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Thursday, January 17, 2013

TOO MANY GIRLS (1940)

This was the only Rodgers & Hart musical to get a reasonably faithful transition from B’way to Hollywood. So, naturally, it’s just about the weakest title in the canon; or rather, the weakest of their successes. It’s one of those Rah-Rah college stories about the rich girl (Lucille Ball) whose over-protective dad hires four football All-Stars (Desi Arnaz, Richard Carlson, Hal Leroy, Eddie Bracken) to keeps tabs on her . . . and their hands off her. Musical support is lent by Ann Miller (as a Mexicali Co-ed!) & Frances Langford, already on campus, along with a singing & dancing chorus that includes a tall debuting chorus boy named Van Johnson, front & center in every group composition. They even throw this new kid a line of dialogue. (Who was he screwing to get this star making treatment?) Half these leads came over from the original B’way cast, along with director George Abbott in a rare film outing. Note the odd stage rhythm in the opening reel. But Abbott, shooting entirely on stage-bound sets, knows what he’s up to. Pretty quickly, the general level of artificiality starts working for the goofy story and the comic bits begin to gain traction. This is especially true for the great Eddie Bracken who has two or three hilarious routines, including a remarkable a cappella rendition of ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,’ recorded live and demonstrating perfect pitch in addition to those perfect comedy chops. The film retains a touch of pop culture fame as the meeting ground for Lucy & Desi, but the whole adorably youthful, handsome cast are a constant pleasure to watch. Too bad they couldn’t find a better vocal match for Lucy. (She gets two standards, the already mentioned ‘I Didn’t Know’ and the equally lovely ‘You’re Nearer.’) The rest of the score isn’t nearly as memorable, but at least its all Rodgers & Hart. No interpolations! So, why leave out the delightful ‘Give It Back To The Indians?’ A showstopper for Bracken on stage.

DOUBLE-BILL: The classic Rah-Rah college musical is GOOD NEWS/’30, but the old Talkie original is far outclassed by Betty Comden & Adolph Green’s retrofitted ‘47 remake . . . even with the interpolations.

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