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Saturday, June 20, 2015

HOLIDAY IN MEXICO (1946)

Typically dopey (er, wholesome) ‘family’ musical from the Joe Pasternak unit @ M-G-M charts the romantic foibles of Jane Powell & Roddy McDowall as they suffer (and overplay) thru those awkward teenage years. Slackly directed by George Sidney, it runs an unconscionable 128 minutes, without so much as a peek at Mexico. In fact, we barely seem to leave Jane’s suspiciously spacious living room! The plot, such as it is, has Jane getting a crush on pianist José Iturbi while one of her teen pals falls for Walter Pidgeon, her widowed ambassador dad. He barely notices either of them, too busy wooing old flame Ilona Massey. Oh, and band leader Xavier Cugat is around to play at parties between Jane’s soprano trilling (drifting sharp above the staff) and Iturbi’s boogie-woogie & Rachmaninoff abridgements. (The Second Piano Concerto comes in at three and a half minutes!) Painful as all this is, the film is essential viewing for all Film Musical Mavens for the four or five production numbers with Cugat or Iturbi that are Stanley Donen’s first solo directing gigs away from Gene Kelly.* The Iturbi specialty numbers use the piano’s black glossy surfaces as mirrors to fussy effect, along with inside-the-piano/looking out camera set-ups. (A rookie's mistake.) But the stuff with Cugat & Co. show real filmmaking imagination. Already, those signature Donen crane shots are in place, augmented with cool riding platforms (out of camera range) for Xavier or his vocalist. It makes for a stupendous traveling shot with a near 3D effect. Fast-Forward thru the dross, to find the good stuff.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Barely 22 here, Donen had already done game-changing work with Kelly on COVER GIRL/’44 (the doppelgänger dance) as well as the famous live action/animation combo for the Gene Kelly/Jerry the Mouse sequence in ANCHORS AWEIGH/’45, the previous Pasternak/Sidney/Iturbi pic. Weighing in at 143 minutes!

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