The Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Blogathon…

Monkey Business 1952
source: 20th Century Fox

I know this is the Ginger Rogers/ Fred Astaire blogathon, but I feel very compelled to write about this film.

Monkey Business is truly a peculiar picture.

It’s almost a knockoff of most comedies from the mid-30s, but it has its own unique flavor and flair. Thanks to the performances of Rogers and Grant, the movie takes on a different dimension

Directed by the legendary Howard Hawks, Monkey Business is a witty, charming, slapstick-filled comedy about a husband and wife duo who are just crazy for each other.

Dr. Barnaby Fulton (played by Grant) is a chemist who is a bit dowdy. His wife, Edwina (played by Rogers), a dutiful woman who cares for Barnaby, is doing her best to get by. One day, being the mad scientist that he is, Mr. Fulton decides to concoct a “youth exilier” that – you guessed it, keeps you young.

In typical classic Hollywood fashion, it all goes horribly, horribly, wrong.

Monkey Busniess 1952 2
source: 20th Century Fox 

When testing his new potion on his lab monkeys (horrible, I know) one them escapes and ends up knocking over several vials thus mixing concoctions that shouldn’t go together. Somehow this gets poured into the office’s water cooler, and all hell breaks loose.

Barnaby, wanting to see if his mix actually worked, he takes a few swigs of the water hoping to see the effects.

Lucky for him, it does. He spends the rest of the day roaming around downtown with his secretary Lois (played by Monroe), acting like a stuck-up, 20-year-old young man.

He changes his hair, his attitude and his clothes – even his wife doesn’t recognize him.

Edwina sees this behavior and drinks some of this elixir to spite her husband. With both husband and wife affected by this brew, the rest of the film sees the Fultons go through a number of different situations.

From befriending some school children to getting into fights with the locals and even having their in-laws worrying about the state of their marriage.

The movie ends, funnily enough with a quote that says, “you’re only old when you’re young,” perfectly summarizing the entire ordeal in six words.

Monkey Business 1952 3
source: 20th Century Fox

Lead by the direction of Howard HawksMonkey Business is your standard slapstick comedy, it isn’t the best and it certainly isn’t the worst.

It certainly is a funny movie.

It was one of the first pictures that I saw when I first got into classic films, I loved it, but now, looking back at it, it doesn’t have that same flair that it once did. Maybe my tastes have changed, I’m not sure, but I will say that this is a very solid picture.

If you haven’t seen it I suggest you do, if you haven’t and are dying to see it, please do. It isn’t the best comedy I’ve seen, but if you have a few hours to kill, I definitely suggest it. It’s funny, witty and a ton of fun, you definitely won’t regret it.

 

 

 

To read more pieces in this blogathon…click: here.

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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.

 

Classic Film Reviews: Vivacious Lady (1938)

Vivacious Lady
source: RKO

Every now and then, one stumbles across a movie that completely subverts your expectations.

Whether it be a comedy that makes you cry or a drama that makes you laugh, it’s always good every once and a while to have your assumptions thrown into a tizzy; that’s one of the many reasons why the romantic comedy Vivacious Lady works so well.

Released in 1938 and directed by George Stevens, the movie stars Ginger Rogers, James Stewart, and Charles Cogburn, plus a talented supporting cast including James Ellison, Beulah Bondi, and Frances Mercer.

The movie tells the story of Peter, a homely botany professor who falls in love with a nightclub singer (played by Ginger Rogers) while on a trip to the city to retrieve his playboy cousin Keith (played by James Ellison) who’s been “painting the town red.”

The catch? Peter’s parents (specifically his overbearing father) would no doubt disapprove of his new relationship.

Sounds amusing? Well, it is.

Vivacious-Lady-1938 1
source: RKO Pictures

Peter spends the bulk of the film trying to convince his dad Peter Morgan Sr. (played by Charles Coburn) that his “floozy” girl he picked is actually his new fiancée. The only dilemma is Peter isn’t the most assertive chap, so, emphatically proclaiming his love for an “uneducated” showgirl won’t sit too well with his father.


As stated earlier, the movie starts in lively fashion when Peter is forcibly removed from his office by his domineering father and forced to search for his rowdy cousin Keith who’s cavalierly traversing through each and every Manhattan nightclub.

After exhausting every resource he had to look for Keith, Peter finds him in a nightclub trying to ‘take home’ (if you catch my drift) a blonde showgirl who wants nothing to do with him.

Francey or “Fran” (played by Rogers) was initially infatuated by Keith’s charms, but, in typical classic Hollywood fashion, her eyes quickly moved towards Peter after realizing his “better-looking family member” is a bit of a lush.

After pulling an all-nighter and walking around the snow-covered streets of Manhattan till their heart’s content, Francey, and Peter decide to elope.

vivacious-lady-1938 3
source: RKO Pictures

The trio return to the Morgan household located in the sleepy town of Old Sharon, New York where Fran finds out how seriously Peter takes his day job.

Seeing as though his father is a very egotistical man, Peter is apprehensive about telling him about his recent marriage. When he does muster up the courage to tell his dad, not only does the elder Morgan brush off his son’s concerns, he mistakenly believes that this “blonde hussy” is just another student at the college Peter teaches at.

Uh, oh.

Being the soft-spoken man that he is, Peter tries to broach the subject again, only to be rejected for the third and final time.

vivacious lady 1938 4
source: RKO Pictures

It isn’t his father who spurns his advances this time, however, but his mother Mrs. Morgan who apparently has a chronic heart issue. Naturally, with her nervous disposition, this makes it fairly difficult to bring up the subject that Peter so desperately wants to get off his chest.

Sick and tired of being walked over, Peter decides it would be a good idea to reveal the true identity of his wife during the College’s semi-annual student-faculty prom (apparently this something that happened back in the day…). With the help of his cousin, Peter coerces Keith (despite having a fiancée) into taking Francey to the dance as his own date.

Increasingly growing frustrated that she has to continue to pose as a student, Fran inadvertently develops a close friendship with Peter’s mother (this will be very important later.) Fran’s cover is almost when Keith’s fiancée Helen (played by Frances Mercer) picks a fight with her in a jealous rage which eventually has Fran accidentally punching Peter’s father in the face.

Sidenote: this scene genuinely had me on the ground howling with laughter, I couldn’t gain my composure for a good 10 minutes. 

vivacious lady 1938 5
source: RKO Pictures

After un-pausing the movie and regaining my senses, the film continues with Peter candidly shouting at his dad (mostly due to frustration) that the blonde-haired student that’s been following him everywhere is actually his wife.

“Finally,” he thought. “I’m no longer burdened with this secret that’s been shredding my heart to smithereens.”

Not so fast.

It turns out that his dad was about to give a “state of the union,” – so to speak – to the higher-ups at the college board. This results in a quarrel between the two which causes Mrs. Morgan, who’s sitting a few steps away, to have another heart “flare up”. Concerned for her well being, Peter orders Fran to take Mrs. Morgan back to her dormitory.

This is where Mrs. Morgan comes clean about everything. She confesses to Fran that she knew who she was the entire time and that she regularly fakes her heart ailments to get out of arguments with her husband (I should try this when I get married.)

Thanks to George Stevens, we get this hilarious scene where Keith, Mrs. Morgan, and Fran essentially celebrate having a couple of minutes away from the insolent spirit of the elder Morgan.

Vivaciouslady8
source: RKO Pictures

After their brief moment of bliss, Mr. Morgan confronts Fran and demands her to separate from Peter. When that doesn’t work, he threatens Peter’s job security. Ultimately, Francey gets the hint and begrudgingly leaves.

Mr. Morgan’s strong statements prompt Mrs. Morgan to drudge up some hidden feelings about the state of their marriage that have been ruminating inside her for years. Taken aback by his words, she hitches her wagon to Francey’s one-way ticket out of Old Sharon.

Free from the clutches of the elder Morgan, both women get on the first train down to Reno.

Peter’s resolution to the problem is to create possibly the most disrespectful situation a child could possibly subject their parents to – public drunkenness. As you can imagine he makes a complete fool of himself.

He loosens his tie, takes off his shoes, and downs about 7 glasses of whiskey in his classroom’s broom closet accompanied by who’s Keith cheering him on a couple paces away. Peter claims he’ll continue on this downward spiral until his father retracts the statements he spewed so flippantly a few hours earlier, even if this stunt costs him his cushy office job.

Vivacious Lady 1938 9
source: RKO Pictures

Several hours and many bottles of Johnnie Walker Blue later, Peter hits the hypothetical brick wall of drunkenness. This sees him miss the train that was carrying his emotionally distraught wife and mother.

When this was happening, Fran (being the typical woman) expects her ‘knight and shining armor’ to come galavanting down the train tracks, enter the convoy, sweep her off her feet then ride off into the sunset hoping to reconcile their failed marriage. When that doesn’t happen, she accepts her fate and proceeds to cry into Mrs. Morgan’s supportive shoulder.

Surprisingly, while Peter is knocked from his all-day ‘bender’, Mr. Morgan swallows his pride, finds the train before it leaves the station and takes it upon himself to apologize to both his wife and daughter- in- law.

You may be wondering, “how does one man stop a 100,000+ pound train dead in its tracks?” “Surely, it must be impossible.”

Well, if your first answer isn’t to park your car it in front of its path, then you may be a heartless jerk (according to what the movie says, anyway.)

Miraculously, Mr. Morgan finds his way onto the train tracks and hobbles his way into the shared cabin of Francey and Mrs. Morgan. With Peter not too far behind, the elder Morgan manages to weasel his way back into the loving clutches of his wife, profusely apologizes to both women. As for Peter and Francey, everything appeared to go smoothly for them.

Fortunately for the duo, they reunited without a hitch and forgave each other fairly quickly. Unfortunately for the audience, that happened to be the last scene of the movie, but based on their reactions, I have it on good authority that something as petty as this  probably won’t happen again to the Morgan clan.

Conclusion

Vivacious Lady 1938 7
source: RKO Pictures

Vivacious Lady is a picture that made my heart soar. Since the plot wasn’t as convoluted as some other romantic comedies from this era, the sole focus revolves around Ginger and James‘ incredible chemistry that permeated every inch of this movie.

Filled with pure amusement and warmth. The phenomenal attraction between Rogers and Stewart is what makes this movie tick. If this film had any other pair of leading actors, It might not have worked as well.

We can thank George Stevens for masterfully crafting a romantic comedy that genuinely feels romantic. Now, that sounds a bit redundant, but, there have been plenty of times where I’ve watched romantic dramas/comedies where I felt no connection to the characters, plot, or outcome. With Vivacious Lady, however, I was very interested in whether or not Fran and Peter (and to a lesser extent Peter’s parents) would be able to fix their issues.

All in all, Vivacious Lady is charming romp about star-crossed lovers and the many forces that threaten to derail their relationship. The movie is funny, touching, and slightly sensual (thanks to the pre-existing real-life relationship between Ginger and Jimmy.)

What more, as a classic film fan, could you possibly want in a movie?

It’s perfect.