Tuesday, August 30, 2011


8/8/80. These cryptic numbers jumped out at me from posters, billboards, and newspaper ads all over Los Angeles during the summer of 1980. Was it apocalypse? Armageddon? Well, yes and no. The numbers represented August 8th,1980: the theatrical release date of the roller disco movie musical, Xanadu 
The tale of a legwarmer wearin', sundress rockin', rollerskatin', glow-in-the-dark muse (the heavenly Olivia Newton-John) who comes to earth to inspire a disillusioned artist (the uncomfortable-appearing Michael Beck) and retired bandleader (the ever-charming Gene Kelly) realize their dream of opening a roller rink/disco/nightclub; Xanadu is like nothing I've seen before or since. It's a law unto itself.  
The cast of Xanadu recreates the reaction of the nation's film critics in the summer of 1980

Widely panned on its release, the detonated bomb that was Xanadu had a catastrophic effect on the screen careers of its promising young stars, temporarily decimated the musical legitimacy of its composers, and single-handedly lay waste the roller-disco fad; all in one fell swoop. Yet, like a phoenix rising from the ashes (or a zombie that refuses to die even after you've fired a bullet into its brain), Xanadu has gone on to become a genuine camp/cult classic and is perhaps the most beloved bad film since Valley of the Dolls (which, by the law of averages, really should have been turned into a stage musical by now).
Olivia Newton-John is Kira
Gene Kelly is Danny McGuire
Michael Beck is Sonny Malone

Given the lengths to which the film's participants and Universal Studios have gone to distance themselves from it over the years, many would be surprised to learn that back in 1980, Xanadu was released with the kind of massive advertising blitzkrieg usually only afforded sci-fi & action films. Ostensively poised as the next Grease (a film I absolutely loathed that surprised everybody by becoming the largest grossing film of 1978), Xanadu was almost obnoxiously ubiquitous.  

Not that I'm complaining, mind you.
On the contrary, the glut of TV specials, radio promos, magazine articles, comic books, merchandising tie-ins, and cross-promotions mirrored my own excitement when I learned that my favorite rock group of all time (The Electric Light Orchestra—the preferred band of all the stoners at my high school) would actually be collaborating with Little Miss "Have You Never Been Mellow", Olivia Newton-John (arguably the most white-bread singer on the charts next to Debbie Boone).

This was before the days of pop stars changing their images with each new album release, so the prospect of the new-and-improved, 1979 model ONJ of "Totally Hot" (the terrific album that prompted a music critic to cite: "The tight pants Olivia wore at the end of Grease must have gone to her head") cutting loose in an original movie musical scored by a band known for its deliriously theatrical bombast, had me thinking that Xanadu had the potential to be another cinematic mind-blower like Ken Russell's film of The Who's Tommy. To say I was stoked to see Xanadu is a monumental understatement. I was so excited I practically gave myself a nosebleed.
Starry Eyed
One of the things I liked most about Xanadu was its sweetly optimistic vision of the 80s as a multi-generational, cross-cultural utopia where differences are accepted and originality encouraged. Lady Gaga would be proud.

I saw Xanadu on opening night at Mann's Chinese Theater with an audience that apparently hadn't read the reviews telling them that they weren't supposed to be having a good time. The theater was packed and the air was full of the excitement of attending an event. Every musical number was met with thunderous applause, catcalls and whistles greeted various names during the closing credit crawl, and (probably for the first and last time) only the intentional humor got laughs. 
As for me, I had passed through the looking glass somewhere around the time Gene Kelly, age 67, danced on an oversized pinball machine, displaying a beatific smile and the same effortless grace of that young man who made his screen debut in For Me & My Gal (1942).
I don't know what hit me (perhaps I was kissed by a muse myself), but I left the theater that night a different person from the one I was when I went in.

It's ironic that the dominant design motif in a movie as unwieldy as Xanadu is the sleekly economic elegance of Streamline Moderne. Real and studio-enhanced examples of Streamline Moderne architecture appear throughout Xanadu, as befitting the film's blending of music and design styles from the 40s and 80s.
Both critics and audiences were at a loss to figure out what Sonny Malone's dream of being a serious artist had to do with the opening of a roller-disco nightclub. The script drops the ball in making this clear, but close inspection of the film reveals that Sonny's artistic dreams come imaginatively true in his designs for Xanadu.
The model of the Hollywood Bowl "Muse" fountain in Sonny's apartment...
...becomes a fountain for real-life muse, Kira, to dance in front of in the realized Xanadu of Sonny's dream
One of Sonny's earlier discarded sketches (top) is realized as a modernist Greek column (behind Beck in the photo above) in his final design for Xanadu.
The Streamline Moderne appliances in Sonny's apartment (top) find whimsical expression in Xanadu's metallic chairs (center) and the oversized waffle-iron stage that Ms. Newton-John is perched on above.

Save for Gene Kelly's, there are no performances to speak of in Xanadu, so I'd rather not waste space by bashing the leads. There are plenty of sites online for that. What I would like to address is the matter of onscreen chemistry (or the lack of it) which provides Xanadu with many of its unintentional laughs and much of its homoerotic subtext. First off, not since Can't Stop the Music has a film worked so strenuously to establish the heterosexuality of its hero.

Perhaps the filmmakers thought Kira's neutered sexuality (until the smoking-hot finale where she sings something like 28 songs in succession) and Sonny's penchant for tight jeans and skimpy shorts, made Xanadu even gayer than it already was (not possible really, but let's go with that); so within the film's first half-hour, we have every third line of dialog reminding us that Sonny is a babe-magnet who's irresistible to women. Friends offer to fix him up, women flirt outrageously, and for the really slow-witted, an annoying co-worker (just the sort who would be the first to be killed off were this a horror film...which it kinda is) just comes out and flatly makes a comment to that fact. Later, when Sonny meets up with a buddy whose van he painted, the friend is given insipid post-dubbed dialogue relating to the sexual allure of mini-van murals --Hey, and the chicks love it!"-- calculated to dispel all viewer suspicion that muscular guys in short shorts roller skating along the Venice boardwalk are anything but skirt-chasing, sexually hyperactive heteros. 
Real Men Roller Skate
What throws a monkey-wrench into all this over-emphatic machismo is the fact that Beck and Newton-John exhibit zero screen chemistry, while Beck's scenes with Gene Kelly fairly crackle with magnetism and unintentional sexual innuendo. While everybody was making sure that every female in the cast was hailing Sonny Malone as some kind of roller-skating Super Fly, someone failed to notice that they gave Gene Kelly too many lines that make him sound like a genial sugar-daddy on the make. As Beck and Kelly develop an across-the-generations friendship, Kelly has one line after another where he's comparing business partnerships to marriage or sex. And wouldn't you know it, Michael Beck and Gene Kelly have an easier, more natural screen rapport than Beck has with his fluorescently glowing love interest.
Sonny and Danny, moments before yet another ill-timed interruption from Kira

It's no accident that Xanadu's soundtrack album took on a life independent of the failure of the film. The music by John Farrar and Jeff Lynne is some of the best ever composed for a musical. "All Over The World" is a lasting favorite (it always makes me feel happy inside) and the much-anticipated (by me) teaming of ONJ and ELO on the song "Xanadu" makes for one of the best pop singles to come out of the 80s. The unique musical qualities of each artist seem to bring out the best in both. ELO's soaring, overreaching orchestrations have always cried out for a voice as ethereally sensual as Olivia's, and Lynne manages to get her to shed some of the saccharine from her voice to deliver a solidly virtuoso pop performance. Nobody could maneuver the rhythmical twist and turns of this elaborately arranged piece the way Olivia Newton-John does. I think it's the best vocal performance of her career.

August 8, 1980, is a date that has more significance for me than the release of a lovably awful musical that nevertheless captured my heart and imagination back when I was a young student filmmaker hoping to break into the movie business.

8/8/80 represents the day I decided I was going to become a dancer.

A revelatory decision made all the more astounding when taking into account that, after studying film for nearly 4 years and being exposed to some of the greatest cinematic works ever created, the motion picture that inspired me to change the course of my life at age 22 was none other than that much-maligned muse of a musical, Xanadu. (This should give hope to producers of flops the world over.)  Maybe it was the music, the choreography, the visual style, or maybe the film's theme about the importance of following your dreams...who knows? It makes me ask myself: is the emotional experience of seeing a "good" film more valid than the emotional experience drawn from seeing a "bad" one, and should it matter so long as they make us feel something? Whatever the reasons, I left the theater that night convinced that there couldn't be a life more blissful or fulfilling than a life spent dancing.
The dancers beckoned, and I said YES!
Briefly summarized, I wound up quitting film school and threw myself into several intense years of dance training. Never looking back, nor regretting the decision, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I have been a professional dancer for over 25 years now and I'm happy to say that it has far exceeded my expectations of what I thought it could bring to my life. I never before believed that dreams could come true like they did in the movies. And like it or not... Xanadu is the film I have to thank for it all. Although I must confess that I wasn't as happy about that fact as I am now. Until about the year 2000, it really wasn't "cool" to say you liked Xanadu. Whenever anyone would ask me about the Xanadu license plates on my car, I would lie and say it was in reference to Citizen Kane. Such disloyalty!

I'm in my 50's now and still dancing. And I only hope that should I be lucky enough to make it to my 67th year, my heart contains even a glimmer of the joy that Gene Kelly's smile radiated in that pinball sequence that still knocks me for a loop after all these years. It's funny.. who'd ever guess that one of the worst films ever made would lead me to my very best life? Worst film ever made? Don't you believe it.
You Have To Believe We Are Magic
*Footnote: To coin the title of another Olivia Newton-John hit, in an odd "Twist of Fate," I was invited to appear and tell my story in the retrospective documentary "Going Back to Xanadu" included as a special feature on the 2008 Xanadu DVD release. Talk about full circle. Me on the DVD of the movie that changed my life, talking about how it changed my life! You can't tell me that a muse didn't have a hand in all this...Magic indeed!
I participated with Don Fields of the Xanadu Preservation Society in the "Xanadu" 40th Anniversary podcast via "Stuck in the '80s."

Copyright © Ken Anderson 2009 - 2013

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Back in my dating days, I had what I call my "Taste Test Films" (two such films, in fact: Robert Altman's 3 Women and Andy Warhol's BAD). These are films for which my appreciation is so intensely personal and self-defining that I used them as a gauge in determining the compatibility of my tastes with those of potential partners I felt I might be getting serious about. Both films are so completely my aesthetic, humor, and world view, I reasoned that if someone didn't "get" these movies and their appeal to me, they likely wouldn't "get" or understand me, either. Similarly, if you were the kind of guy who appreciated the idiosyncratic allure of these films (spanning the rather broad spectrum between acute human empathy to outrageous, misanthropic black comedy), it was a pretty safe bet that you'd be my kind of fella.
3 Women is such a thoughtful, intriguing film that most anyone I was interested in was likely to find something to like in it, but Andy Warhol's BAD (directed by Jed Johnson, but a delirious mash-up of those camp/trash geniuses, John Waters and Paul Morrissey) was definitely the litmus test.
Carroll Baker as Hazel Aiken
Perry King as L.T.
Susan Tyrrell as Mary Aiken
Charles McGregor as Detective Hughes
Bridgid Polk as Estelle
Hard-as-nails Queens housewife Hazel Aiken (a perpetually pissed-off Carroll Baker) operates an electrolysis business ("Six-Hundred and Fifty hairs an hour!") out of the home she shares with her ailing mother; ineffectual, unemployed husband; and whiny daughter-in-law (Susan Tyrrell) and grandson. To make ends meet and subsidize her cache of furs, jewelry, and perfumes, Hazel also runs a dial-up, all-girl hit squad. The dispassionate efficiency of her bloody all-female enterprise is compromised when circumstance necessitates the reluctant taking on of a slow-witted punk (Perry King).

Strange as it may seem, Andy Warhol's BAD reminds me of a simpler, gentler time in America. Back when there was really such a thing as a "counter-culture"; back when movies designated as "underground" or "independent" actually were; and back when standards of morality and decency were observed by enough members of the population that they could be burlesqued in a film like this. Today we live in a country where ignorance is rewarded (thank you, Jersey Shore), bad behavior is commonplace (Arnold "The Sperminator" Schwarzenegger), and nobody denounces the hamburger for posing as steak (calling all Kardashians). Andy Warhol's BAD, once thought outrageously offensive enough to warrant an X-rating, is positively quaint and remarkably moral in comparison. You can't poke fun at tacky, suburban aspirations towards upper-class chic in a world that can't distinguish class from trash.
French Provincial Luxury- Hazel, enjoying the fruits of her labor
Viewing this film feels like having front-row seats to the end of an era. You just can't make a film like this anymore. When the lowbrow and sleazy becomes the cultural standard, there's nothing left to satirize. It used to be that you had to seek out underground films from Warhol or John Waters to enjoy comically amateurish performances and flat, monotone line readings. Now, you need look no further than the multimillion-dollar multiplex crowd-pleasers from Michael Bay and Vin Diesel. Andy Warhol's BAD tries very hard to be nasty and mean-spirited - the ever-present TV is forever spewing out bad news, people perform the most heinous atrocities without batting an eye - but the entire film is kinder and more humane than any 10 minutes of The Bachelor.

Hit-girls, Marsha (l.) and Glenda (r.) flank the misanthropic Estelle as she plots revenge on a neighbor.
Estelle: "I'm telling you, people stink. All they do is eat, fuck, and watch TV!"
Marsha: "I know. The more you smell, the more they stink."
Estelle: What's that supposed to mean?"

To her credit, Carroll Baker held no illusions about Andy Warhol's BAD providing her with any kind of American film comeback (It was her first American film since leaving the country in 1965). Quoted as recently as June of 2011 on working on the film:
"It had nothing to do with film-making, it had nothing to do with any other experience I ever had. It was like working on the moon. But he (Warhol) wanted me, he cast me in it, I wanted to do it, and it was such a big hit in Europe."     Carroll Baker  New Journey Journal

Baker's level-headedness serves her well in Andy Warhol's BAD, for she creates in Hazel Aiken (the role was originally offered to America's Ethel Mertz, actress Vivian Vance) one of cinema's most memorably twisted villains. Devilishly deadpan in her single-minded belief that she is just doing what has to be done ("I like to help people!"), if Beaver Cleaver's mom was an avaricious sociopath, she'd be something like Hazel. A woman so lacking in decency she cheerily accepts calls in her kitchen for contract killings and views Polaroids of gruesome slayings as if they were vacation slides. The only remotely competent person amongst a menagerie of slackers and oddballs, Hazel's near-constant exasperation finds amusing subtext in Carroll Baker; an Academy Award-nominated, Method actress, working alongside Warhol's "actors"... many of whom sound as if they learned their lines phonetically.
(Substantiating my theory that big budgets sap the imagination of indie-filmmakers, John Waters, with a budget more than ten times that of Andy Warhol's BAD, mined similar material in 1994's Serial Mom, but it wasn't half as funny.)
Mary - "What kind of a grandmother are you? Having baby-killers in the house with a baby? She'd kill any baby!"
Hazel - (Indignant) "She would not! She only does what she's paid to do. You wouldn't pay her, so she wouldn't do it!"
Mary - "You're crazy! You're really not all there!"

All-girl hit squads were a camp/pulp staple of 70s exploitation flicks (and, my personal fave—the 1967 James Bond spoof, Casino Royale) but the women in Andy Warhol's BAD are something else again. These girls don't kill for kinky thrills, they seem to do it just because they're bored. Funniest by far are Marsha and Glenda (real-life sisters Maria & Geraldine Smith): the Laverne & Shirley of Murder Incorporated. Armed with thick New York accents and a canny sense of comic timing, their scenes are among the sharpest and off-the-chart hilarious in the film.
Dressed to Kill
Looking like models in a Laura Mars photoshoot, Marsha (brandishing the stiletto) and Glenda lie in wait for their next victim.

Andy Warhol's BAD is a darkly comedic satire on the banality of evil; a topic that's fascinated me since Rosemary's Baby (1968) posed the provocative notion that a harmless group of elderly New Yorkers could unleash the living Devil into the world. We movie fans find it reassuring when our monsters can be  easily identified—usually as crazily hateful maniacs and criminally unbalanced psychopaths. Perhaps that's because it's so unsettling in real-life to be offered evidence on a daily basis (most of which we prefer to ignore) that unspeakable evil is often perpetrated by the so-called "normal" members of our society.
Hazel Aiken's cockeyed ethical standards, which are played for absurdist laughs (a proud capitalist, she willingly kills man, woman, or child for a fee, but draws the line at vulgar language and keeping stolen property in her home), underline what is so scary about most truly evil people: they consider themselves to be the most normal of all.
All In A Day's Work
Amidst the trappings of middle-class domesticity, Hazel gets a call for another contract killing
Hazel, with all her pragmatic speeches about personal responsibility, work ethics, and doing what has to be done because nobody else will do it, reminds me a lot (too much, actually) of the fear-goading political candidates, flag-waving radio commentators, and defenders of family values who cloak themselves in "normalcy" to rationalize philosophies of hate.
The 1965 film The Loved One, which satirized the L.A. funeral industry, was promoted with the slogan "The motion picture with something to offend everyone!"  Twelve years later, Andy Warhol's BAD promoted itself with the New York Post review quote: "A picture with something to offend absolutely everybody." The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Hazel - "You're really sensitive, aren't you? Well, I can't afford the luxury to be sensitive because I have to do everything myself!"
I find it interesting to note that today, neither of these films, which had their battles with the censors and were met with much hand-wringing over the declining state of the world, is really very offensive at all. Indeed, in failing to in any way glamorize the lives and behaviors of its principals, Andy Warhol's BAD is, as I've indicated above, very moral in its view of the world. It presents the characters as the bottom-feeders they are, and even throws a bone of hope to the audience when the lunkhead, played so nicely by Perry King, reveals that as bad as he is, he isn't prepared to do anything for money. 
What's ironic are the number of safe, family-friendly entertainments of yesteryear (classic films, Warner Bros. cartoons, TV sitcoms) that, due to blithely accepted attitudes of sexism and racism, I consider to be blisteringly offensive today. (One example: an entire episode of the "feminist" 60s sitcom That Girl actually attempts to extract laughs from the far-from-hilarious plot point of a husband breaking the jaw of his loudmouth wife with an ashtray.)
Talk about the banality of evil.
"Looks aren't everything."
Oh, and for the record, both of my "Taste Test" films have been officially retired. I showed them to a fellow I was dating who not only loved them as I did, but, on a single viewing, opened my eyes to insights and jokes contained in both films that I had never seen before. Understandably, I couldn't let a guy like that go. That was 16 years ago going on 17, and we still get a kick out of re-watching these films together. Even after all these years, we can make each other laugh just by uttering the raging Estelle epithet: "O'Reilly O'Crapface."

Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2011

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


In what must certainly be one of the oddest cases of inspiration I can think of, I was moved to revisit this pleasant, largely overlooked MGM musical after recently suffering through the film, Love and Other Drugs (2010), a fatuously formulaic romantic dramedy that crosses the creaky "ailing kook" scenario (think Sandy Dennis in Sweet November) with the overused yuppie-sleazeball-gets-redemption, cliché (Rain Man). The re-teaming of Brokeback Mountain's Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway in this painful-to-sit-through exercise in forced chemistry got me to thinking about the days when reteaming past romantic co-stars was something of a common practice in Hollywood.

Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds were twin, cute-as-a-button, bundles of energy in 1952's Singin' in the Rain; but, as the 19-year-old Reynolds was the love interest of 39-year-old Gene Kelly, (O’Connor was 26), the pair shared few scenes together. To cash in on that film's success, MGM swiftly re-teamed the more age-appropriate duo in this feather-light, low-budget feature that, while ultimately failing to launch the two as the next Judy Garland / Mickey Rooney, proved itself to be one of the more light-heartedly entertaining entries in MGM's late-era roster of musicals.
Debbie Reynolds as Judy LeRoy, nee Schneider
Donald O'Connor as Melvin Hoover
Una Merkel as Mom Schneider
Allyn Joslyn as Frank Schneider
Richard Anderson as Harry Flack
Being the story of a photographer’s assistant who tries to win his girl by promising to get her picture on the cover of Look magazine (that’s the entire plot, folks!), I Love Melvin is about as insubstantial as they come. But in sidestepping the excesses and pretensions of some of the more elephantine musicals of the day (An American in Paris, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, The King & I, South Pacific, etc.), I Love Melvin distinguishes itself by way of its simplicity. The charm rests squarely on the appeal and chemistry of its two stars, and its wisp of a plot never gets in the way of their considerable talents.

A night out at the movies result in Judy's affections being torn- almost literally -between Melvin and her little sister, Clarabelle (Noreen Corcoran).

When I was growing up, Friday nights were a big deal around our house because my parents let me stay up late and watch TV. Before the age of cable and the infomercial, late-night television programming was an oasis of old movies. The Late Show; The Late, Late Show; and The Early Show offered a virtual Master’s Class in film history. All manner of obscure and noted films of every stripe were unspooled (along with countless commercials for the local auto dealership) exposing me to a library of before-I-was-born movie gems, many of which rank among my favorites to this day.

I first saw I Love Melvin (even its title pokes fun at its modest ambitions) when I was 13 years old, sullenly holed up in my room in a typical adolescent funk over something or other. I had never even heard of the film when I settled down to watch it, and what I most vividly recall is how quickly and thoroughly the bouncy cheeriness of this unassuming little musical overcame my pre-teen gloom and fixed me in rapt attention to the dazzling singing and dancing on display. On reflection, it's clear that I responded strongly to the way Debbie Reynolds's character was depicted as a moony, dreamer type. Her penchant for losing herself in comically overblown, Walter Mitty-esque fantasies echoed my own experience.
In one of Judy's many fantasies, she envisions herself dancing with a trio of Gene Kellys and a trio of  Fred Astaires
Since the daydreams and fantasies of a shy, introverted kid eventually led to a fulfilling life as a professional dancer on stage, film, and TV—that’s MY story— I’ve always held a spot in my heart for movies that encourage young people to believe in and work towards their dreams (Xanadu: “Our dreams don’t die. We kill them!”; The Rocky Horror Picture Show: “Don’t dream it, BE it!”; and of course, Nine, and the song that gives this blog its name).  

I’ve always liked Debbie Reynolds, but I can't say I've always had the stamina to sit through some of her movies. She was the screen's first and best Tammy (Tammy and the Bachelor [1957]), but I wouldn't wish Goodbye, Charlie (1964) or How Sweet It Is! (1968) on my worst enemy. Yet, even in these less-than-pleasing outings, Reynolds' great gift was that she exuded a genuine likability and tomboy toughness that added a much-needed spark when the material at hand wasn't up to her talents. In I Love Melvin she is in fine form, handling the comedy and musical numbers with graceful assuredness.
Debbie Reynolds was always a better actress than she was given credit for. She played frighteningly against type in What's The Matter With Helen? (1971) and really should have won the Oscar for her standout performance in Mother (1996).

The rubber-limbed Donald O’Connor is the kind of extraordinarily athletic dancer that I never tire of watching. Like Gene Kelly (a personal fave), Donald O’Connor always looked like he was having the time of his life when dancing. In I Love Melvin, O'Connor's boyish appeal so perfectly suits Reynolds' wholesome charm that the only reason I can think of for why this film didn't click with audiences is because, as written, the romance only STARTS when the movie ends. Up until that point, it's all pursuit; there are surprisingly few scenes of the couple just getting along. By way of contrast, the pairing the almost asexual boyishness of O'Connor with the smoldering, sex-on-the-hoof Marilyn Monroe in 1953's There's No Business Like Show Business was so odd that it bordered on the perverse.

In I Love Melvin, O'Connor shines in several showpiece dance numbers. Here he adopts Gene Kelly's Singin' in the Rain lamppost pose.

I know it's just my personal taste, but the '50s were my least favorite decade for musicals. Not only did the need to compete with the burgeoning threat of television result in a glut of visually garish, needlessly grandiose behemoths, but the choreography at the time--with its modern dance influence--was of the squatty, inelegant style showcased in the "Get Happy" number from Summer Stock (1950) and later parodied in the "Thanks a Lot, But No Thanks" number from It's Always Fair Weather (1955). I think a lot of people who say they don't like movie musicals got that way after watching a '50's musical.

I Love Melvin is the exception that proves the rule, if only because it contains one of my top, top favorite musical numbers...one that ranks with the classic clips of Astaire, Busby Berkeley, Bob Fosse, and Eleanor Powell. It's the dance duet, "Where Did You Learn To Dance?" performed with personality plus by Reynolds and O'Connor.  Exemplifying all that is right with the film, it's a number shot on a simple set with no pyrotechnic choreography, yet achieves moments of tiny greatness in merely letting the energy, talent, and charm of the two carry the sequence. It's one of those disarmingly "simple" numbers that you know was hell to get to look so flawlessly effortless.
 It makes me feel like a kid just watching these two underrated talents burn up the screen. As far as I'm concerned, it is THE best number in the film.

It's to I Love Melvin's credit that, whether intended or not, so many of the scenes involving Reynolds and her onscreen family recall the eccentrically homey touches Vincente Minnelli brought to Meet Me in St. Louis. Reynolds's character lives with her parents and younger sister in a small New York apartment (there are some great location scenes, especially of Central Park) and their interplay is nicely modulated with moments of character comedy that are farcical but never overplayed. By way of conflict, Reynolds is given an unsuitable suitor - the handsome Richard Anderson - in what was once referred to as "The Ralph Bellamy role" (later known as "The Dennis Miller role").  As is often the case when the heroine is given a rival who's fated to be dumped for the hero by the final reel, I Love Melvin jumps through hoops trying not to depict Reynolds' dismissive treatment of Anderson as unkind, but it never truly succeeds.
Cruel to be kind?
Hollywood musicals like to show love as a fated destiny, but they habitually ignore the collateral damage
I've become something of a broken record of late as I bemoan, in post after post, how I feel contemporary movie musical talents fail to measure up to even the most workaday talents of the past. I don't suspect my opinion will be changing any time soon. Not when I Love Melvin; a sprightly film of hummable tunes, clever dances, and captivating performances, can be considered so commonplace in its day as to be overlooked, yet there's not a director, choreographer, composer, or performer today capable of coming within a hair of its modest brilliance.
In a whimsical take on the college musical, Debbie Reynolds stars in the "Football Ballet" as (what else?) the football.
Reynolds autographed this photo following a Los Angles performance of her touring one-woman show,  "Alive & Fabulous" in 2010

Copyright © Ken Anderson   2009 - 2011