Sunday, October 17, 2010

No Belle Prize

The Belle of New York is a pretty weak, late (1952) Fred Astaire movie. His co-star, the titular Belle is played by Vera-Ellen, one of my favorite dancers. In turn-of-the-century (19th->20th) New York, she is a member of a Salvation Army style group, run by Marjorie Main. Fred is a playboy who sees her playing on a streetcorner and falls in love with her.

One thing I did like is that Vera Ellen doesn't play it dumb or coy. She recognizes Astaire's intention and tells him to get lost repeatedly. In other words, she is wise to him. I like a wised up heroine. It turns out that her boss, Marjorie Main, is also Astaire's aunt and benefactor. When she finds out that they are in love, she doesn't pitch a fit, but actually approves! Another sit-com situation avoided. There were a couple of other traps like this they didn't fall for - this is not an "idiot" plot, that only works if everyone is an idiot.

Unfortunately, there really isn't much of a plot at all. That's fine for a musical, of course, but the singing and dancing are weak too, and that kills it. The big gimmick is that Astaire is so in love, he can dance on air - he has a number on top of the Arch at Washington Square, etc. It's cute, but the dancing would be nothing special on the ground.

Vera-Ellen gets a few numbers, but they are pretty restrained for such an athletic dancer. One of her lines: " want to make the menschen holler 'gangway'/I want to care less than Eva Tanguay". That's clever, but kind of incoherent.

I guess my favorite part was Alice Pearce, the plain-faced character actress with the screechy voice. She played Lucy Schmeeler, the blind date in On the Town, and Gladys Kravitz on "Bewitched". She's just fun to watch, and has a nicely sympathetic character.

Keenan Wynn as the lawyer who makes a living out of getting Astaire out of scrapes, is fun too. But he doesn't get much screen time.

So, how bad is this movie? Maybe not as bad as all that, but one song seems to be titled "My Heart Went 'Whoops'" - sung to ensure that you understand that "whoops" is meant in the regurgitory sense. Well, my heart didn't exactly go whoopsie, but it wasn't turning cartwheels, either.


mr. schprock said...

Hmm, a musical involving a playboy, man-of-the-world-type who falls for a Salvation Army-type dame. What an original notion. Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons could have used an idea like that.

Beveridge D. Spenser said...

Maybe there could be a plain girl with post-nasal drip? Worth looking into...