• U.S.

Cinema: The New Pictures, Jul. 13, 1953

6 minute read

The Band Wagon (M-G-M). Ginger may come and Rita may go, but Fred Astaire goes on forever. In this, his 28th cinemusical, the patriarch (54) of hard-shoe goes on right handsomely with the help of a new partner who can fill the shoes—and the nylons—of the best of Astaire’s former dancing partners. Cyd Charisse is a sinuously lovely sprout who has elegantly survived the trampling of regiments of chorus boys in a half-dozen movie ballets. Now, with Astaire at the hip, she finally has a full-fledged dancing-and-speaking part, not that she has to speak to get the audience’s attention.

The new team receives a lot of help from the song department. The songs, most of them by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz, are slickly routed down the memory lane of the just-gone-forty crowd. There is Something to Remember You By, Louisiana Hayride, Dancing in the Dark, the last being a lift from the original Band Wagon, a Broadway musical that starred Astaire and his sister Adele in 1931. In other respects the new musical has nothing to do with the old. Its casual plot describes the attempt of an oldtime Hollywood hoofer to get a foot back on Broadway as the partner of a temperamental ballerina. The show they are rehearsing is a sort of boogie Faust, and there is the devil to pay in the form of an overemotional producer (Jack Buchanan). Also on hand for some mild laughs: Pianist Oscar Levant, whom Hollywood seems to regard as inevitable a backstage fixture as the fire bucket.

Choreographer Michael Kidd has designed some charming and witty dance routines. Hotspots: a clever production number, kidding the Mickey Spillane type of literary hopheadiness; a moony little foxtrot through Central Park; a raucous hit of pedal jabberwocky by Astaire at a 42nd Street shoeshine stand.

Shoot First (Raymond Stress-United Artists) is the latest pedestrian movie to try a climb up John Buchan’s Thirty-Nine Steps. Despite a slick script by British Whodunit Expert Eric Ambler, the film trips over its own footage.

As a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel stationed in Britain, Joel McCrea demonstrates firmly that after 25 years on the screen he can bellow convincingly such lines as, “Hey! Let’s get out of here!” And away he runs across southern England, with the wife (Evelyn Keyes) under one arm, and under the other an atomic spy. The colonel figures that if he buddies up to one spy he might run down a lot of others. Well, cars full of sincere-looking extras—Scotland Yard men, who resent McCrea’s interference—roar in pursuit, and platoons of snaky-looking loungers, the agents of “a foreign power,” lie in wait. Alfred Hitchcock might have zipped his man through them all as niftily as a gamma ray through a cream puff, but Hero McCrea has no such luck. The Yard men catch him, the loungers snatch his spy. The poor colonel is lucky to get a kiss from his wife at the end.

Melba (Horizon; United Artists) treats of the life & loves of the late great Coloratura Soprano Nellie Melba (real name: Nellie Mitchell), after whom Melba toast and the peach Melba were named. It is a rich, creamy, Technicolored movie biography that consists of a series of arias, as Mme. Melba moves from one operatic triumph to another. The songs are imbedded in a fictionalized, soggily romantic yarn about the men in the diva’s life: her Australian husband (John McCallum), who walked out on her (in real life, Melba left him and their child to take up an operatic career in Paris); a rich London playboy (John Justin), who helped her get started on her career; and an amorous hotelkeeper (Alec Clunes). Also figuring in the film: Impresario Oscar Hammerstein (Robert Morley). who is depicted as intent on bringing Melba to the U.S., and Queen Victoria (Sybil Thorndike), for whom she sings at Windsor Castle.

Making her movie debut in the title role, girlish, pixyish Metropolitan Opera Star Patrice Munsel, 27, is not very successful in re-creating Melba’s tempestuous personality. But Songstress Munsel is handsomely gowned and in good voice as she sings a wide selection of numbers, from the Mad Scene in Lucia to Comin’ Thro’ the Rye.

Let’s Do It Again (Columbia) has been done before. In 1937 it was a comedy hit called The Awful Truth. The current remake casts Jane Wyman, Ray Milland and Aldo Ray in the roles originated by Irene Dunne, Gary Grant and Ralph Bellamy. It also adds Technicolor and several songs and dances. Unhappily, it subtracts much of the romping good fun of the original, perhaps because the cast is not quite as proficient, and because Director Leo McCarey is no longer wielding the slapstick.

The plot is one of those farfetched todos about a wife (Jane Wyman) who discovers that her husband (Ray Milland) has been playfully running around Manhattan with a specialist in tribal-ritual puberty dances (Valerie Bettis) when he was supposed to have been in Chicago on business. In retaliation, she invents a romance of her own. This leads to divorce proceedings. The trio becomes a foursome when a rich square (Aldo Ray) from the Klondike stakes out a romantic claim on Jane during the interlocutory period of the divorce. All in all, Let’s Do It Again strains too hard for its laughs.

The City Is Dark (Warner) is a cops & robbers movie that captures some of the hard-hitting realism of the early-’30s gangster pictures. It spins a familiar yarn about a reformed ex-con (well played by Hoofer Gene Nelson in a nondancing role) whose past catches up with him when an escaped San Quentin prisoner (Ted De Corsia) tries to force him to join in a bank heist. This time the cop is a hard-eyed, tough-fisted police sergeant (Sterling Hayden).

The City Is Dark tells its story leanly. The script is crisply underwritten, the photography has a raw, grimy look, and Andre De Toth’s direction is skillfully paced for tension. In its harsh images of a bank holdup, a gangster hideout and homicide headquarters, and in its soundtrack teeming with the discordant sounds and gritty lingo of the underworld, The City Is Dark is a muscular little thriller that carries more conviction than many more high-toned movie melodramas.

The Charge at Feather River (Warner) is a stereoscopic horse opera that offers a new if not significant development in 3-D movies: at one point, a U.S. cavalry sergeant (Frank Lovejoy) spits right out of the screen at the audience, which happens to be in the line of fire also occupied by a rattlesnake. In addition to this effect, The Charge at Feather River has knives, arrows, tomahawks, spears, bullets, bodies and horses hurtling out from the screen. There is also a story about a gallant little band of cavalrymen who set out, shortly after the Civil War, to rescue two white girls captured by the Indians, and end up triumphing over the redskins in a last-ditch stand at Colorado’s Feather River.

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