Monday, November 14, 2016

In Judy Garland's Quartet

I needed a Judy Garland musical comedy yesterday.  One aired on TCM.  Most of my weekend TV viewing had consisted of news programs focused on the new team moving into the White House.  Personally, I'm starting to feel like Michael York's character during the "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" number in CABARET.  The Statue of Liberty must have tears streaming down her face ever since the election results were announced.  That's why I want to lighten my mood here and write about an actor who was lucky enough to dance with Judy Garland in one of her most entertaining MGM musicals.  I love her in this 1949 feature, one that teamed her with Van Johnson.  It's IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME.  Switching the action from Budapest to Chicago, this was a musical remake of the 1940 Ernst Lubitsch classic, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER.  Judy Garland and Van Johnson played the bickering co-workers who are secretly and anonymously personal ad pen pal sweethearts.
Judy Garland and Van Johnson recreated the roles originally played onscreen by Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart.
Some of the best acting you see on TV and in films is done by folks whose names you don't even know.  They are bit players and otherwise non-stars who fully commit to their characters, take a small role and give it their all.  Often, you don't know their names but you remember their performances.  Such is the case with actor Charles Smith.  For classic film fans, that name may not be recognizable but you know his face.  Ever since I was a kid watching old movies on TV, I have loved seeing Charles Smith pop up in classic films.  He was one of the jitterbug teens who meets the middle-aged George M. Cohan in YANKEE DOODLE DANDY.  Cohan teaches them the meaning of the "Stix Nix Hix Pix" headline on Variety.  He is very touching as the sad young GI on leave who breaks down crying in joy when he hears from his mother in the World War II fantasy/drama A GUY NAMED JOE.  He's not even on screen for five minutes but you remember his telephone booth scene.  For IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME, his assignment was musical.  He was a member of the quartet that performs the "Play That Barbershop Chord" number with Judy.  Here he is right above Judy.
Here's Charles Smith again -- on the upper left of Judy.
This was a very cool booking for Charles Smith and not solely because he got to sing and dance with a Hollywood legend.  He was in that bright musical remake -- and he was also in the 1940 original.  The younger Smith was so warm, innocent and boyish as Rudy in the final scene of the Lubitsch film.  The store owner, played by Frank Morgan, was despondent after learning his wife had cheated on him.  At the end, we see that young Rudy will become like a son to the kind and lonely store owner, giving him a reason to smile again.

The next big screen remake of THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER was a big box office hit in the 1990s.  It was the romantic comedy YOU'VE GOT MAIL starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
Starting in the 1930s, 20th Century Fox hit on the successful movie formula of following three females as they seek love and rich husbands.  Come the 1940s, this formula was a great format to showcase the studio's Fox Blondes.  Betty Grable starred in MOON OVER MIAMI (1941) which highlighted her vivacious song & dance skills coupled with her famous pair o' great gams.  Fox used the formula again for HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (1953) which highlighted Grable comedy chops and showcased a new Fox blonde named Marilyn Monroe.

Another musical comedy utilizing that Fox formula was 1946's THREE LITTLE GIRLS IN BLUE.  This film introduced moviegoers to blonde Broadway musical star Celeste Holm.  Blonde June Haver co-starred.

Charles Smith is in THREE LITTLE GIRLS IN BLUE.  He was paired with dancer Vera-Ellen.  Although both their singing voices were dubbed, they still stand as the two film actors who introduced a new song written for the movie.  A good song, it didn't really click with the public until Frank Sinatra recorded it about ten years later. 

Here are the dubbed Charles Smith and Vera-Ellen introducing it.  Charles Smith -- he was never a star but, man, he did some great stuff with the roles he got.  He was really proof of the old saying, "There are no small parts...only small actors."  Enjoy the song.  It's "You Make Me Feel So Young".

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