Thursday, January 26, 2012

There’s No Business Like Show Business. 1954

This garish ,brash fun musical was made in the second year of the cinemascope revolution and directed by 20th Century Fox’s in house director Walter Lang. Lang who had a very long career that began with silent films and went on directing  movies right  up to 1961 with the lowly and ludicrous  Snow White and The Three Stooges. He was a decent enough director and is mostly known for directing Betty Grable and Alice Faye in all those interminable 1940’s lavish musicals along with some Shirley Temple features.  His biggest achievement to some was directing The King And I for which he received his only Oscar nomination .  No Biz as I shall refer to it is big in every sense of the word and features a rousing cast, Ethel Merman, Dan Dailey, Mitzi Gaynor, Donald O’Connor, Johnny Ray and Marilyn Monroe. The film chronicles the life and career of a vaudeville couple played by Merman and Dailey who when the film opens is singing and dancing their hearts out on the vaudeville circuit circa 1919. They soon are having kids who also perform with them, and swiftly grow up to become O’Connor, Gaynor and Ray. At first the look of the film including the costumes tries to indicate the period but soon we are in a 1950’s version of the 1920’s through the 1940’s. The film is cramped with movement and color, and is lush with the wonderful music of Irving Berlin and a “sing out Louise”  Ethel Merman, who looks like an over wrapped Christmas present. Lang’s use of the wide screen is rather ordinary, a more imaginative use of the process would have to wait for the likes of Nicholas Ray, Sam Fuller and Vincente Minnelli to show us what could be done with it. The costumes are also on the whole jaw dropping and look like they were designed by Katy Keene the comic book fashionista of the 1950’s who by the way I loved. The gals look like they were poured or sewed into them.  There are the usual family trials and tribulations that one associates with this kind of film, and it floats along nicely but doesn’t really grab you until Monroe appears. She sizzles and shines and does several great numbers including “After You Get What You Want You Don't Want It” and the justly famous “Heat Wave” that was originally slated for Merman, but was given to Monroe to entice her to come aboard the project.  The finale with the entire cast singing surrounded by lots of chorus boys and girls (every dancer worked that week in Hollywood) is vividly colored and kinetic.


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