Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Film Reviews: Sally, Irene and Mary & Pin Up Girl

"Sally, Irene and Mary" *** (out of ****)

Today we are looking at two films starring the queens of 20th Century Fox musicals; Alice Faye and Betty Grable. One of them is a fine showcase for the actress, while sadly the other is a bit of a disappointment.

"Sally, Irene and "Mary" (1938) stars Alice Faye and of the two films reviewed today, is the better picture. The movie is an enjoyable blend of comedy, dance and music. What surprised me most about the film was that it is genuinely funny. There are several funny lines through-out the movie which actually had me laughing out loud. That's not always the case for me when it comes to musicals.

The film was a remake of a 1925 silent picture of the same title which starred Joan Crawford and Constance Bennett. This time around Faye stars as Sally with Joan Davis as Irene and Majorie Weaver as Mary. Three young girls looking to make it big on broadway. Meanwhile they pick up odd end jobs hoping their agent, "Gabby" Green, played by Jack Benny "rival" Fred Allen, makes them stars.

Complications ensue (they always do) when Sally meets Tommy Reynolds (Tony Martin, at the time married to Faye). There is an instant attraction between them but Tommy, a singer at a nightclub Sally & Co. find a job, plans to retire from show business, since he hasn't reached the fame he had hoped to achieve.

Another young woman, Joyce Taylor (Louise Hovick, better known as Gypsy Rose Lee) has her eye on Tommy also. Joyce has a reputation of marrying men for their men, which is evident from all the jewelry we see her wearing.

Gabby, smelling a scheme, decides to convince Joyce to produce a broadway show starring Tommy and the three girls. Joyce agrees in hopes it will make Tommy a star. But, not wanting to hurt his male pride, Joyce agrees to be a silent partner. But she lets the cat out of the bag when she sees how friendly Tommy and Sally have become.

"Sally, Irene and Mary" is yet another example of those down-on-their luck depression comedies, filled with young people hoping to strike it rich. You can compare it to something like "The Gold Diggers of 1933" (1933) or another Fox movie made in 1938, "Three Blind Mice", which I have also reviewed. In fact both movies were directed by the same person; William A. Seiter, who also directed "Room Service" (1938) with the Marx Brothers and the Fred Astaire (minus Ginger) musical "You Were Never Lovelier" (1942).

When I reviewed "Three Blind Mice", which I liked over-all, I complained the film needed some more snappy dialogue. "Sally, Irene and Mary" makes up for what that film lacked. Besides Alice Faye and her wonderful singing, the comedy steals the show, especially Fred Allen. Allen, for you youngsters out there, was a very popular radio comedian known for his pretend feud with fellow funnyman, Jack Benny. In his last years he was also on the panel for the well known game show "What's My Line" (God, I'm embarrassed to admit I know these things). He appeared in some movies like "It's In the Bag" (1945) and "Love Thy Neighbor" (1940, with Jack Benny). He was a very funny comedian and I feel this movie showcases his talent. There are a lot of bits for him.

Besides Allen there is Joan Davis. She might be best known to Abbott & Costello fans for appearing in "Hold That Ghost" (1941, which I have reviewed). She was in radio too and was quite popular during the 40s. Here she plays the wise-cracking smart-alec best friend.

But while I truly enjoy all these funny bits, that's almost where the movie goes wrong. It is like having too many chefs in the kitchen. In addition to Allen and Davis, Jimmy Durante also appears. His role is not necessary at all. They didn't need someone of his stature in the role. By 1938 he had appeared in quite a few films already, he was, early in his career, paired with Buster Keaton (!). Watch "What! No Beer?" (1933) and "The Passionate Plumber" (1932). I will admit both are funny but nowhere near Keaton's best.

Durante even gets a song and dance comedy routine near the end of the film which only manages to slow the picture down to a halt. The sequence is really a spotlight for him since he has little to do in the movie. The movie was doing fine with just Allen and Davis and didn't really need a third comic.

But here I am reviewing an Alice Faye musical and I'm not talking about Faye! Alice Faye was a box-office hit for 20th Century Fox. She is best known for her work in "Alexander's Ragtime Band" (1938), "The Gang's All Here" (1943, which I have reviewed). George White's 1935 Scandals" (1935) and for singing the Oscar winning song, "You'll Never Know", one of the great WW2 love songs.

Faye, like Betty Grable after her, had a sweet, girl next door appeal to her. She was attractive but wasn't a pin up girl the way Grable was. But, films which starred both of them always took advantage of their beauty. Though that is not to suggest Faye was merely a pretty face. She could sing. Listen to her go on the up-tempo tune, "Got Music On My Mind" and compare that to the ballad "This Is Where I Came In". Her voice, and to some extent, her acting talent, are able to convey just the right feeling for both songs. She milks all the emotion out of "This Is Where" and gives "Music On My Mind" a jazz flavored appeal.

The third friend, played by Majorie Weaver, isn't given much to do. She was also in "Three Blind Mice". She never really became a major star. She mostly appeared in "B" movies. I would assume 20th Century Fox thought she had something, why else sign her? But they didn't know what to do with her. Too bad.

"Sally, Irene and Mary" is a very entertaining charming musical comedy. It only starts to take some bad turns in the final act, but, for a majority of the time it is a very pleasurable viewing experience. Sadly the film has not been put on DVD (so many good films haven't yet) and it very difficult to find on VHS. Still, I'd suggest looking for it.

"Pin Up Girl" ** 1\2 (out of ****)

Here is a movie called "Pin Up Girl" (1944) starring the pin up girl herself, Betty Grable, made during the peak of her popularity and it just doesn't live up to its hype. What a shame!

I've written about Betty Grable on here quite a few times already. She was one of my favorite actresses. It is not that she had a wide acting range, I seriously don't think she did. What I love about her though is she was pitch perfect for musicals. As I said about Alice Faye, Betty Grable was marketed by 20th Century Fox has a girl next door. She was beautiful but it seemed as if she didn't know it. She didn't use her beauty against men. She was approachable.

A lot of those qualities are in "Pin Up Girl". Grable is very entertaining in it. But, the movie doesn't work. Betty Grable, surprisingly isn't given enough to do. The movie is like a revue. There is a lot of dancing and singing and choreography (a lot of which doesn't involve Betty) in the movie which takes up screen time not allowing enough time for the plot, which does have plenty of possibilities.

Grable stars as Lorry Jones, a small town girl from Missouri who joined the USO. She is the number one pin up girl in the army (this was true of Grable at the time). Every service man wants to dance with or talk to Lorry. As a result she is engaged to roughly 500 men. She simply can't turn them down and doesn't want to hurt their feeling since they are doing so much for the country.

But Lorry has a problem telling the truth. She is going to Washington, D.C. for a secretary job but is too embarrassed to admit it. So, she lies and says she is joining a USO traveling show. Now the boys are heartbroken. This however is only the beginning of her problems.

Lorry decides she wants to stop in New York first for some fun and there she meets a war hero, Tommy Dooley (John Harvey). Later, when trying to get a table at a fancy restaurant, she uses his name. What she doesn't know is Tommy is going there himself. And, the owner of the restaurant, Eddie Hall (Joe E. Brown) is best friends with Tommy. Now what will Lorry do?

As is usual in a musical comedy Tommy falls in love at first sight with Lorry, who pretends to be a big broadway star. The situation worsens when Lorry now has to pretend to be a secretary, who is station at the very office Tommy must report to and the broadway star.

This all kind of reminds me of a Groucho Marx movie called "Copacabana" (1947) with Carmen Miranda. Unfortunately "Pin Up Girl" doesn't do enough with all the comedic possibilities of such a premise. And the film has a terrible ending which only hints at resolutions.


We don't even get to see the lovers kiss and make up at the end!


The movie was directed by H. Brunce Humberstone who also directed Grable in the non-musical noir-ish "I Wake Up Screaming" (1941) with Victor Mature and he directed Alice Faye in "Hello, Frisco, Hello" (1943).

Like "Sally, Irene and Mary" the film has a very good supporting cast. I've written before about Joe E. Brown. He was a popular comedian at Warner Brothers during the 1930s. I reviewed him "Painted Faces" (1929) a lousy courtroom drama. Better to watch him in comedies like "You Said A Mouthful" (1932). He is best known today for his role in "Some Like It Hot" (1958) and his delivery of the famous ending line.

Martha Raye co-stars as Molly, a singer at Eddie's restaurant. She was popular in the 40s too. She appeared in "Hellzapoppin'" (1941) the film version of the famous Olsen & Johnson stage comedy and in Charlie Chaplin's "Monsieur Verdoux" (1947). Also spot Eugene Pallette. And bandleader Charlie Spivak makes his film debut (I guess Harry James was unavailable. That was Grable's husband).

"Pin Up Girl" does at least give us plenty of shots of Grable's "million dollar legs". Her best numbers are "Once Too Often" and "The Story of the Very Merry Widow". In both musical sequences her legs are on full display. Plus "Once Too Often" has a kind of catchy melody.

Also surprising about the film I felt it lacked a patriotic feel to it. It doesn't take advantage of the war time setting.

Still, Grable has been in better movies and I can't really recommend this in good faith. Watch Grable in "Moon Over Miami" (1941), "Down Argentine Way" (1940) and even "That Lady in Ermine" (1948). "Pin Up Girl" doesn't do enough. Too much singing and dancing without Grable and not enough plot.