Sunday, January 7, 2018

Doll Face

Last year, I bought a Carmen Miranda box set off of Amazon. (For some reason, this set doesn't seem to be available from the TCM Shop. But it's also avaialable on Amazon streaming for those who do that thing, and for free if you've got a Prime membership.) One of the movies on it I hadn't seen before is Doll Face, so I finally watched it over the weekend.

Vivian Blaine plays Doll Face, real name Mary Elizabeth Carroll. In the opening scene she's auditioning for a play to be produced by Flo Hartman (Reed Hadley), but one of Flo's assistants recognizes her as Doll Face. This is important because Doll Face is a burlesque star, and Flo wants respectable, cultured stars. This pisses off both her and her fiancé Mike (Dennis O'Keefe), who also produced the burlesque show. (He pronounces "burlesque" as "burly-Q".) But Mike gets an idea when he buys something and gets a free book as part of the purchase. Why not have Doll Face tell her life story, except that the book will be ghostwritten for her!

It's a wacky idea, but this is a movie, so why not try it? The only thing they have to lose is some money. So Mike contacts Fred Gerard (Stephen Dunne), the author of the book he got, and while Fred is initially resistant to the idea, he eventually decides to take it on. All goes well, or so it seems. Fred and Doll Face have to spend a lot of time together on the book project, which leads Mike to fear that the two are falling in love with each other.

The book becomes a success, leading Flo to decide to produce a show based on the book starring Doll Face. The only problem is, by this time, Mike has broken off the relationship, convinced that Doll Face is involved with Fred, and Doll Face responds by actually starting a relationship with Fred for real. And Doll Face is none too happy with the idea that Mike should be an integral character in the show. After all, Mike only discovered Doll Face and made her who she is.

You'll notice that even though I watched this off a DVD in a Carmen Miranda box set, I haven't mentioned her yet. That's because this is a slightly atypical role for her. She only gets one musical number, in the last 15 minutes as part of the Broadway play of Doll Face's life. Other than that, she's playing almost an Eve Arden type, a wisecracking but wise woman named Chita Chula who understands that Mike is really the right guy for Doll Face and tries to make things right between the two. She also gets one of the best scenes in the movie. When Mike is discussing the idea of everybody in the burlesque show getting parts in the Broadway show, he tells Chita that she could become the next Carmen Miranda. Chita is none too pleased about it, disparaging the Carmen Miranda stereotype.

On the whole, Doll Face is competently produced, but it's among the least memorable of all the Fox musicals I've seen. (If I'm Lucky, which I reviewed nearly five years ago and which is also on this set, might be even lower on the Fox musical scale.) Part of that is because of the lesser cast, headed by Blaine. The second couple subplot goes to Perry Como and Martha Stewart the actress and is also forgettable, other than a running gag about beating your girlfriend because women like that. There's also the fact that Carmen only gets the one number, with the other numbers being blah. Finally, it's in black and white. It's not bad; it's just absolutely nothing special.

For the price of the Miranda box set, I'm glad to have seen this movie. Fans of Fox's musicals will probably like it too. And for the price on Amazon streaming, it wouldn't be too expensive either. But I'm not certain I'd consider it good enough ever to buy it on a standalone DVD, certainly not if it were released on Fox's MOD scheme.

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