Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 6 April 2012

1956 double bill ...

A little seen musical and western ...

The big hitters of 1956 for me remain FRIENDLY PERSUASION (Cooper! young Tony Perkins! Pat Boone's song! Samantha the goose!), GIANT, THE SEARCHERS, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, WAR AND PEACE as well as those iconic BUS STOP, THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT, BABY DOLL, RICHARD III etc, but despite my love of those musicals of the '50s I grew up with, I somehow always missed MEET ME IN LAS VEGAS, maybe the last of the MGM musicals in 1956 - there was of course LES GIRLS in 1957, a key movie for me, but it is somehow more a sophisticated comedy than an out and out musical, as Cukor puts Kay Kendall and the other 2 (Mitzi and Taina) through their paces, with that hoofer guy Kelly - LES GIRLS label.

MEET ME IS LAS VEGAS is a star-studded entertainment highlighting Las Vegas, that temple of gambling and nightclub acts at those big hotels, heavily featured here. It re-teams Cyd Charisse and Dan Dailey from 1955's ITS ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER, which I posted about a while ago, another favourite musical - though Cyd is teamed with Kelly in that one while Dailey and Dolores Gray steal the show. It was Dailey's finest hour since Fox's 1954 THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS.

Here though in LAS VEGAS Dailey is the rancher on his annual trip to Vegas to gamble ... there is something rather oafish about him and his insistance of holding a woman's hand while spinning those dice. One girl he grabs is ballerina Cyd who is annoyed to find that the patrons will be eating while she dances, as hotel manager Jim Backus has just advised her. Cyd leads a very sheltered life as supervised by her manager Paul Henried and her chaperone/companion. So initially she fights off farmer Dan but they do have this amazing chemistry that they win whenever they hold hands ... so they become a well-known Vegas couple at the casinos constantly winning ... there are music interludes too, as in Fox's THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT, we are treated to lots of cabaret acts at the clubs: Lena Horne sings one number but the other one which was cut out (and is on the dvd) is a lot better: "You got looks". Frankie Laine sings up a storm too as the chorus girls go wild behind him, as choreograophed by Hermes Pan. We see lots of the famous names of the era too: there's Debbie Reynolds, and isn't that Pier Angeli? Frank Sinatra has a few more seconds playing the slot machines, and contract players like Jeff Richards and Elaine Stewart are in the audience, and Peter Lorre has a moment too.

One ritzy number is "I refuse to Rock and Roll" by Cara Williams, its a hoot and Cara tries to sink her claws into Dan to Cyd's aloof annoyance - Cyd also does some ballet, and that terrific "Frankie and Johnnie" number, as sung by Sammy Davis Jr. Cyd's tipsy ballerina also dances up a storm with the Vegas chorus girls, and young George Chakiris (after his chorus boy spots with Marilyn Monroe and Rosemary Clooney) and Betty Lynn are a pair of naive newly-weds.

We also head back to the ranch, an idealised version of chicken factory farming and happy animals, as presided over by Dans mother - none other than Agnes Moorehead, who comes to approve of Cyd. The hens in their cages lay eggs and the oil well even gushes! There is also another terrific Hermes Pan number "The Girl with the Yellar Shoes" .... back at the casinos manager Paul Henreid turns up to protect his protege, and then they lose their magic touch at the gambling tables ... will they still stay in love and continue with their plan of 6 months at the farm and 6 months for her careeer ? It is nicely resolved, and there is a lot to appreciate here, as directed by a Roy Rowland, produced by Joe Pasternak and script by FUNNY GIRL's Isobel Lennart.

DAKOTA INCIDENT is basically a western B-movie but with a touch of class - its our old favourite: a group of disparate people on a stagecoach all with their reasons for reaching Laramie heading through hostile Indian country. Sure enough the redskins attack, the coach is over-turned and our survivors are picked off one by one as they squabble among themselves as the water runs out in their hideout gulley. Dale Robertson is the outlaw left for dead, Linda Darnell the showgirl - in that vivid red dress - and Ward Bond is the pompous politician who thinks he can understand the Indians ... the first half sets up our characters with Linda in her element. Ward asks her if Dale is bothering her to which she retorts "No, but I think I bother him". There is a surprising conclusion as white man and redskin come together and of course our leading couple head off into the sunset. As directed by Lewis R Foster, it has that Republic Pictures look in spades, and was one of Linda's last leading roles. Dale was popular too then as a cowboy star, his SITTING BULL and GAMBLER FROM NATCHEZ were among the first westerns I saw, after that iconic JOHNNY GUITAR, the first film I saw when I was 8, as reported elsewhere here ...

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