Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The B Movie Musicals at the Film Forum in New York

A recent bout of unemployment gave me the time to see the opening program of the Film Forum's B Movie Musical festival. Full-disclosure: Like the president of the Hair Club for Men, I am also a card-carrying member of FF.


When I was a boy in the '60s, Channel 5 in New York showed this movie and my whole family still remembers one scene from it. Jack Oakie is a dumb-lug college football star and needs to pass the history final. He is asked to name any form or transportation. The class is encouraging him, choo-chooing and chugga-chugging, until he's asked, "What do you do to get in shape before the season?" He passes the test, a signal is passed out the window, and the whole campus celebrates.

George Murphy couldn't act as well as Reagan or dance better than Astaire but he's a lot fun to watch in RISE. He's a night club entertainer sent by the boss to keep tabs on Jack Oakie, the star of the team that he's betting on. Some terpsichore by Murphy, Linda Darnell as the charmer, forgettable tunes by Robin/Rainger, clowning by young Milton Berle and Sheldon Leonard as henchman and mob boss, and funny business by Walter Brennan playing a Confederate veteran hiding his old money make this a B movie. That's a movie where cast and crew on the way up meet performers and company on the way down.


This was the next feature on the double bill. The credits rolled on a rotating pigskin, just like in RISE AND SHINE. Murphy stars again, this time as a football coach for a poorly-equipped state college. John Barrymore plays the governor, who first wants to cut their budget so he can run as the austerity candidate for U.S. Senator. Coach Murphy leads the team in a march to the governor's office [his only chance to dance] and stages a near riot.

The governor does a 180 and decides to build a new stadium and recruit good players to drum up publicity for his Senate race. This is a team without stars but one is discovered in accidental Gump-style. Joan Davis, a gender-bending co-ed who can kick the football, leads the team with her kicking and more in the big game against Barrymore's Senate opponent's team [the loser drops out of the race!]. Joan is a lost comic legend. My mother has talked for years about her TV series I MARRIED JOAN, with Jim Backus, as one of the great shows of the 1950s.

Forgettable tunes by Arthur Lange, tepid love interest Marjorie Weaver, almost no dancing by Murphy, some weak-kneed comedy from Jack Haley as the governor's secretary, but the Joan Davis payoff in the last reel makes it worthwhile.

No comments: