New York City’s Film Forum is presenting an unusual film series this spring 2007: Low(er)-budget classic musicals from the 1930s to the early 1950s.
In those films you won’t find many expensive sets (though several cheap ones are made out to look pricey), mammoth production numbers (though miracles can happen even on a tight budget), or A-list stars such as Judy Garland and Fred Astaire (though you’ll be able to see several big names either in their pre- or post-stardom days, including Alice Faye, Marilyn Monroe, Linda Darnell, Betty Grable, Mickey Rooney, Dorothy Dandridge, and Susan Hayward).
But perhaps none of that matters when you have tap dancing dynamo Ann Miller kicking her heels in Reveille with Beverly, Thelma Todd and Ruth Etting in the Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey vehicle Hips, Hips, Hooray, and quail-hunting hillbilly Judy Canova metamorphosing into “public patriot number one” (thanks to p.r. man Joe E. Brown) in Joan of Ozark.
As a plus, most of those rarities will be screened in new 35mm prints.
The series, comprised of 49 titles, was programmed by Bruce Goldstein with the assistance of Clive Hirschhorn, Howard Mandelbaum, Rick Scheckman, Eric Spilker, Tom Vallance, and Joseph Yranski.
Several goodies have already been screened, including the rarely seen early Ginger Rogers musical Sitting Pretty, and an Ann Miller trio: the aforementioned Reveille with Beverly, Eadie Was a Lady, and Priorities on Parade (“The jive charmers who turn out the dive bombers!” read the ads). But there’s much more to come.
In the upcoming weeks, Joe Yranski will be introducing the following guests at the theater:
Marge Belcher Champion on 4/7; Diana Canova (Judy Canova’s daughter) on 4/9; Ron Hutchinson (Vitaphone Project) 4/15; Gloria Jean (taped introduction) on 4/16; Jane Withers (taped interview) on 4/17; and Jane Powell on 4/18.
Among the highlights of the festival, which runs until April 19, are:
The Technicolored The Bloodhounds of Broadway (1952), starring leggy Mitzi Gaynor as a hillbilly who becomes a Broadway sensation through the interference of hunky bookie Scott Brady. 20th Century Fox film editor Harmon Jones directed.
Douglas Sirk, renowned for his over-the-top melodramas of the 1950s (Magnificent Obsession, Imitation of Life), directs Don Ameche and Dorothy Lamour in Slightly French (1949), the story of a has-been Hollywood producer who tries to sell an Irish cooch dancer as an exotic French actress.
Everything I Have Is Yours (1952). Veteran Robert Z Leonard directs Gower and Marge Champion in this tale of career vs. family life. Needless to say, the Champion who solve the issue is Marge. The always reliable Dennis O’Keefe co-stars.
An Andrews Sisters trio of films: Buck Privates (1941), starring Abbott and Costello; Argentine Nights (1940), with the Ritz Brothers, and Give Out Sisters (1942), with Universal players Donald O’Connor, Peggy Ryan, plus future Fox star Dan Dailey.
Judy Canova trio: The aforementioned Joan of Ozark; Sis Hopkins, with a young Susan Hayward (Canova performs a hillbilly “La Traviata” in this one); and Hit the Hay (1945), with future producer Ross Hunter as an impresario romancing Canova.
College Rhythm (1934), directed by Oscar winner Norman Taurog, with Jack Oakie and Polish sensation Lyda Roberti, whose thick accent could turn the simplest of vowels into a lengthy diphthong and the most mediocre of songs into a musical delight.
This Way, Please (1937), directed by Robert Florey, with former silent film performer Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers and a very young Betty Grable.
Vitaphone shorts from 1926-1930. Those will be followed by the rarely seen 1929 musical Song of Love, starring vaudeville legend Belle Baker in her only starring film role. (According to the IMDb, Baker appeared in a mere three films.) Handsome silent film leading man Ralph Graves plays her son. Once thought lost, Song of Love was rediscovered in 2001.
Donald O’Connor & Peggy Ryan trio: O’Connor and Ryan were Universal’s B-movie answer to MGM’s Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland vehicles. They can be seen in Mister Big (1943), which also offers scene-stealer Florence Bates; The Merry Monahans (1944); and Get Hep to Love (1942).
Pigskin Parade (1936), a likable college comedy-musical with the very personable Johnny Downs, plus Patsy Kelly, best supporting actor Oscar-nominee Stuart Erwin, and a teenager Judy Garland.
Paddy O’Day (1935), with future brat star Jane Withers as an Irish immigrant on the run from immigration authorities, plus Rita Hayworth in one of her earliest film roles. (She was then known as Rita Cansino.)
Another Ann Miller trio: Jam Session (1944), with guest appearances by the Pied Pipers, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington’s Band; Hey, Rookie (1944), with Larry Parks; and Carolina Blues (1944), with songs by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne.
The Villager interview with Repertory programmer Bruce Goldstein on the “B Musicals” series
Listen to series advisor and film historian Joseph Yranski and B-musical star Jane Withers discuss the B-Musical genre and series on WNYC’s SOUNDCHECK, March 29, 2007
Listen to series advisor and film historian Eric Spilker and film critic Bruce Bennett discuss the B-Musicals on WFMU’S The Speakeasy with Dorian Devins, April 2, 2007