The Best of M-G-M: The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)

Ginger and Fred on Broadway
source: MGM

When discussing famous dynamic duos of yesteryear, there are a number of different couples that spring to mind; Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Martin and Lewis are more than enough to satisfy anyone’s movie watching sensibilities.

Perhaps one of the more popular and sexier pairings is the timeless coupling of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

Filming 10 movies in the span of 17 years (9 with RKO and just 1 with MGM) Rogers and Astaire were truly a force to be reckoned with. If you’ve ever heard the saying “She gave him sex, while he gave her class” more often than not that quote can be attributed to their relationship.

From Top Hat to The Gay Divorcee, everyone and their mother (whether they like to admit or not) has a favorite Rogers and Astaire film. One picture that doesn’t nearly that get enough recognition and love is their musical swan-song, The Barkleys of Broadway.


Released in 1949, The Barkleys of Broadway is a comedic look at the hardships of being a Broadway star and the unintentional consequences and stresses of working with your significant other.

Ginger and Fred on Broadway 2
source: MGM

In the film, Rogers and Astaire play married couple Josh and Dinah Barkley. It’s the opening night of their new play in downtown Manhattan, and despite getting a standing ovation from the audience, behind the scenes tells a much different story.

As as the Barkleys step behind the satin curtain, quickly deafening the roar of the crowd the veneer of stability is tarnished when we find out that Josh is irate at his wife’s brazen flirtation with French playwright Jacques Pierre Barredout (played by Jacques François.)

Naturally being a red-blooded, American male, Josh doesn’t take too kindly to some foreigner ogling his very attractive wife. In retaliation, he confronts Dinah – and not her French boy toy – about the debacle, which only fans the flames even further.

In actuality, Dinah was speaking with Jacques after he made an off the cuff remark about her lack of dramatic roles. Tensions increase further when later that night at an art gallery, another artist compares Josh to Svengali and that Dinah’s entire career hinged on Josh’s command.

After a couple of days of contemplation, Dinah found herself agreeing with the Frenchmen and secretly began shopping scripts with the hope of starring in one.

Astaire and Rogers on Broadway
source: MGM

One weekend, Dinah would get her wish when she and Josh are invited up to Jacques’ bungalow in the cozy fictional town of Danbridge, where he’s celebrating the completion of his new script.

While Josh meanders out into the garden, Dinah questions Jacques’ judgment when she learns that actress Pamela Driscoll (who she’s not very fond of) is cast in the starring role.  Jacques agrees with her sentiments and smoothly asks Dinah if she would like the role instead; guilt-ridden, she accepts his offer.

A couple days later after the twosome returns to New York after their weekend getaway, Josh discovers his wife’s secret when he accidentally sees her rehearsing lines from a script that obviously didn’t pertain to their stage act.

Jumping to a conclusion faster than Wile E. Coyote plots to catch Road Runner, Josh accuses Dinah of having an affair. She scoffs at this accusation and promptly walks out on not only Josh but everything they’ve worked for.

With the freedom to be an independent woman and a chip on her shoulder, Dinah scurries back to Jacques, cementing her place as the new leading actress in his latest play.

Fred and Ginger on Broadway
source: MGM

Josh attempts to perform the next batch of “Barkley” shows alone, while Dinah spends her newfound freedom rehearsing for Jacques’ upcoming play. Seeing as though Dinah spent the majority of her career as a comedic actress, the transition to more serious roles proved to be a challenge.

Things for the Barkleys get worse when their sardonic family friend Ezra Miller (played by Oscar Levant) deceives them into performing together again at a hospital benefit.

Being the iconic duo that they were, their performance receives a standing ovation. Josh suggests that they get back together, feeling a bit nostalgic about their past accomplishments. Dinah rejects his offer, claiming that he’s, “taken her services for granted for too long.”

Fair enough.

But, that doesn’t stop Josh from being a doting husband.

When Dinah isn’t paying attention during rehearsals, Josh has a habit of watching her practice through a small window hidden behind various curtains and props. When he sees her struggling with some of the lines one day, he takes the initiative to call her using a very fake French accent disguised as Barredout using a nearby payphone.

How scary thoughtful!

Astaire and Rogers on Broadway
source: MGM

A few days and many painstaking practices later, Jacques’ play finally premieres. With Josh watching from behind the curtain, he stands in awe of his wife as she pours her heart out on stage.

The play ends and Dinah’s performance passes with flying colors. While tears are being shed and champagne is getting popped backstage, Dinah finds out that it was, in fact, her husband who was giving her the tips that she initially believed were from Barredout.

What Josh thought would be a pleasant surprise for his wife turned out to be one of disgust. Dinah is “shocked and annoyed” at Josh’s harmless ‘prank’ and she admits to him that she was, indeed, having an affair with her director.

Naturally, this leaves Josh absolutely devasted and on the verge tears, until Dinah relents and quickly retracts her statement revealing to her husband that this was just, as he would put it, a ‘harmless prank.’

In the end, the Barkleys reconcile not only as a musical duo but as a couple, thus forgetting all hardships they went through for the past couple of months.

Conclusion and Some Interesting Behind The Scenes Information

Astaire-Rogers on Broadway
source: MGM

The Barkleys of Broadway is a very good musical. It’s not the best, nor is it the worst Astaire/Rogers collaboration, but it holds its own.

Many classic movie fans may not consider it to be on par with some of their other films, but it can still be considered a picture worthy of praise.

The film is impeccably directed and flawlessly paced; there was never a dull moment in this movie. Bringing together Ginger and Fred again for what I thought was an unnecessary nostalgia trip is a decision that should be lauded.

The intriguing thing about this is that the role of Dinah almost went to MGM’s resident musical expert Judy Garland.


In 1948, Astaire and Garland gained raved reviews for their performances in the musical comedy Easter Parade. This prompted producer Arthur Freed to give the ‘go ahead’ to the writing team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green to begin a new screenplay that would reunite Judy and Fred in another musical.

The title? The Barkleys of Broadway.

Things were all going to plan for Freed and Garland until her long battle with depression started to catch up with her, forcing her to drop out of the project. The stars finally aligned when a couple of days later after the first reviews were released for Easter Parade, Rogers sent Freed a telegram congratulating him on his success. 

Fully aware that he needs a replacement for his film – and fast, Freed reached out to Ginger again and delicately asked her if she’d care to work again with her former dance partner.

Ginger-and-Fred on Broadway
source: MGM

Apparently, Ginger was rather irritated the question but it was a necessary evil for Freed. Out of a leading actress for his upcoming movie, desperate times called for desperate measures, right?

Luckily for Freed (and the movie watching public for that matter), Ginger accepted the offer making The Barkleys of Broadway their 10th and final movie together.


As far as musicals go, The Barkleys of Broadway is certainly not the best, but for what it lacks in plot, it more than makes up for it in the chemistry between Astaire and Rogers.

I supposed that’s the biggest appeal of this movie.

It isn’t something you watch to enjoy with friends, it’s a movie you keep hidden away in your personal collection, only bringing it out when you’ve finished binge-watching the rest of the Rogers and Astaire‘s filmography.

A perfect ending to 10 years of cinematic excellence.

 

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En Pointe: The Ballet Blogathon…..

silk-stockings
source: MGM

Too Bad, We can’t go back to Moscow!

I don’t think there’s a musical that I enjoy watching more than Silk Stockings.

Released in 1957, the movie co-stars Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Janis Page, and Peter Lorre in what could be the best musical adaption of a film that originally wasn’t meant to be one.

The Plot

The film follows Fred Astaire‘s character, an American producer named Steve Canfield, as he travels to Russia to convince musician Peter Illyich Boroff (played by Wim Sonneveld) to compose some music for his new movie that is being shot in Paris. After some coaxing, Boroff agrees and starts working on Canfield’s score. A few weeks and many pieces of paper later, Boroff finishes Canfield’s request. The only problem is, Boroff doesn’t want to return to his homeland.

Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire
source: MGM

This doesn’t go over too well in Russia. To fix this, three incompetent commissars played by Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin, and Joseph Buloff are sent over to Paris bring him back to the motherland. Brankov, Bibinski, and Ivanov, as they’re called, try to do the best they can to return Boroff back to Russia.

Steve Canfield has other ideas.

To prevent his composer from returning to that ice-filled abyss that is Russia, he comes up with a very clever excuse. Steve, ingeniously tells them that his friend Boroff isn’t really who he says he is. According to Steve, he’s found an affidavit that disputes Peter’s Russian heritage and that they need to go to court to resolve the issue.

Being the bumbling numpties that they are, the trio believes the lie and lets Boroff stay.

Steve spends the next couple of weeks exposing the three commissars to Western culture.

Women, nightclubs, French champagne, you name it.

Silk Stocking 2
source: MGM

*MEANWHILE*

Back in Russia, they get word that their commissars are having an extended Parisian ‘holiday.’ Worried and frustrated (as most Soviets were) they send a militant, “homely” looking women named Ninotchka (ha ha!) Yoschenko played by Cyd Charisse to drag all four of the men home.

(I put homely in quotations because it’s Cyd Charisse, there’s absolutely nothing homely about her! But, in this film, she was supposed to be, oh well!)

Ninotchka walks into their hotel’s lobby and, immediately, her Communist sensibilities begin to get assaulted. She shocked at what she sees; servile laborers, a lavish interior, and an advertisement that happens to be selling silk stockings. After recovering from that shock, she finds Boroff’s suite (with Steve inside) she instantly asks him to see the affidavit.

Silk Stockings 4
source: MGM

Steve tries to woo her, hoping to divert her attention away from her investigation with tales of late nights in Paris. Ninotchka refuses his advances, claiming they were part of the West’s “bourgeois propaganda.” The next morning, Steve semi-successfully seduces Ninotchka when she, begrudgingly, agrees to let him take her on a tour of Paris.

He makes sure that the trip is tailored to her interests while also managing to sneak a few beauty store locations in the itinerary with the hope of enticing her.

When the pair returns Steve’s hotel room later that night, Canfield tries to set the mood with romantic music and low lighting.

When that doesn’t work, Steve takes Ninotchka into his arms and starts dancing with her. She struggles against his lead for a few moments then, subsequently, starts moving to the rhythm, eventually succumbing to his advances. Being a dancer, Ninotchka quickly picks up Steve’s steps. Their close proximity culminates in a kiss, and her cold, Communist exterior slowly melts away.

Fearing that she’s getting too emotionally attached to Steve and that she’s neglecting her duties, Ninotchka decides to return to Russia with Boroff and the three commissars.

silkstockings1957
source: MGM

A few months later, Ninotchka receives a letter from Steve. She invites the three commissars and Boroff into her apartment and tries to read it to them, but, so much of it has been redacted that only Steve’s name, greeting, and the ending remains on the sheet of paper. Disappointed, Boroff finds a piano and starts to play the composition he wrote for Steve in Paris.

Overcome with joy, Ninotchka starts leaping through her apartment, showing that she’s been ‘corrupted’ by her stay in that “Western hell-hole” that is France.

Back in Paris, Steve is concocting a plan to get Ninotchka, Boroff and the three commissars back to his hotel room. His scheme involves getting the commissars back to Paris to sell Russian films. He hopes that the three will overstay their welcome again and that Ninotchka will be forced to come back and retrieve them.

Surprisingly, the plan works and the four of them return Paris.

The rest of the movie sees Ninotchka and Steve fall in love and get married, Boroff, ultimately, accepting Western culture, Brankov, Bibinski, and Ivanov standing up to their higher-ups and finally, everyone ends up living happily ever after in Paris.

The Wicked Fun Dancing Sequences

Silk Stocking 3
source: MGM

Oh, boy, where do I begin?

This film is astonishingly fun to watch. There are so many entertaining musical numbers in this movie, I don’t think I can count them on one hand.

The one number I keep on coming back to is this scene: here. It’s Cyd Charisse as Ninotchka just kicking back, and letting loose. In the movie, she plays this stuffy character that is no-nonsense, the fact that she’s able to have this moment of rapturous joy just by dancing is phenomenal.

Next, of course, is Fred Astaire. We couldn’t possibly talk about this movie without discussing him. There’s this musical number where he dances alongside the lead actress in his movie, Peggy, played by Janis Page that is absolutely a riot (in a good way.) In the scene, they’re explaining that in order to sell movies, you need Technicolor, CinemaScope, and stereophonic sound, not good acting. It sounds absurd but, it couldn’t be more entertaining. If you like, you could watch it: here.

If you want to see more, here’s a list of honorable mentions:

Fred Astaire cutting loose.

Cyd and Fred cutting loose.

And finally, my favorite, not so much of a dance scene, but a song that is a constant earworm for me.

All in all, Silk Stockings is a fabulous film to choose for this blogathon. Yeah, the plot could get confusing at times, but, for what the plot lacks more than makes up for in its musical numbers.

Five Stars Blogathon…

Before I begin, I would like to thank the Classic Film and TV Café for hosting this wonderful, very interesting blogathon!

This is my first ever blogathon and I’m quite excited about it, I’ve been wanting to do one for a while. The topic for this specific blogathon is to list my five favorite movie stars and write about what I adore about them, so, without further ado, I present to you my five favorites classic Hollywood actors/actress of the golden age of Hollywood.

Number 5: Doris Day

dorisday

It’s no wonder that the band Wham! wrote a lyric in their song Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go about her.

Doris Day is one of those classic Hollywood icons that everyone loves and no one hates- I mean, how could you hate her? Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff was born on April 3rd, 1922 in Cincinnati, Ohio to parents Alma Sophia and William Joseph Kappelhoff.

Doris started her career at a young age. Her mother put her in singing lessons which eventually landed her first singing gig on a radio program named Carlin’s Carnival sometime in the early 40s. This is where jazz musician Barney Rapp first heard her and quickly called her up to come audition for his jazz band. Fortunately for Day, she got the job.

The next few years Doris would spend her days traveling with bandleaders like Jimmy JamesBob Crosby, and Les Brown. While working with the Les Brown Band, she caught the eye of songwriter Sammy Cahn who recommended her for the starring role in Michael Curtiz’s film, Romance on the High Seas. This is where Doris started her movie career that would last around 20 years and includes 43 movies, with memorable ones such as The Man Who Knew Too Much, Please Don’ Eat the Daisies, and Lover Come Back.

Doris Day is the reason I fell in love with classic movies, Pillow Talk was one of the first films from Doris that I ever watched, after that- I was obsessed. Her warm and radiant presence on screen kept me coming back for more. The 1960s alone were a goldmine for great Doris Day movies. I can only hope that you find a classic Hollywood actress that you love as much as I love Doris Day.

Film recommendations: Pillow Talk, Calamity Jane, Love Me or Leave Me, Move Over Darling, Send Me No Flowers.

Number 4: Fred Astaire

fred-astaire2

Ahhhh, Fred Astaire. Where would dancing in movies be without you?

This suave hoofer was born in Omaha, Nebraska as Fred Austerlitz on May 10th 1899. Much like Doris Day, Fred got started quite early, dancing with his sister Adele in several shows as a partnership at the age of 6.

By 1918 Fred quickly outgrew the pair and eventually his sister. Despite this obvious talent disparity, the two continued to tour, performing in London in shows like The Bunch and Judy, Lady Be Good, Funny Face, and an early version of The Band Wagon from 1922 through 1931.

Hoping to give the partnership one last shot, the siblings took their act to Hollywood for a screen test- only to be rejected by Paramount Pictures. The pair split in 1932. Adele went on to marry and settle down in a comfortable home life, while Fred honed his craft and continue to work on Broadway. Aspiring to expand his range, Astaire once again went to Hollywood to try his luck, and boy was he lucky.

After screen testing for RKO Pictures, David O Selznick decided to sign Astaire to a contract and the rest was history…

Astaire would go on to become one of the most memorable and recognizable on-screen dancers of the 20th Century. Starring in 8 films alongside Ginger Rogers and dancing with some of the most gorgeous leading ladies of his lifetime, Fred Astaire was a force to be reckoned with.

I love Fred for this very reason. No matter what movie he was in, you could guarantee you’ll have a great cinematic experience. His work ethic was unparalleled and it showed in his dance numbers.

For that reason, I have him on the number 4 spot on this list.

Film Recommendations: Funny Face, Silk Stockings, The Barkleys of Broadway, The Band Wagon, You Were Never the Lovelier.

Number 3: Ingrid Bergman

ingridbergman

Ingrid Bergman is one of those actresses that you wish were still alive today. In her prime, she made some remarkable movies that I still rewatch to this day. I only wished she could’ve made more…

Ingrid was born Stockholm, Sweden on August 29th, 1915 to parents Justus Bergman and Frieda Adler. As a child, she wanted to become an opera singer, so she took singing lessons for 3 years. Even though she longed to become an opera singer, she always knew should become an actress. Later in her teen years, Ingrid received a scholarship to the Royal Dramatic Theatre School in Stockholm. She accepted and quickly got a part in the school’s new play Ett Brott (translated in English to A Crime.)

The thing is, this was completely violating school procedure. In order to star in a play, you’d have to be in your 3rd year of studies, but alas, Ingrid broke that rule.

That summer, Ingrid was hired for her first movie role, which ultimately saw her drop out of University.  Her first role after dropping out of college was a tiny part in the film, Munkbrogreven. She continued her career in Sweden, acting in two more films before she got her big break.

In 1939 she got the leading role in the movie in David O Selznick‘s romantic-drama Intermezzo (a lovely film, by the way.) Selznick brought her to America for this specifically to star alongside Leslie Howard. At first, Ingrid didn’t believe that the American audiences would be accepting of her. But, she recanted and did the movie anyway, only to quickly to return to Sweden with her then-husband Petter Lindstrom and her daughter Pia.

It was only when Intermezzo was a hit that Ingrid returned to America to continue her career which included fantastic films like: Casablanca, Anastasia, and Murder on The Orient Express. 

Film Recommendations: Notorious, Spellbound, Gaslight, Goodbye Again, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Number 2:  Frank Sinatra

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Frank Sinatra. What more can I say? Probably the most influential pop figure from the 20th century we’ve ever had. Singer. Actor. Influencer. Womanizer.

Need I say more?

Compared to the rest of the stars on this list, by the time Frank started his movie career, he was already a full-fledged pop crooner. In the early 40s, he made his film debut in Las Vegas Nights, where he had an uncredited cameo as a nightclub singer. In 1943, he had another cameo in the film Reveille with Beverly before getting a starring role in the movie Anchors Aweigh co-starring Gene Kelly. Sinatra’s fame quadrupled in size when he started his acting career and from that point on, it would only continue to get bigger.

I love Sinatra’s acting career. It has a lot of different genres and themes where Frank was able to show that he could take on a multitude of different roles. From movies like Take Me Out to The Ball Game, It Happened in Brooklyn and eventually winning an Oscar for From Here to Eternity, Sinatra’s acting career is almost as good as his singing one- almost.

Film Recommendations: On the Town, The Man With the Golden Arm, The Tender Trap, Guys and Dolls, High Society, Pal Joey, Ocean’s 11

Number 1: Kim Novak

novak698

Sooooo, Kim Novak.  A blonde bombshell whose career isn’t as appreciated as some of her fellow actresses of that decade. A fairly tragic story if you ask me…

Kim Novak was born Marilyn Pauline Novak on February 13th, 1933 in Chicago, Illinois. One summer while Kim was modeling cross country for a refrigerator company at a trade show in Los Angeles, she and a friend decided to audition as extras for the Jane Russell film The French Line and the RKO picture Son of Sinbad. This is where she was spotted by an agent who signed her to a contract to Columbia Pictures.

It was here that the studio tried to mold Kim into something she wasn’t comfortable with (aka another Marilyn Monroe.) Novak would make her film debut in the film noir Pushover in 1954 then quickly follow that up with 5 Against the House in 1955. Her career would finally pick up when she starred in Picnic in 1955. This movie would springboard her into more film roles like The Man With The Golden Arm, Vertigo, and Bell Book and Candle.

You know, sometimes I feel really bad for her. I mean, she deserved way more then what she got during her career. She has always been overlooked for her acting ability solely on the fact that she happened to be in the same era of the ‘blonde bombshell.’ The studio tried to mold her into something she wasn’t and for that, I truly believed her career suffered. Luckily for the limited amount of movie she did do, hold up just perfectly.

FIN

So, those are my top 5, I’m excited to see what everyone else put on their list!