BR: My Gal Sal (1942)

July 10, 2018 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  June 19, 2018

Genre:  Musical / Biography / Drama

Synopsis: The meteoric rise of songwriter and pianist Paul Dresser is distilled in this amiable musical biography.

Special Features:  Isolated Mono Music Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and www.twilighttimemovies.com.

 


 

Review:

In this highly sanitized musical biography of musician-composer Paul Dresser, Victor Mature follows the young teen’s life as musician to itinerant performer with a medicine vending troupe, and to later & greater success in New York City after enjoying a series of hit songs in popular musicals.

Mature may be too ‘hunky’ for the role – in surviving photos, Dresser was more physically grandiose – but he largely succeeds in conveying the unbottled energy of a prolific songwriter whose success lay in the run-up years to the 20th century. Dresser’s financial fortune as writer and publisher faltered, so naturally the script by Seton I. Miller (The Sea Hawk, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Pete’s Dragon), Darrell Ware (A Yank in the R.A.F.), and Karl Tuneberg (You Can’t Have Everything, Ben-Hur) expanded more uplifting biographical material by Theodore Dreiser, Dresser’s brother.

Fox’s production is a glossy, hugely attractive Technicolor showfest, and whether intended in the script or designed by director Irving Cummings (In Old Arizona, The Story of Alexander Graham Bell, The Impatient Years), Dresser’s cinematic life is presented as vignettes from a musical stage show, suggested by the occasional and unusual camera placement just behind shadow audience members or straight-on with the proscenium and stage sides framing numbers.

Almost 30-ish Mature manages to glide through teen Dresser in the early scenes, and is paired with Fox contract star Carole Landis, playing dancer Mae Collins, the presumed lover with whom he also shares the stage until a fortuitous experience pushes him to seek higher ground.

That moment echoes a bit of the early scenes in the Danish film The Golden Clown (1926), in which highly successful socialites visit a circus, mock the lead talent, and later invite the wounded clown for a big city engagement. Fox’s variant has Broadway singer-dancer Sally Elliott (gleaming Rita Hayworth) and producer Fred Haviland (master enunciator John Sutton) watching and laughing as Dresser wiggles between two pianos in a loud checkered suit. They like the tune but don’t think much of the talent, and vanish from the film until Dresser takes that leap of faith, arrives in NYC, and ‘happens’ to hear his catchy tune playing from the office of a struggling, low rent music publisher run by Pat Hawley (James Gleason, making a fairly slimy figure instantly likeable).

With Mae wholly gone from the narrative, the bulk of the film is initially Dresser’s attempts to reassert the rights to his song that’s featured in Sally & Fred’s latest musical; and insisting to Sally he’s her ideal mate instead of long-suffering friend Fred. There’s little risk of any fisticuffs because Fred’s almost emasculated, often frowning and later deferring with a smile to Dresser, which allows the writers to save their choice repartee for the back & forth, on again / off again lovers. The scriptwriters may have ignored Dresser’s real life early scuffles with law and drink and prostitutes, but his womanizing was retained to keep the tension strong as Dresser can’t stay away from sultry Countess Rossini (exotic Mona Maris), even when engaged to Sally.

The classic boy sees girl / girl laughs at boy / boy eventually gets girl (but on her terms) / girl experiences bliss / boy fucks up / girl refutes / time goes by / boy gets girl after strategic hook-up after sudden coincidence and strong arguing + door-slamming is interpolated with several songs, and although Cummings doesn’t indulge in myriad grand, fluid camera movements – much of the film is comprised of locked shots – one Hayworth number is elaborately conveyed as she walks from a far distance on stage, and the camera then tracks, bobs, and glides as a scene unravels with singers & dancers on a huge stage, plus Hayworth spinning with graceful partner (and legendary choreographer) Hermes Pan.

If Hayworth and Mature are the leads, then Technicolor and Hayworth’s extraordinary costumes are the co-stars (even though her hairstyles are a strange early forties hybrid with period curls). The sets are just as softly decorated, with textures and colours often resembling velvet and satin with light pastels and deep dark blues. Fox’s HD transfer is quite nice, and the colour misalignment that sometimes affected prior DVD editions of 3-strip Technicolor transfers isn’t present, nor has the film grain been compromised.

The mono soundtrack is clean and balanced, and Twilight Time’s inclusion of an isolated mono track features both underscore (by uncredited Leigh Harline and Cyril Mockridge) and the instrumental tracks for the songs, making it kind of fun to switch between the two and pick out the instrumental nuances buried in the mix. The isolated material is a little pinched but doesn’t take away from the genial tone of Dresser’s tunes and the new songs by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin.

Julie Kirgo’s excellent booklet essay details the studios’ peculiar fixation on the Gay Nineties as WWII raged on, and how these ‘naughty but nice’ romances and musicals with candy colours soothes audiences escaping the fear of war on the home front and abroad. There’s also a nice appreciation of Mature, often caricatured by cartoonists as a droopy-eyed, moping chest-heavy hunk.

Given major billing but literally saved until the finale is Phil Silvers, playing a loud, schticky vaudevillian, and My Gal Sal marks the third pairing of Mature and Landis, both of whom got their big breaks in Hal Roach’s goofy prehistoric actioner One Million B.C. (1940) and appeared Fox’s classic noir I Wake Up Screaming (1941). Whereas Mature would progress from musicals (Footlight Serenade), noirs & thrillers (The Moss Rose, Violent Saturday) to westerns and biblical epics (Samson and Delilah, The Robe), Landis never really graduated to top Fox star, and tragically committed suicide in 1948, having appeared in 14 further films.

Hayworth’s prolific period with studio Columbia followed, starring in You Were Never Lovelier (1942), Gilda (1946), and The Lady from Shanghai (1948), after which came a series of misfires as Columbia awkwardly attempted to exploit her singing & dancing skills while feebly fulfilling the actress’s hunger for meatier dramatic roles in misfires like Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) and Fire Down Below (1957).

 

 

© 2018 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography
 
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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