Sunday, March 4, 2018

Thank you for being a friend

The movie opens up with a narration from producer George Jessel, telling us about "Lotta's Fountain", a landmark in San Francisco, which was donated to the city by celebrated 19th century actress Lotta Crabtree. After this little bit of fact, we're sent back in time for something that bears little to no resemblance to reality....

The setting is the town of Rabbit Creek, CA, in 1863. 16-year-old Lotta Crabtree is the daughter of John (James Barton) and Mary Ann (Una Merkel), who operate a boarding house in Rabbit Creek. Lotta has dreams of becoming a singer and dancer, and is excited by the upcoming visit to Rabbit Creek of famous dancer Lola Montez. Of course, the real Lola Montez died in 1861 so it must have been a zombie Montez visiting in this movie. (Actually, what really happened is that Montez was in California in the early 1850s, and Lotta started her career at the age of six. But this would have made the romantic parts of the plot of Golden Girl ultra-creepy.)

Dad loses the boarding house gambling on roulette, and Lotta gets the idea that she can do what Montez did, going to the various mining towns in California and making money by putting on shows for them. (Something similar is seen by Edwin Booth in Prince of Players.) The men threw gold coins at Montez; surely they'll do the same for Lotta.

So Lotta goes around California with her mother managing her, along with help by old friend Mart Taylor (Dennis Day). Following Lotta from town to town is professional gambler Tom Richmond (Dale Robertson), who announces himself as being from Alabama. This being 1863, there should be some red flags raised, what with the Civil War going on, but Lotta and her crew go on as though nothing else is going on in the outside world. In fact, Tom was sent west by the Confederacy to rob gold shipments. (As far as I can tell, there was no Tom Richmond type in Lotta's life.)

Lotta falls in love with Tom despite his perfidy, but the separate because of the war. Lotta eventually makes her way east and becomes a huge success in New York just as the Civil War is ending. She's still hoping to see Tom again, however....

I'm not the biggest fan of the Fox musicals, and frankly I find Golden Girl to be one of the weaker Fox musicals I've seen. That the story bears no resemblance to reality shouldn't be a problem, but the whole fake love during the Civil War thing with its ridiculous resolution certainly turned me off, and would have even if the characters were wholly fictional. The fact that Dale Robertson is uncharismatic doesn't help. A much bigger problem is that I'm not a fan of Dennis Day's singing. Mitzi Gaynor isn't bad, but she doesn't particularly excite me. Finally, the print could stand to be restored, as the Technicolor is not particularly vibrant.

For the Civil War-era stage, I'd much more recommend Prince of Players. But if you really like musicals, you may like Golden Girl.

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