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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

ONE IN A MILLION (1936)

After three Olympic Figure-Skating Championships (‘28; ‘32; ‘36), 24 year-old Sonja Henie turned pro to lead a touring Ice Show and take a shot at Hollywood stardom. On the short side, with a pug nose and a round, smiley face, she became one of filmdom’s odder novelty acts, offering a cheery, all-purpose pose between specialty numbers. Figure skating at the time was rhythm-oriented and nearly jump-free, but she spins like a dervish and must have been a whiz at the old compulsory etching on ice of loops & curves. (Look sharp for this early on.) Unsure of her commercial pull, this debut pic is on the basic side; a try-out with lots of supporting acts to share the burden: an all-girl band; a trio of comic siblings; a slapstick harmonica orchestra*; Don Ameche (sans moustache) for romance; Jean Hersholt as a sentimental papa; and Adolphe Menjou to run the narrative, yelling all his lines as a cash-strapped producer. Add in a pretty good romantic ballad (‘Who’s Afraid of Love?’) and Henie hardly has time to hit the ice. Later films would up her rink-time, the over-all budget and bump up from Ameche to Tyrone Power as co-star. But they’re really not so different, nor much better. And after ten films, it was back to live touring shows.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Borrah Minevitch & his Harmonica Rascals get almost as much screen time as Henie gets to skate. And while a little bit of funny harmonica playing goes a long way, there’s real interest in seeing that one of the players in his band is Black. And he’s not there to louse things up or go into a minstrel routine, just a featured player who brings some swing to the mix. An integrated music group on film in 1936 would have been no small thing; it may well have been a first.

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