ARDEN, by way of Somerset Maugham & an earlier Jean Arthur pic.) Happily, no one presses the ‘dumb farce’ button too hard. Instead, choreographer Jack Cole conjures a neat routine for these three to barely miss each other while dashing around their shared apartment. Since the fourth co-star is Gower’s real-life wife & dancing partner, Marge Champion, there’s not a lot of suspense in how things will work out, but this let’s everyone concentrate on some unexpectedly well-staged musical numbers. In addition to some Gershwin & a few pop songs, Jack Cole goofs around with some Borodin (he’d just done the all-Borodin KISMET on B’way), Tchaikovsky, Liszt & Rossini to good effect. Helmer H. C. Potter and lenser Arthur Arling aid the theatricality with some spotlighting effects that rarely work this well on film. Grable's famous legs hold up nicely, and she looks swell if you remember to tame the color (the make-up is fierce), plus it’s always a kick to watch Lemmon sing & dance in these early credits. But the real surprise are those Champions. Always neat as a pin and efficient in their every move, here, especially in a big duo that closes the second act, they supply the missing element in their quiver: heat. And what a difference it makes! What a shame that musicals have gotten so expensive that they can’t be modest little charmers anymore.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Everybody knows that Marge Champion was filmed playing some of Snow White’s scenes as an aid to the Disney artists. But the cartoon character she actually looks like is . . . Wilma Flintstone!

DOUBLE-BILL: Blake Edward’s deliciously deranged MICKI + MAUDE/’84 where it’s the guy (Dudley Moore) who finds happiness with two wives.

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