Who else misses traveling? Walking around a public place without a mask? Eating in a restaurant? Large crowds of peaceful people? Good sense?
Yeah, we’re not going to think about that too much.
Actually, we’re gonna go to Miami with Betty Grable in the 1941 film, Moon Over Miami. A colorful, light-as-air film, it hit theaters at a time when Americans were nervously eyeing the overseas news and wondering when America wouldn’t be a sorta-neutral country anymore.
Carhops Kay (Betty Grable), Barbara (Carole Landis) and their aunt, line cook Susan Latimer (Charlotte Greenwood) are on pins and needles. They’re supposed to receive a whopping inheritance from the estate of a recently deceased relative and then they’re going to Miami. It can’t come soon enough because it’s tough work fending off all the guys who pull up to their Texas drive-in.
The big day finally arrives. Susan rips open the envelope with a breathless Barbara and Susan looking on…and they find out their inheritance is only about four thousand dollars after taxes and fees. The Latimers were expecting fifty-five thousand.
Derp. Oh well.
Kay has the bright idea of moving to Florida anyway, only with a twist: She’s got to hook a rich husband. Only she’s got to play the part. Dress rich, live rich, and money’s your husband. Younger, older, whatever. Kay’s not picky. What could possibly go wrong, right?
The three Latimers check into an apartment in a fancy resort, with Barbara pretending to be Kay’s secretary and Susan as the maid. A rollicking party given by a Jeffrey Boulton (Robert Cummings) is in progress and the place is buzzing. An amiable fellow named Jack (Jack Haley) helps them check in, and he regales the Latimers about how he’s a master at spotting gold diggers. He can smell ’em from a mile off. The Latimers hold their collective breath, but then Kay asks him if he’ll point out the gold diggers to her. She only wants legit money.
Almost as if on schedule, a case of champagne shows up at their door, courtesy of the famous Mr. Boulton. Kay calls to thank him, and in a ploy to go to the party, she tells him the champagne was flat. A repentant Boulton drops by to make amends, and everyone’s shocked to see he’s a young, handsome guy.
Here’s where the minimal plot slightly thickens: Jeff invites Kay to the party, and when they get there everyone’s asleep. The party has been going on for two days, after all. One of the slumberers is Jeff’s friend, Phil O’Neal (Don Ameche), who has a rather sparky banter with Kay once his eyes are properly open. He dares Kay to fall in love with him, but Kay’s not impressed and goes off to have a lively dance with the Conde brothers.
Jeff and Phil dance attendance on Kay. Phil takes Kay off for a picnic and Jeff hides in the rumble seat. Jeff takes Kay out boating and Phil zips right along behind them in his own schooner. Phil takes Kay down in a diving bell and Jeff swims around in front of the viewing window. Finally they just resign themselves to the inevitable and squire her around together.
Susan’s got her own romance going with Jack. The two of them prefer burgers to pheasant and Susan promises to make Jack her own special burger with guacamala sauce. Jack also comes in handy later when the funds run low and the ladies to make their rent. If only they can keep Jack from finding out they’re really poor gold diggers.
Kay has to decide between her two beaux. They each have qualities she likes, so it’s a tough choice. Too bad they’re not the same person. To help things along, she and Barbara tell Jeff and Phil that it’s Barbara’s birthday and the four of them go out together.
Barbara and Jeff hit it off, which is fine with Kay because she wants to get Phil alone. Phil is willing, and the two of them sneak off for a romantic moonlit cruise down the canals at Cypress Gardens. It’s a night for secrets and for truth telling. Put it this way: Phil and Kay are in the same boat in more ways than one.
The 1941 film was a well-worn trope. According to Grable biographer Doug Warren, Moon Over Miami was a remake of a 1938 film, Three Blind Mice, which was based off a play that premiered in London in 1938. Only in the earlier film there was no Aunt Susan, just three sisters, the story begins in Kansas instead of Texas, and the ladies head to California instead of Florida. Then in 1946 the tale would be told again in the movie, Three Little Girls In Blue. Grable herself would return to gold-digging in the 1953 classic, How To Marry A Millionaire.
What got the critics’ and public’s attention was the color and the music. The New York Times called Moon Over Miami “gaily packaged and pretty as a Fouth of July fireworks display.” Variety stated that during its opening weekend in Florida the film beat all previous records.
I love the music in this film too because it’s adorable and fun. It pretty much had no life outside Moon Over Miami, but unlike most Fox musicals of that time, the music is perfectly integrated to the plot. The dancing is fun as well–in one scene Betty Grable dances with Hermes Pan, who worked with everyone in Hollywood, including Fred Astaire. It wouldn’t be the last time he danced with Grable, but more on that another day.
The scenery and the production design are the cherry on top. The bungalow the ladies stay in is so cool, especially the entryway with its Deco tiling that matches the door. I’ve never been to Miami, or even Florida, but it looks quintessentially Miami in my mind. And much of the outdoor scenes were filmed at Cypress Gardens, which is now part of Legoland Floridian Resort. It all looks like a fantasy.
Seen today, the film holds up very well. It’s graceful, it’s dazzling, and the characters, though Kay is mildly manipulative, are winsome ladies who can be forgiven for their subterfuge. The music and dancing are superb, while the film isn’t complicated by any stretch of the imagination, there’s a lot to enjoy. It’s one of my favorite Betty Grable movies and always a great escape.
This post is part of Pure Entertainment Preservation Society‘s Clean Movie Month 2020. Another entry is on the way tomorrow. Thanks for reading, everyone…
Moon Over Miami is available on DVD from Amazon.
Warren, Doug. Betty Grable: The Reluctant Movie Queen. Hertford, North Carolina: Crossroad Press, 2016.
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