This is my tenth film review in #CleanMovieMonth2020! This July, which we have dedicated exclusively to movies made during the American Breen Era (1934-1954), we are focusing 20-20 vision on twenty new Code films in honor of this year’s unique name. In addition to our customary two new Code film reviews each week as part of 100 New Code Films, we are publishing twelve additional reviews of previously unseen Breen Era movies. Rather than full-length reviews, these extra articles are short ones to just peak your interest.
#10 – Give a Girl a Break (1953)
Marge and Gower Champion, Debbie Reynolds, and Bob Fosse
Director: Stanley Donen, Producer: Jack Cummings, Production Company: MGM
After the star storms out of a new Broadway show in production, the creative team must find a new leading lady quickly. Director Ted Sturgis (Gower Champion) roots for his former dancing partner (Marge Champion), leading man Bob Dowdy (Fosse) is endorsing the pretty tap dancer who has won his heart (Reynolds), and composer Leon Belney (Kurt Kaznar) endorses a contemporary ballerina. Which girl will get the break?
Good Code Film
Hesitantly Recommended, Two Stars
I rarely watch a Code film which I think is truly poor, not in terms of Code compliance but artistry. Although it is a good Code film, I’m sorry to say that Give a Girl a Break is an artistic disappointment. My mother suggested that this sounded like a cute movie, and we all agreed that Debbie Reynolds is always charming. However, just from looking at the cast list, I could predict how it would be. It turned out to be exactly as I suspected. There is nothing really bad about this movie. It just is very shallow and rather weak in terms of plot. I’d say that the film’s main problem is a lack of star power. There are three couples in this film, which often leaves insufficient time for all three to be developed. Of these six actors, there is only one woman who was lead material (Debbie Reynolds) and not even one such man. Marge and Gower Champion are this film’s leading couple, which is one of its biggest flaws. Personally, I don’t consider the Champions to be champions in leading roles. I only really like them in Show Boat, in which they played supporting characters. When they are in larger roles, they just don’t do much for me. The main positive thing I can say about the duo is that Mr. Champion looked much handsomer in this film than he usually does. His singing voice was also much improved, but this was doubtless do to Bill Lee’s overdubbed vocals. Regarding Debbie Reynolds, there just wasn’t enough of her. She did a good job in her part, but she wasn’t given much opportunity to develop her character. While Bob Fosse gave a good performance, I found his character rather confusing. Synopses describe Bob as the play’s leading man, but, judging from the way Ted barks out orders at him, I thought he was an errand boy for most of the film! The third couple is so unremarkable that it just should have been eliminated. Kurt Kaznar is a lovable character actor, but his composer character in this film has a confused motivation. Like the other fellows, he seems enamored of the girl he is suggesting for the part, yet he soon learns that she is married. Thus, the romance is not developed further, although he still is obviously interested in her. If you have never heard of Helen Wood before, don’t feel bad. No one else has ever heard of her, either! After making this movie, her first and last major film role, she changed her name and began performing in “adult” films. The best thing about this film is the musical numbers. The only number which really stood out to be was “The State of Our Union,” a very clever song which Bob Fosse sang and danced with Debbie Reynolds. The dancing, choreographed by Mr. Fosse, was excellent, but I was particularly impressed by Ira Gershwin’s clever lyrics. The other main dancing occurred during three dream sequences, in which each man fantasized about himself with his protégé. The Bob Fosse and Debbie Reynolds number was cute, complete with balloons and falling confetti. There are some flashy special effects, but they became vastly less impressive when I realized that they were just playing the film backward. This may not have been so obvious if confetti had not been falling, since one could obviously see the confetti switch from floating down to drifting up! Director Stanley Donen must have wanted this to be obvious, but I can’t imagine why. The most impressive dance sequence was in Leon’s dream. Helen Wood clearly is an Ann Miller wannabe, complete with a similar appearance and comparable dance style. However, in this number, she displays true talent as she performs a ballet number en pointe in a tutu! Although an average popular dancer, she is a pretty ballerina. I don’t know what her training was, but her ballet technique was pretty good. However, even more impressive was Kurt Kaznar’s partnering of her! Mr. Kaznar was not a dancer, yet he wears pink tights and a tunic and effectively partners her! I would say that this film is worth watching at least once. I know that some people enjoy this film, so you may! As I said, it is not a bad film. I really hate to criticize Code films. I just don’t care for such fluffy musicals. If you like really light musicals, you may enjoy this movie. With such a talented creative team, this film had potential. In early promotional material, it was announced that Gene Kelly and Carleton Carpenter would be in this movie. Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, and Ann Miller were also mentioned. With Gene and Judy as the lead couple, Fred and Ann as another couple, and Debbie perhaps paired with Carleton, her cute co-star in Three Little Words and Two Weeks with Love, this could have been an amazing movie!
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