“Meet Me in Las Vegas” (1956) is a fun and frothy pastiche uniting the two themes upon which the reputation of that town is built: gambling, and nightclub acts. We get a little of the first, and a lot of the second.
Today we wrap up a two-post trip to Las Vegas. Have a look here at Monday’s post on “Las Vegas Story” (1952). From that black and white crime story we move on to color, lots and lots of colors.
Dan Dailey is a happy-go-lucky rancher who drives his coral convertible, with the matching horse trailer, to visit the casinos. Where he is not lucky at all. He is well known and well liked for being a good loser, and only a loser. But a swell guy.
His career in big movie musicals of the 1940s and 1950s puts Dan Dailey somewhere in the same universe, though in a lesser orbit, as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. I don’t know where his dancing puts him against those gentlemen; I think he’s a swell hoofer, and I particularly like the “Gal with the Yaller Shoes” number in this movie where he performs with Cyd Charisse and the male ensemble to Hermes Pan’s vigorous and playful choreography.
But what sets Mr. Dailey apart is not his dancing; it’s his screen personality. Astaire and Kelly were both famous for playing confident wise guys who turned out to be nice underneath the wisecracking. Dan Dailey always seemed more sensitive, even troubled, a guy who really wasn’t that confident, but whose tenderness was never hidden. He is never a card sharp or gamester on the make in this movie. He’s a frequently obtuse stumblebum, something Astaire and Kelly never played.
Cyd Charisse is a ballerina appearing at the casino where Mr. Dailey is losing his money. She’s a fish out of water here, just trying to make some dough herself in a world about which she knows nothing. She has several opportunities to dance in this movie, ballet, a jazzy “Frankie and Johnny” routine (narrated and sung by Sammy Davis, Jr.), and a very funny impromptu venture into burlesque. Having had too much to drink, she invades a parade of lady hoofers dressed in gaudy costumes representing “lucky charms”.
The plot is about as simple as they get. Dan Dailey, who believes in luck even though he doesn’t have any, grabs the hands of passing ladies, in lieu of a rabbit’s foot, while the roulette wheel spins. The only time it works is when he lunges for the hand of a passing Cyd Charisse. He insists she is his lucky charm.
She thinks he’s loony and angrily tries to discourage him, but when she relents to give the experiment a try, they discover that, yes, every time at any game he plays, if he’s holding her hand, he wins.
They start winning all over the place, up and down The Strip. Miss Charisse, at first attracted by the money, is secondly attracted by this new world she’s discovering outside the rehearsal hall. Her life thus far has been very disciplined, with no time for play. Now she sees how the other half lives, and she likes it. I like her line when, seated in a restaurant with him, a couple of huge steaks in front of them, she’s too excited to eat, even though as a dancer on a perpetual diet, she marvels, “I’ve been hungry for ten years.”
She is thirdly attracted by Dan Dailey, and it is to get his attention that she joins the burlesque kick line. His drooling over Cara Williams makes her jealous. Miss Williams belts out “I Refuse to Rock and Roll” (which was just beginning to beat down the drawbridge of popular music and storm the castle).
Sultry Lena Horne also sings, as does Frankie Laine. One of the fun things about the movie is the shameless name dropping. The Four Aces start the movie. We have cameos by Frank Sinatra, Debbie Reynolds, Vic Damone, Peter Lorre, Tony Martin (Cyd Charisse’s husband).
The marquees on the casinos -- many of the same ones we mentioned in Monday’s post on “Las Vegas Story”, give us a snapshot of the big names of the 1950s: Louis Prima and Keely Smith, Marge and Gower Champion, Danny Thomas, the Mills Brothers, Johnnie Ray, Donald O’Connor.
Dan Dailey finally notices more than just Cyd’s hand, particularly after a brief ballet (which features a game of volleyball in the middle of it), “That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
He takes her home to his ranch to meet Mother, who is played by Agnes Moorehead. It’s always good see her in any movie, though there’s not much for her to do here. She’s feisty, opinionated, and likes the cut of Cyd’s jib because Cyd is a career woman with no intention of giving up her career.
I found myself distracted by Miss Moorehead’s hair color, a cross between tomato soup and the fires of hell. I guess when you use Technicolor, you have to shoot the works. Might explain the coral-colored convertible, too. Most of the film is painted in a rainbow of soft, lush colors.
The lucky couple’s luck continues at the ranch, where as they stroll around holding hands, the barren chickens lay eggs, and the cow gives birth, and a new oil well gushes forth black gold.
But we know the old axiom “lucky at cards, unlucky at love”. So, too here. When they fall in love, their luck at gambling leaves them. Will they stay together anyway? You can probably figure that out yourself. It’s refreshing that they compromise to spend six months in her world of dance and six months on the ranch.
Except for a couple of numbers, most of the songs performed in this movie are staged as nightclub acts, so there isn’t that jolting of reality for people who dislike musicals for that reason.
But I’ve never quite understood that. “People don’t burst into song in real life,” the movie musical curmudgeon might complain.
Sure they do. They’re called entertainers.