Sunday, July 3, 2011

Anything Goes (1956)

A few weeks ago I visited my parents for a few days primarily to see How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (starring a surprisingly spry Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette) and Anything Goes (starring Sutton Foster! And Jessica Walter and Joel Grey!) on Broadway. Since then I've had a hankering for some classic musicals, and the Donald O'Connor/Bing Crosby version of Anything Goes, an extremely loose rendering of the Cole Porter classic, seemed up for a revisit. I've owned it for years but haven't watched it since my first viewing in high school.

The story follows respected performer Bill Benson (Bing Crosby) and on-the-rise hotshot Ted Adams (Donald O'Connor) as they grudgingly team up ego-to-ego for a Broadway show. There's one female lead, and each star promises a woman the part. Bill finds the bright-eyed expat Patsy Blair (Mitzi Gaynor) in Paris, while Ted lands the slinky Gaby Duval (Zizi Jeanmarie), a French performer hoping for her big break in America. Through a series of lies and misunderstandings, both women wind up on the boat back to the US, each believing she's starring in the play. Bill and Ted try to hide them from each other, while fighting over who can stay in the show.

When I saw "loosely based" in the Cole Porter play, I mean "kept the title and four songs, threw out the rest". Well, and I guess they kept the boat. Anything Goes is an innocent enough diversion, but wholly unremarkable despite its talented and recognizable cast. The story is predictable and blasé, which isn't very surprising for a 50's musical, but the movie feels unenthusiastic about the genre in general, as if it knows that this type of filmmaking is on its way out. The sense of gleeful fun often palpably present in light-hearted musicals of the 30's-50's isn't felt as much, and it's more like they're just going through the motions. And indeed, this is near the end of several of the actors' tenure in movie musicals, so perhaps they were a bit fed up themselves!

I'm not trying to bash Anything Goes. It's sweet and airy, with some good musical numbers and the ever-enjoyable Donald O'Connor, who elevates every film he appears in. My crush on him will last forever, methinks. Of course Bing brings his reliable smarmy charm and smooth crooning, with several songs written just for him (I guess Porter's jumpy jazz didn't suit him as well), and I enjoyed seeing the two actors play off each other in both their musical performances and their characters' passive-aggressive working relationship. I do like the adorable Mitzi Gaynor, but her singing voice isn't quite fit for her introductory song "Anything Goes" (Jeanmarie does a nice rendition of "I Get a Kick Out of You" for her first number, though). The choreography is just ok, but there are some fantastic costumes (no surprise from Edith Head!) and charming comedic cuteness from O'Connor and Crosby, so there are definitely things to enjoy. It just feels a bit tired and uninspired, I think, with a script that needed to be funnier and musical sequences that needed to be showier to make the film stand out more.

Admittedly the fact that I had just seen several of these songs performed by the inimitable Sutton Foster in a fantastic Broadway production does skew my perspective a bit. I will say that I'm glad this film takes out the whole racist Chinese stereotype thing, though!


Pair This Movie With: For a fun boat-musical theme night, why not the Astaire/Rogers team-up Shall We Dance? Or for more Donald O'Connor, I'm a big fan of Call Me Madam.

My favorite musical number is probably the cute dual-duet of "You're the Top".

1 comment:

  1. Heeheehee... Bill and Ted... heeheehee...