Although 20th Century-Fox has been producing and distributing musicals throughout its existence, when I use the label “Fox musical,” when talking about a very specific decade that probably started in 1938 with Alice Faye’s “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and ended in 1947 with Betty Grable’s “The Shocking Miss Pilgrim.”
The Fox musical is a specific genre of unambitious but pleasant musicals filmed in Technicolor and held together with a central love story that was always lighter than air. Only when Busby Berkely directed or the Nicholas Brothers showed up for a specialty number did the Fox musical occasionally rise to something that approached the majestic MGM musicals of the late 40’s and early 50’s.
And that’s okay. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
With a runtime that rarely flirted beyond ninety-minutes, these are wonderful little films filled with a lot of great music and a truly gorgeous stable of stars. Who wouldn’t want to spend time with Faye, Grable, Carmen Miranda, Don Ameche. John Payne, Edward Everett Horton, Charlotte Greenwood, Billy Mitchell, Cesar Romero, and Dick Haymes — with an occasional guest appearance from a Benny Goodman or Harry James?
If I had to choose the one title that best represents this films series, it would unquestionably be 1942’s “Springtime In the Rockies.” Irvin Cummings, who would direct nearly a half-dozen of these, was the director. What really sets it apart, though, is a cast that includes almost that entire stable and a perfect soundtrack of songs courtesy of the stars, and instrumentals supplied by trumpeter and band leader Harry James, who plays himself.
The plot is, as expected, silly. Vicky Lane (Grable) loves her Broadway partner Dan Christy (John Payne) and expects him to propose marriage the moment their latest hit show closes. Dan loves Vicky and intends to propose. But he has a history as a womanizer which turns an innocent act of his into a blow-out that lands Vicky into the arms of her old flame and dance partner, Victor Prince (Cesar Romero).
Now engaged, Victor and Vicky are working at a posh resort in the Canadian Rockies with James and his band. A heartbroken, unemployed and drunken Dan decides to get her back. When he wakes up the next morning in the Rockies, it’s with a hangover, a valet (Edward Everett Horton) and secretary (Carmen Miranda).
Grable, who in 1942 was at the peak of her fame and apple-cheeked beauty (drinking and a rough 22 year marriage to Harry James that began in 1943 would catch up to her before she turned 35) is a wonder to behold in Technicolor. Unfortunately, “Springtime” is a 20th Century-Fox DVD archive release and will probably never get the Bluray print that would do it and Grable justice.
The other wowser is Miranda, whose charisma and signature style plants a broad smile on your face whether she’s singing or not. “Springtime” not only explains Grable’s wild popularity as a WWII pin-up girl, it will also make sense of Miranda’s shooting star career that made her a top box office attraction until the end of the war when she was the highest paid star in Hollywood and the highest paid female in America.
What I love most about “Springtime In the Rockies” is the general atmosphere of the production. No one went to Canada or even off a Fox soundstage to shoot anything but backscreen. You never feel like you’re in the Canadian Rockies. But the pleasant atmosphere, gorgeous colors, and overall tone of the film is a very special kind of comfort food. For 91 gentle minutes, everything feels like it’s going to be okay.
Musical highlights include Harry James killing “You Made Me Love You“; Miranda’s fabulous tongue-twister “O ‘Tic tac’ do Meu Coracao; “I Had the Craziest Dream,” where Harry James and His Music Makers back up Helen Forrest, and Grable and Payne’s “Run Little Raindrop.”
If that’s not enough, a very young “The Great One” Jackie Gleason has a small but memorable role as the conniving “Commissioner” and the incomparable (and long legged) Charlotte Greenwood is always on hand to fire off those dry barbs she specialized in.
Thanks to the 20th Century-Fox Archives, the wait is finally over. I can throw away my VHS. For the first time ever, “Springtime In the Rockies” is available on DVD. No extras, no frills. Just Hollywood doing its job with the creation of an escape hatch from reality.
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