Today is Saturday, so it’s time for the first 100 New Code Films article of the week. I started this series this year to expand my knowledge of Code films. Here at PEPS, we consider Code films to be American movies made between July 1934 and 1954. These films were self-regulated by Joseph I. Breen, so they comply with the Motion Picture Production Code. This series helps us study them.
Today’s topic is Small Town Girl from 1953. This is one of the last remaining films produced by Joe Pasternak which Amazon Prime offers. We were looking for a fun movie to watch a few weeks ago, and this film was on our watch list. We thought it looked really enjoyable, featuring a great cast and promising wonderful musical numbers. Somehow I forgot about this film when trying to think of new Code films to review for our Joe Pasternak Blogathon, since I watched this movie a couple of weeks ago. Anyway, since I reviewed two other films for that event, I can review this movie now as one of this week’s new Code films!
A spoiled, rich playboy speeds through a small town one Sunday with his dancer fiance, not knowing that he is going through a very strict, conservative little town. He is brought over to the judge’s house, where he sentences him to thirty days in jail for speeding and disrespect for the law. He takes notice of the judge’s beautiful daughter, a principled young lady engaged to the general store owner’s son. However, her fiancé wants to have a Broadway career instead of settling down in the simple burg. Meanwhile, the judge’s daughter sympathizes with the spoiled prisoner, so she helps him visit his wealthy mother in New York. Thirty days may not be long enough, since they feel themselves falling for each other.
This movie stars Jane Powell, Farley Granger, and Ann Miller. Supporting actors include S. Z. Sakall, Robert Keith, Bobby Van, Billie Burke, and Fay Wray.
This movie was directed by Leslie Kardo. It was produced by Joe Pasternak. The production company was MGM. The screenplay was written by Dorothy Cooper and Dorothy Kingsley. The story was by Dorothy Cooper. It featured a score of nine original songs, all of which featured music written by Nicholas Brodszky and lyrics by Leo Robin. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “My Flaming Heart” by Nicholas Brodszky and Leo Robin.
This is a fair Code film. It is generally a very wholesome and decent movie. Most things in it are totally Code compliant. The costumes are decent, and the songs are proper. The choreography is acceptable. The only objections are two forbidden expressions. Firstly, Eric Schlemmer (S. Z. Sakall) refers to Mrs. Livingston (Billie Burke) as a “lousy dancer.” The italicized word is a forbidden expression which was usually forbidden by the Code. Secondly, Ludwig Schlemmer (Bobby Van) tells his father that he doesn’t want to marry Cindy (Jane Powell) because she has no sex appeal for him. The italicized phrase is a pointed expression which was rarely allowed in Code films. These two flaws make it less than a good Code film. Other than that, it is unobjectionable.
I highly recommend this film. It is really charming. It is a lovely lighthearted musical. The acting is breezy and entertaining. Jane Powell is very cute and perky in this part, which is more mature than her films of a few years earlier. Since Jane was advancing farther into her twenties, it is good that she is no longer playing adolescent roles. She performs some great musical numbers, wearing lovely costumes which complement her beauty just as the charming songs complement her voice. Farley Granger plays Richard Livingston III, the careless playboy. Although he is selfish and pompous at first, he develops a much more sensitive, mature nature as the film progresses. It is delightful to see how Cindy, her family, and the whole community help this young man. Ann Miller plays Richard’s shallow fiancée, a self-centered, brassy Broadway performer. She performs a very memorable number in which she dances around musical instruments sticking out of the stage, played by disembodied hands. Although this is one of the dancer’s most famous numbers, I found it rather odd. The technique was impressive, however. I don’t remember how her dancing looked in this number, having been too distracted by the instruments! Bobby Van is the third musical star of this film. He sings and dances masterfully in his unique style, as well as acting very effectively in the part of Ludwig. Particularly memorable is Bobby’s hopping dance number, in which he bounces throughout the town for a solid five minutes! His father is played by S. Z. Sakall, Joe Pasternak’s good friend, that lovable Hungarian character actor who adds so much to any film with his “cuddly” personality. Billie Burke is charming as Mrs. Livingston, adding grace and dignity with her refined persona. Nat King Cole even provides a rare cameo, displaying his impressive musical talents! This is a really wonderful movie. Musical fans will love it.
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