Monday, June 23, 2008

The quicker picker-upper

Last night's selection for TCM's Essentials Jr. was the 1935 version of Mutiny on the Bounty. Why anybody would want to mutiny over paper towels is beyond me, but then, the HMS Bounty existed long before the paper towels. The paper towels of the same name, however, do have a connection to classic film.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Bounty ran an advertising campaign centered on the fictional waitress Rosie, played by Nancy Walker. Today, Walker is best known for her TV appearances, not only as the aforementioned Rosie, but also as Ida Morgenstern on the sitcom Rhoda. Walker had started her career in the movies, though, and one of her first movie roles was in the 1943 MGM musical comedy Girl Crazy.

Walker plays second fiddle to Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, but does a find job. Rooney and Garland were extremely popular at the time, and Girl Crazy fills the prescription for what audiences wanted to see when they went to see a musical starring those two: a light boy-meets-girl story in which it takes the girl a while to warm to the boy, but they eventually live happily ever after; throw in a bunch of song standards and more elaborate production numbers for good measure. Specifically, Rooney plays a New York playboy who's living a bit too high of a life for his father's liking (including getting mixed up with a young June Allyson). So, his father sends him off to a mining college out west. It's an all-male school, but the dean (Guy Kibbee) has a granddaughter (Judy Garland). However, enrollment is declining, probably because nobody really wants to go to an all-male school in the middle of nowhere. Along the way to falling in love, our two heroes devise a scheme to save the college from losing its charter.

Where does Nancy Walker fit in to all of this? She plays Judy Garland's cousin. Her character realizes that, even at the tender age of 21, she's nowhere near as glamorous as the Garland character, and compensates for this be being a wise-cracking sidekick. It's not a big role, but Walker shines in it, being a joy to watch in every scene. Rooney and Garland are fine, as is Kibbee. Finally, the musical numbers, by George Gershwin, are up to his usual standard, including such songs still remembered today as "I Got Rhythm" and "Embraceable You".

Rooney and Garland, being a popular screen couple whose names are still famous today, were natural candidates for a DVD box set, and so it is to be expected that Girl Crazy is available for your home viewing enjoyment. Even if you don't care that much for musicals, it's still a pleasant enough movie.

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