Red Skelton

Watch the Birdie (1950)

Watch the Birdie 1950

Rusty Cammeron (Red Skelton) works at his family’s camera shop, but business isn’t going too swimmingly. The bank is coming after them for money they owe, so when a customer comes in and tells Rusty there’s money in taking pictures of famous people and selling them, Rusty convinces the customer to leave his camera so he can use it to go out and try to get some shots. Rusty tries getting footage of Lucia Coraline’s (Arlene Dahl) yacht being christened, but only succeeds in taking an unplanned swim. Lucia rescues him, but the borrowed camera is at the bottom of the lake.

Lucia has a soft spot for Rusty and after hearing his financial woes, she sends some of her employees to his store the next day to buy enough stuff for him to pay off everything he owes.  She also hires him to come shoot footage of the groundbreaking ceremony at the Lucky Vista Housing Project, which she’s an investor in. Rusty’s attempts to film the ceremony are a complete disaster, but he does unwittingly end up getting footage of Lucia’s manager, Grantland Farns (Leon Ames), making plans to sabotage the housing project.

When Rusty screens the footage, the audio and the footage don’t match up, but Grantland wants that footage back before he can get it straightened out. He sends Miss Lucky Vista (Ann Miller) to seduce him and get the film back, and despite her best efforts, he doesn’t fall for her. But Lucia does catch them together and assumes the worst. By now, Rusty and Lucia have fallen in love, so the whole incident is very upsetting to both of them, but they both straighten everything out to reveal the truth about Grandland.

Watch the Birdie is basically a very loose remake of Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman. The overall plots aren’t particularly similar, but a number of sequences are lifted straight out of The Cameraman. While Watch the Birdie never even comes close to touching the genius that is The Cameraman, it is good for some laughs. I loved beginning exchange between Rusty and a kid who came into his store and I got a kick out of Red Skelton narrating the opening credits. But, unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. It’s not terrible, it’s just not as good as it could have been.

What’s on TCM: March 2014

Mary Astor Humprhey Bogart Maltese FalconHappy March!  31 Days of Oscar may be coming to an end, but there are still plenty of other great things to look forward to in the upcoming month.  What I’m most excited to see returning to TCM is Carson on TCM!  You may remember that back in July 2013, TCM aired a number of classic Johnny Carson Tonight Show interviews with stars such as Doris Day, Kirk Douglas, George Burns, and Bette Davis.  This time around, we have interviews with Gene Kelly, Lauren Bacall, Bob Hope, Jack Lemmon, and Gregory Peck (just to name a few) to look forward to.  I absolutely loved watching the interviews back in July, so I’m very excited to see more.

After taking a break last month for 31 Days of Oscar, Friday Night Spotlight returns with a series about Food in the Movies selected by Anthony Bourdain.

March’s Star of the Month will be the one and only Mary Astor.  A 24 hour marathon of her films will start very Wednesday night this month and continue into the following Thursday

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Lovely to Look At (1952)

Broadway producers Tony Naylor (Howard Keel), Al Marsh (Red Skelton), and Jerry Ralby (Gower Champion) have an idea for a new show, but don’t even have enough start-up money for investors to be interested.  But then Al gets word that his aunt Roberta has died and left him her share of her high-end dress shop in Paris.  Thinking he can just sell off his share of the store and put the money into the show, the guys borrow some airfare money from Tony’s showgirl girlfriend Bubbles (Ann Miller) and head off to Paris.  But when they get there, they find out it won’t be as simple as that.  Roberta’s adopted nieces Stephanie (Kathryn Grayson) and Clarisse (Marge Champion) manage the store and they explain that the shop is deeply in debt so it can’t be sold right now.  Determined to turn the shop around so it can be sold, Tony comes up with the idea of bringing Stephanie’s designs up-to-date and putting on a big fashion show that’s worthy of being on Broadway.

Clarisse and Stephanie are a little reluctant about this idea at first, but change their mind when Tony steps in and helps get their creditors behind the idea, too.  Everyone gets to work putting the show together and sure enough some romances begin to grow.  Jerry and Clarisse fall in love, but Tony and Al both begin to fall for Stephanie (remember, Stephanie was adopted).  But then Tony gets a surprise visit from Bubbles, who has gotten word about the show and wants to be part of it.  Stephanie is heartbroken when she shows up, but Bubbles can sense that there’s something between Tony and Stephanie.  Al, on the other hand, is happy to see Bubbles since that means he gets a chance to have Stephanie to himself.  When Tony takes Bubbles out one night, Al brings Stephanie to the same place, and they’re soon joined by Jerry and Clarisse and model Zsa Zsa (Zsa Zsa Gabor) and her boyfriend Max.  They all spend the night drinking champagne and having a great time.  Well, everyone except for Bubbles, who doesn’t drink and spends the night being jealous of the attention Tony keeps giving to Stephanie.

When the party is over, Bubbles takes Al home in a taxi and when Al starts going on about how much he adores her, she’s flattered, but then realizes he thinks he’s talking to Stephanie instead.  Off in the park, Tony has taken Stephanie for a ride in a horse-drawn carriage and they kiss for the first time.  Stephanie doesn’t remember it when she wakes up the next day, but when Al comes to her to talk about what he said in the taxi, she takes the opportunity to let him down nicely.  However, when Tony talks to her about the night before, all their feelings are still there.  Later, Max throws a party during which Al and Bubbles have a chance to bond over being jilted lovers.  Al also has a chance to do an act for all the guests, which impresses Max, who turns out to be a Broadway producer.

Tony, Al, and Jerry start negotiations for Max to finance their new show and Tony accepts a deal against Al and Jerry’s wishes.  Tony has a hard time passing up the opportunity, but Al and Jerry think they need to stay in Paris and finish the fashion show.  Tony goes off to New York with Max, leaving Al and Jerry there to take care of the fashion show.  Not only has Tony alienated Al and Jerry, Stephanie is also devastated because she thinks that he only cares about himself.  But Tony, Al, and Jerry all realize that they’re only successful as a team and Max lets Tony go back to Paris.  He makes it back just in time for the show and apologizes for betraying his friends.  They get their act together and put on the best fashion show to ever hit Paris.

I didn’t have particularly high hopes for Lovely to Look at since every source I checked gave it a pretty mediocre rating, but I was pleasantly surprised by it.  It’s certainly not one of the greatest musicals to come out of MGM, but it is bright, colorful, splashy fun.  It’s got some really lovely songs and beautiful dance scenes, particularly the ones with Marge and Gower Champion.  Kathryn Grayson’s rendition of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is very much worth hearing.  I liked the whole cast; Ann Miller was totally on top of her game.  This was Zsa Zsa Gabor’s film debut.  She doesn’t have a very big part, but she does just fine in bringing the daffy, over-the-top quality her character needed.  I definitely can’t neglect to mention the big fashion show scene, which Vincente Minnelli was brought in to direct.  It’s like the fashion show scene from The Women, only bigger, with more singing, and it actually has something to do with the movie.  Lovely to Look At was the last film that Adrian designed costumes for, so I thought it was fitting that he went out with such a big showcase of his work.  Overall, I’d say it’s worth at least giving this movie a chance.  A lot of places gave it two out of four stars, but I would have given it three.

Du Barry Was a Lady (1943)

Hat check clerk Louis Blore (Red Skelton) works in a nightclub where one of the star performers is May Daly (Lucille Ball).  Louis is in love with May, but he has some competition from dancer Alec Howe (Gene Kelly).  May loves Alec and Alec loves her, but unfortunately for both Louis and Alec, she’s determined to marry a rich man and neither of them has much money.  But all of that changes when one day, telegram messenger Charlie (Rags Ragland) brings Louis a telegram informing him that he’s won a sweepstakes!  All of a sudden, he is a rich man and asks May to marry him.  She makes it abundantly clear that she’d only be marrying him for his money, but he doesn’t mind.  But even then, she still has reservations.

One night, Charlie, who has taken Louis’ old hat check clerk job, suggests slipping a mickey into Alec’s drink so he won’t be any competition for a few days.  Of course, this plan goes horribly wrong when Louis accidentally gets the drugged drink intended for Alec.  While unconscious, Louis dreams that he’s back in the 1700s.  In his dream, he is King Louis XV and May is Madame Du Barry.  Just like in real life, King Louis is trying to win over Madame Du Barry by showering her with lavish presents, but her love can’t be bought.  In fact, when she starts receiving mysterious notes from someone named The Black Arrow (Alec’s dream alter-ego), she insists on meeting with this Black Arrow.  She goes to see him and finds out he is leading a rebellion against Madame Du Barry and King Louis XV because he thinks Du Barry is encouraging Louis to take taxpayer’s money to pay for her extravagant gifts.  But despite this, she can’t help but be attracted to The Black Arrow.  When The Black Arrow and his posse are captured, Louis sentences them to death by the guillotine, but Du Barry pleads with him to spare The Black Arrow.  When Louis wakes up, he awakens with the realization that trying to buy love is a ridiculous idea.  By then, May and Alec have decided to get married and Louis wishes them well and the three of them decide to remain friends.

Du Barry Was a Lady isn’t one of the all time great musicals, but it is a nice bit of frothy entertainment.  Lucille isn’t used to her full comedic potential and Gene Kelly only gets one solo dance scene, but Red Skelton, Rags Ragland, and Zero Mostel do bring some good laughs.  The musical numbers generally don’t add much to the story, but they are fun to watch.  I liked Virginia O’Brien’s “Salome” number and it was nice to see so much of Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra.  It’s also worth noting that this is the first movie where Lucille Ball had her hair dyed that signature shade of red.  All in all, it wasn’t a spectacular movie, but it is light and fun and that’s exactly what I expected of it.

Ziegfeld Follies (1945)

Part 3 of my Ziegfeld in Hollywood series.

In a way, Ziegfeld Follies is kind of like Man With a Movie Camera: they’re both movies that are rather difficult to write about since neither one has a real plot.  They’re both concept movies.  In the case of Ziegfeld Follies, the concept is Florenz Ziegfeld (played once again by William Powell) in Heaven planning a show featuring some of the greatest film stars.  The movie is a true all-star extravaganza featuring the likes of Judy Garland, Esther Williams, Lena Horne, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Fanny Brice, Kathryn Grayson, Red Skelton, and Lucille Ball in a series of musical numbers and comedy sketches like you might see in the Ziegfeld Follies.

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