Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Romantic Comedy Blogathon: Footlight Serenade (1942)

A BOY.     A GIRL.     A BOXER.     ON BROADWAY!

THE BOY

Bill Smith came to the big town to make his mark, but the only success he's met with has been the romantic kind.  However, he is willing to temporarily leave his girl, Pat, to fend for herself while he looks for greener pastures elsewhere.  Pat convinces Bill to stop by a theatre where she is auditioning so they can have one last goodbye.  He'll be staying put!

John Payne plays Bill.  The former Warners contractee had been with Twentieth Century Fox for two years at this point and had proven himself with his good looks, fine voice and easy chemistry with leading ladies.  Tin Pan Alley, Week-End in Havana and The Great American Broadcast with Alice Faye, Sun Valley Serenade with Sonja Henie and To the Shores of Tripoli with Maureen O'Hara (they would meet up later with a fella called Kris Kringle) were solid hits.

THE GIRL

Pat Lambert is like hundreds of dancers looking for work on Broadway.  The big difference is she has Bill in her corner.  Pat's talent and personality also catch the eye of the Boxer.  Well, a job is a job and a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do!

Betty Grable plays Pat.  The bubbly and talented Grable had been around Hollywood for ten years in small, but showy parts.  It took a role on Broadway in Cole Porter's Du Barry Was a Lady to bring her back to Tinseltown where she would become one of the most popular performers of the 1940s.  Down Argentine Way was the colourful Fox musical co-starring Don Ameche would really put her on the map.

THE BOXER

Tommy Lundy is the champ.  The ladies love him almost as much as he loves himself.  He can't sing and he can't dance and he can't act, but that won't stop him from starring in a Broadway show.  After all, the ladies love him!

Victor Mature plays Tommy.  The physically imposing actor self-deprecatingly maligned his own talents to go along with the critical catcalls.  However, he was a trained professional whose performances in such films as My Darling Clementine, Kiss of Death, Cry of the City and I Wake Up Screaming belie his "not an actor" reputation.  The larger-than-life, exuberant and extremely confident Tommy is a particularly fun characterization.

ON BROADWAY!

Phil Silvers as the comic "Slap" convinces producer Bruce McKay played by James Gleason that a show starring the ring's latest heartthrob will be a surefire hit.  A hit, he wants.  What he gets is ulcers when the swell-headed Tommy takes over.  Tommy's not malicious, it's just that he's always right so why shouldn't people do what he says?  He wants someone to box in the last act and Bill seems like the right guy, so he gets Bill.  He thinks Pat is darn cute, and she sure can dance, so he gets Pat in the show.

Betty Grable, Jane Wyman

Also along for the fun is Pat's best friend Flo played by Jane Wyman.  I don't know why this Warner Brothers gal was at Fox for one picture in 1942, but I know what she was doing.  She was doing the Eve Arden bit, that of sardonic best friend, and she nails it.  Flo sees nothing but trouble in the cards for Pat.  "You have as much chance of going on as I have of becoming First Lady!"

The supporting cast is a movie buffs delight featuring Irving Bacon, Mantan Moreland and Frank Orth.  Tommy's current girlfriend, society singer Estelle Evans played by society singer Cobina Wright, is not right for a Broadway show so naturally Tommy wants her for his leading lady.  Miss Evans is immediately jealous of the attention Tommy pays Pat.  There's a lot of that going around.  Bill isn't too pleased either.  Pat uses this to her advantage.  Some guys have to be dragged to the altar or municipal city hall.  Love is in the air, but has to be kept a secret until opening night as everyone is afraid of upsetting Tommy before the show is declared a hit, Pat becomes a star and the money starts rolling in.

The director of Footlight Serenade is Gregory Ratoff (Intermezzo: A Love Story, Rose of Washington Square, The Corsican Brothers), Max Fabian of All About Eve fame.  He gives us a nicely paced show and some memorable tracking shots through the backstage areas of our Broadway theatre setting.  The black and white cinematography is by Lee Garmes (Scarface, The Furies, A Big Hand for the Little Lady) who would also produce and direct in his Hollywood career.

I like my romantic comedies with generous helpings of music.  Cupid's arrow is often greatly helped by the right love song or a passionate dance.  Hollywood obliged with many great examples starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers at RKO, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald at MGM, and Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler at Warner Brothers.  The Great American Songbook is filled with movie standards from Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, Harry Warren and others.

Songs for Footlight Serenade were composed by Oscar winners (Thanks for the Memory) Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin.  The tunes are peppy and humourous befitting this lively story, and the dance routines are fun and polished.  Choreography is by Hermes Pan (Top Hat, Swing Time, Silk Stockings) who plays a dance director in the movie and performs Land on Your Feet with Betty.    The shadow boxing number I Heard the Birdies Sing is a very nice showcase for Betty.  The number I'm Still Crazy for You shows why Bill and Pat are perfect for each other.

John Payne, Betty Grable, Victor Mature

Betty Grable has a very appealing screen personality.  She's attractive and energetic.  She knows what she wants and goes after it.  She doesn't suffer fools lightly.  She's a gal that can take care of herself.  John Payne is one of those performers who always seems just right in whatever he is doing, a musical-comedy, a film-noir or a western.  He makes it look easy. 

You know going into a romantic comedy what the ending will be.  The story told must entertain and amuse.  The actors must be personable and professionally committed to putting over the script.  There has to be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding before that final clinch or production number, and the audience has to enjoy the ride.  Footlight Serenade is one enjoyable ride.

Lara of Backlots and Vince of Carole & Co. have brought love to the blogosphere with The Romantic Comedy Blogathon running from May 1 - 4.

26 comments:

  1. This sounds like a lot of fun! I knew I wanted to see it as soon as I saw that great Wyman-Grable photo. And anyone channeling Eve Arden is well worth a listen:) Thanks for the rec! Leah

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is a fun, unpretentious movie that always makes me feel good.

      Delete
  2. Paddy, with stars like Betty Grable, John Payne, Eve Arden, Phil Silvers, Jane Wyman and James Gleason, it's no wonder FOOTLIGHT SERENADE sang and danced into audiences hearts; I loved the musical numbers! This was a swell pick for the Romantic Comedy Blogathon!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Dorian. I'm glad you enjoyed the musical numbers. I can't get that cute duet between Betty and John out of my head.

      Delete
  3. Sounds fun! I've recently been trying to fill the betty Grable hole in my movie knowledge (larger than it should be!), but I haven't got round to this one yet. The music however (especially I Heard The Birdies Sing) is well-known to me as my mum had it on vinyl when I was a kid!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's so cool about that record being part of your life soundtrack. Betty shadow boxing with herself in that number predates even Gene Kelly dancing with his own image in "Cover Girl".

      Delete
  4. Jane Wyman channelling Eve Arden? I have GOT to see this!

    And I agree re: John Payne. He really does make everything look easy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You'll want to give Jane a hug for a job well done!

      When a fellow does the job that well, like John Payne or James Garner for example, their ability is often overlooked.

      Delete
  5. Love all the leads, John Payne has to be one of the most underrated stars ever, I mean he did everything and looked great and was a fine romantic lead. Great choice!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The episode of "Columbo" which featured John Payne and Janet Leigh was on local television a while back. My 20-something daughter caught a bit of it asking "Who's he?". "I must have shown you John Payne" I replied. Her response was "If you had, I sure would have remembered!".

      Delete
  6. I was just thinking about Betty Grable the other day. She always gets a little dissed, but she certainly lit up the screen. And Jane Wyman in her cutie-pie period - she sure looked unhappy as a platinum blonde.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jane Wyman was so versatile. She did everything in the early part of her career. I think, though of fine quality, her 50s output has strangely overshadowed just how fine an actress she was.

      Delete
  7. A fun movie. I especially like your comments about Victor Mature.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think we may be coming into a time when Mature gets the respect he deserves.

      Delete
  8. Oopsie! Sorry for mixing up "Footlight Serenade" with "Footlight Parade" (I know I'm probably not the first).

    ReplyDelete
  9. First, thanks for your always great comments.
    Second, I haven't watched this film, but it sounds very good. Victor Mature was cool in another musical My Gal Sal. And John Payne is so underrated!
    Kisses!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't seen "My Gal Sal" in years. Thanks for reminding me. I think "Footlight Serenade" is something you would really enjoy.

      Delete
  10. What a fun review of a fun film! I always enjoy Miss Grable, especially in those bright Technicolor musicals, but I can't wait to give this film a re-watch!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The folks in the musical department at Fox really knew how to entertain.

      Delete
  11. Ooooh, C.W. None of this is ringing a bell. Well, the actors do and the 'types' do, but not this actual movie. Don't think I ever saw it. How is that possible? I'll bet I can find it on youtube. If not, then I'll check around. Somebody's gotta' have it! Betty Grable was always a 'right broad'. She knew her limitations, but played to her strengths. And those legs didn't hurt either. Guys and gals, Romance, Broadway, dancing, puttin' on a show. What's not to love?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's something about Betty Grable that is so open and friendly. I can imagine sitting somewhere and gabbing an afternoon away with that gal.

      Delete
  12. I think this is my year to develop a passion for Betty Grable, hot on the tail of my Jeanette McDonald obsession. This movie looks incredibly fun! Two words: Gams. Well, that's only one word, plural, but it speaks Grable-type volumes.

    I'll really have to check this one out!

    Clayton @ Claytonology

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I picture you stumbling through the year like Robert Strauss in "Stalag 17" shouting "Betty! Betty!".

      Delete
  13. Betty Grable should be better known - she is just plan fun. Great post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A few years ago when I showed my daughter her first Grable picture (I think it was "My Blue Heaven"), her reaction was "she seems like fun". I think that's a strong attribute for a performer.

      Delete