Lady Be Good, a Backstage Musical

John Carroll, Ann Sothern, Robert Young, Eleanor Powell and Red

What is the result when you combine Gershwin’s music to Berkeley’s choreographies? Lady Be Good, of course! A lovely backstage musical directed by Norman Z. McLeod in 1941. Today, it’s the perfect occasion for me to talk about this film as I am participating to the Backstage Blogathon hosted by Movie Silently and Sister Celluloid.

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Lady Be Good starts in a tribunal when singer Dixie Donegan (Ann Southern) explains to the judge what led her to ask for a divorce. Her friend Marilyn Marsh (Eleanor Powell), a talented dancer, is here as well to witness. Dixie had met composer Eddie Crane in a restaurant and they actually made team together when they discovered Dixie had the talent to add lyrics to his music. Their compositions became successful and they eventually get married. But once a husband, Eddie has no longer “time” for work, which doesn’t suitsDixie’s lifestyle. She obtains the divorce, but she still loves him. As Eddie is much more productive when he’s not married, they continue collaborating together and compose big hits such as “Lady Be Good” and “The Last Time I Saw Paris”. Marilyn, who knows that they still love each others, is in charge to bring them back together again.

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Lady Be Good is not a masterpiece, neither an “excellent” film. Just like its title, it’s a “good” film, or great, depending on your point of view. It’s actually very pleasant and entertaining to watch. It makes you feel good, just  like a breath of fresh air. On my side, the reason why I first saw this film is because I wanted to watch more Robert Young’s films. So I checked what was available on iTune and saw this one. Really, I had never heard of it so, yes, we can say it’s the title that interpellate me. Also, I love musicals and I had to see a first Eleanor Powell’s films. So, why not? I didn’t regret my choice and had a great fun watching it. Otherwise, I won’t be writing about it.

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Lady Be Good regroups a very interesting cast. Every actor can “do something” if you see what I mean.

Ann Southern has a truly beautiful melodious voice. She certainly is one to discover for her singing talent. Concerning her acting skills, she has a great sense of comedy and makes an interesting partnership with Robert Young. What I particularly like about her character, Dixie, is that she makes you want to compose a song. It’s seem easy with her, but, of course, it’s only a film.

I think the reason why I love Robert Young is because he reminds me of James Stewart (my favourite actor). He isn’t as much a great actor, but his presence on screen is so appreciated. If we saw him in some Films Noir such as Crossfire, Robert Young was particularly known for his roles in comedies. His “cutie pie” smile makes him look quite friendly and we can’t help smiling when he makes his first entrance. I can say this is probably one of my favourite role’s of him. However, what makes me laugh is that, even if he plays a pianist in this film, we easily can say he wasn’t a pianist at all, or maybe not as good as Eddie Crane. You know, this moment when a character plays piano and close his eyes at the same time, looks somewhere else or has a very philosophical conversation with someone while playing, I can tell it’s fake. Except if you play a short and easy tune, playing piano requires a minimum of concentration. However, we can boast Robert Young for another musical talent: his singing voice. I was surprised to hear him singing in this film, first thinking he was only playing piano, but it turned out that he doesn’t have a bad voice at all!

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Eleanor Powell embodies the art of dance in Lady Be Good. Some people told me that she was, according to them, the best dancing actress to ever grace the screen. I can see what they mean because she is indeed incredible. Her feet move so fast while she is tap dancing, but in a way it’s seem easy. I must admit, when I see people tap dancing like this, it makes me want to do so. Of course, Mrs Powell is a professional. We only see her dancing twice in the film: when she does that unforgettable routine with her dog Buttons and toward the end when she is the dancing star of a big musical number brilliantly staged by Busby Berkeley

When she is not dancing, Eleanor Powell gives us no doubts about her acting talent. She is a valuable supporting actress and adds a lot of pep and charisma to the film.

Virginie O’Brien as Lull and Red Skelton as ‘Red’ Willet makes a funny couple. Lull always eats, but never gets fat and Red is honestly the funniest actor of the film, even if doesn’t have the biggest part.

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Lionel Barrymore plays the judge. Even if it’s a small role, it was perfect for him and I have to say it’s my favourite performance of him. In a much more different role than Mr. Potter (It’s a Wonderful Life), Lionel plays a judge who tries to be serious, but who, inevitably, has a great sense of humour.

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Finally, John Caroll plays a singer, Buddy Crawford. His presence is appreciated, but I can’t say it’s the best performance of the films. Of course, we have to give him good credit for his beautiful deep singing voice.

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In the cast, we also have to mention the appearance of the Berry Brothers (playing their own roles). They are incredible dancers and each one of their moves is extremely creative. Such a dynamic trio!

Apparently, Doris Day plays an extra in this film, but I couldn’t recognize her.

Lady Be Good is a film full of colours, who makes you want to sing, dance and laugh. Of course, we can’t not talk about its music as it is a musical. Ok, in the film the music is composed by Eddie and the lyrics are written by Dixie, but, in reality, George Gershwin composed the music and his brother, Ira Gershwin, wrote the lyrics. Now, you CAN’T go wrong with those two. It’s not as glorious as “Rhapsody in Blue”, but it remains very pleasant to listen. However, some of the songs like “The Last Time I Saw Paris” (not composed by Gershwin), were composed before the film.

What I find funny about this film, is that the characters often talk about the Gershwin. They pay tribute to them in their own way.

This film is more about songs than dance, but we assist to some great choreographies created by Busby Berkeley. Those are not as much impressive as  those in 42nd Street or Dames, but they remain the proof that Berkeley really was the king of the backstage musicals. At first, Berkeley was supposed to directed the film, but Norman Z. McLeod finally did the job. I think the following musical number is the best Busby Berkeley example of the film. As for the music, that’s a melody you all know.

I couldn’t leave you without talking about the costumes. Here, we explore the refine fashion of the 40’s. What I particularly like about Lady Be Good‘s costumes are Ann Sothern’s hats. We remember that Katharine Hepburn often wears very original hats in her films, well Ann Southern adds challenge to the fashion competition!

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Ladies wear very classy emsembles in this film and it makes me regret to have been born in the 90s… The costumes were designed by Adrian.

***

A very big thanks to Movie Silently and Sister Celluloid for hosting this great event. It was a pleasure for me to explore the glory of an extremely amusing backstage musical.

I invite you to read the other entries, of course, where you’ll discover that backstage life is not always “happy” and “successful”…

The Backstage Blogathon

Tourlou!

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16 thoughts on “Lady Be Good, a Backstage Musical

  1. I still have to see this film but know of the big dance number with Powell and I have seen the clip when the team are “composing” the song Lady Be Good. Great review and Powell was considered the best dancer on par with Astaire. In fact they played together once and when they were rehearsing they worked non-stop through lunch and dinner until the pianist became so tired he had to stop. They didn’t even realize what time it was

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a terrific cast! I’m a huge Berkeley fan. This is one the few films that he choreographed that I have somehow missed along the way. I’ll have to watch out for it. I enjoy these travails and victories of a composer types of films.

    Great overview of Lady Be Good.

    I’ve posted about two different films on my two blogs which are linked below.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out
    &
    Wrote By Rote

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love Adrian’s costumes here – he had such an innate understanding of elegance!
    Much like you, I’ve seen very few Robert Young films (ditto, Powell, if I’m honest!) so I look forward to checking this one out. After all, ‘good’ is a better place to start than ‘average’!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have yet to see this film, maybe when I’m feeling down (because musicals always brighten up my mood). I don’t know much about Robert Young and his body of work, but I can tell Eleanor Powell always leaves me speachless with her dancing routines.
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂
    Kisses!
    Le
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com

    Like

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