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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Three for the Show (1955) - Colorful Contemporary Musical



I enjoyed this musical. It shows life on Broadway in the mid-1950s and has some memorable songs that outlived their time. It is a light diversion, no "Showboat" or "The Music Man," for sure, but enjoyable for what it is.

Man, only in Hollywood would they think this looks real

Betty Grable (playing Julie Lowndes), looks perfectly in character as a major Broadway star, at least one in the old days. True, she is no longer as trim as she used to be (a fact that is usually, but not always, well hidden), but she fits the part. It's a bit odd that she is forced to adopt the breathless singing style recently made popular by Marilyn Monroe, which doesn't suit her at all, but she pulls it off. As the center of the story, she is solid and dances well. I can understand why she retired from films shortly after this, time indeed to pass the crown to the new crop of starlets.

This actually looks like it could lead to something interesting


The main problem with the casting lies with the others. Jack Lemmon plays Marty Stewart, a titan of Broadway writing, and just isn't right for the part. And he is called on to dance.... Lemmon was a great comic actor, and had his moments as a dramatic actor as he got older, too, but he doesn't at all look like or act like a dancer. He also comes across as callow, especially in comparison to Julie, his supposed wife of several years. But where else are you going to hear a young Lemmon sing Broadway show tunes and act like he is madly playing the piano? Truly an eccentric choice, and since there are only a handful of characters in the entire film, he sticks out noticeably and somewhat uncomfortably.

Behind the scenes

Gower Champion, playing Marty's writing partner Vernon, is wrong, but for another reason. Unlike Lemmon, he clearly is a dancer and pulls off his scenes believably. He acts like the Broadway stage is his home. But his interactions with Julie don't ring true at all. At least Lemmon is warm with her, if completely out of place otherwise. Gower is lukewarm at best. There is one scene, where Julie supposedly has chosen Marty over him and he has to talk his way back into Julie's good graces, that does not ring true at all. Clearly a great talent, just not right for this part.

Marge Champion, playing Gwen Howard, looks like she wandered in from another film. Although only a few years younger than Grable, she looks at least a decade younger. The chemistry between her and Gower is terrific, with the others decidedly less so. In fact, it is perfectly obvious they belong together, they look like a pair throughout, unlike everybody else.

Betty, that really is not the most flattering of poses.....

There are ballet, or pseudo-ballet, sequences throughout that I personally enjoyed. Unlike some other musicals of the time, they are not completely unrelated to the story with weird abstract touches, but instead reflect what is actually happening in the story. It's kind of cool watching Lemmon pull off dancing moves that clearly are foreign to him. The target audience obviously is female, but these sequences are eminently bearable for anyone.

Does this look like a couple of many years?

Again, this is not a big musical like "Oklahoma" or "South Pacific." The songs are subtle (I've always enjoyed "I've Got a Crush on You" and "Someone to Watch Over Me," nice to see where they come from), and the dancing has a comic flair that may keep your interest (as you would expect, with Lemmon involved). The songs do at times seem somewhat superfluous and perhaps a bit out of character. But the show is enjoyable for what it is, a light musical. Don't have unrealistic expectations, if you want "Gigi," go see "Gigi."

Recommended for the songs, the hip mid-1950s New York backdrop, and fans of the stars.

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