RSS Feed

Tag Archives: June Allyson

Good News (Dec. 4, 1947)

Hey, kids, do you think “nostalgia” is only something for baby boomers hazily recalling Woodstock or Generation X’ers and their ’80s dance parties? Guess again.

Nostalgia has been around since there were people old enough to remember their youth and know that they’d never get it back. Charles Walters’s Good News, for instance, took viewers in 1947 and 1948 back to the good old days of 1927, when people were dancing the Charleston, when Will Rogers was elected mayor of Beverly Hills, when Coolidge chose not to run again, when “flaming youth” ran wild, and when a girl was a “flapper” and a boy was a “sheik.”

Unfortunately, Good News is about as convincing a portrait of the ’20s as Grease (1978) was of the ’50s.

It’s a sanitized Technicolor version of the racy original, which was based on the hit Broadway play that premiered in 1927.

In the special features section of the DVD I watched, there were a couple of scenes from the 1930 version of Good News, and in spite of their static camerawork and unimaginative black and white cinematography they were totally and completely electrifying.

Take a look at the scene below, in which Dorothy McNulty performs the song “Varsity Drag.” It’s an athletic, goofy, wild number, full of sexual innuendo and all kinds of good stuff that would be impossible to have on screen after the enforcement of the Hays Code (like the underwear shot at 3 minutes and 20 seconds).

Incidentally, Dorothy McNulty later changed her professional name to Penny Singleton and starred in the Blondie movies. She was also the voice of Jane Jetson on The Jetsons.

Anyway, the 1947 version of Good News just can’t hold a candle to that kind of wild vivacity. It doesn’t help that Peter Lawford, who stars as B.M.O.C. Tommy Marlowe, was cast more for his appeal as a heartthrob than his talent as a singer. He’s not terrible, but he looks uncomfortable throughout the proceedings, especially when he has to sing and dance at the same time.

His leading lady, June Allyson, who plays shrinking violet Connie Lane, is also a bit of a disappointment, but their funny duet, “The French Lesson,” is an amazing bit of fast-paced wordplay.

The most energetic and fun-to-watch performer in the film is Joan McCracken, who plays the man-hungry Babe Doolittle. Her performance of “Pass That Peace Pipe” is a highlight of the film.

A very young Mel Tormé also shows up for a couple of songs, “Lucky in Love” and “The Best Things in Life Are Free,” so Good News is worth seeing if you’re a fan of The Velvet Fog.

The song “Pass That Peace Pipe,” which was written by Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin, and Roger Edens, was nominated for an Academy Award for best original song, but lost out to “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from Song of the South (1946).

Advertisements

High Barbaree (May 1947)

High Barbaree

High Barbaree (1947)
Directed by Jack Conway
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Jack Conway’s High Barbaree pairs America’s boy next door, Van Johnson, with America’s girl next door, June Allyson.

It wasn’t the first time they appeared in a film together. In Two Girls and a Sailor (1944), Johnson played the sailor of the title and Allyson played one of the pair of sisters who were in love with him. (They also both appeared in the 1946 Jerome Kern biopic Till the Clouds Roll By. I haven’t seen it, but I know that it features a cast of thousands, and I’m not sure if they shared any scenes.)

High Barbaree puts the two of them front and center. Their characters’ romance is unencumbered by comedy or contrived stumbling blocks. The title of the film and the poster art imply an exotic tale set in the South Seas, and the tagline of the poster — He wanted to stay in the arms of his first true love — but another woman claimed him! — implies that the film will be about a torrid love triangle. It’s neither of these things. It’s a sweet, earnest love story about two childhood sweethearts.

It’s a story told mostly in flashback. It’s WWII, and Lt. Alec Brooke (Johnson) and Lt. Joe Moore (Cameron Mitchell) are drifting in the Pacific, their plane shot down during a bombing run. Every other man in the crew is dead, and Alec and Joe will soon join them if they’re not picked up.

Their water supply dwindling and their bodies weakening, Alec reminisces with Joe about his childhood. Alec is a corn-fed all-American type from Iowa, and Joe ribs him about it, since he’s a typical cynical kid from Brooklyn. Alec recalls the girl he loved when he was little, Nancy Frazer (played by Gigi Perreau as a child, and by Joan Wells as a young girl). She fearlessly climbed the water tower with him when they were children, and later ran away with him to the circus, and witnessed his brief career as a bicycle-riding daredevil. (Alec is played as a child by Jimmy Hunt, and as a 14-year-old by Claude Jarman Jr., fresh off his success as the lead in The Yearling.)

By time passed, as it must, and Nancy and Alec lost touch. He abandoned his plans to become a doctor like his father, Dr. William G. Brooke (Henry Hull), and went into aviation. He got engaged to the wealthy blond heiress Diana Case (Marilyn Maxwell) and went to work for her father’s airplane manufacturing company. Everything seemed to be going his way until Nancy (played as an adult by June Allyson, natch) re-entered his life, and he realized how lost and unhappy he really was.

At some point in the midst of his recollections, Alec realizes that he and Joe and the wreckage of their PBY Catalina are drifting toward a spot marked on a map long ago by Alec’s vagabond uncle, Capt. Thad Vail (Thomas Mitchell). The spot marks a fabulous island called “High Barbaree.” Uncle Thad described it as a mysterious place that was always just over the horizon, but that was perfectly beautiful and serene. If only they can make it to High Barbaree, Alec says, they’ll be saved.

While the exotic island of High Barbaree gives the film its title, it’s not a central part of the story, the way Shangri-La is central to Lost Horizon. Most of the story takes place in Alec and Nancy’s hometown of Westview, Iowa, which is its own kind of dreamlike phantasmagoria. I’ve never been crazy about Van Johnson (I think his stage name really should have been Bland Johnson), but he and Allyson make an appealing couple, and his earnestness is hard to resist in this picture.

High Barbaree isn’t a great film, but it’s pretty good, and is recommended for anyone who’s craving an old-fashioned romance. It’s based on a novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. The review of the novel in the October 29, 1945, edition of Time magazine said that “It is plainly designed as a refuge for readers who have had enough of wartime realism.” The same can be said of the film.