Okay, TCM’s film lineup from yesterday actually focused on the delightfully deadpan Virginia O’Brien—but the two movies I watched starred Ann Sothern, so make of that what you will. As always, there may be some spoilers.
Lady Be Good (1941) – Any resemblance between this movie and the original 1924 George Gershwin stage hit—outside of the music—is purely accidental. Sothern and Robert Young play a team of songwriters (who are so talented they’re able to compose the titular hit in two minutes flat) who can’t live with each other and can’t live without each other…and to be completely honest, I cared so little about their relationship that I preferred the latter. I’m no expert on musicals, but I do have a little experience on time management and watching this movie robbed me of 112 minutes that I’ll never get back.
Eleanor Powell gets top-billing in this cotton candy concoction, and it’s kind of hard to figure out why—she’s more of a supporting character (she plays Sothern’s gal pal) and she doesn’t even begin dancing until about an hour and fifteen minutes into the film. Still, she sort of makes up for it in the Fascinating Rhythm dance number—in fact, if Lady has any strengths it’s the soundtrack, which also includes You’ll Never Know and Your Words and My Music. (The Last Time I Saw Paris is also sung in the film; it ended up winning the Oscar for Best Song even though there was a bit o’controversy because it wasn’t specifically written for the film.) I decided to watch Lady to see Red Skelton in action; he plays a song plugger and to be honest, the material he has to work with is pretty weak. He only really comes to life when he’s interacting with O’Brien, who plays his girlfriend (her name is “Lull,” and she has one of the healthiest appetites of any female I’ve ever witnessed on film). Also on hand are Lionel Barrymore as the crusty divorce judge (well, it is Lionel, after all—you’re probably not expecting sweetness and light), John Carroll (the poor man’s Gable), Tom Conway (Tom Conway? In an M-G-M film?), Reginald Owen, Rose Hobart and Phil Silvers (“Glad to see ya!”) as a master of ceremonies.Ringside Maisie (1941) – One of the few Maisie films I haven’t gotten around to seeing (the other is the final in the series, Undercover Maisie ), Ringside is a fairly entertaining film provided you don’t complain that you’ve seen it all before (‘cause you probably have). Our heroine, Mary Anastasia O’Connor—better known by her stage name, Maisie Revere—is down-and-out once again, having lost jobs as both a taxi and apache dancer. She has, fortunately, made the acquaintance of an up-and-coming boxer named “Young O’Hara” (Robert Sterling, who was married to star Sothern briefly during the 1940s) who gets her work watching over his mother (Margaret Moffatt); Mama is unaware that her son (his real name is Terry Dolan) is a pugilist—she thinks he’s a razor blade salesman. Maisie and Terry’s manager, “Skeets” Maguire (George Murphy) fight like cats and dogs at first, but they eventually develop a mutual attraction. The film’s plot is fairly simple: Terry’s only in the fight game to earn enough gitas to replace the grocery store that his mother lost to a pair of crooks—but he feels an obligation to Skeets, who’s put every cent he owns in making him the potential heavyweight champ. The inevitable happens—Dolan is whipped in a match with contender Jackie-Boy Duffy (Eddie Lou Simms), suffering a head injury that may very well result in permanent blindness.
If you’re wondering how Virginia O’Brien fits into all this, she’s featured in a nightclub sequence singing one of her signature tunes, A Bird in a Gilded Cage. This is supposed to be the lead-in to the apache dance performed by Maisie and her partner, Ricky Du Prez (Jack La Rue)—but Ricky wants to do a lot more than just dance, and he gives Maisie her walking papers when she rebuffs his amorous advances. There’s comedy relief (naturally) from ‘Slapsie Maxie’ Rosenbloom as Dolan’s trainer, and a curious turn by Natalie Thompson as Terry’s fair-weather bitch of a girlfriend (she, like Ginny O’Brien in Lady Be Good, appears to have a tapeworm)…as well as appearances from “Rags” Ragland, Jonathan Hale (Mr. Dithers as a doctor) and Roy Lester as an enthusiastic jitterbugger who dances with Sothern at the film’s beginning, allowing Ann to show off her impressive terpsichorean skills. (How Maisie managed to avoid being picked up for vagrancy in these films, however, is a question I can’t quite answer.)