“Moon Over Miami” (1941) arrived on the scene in the last few months before Pearl Harbor changed America forever, and while World War II had for nearly two years been destroying the lives of millions overseas. Everything’s okay in Betty Grable’s world.
Betty and Carole Landis play waitress sisters in the film that opens with a sprightly song and a couple of roadside café carhops in cowgirl suits. Can’t get any more promising than that. If Shakespeare had thought of opening a play like that, he would have done it. It just probably never occurred to him.
Charlotte Greenwood, reliably funny and dear (see this previous entry for an interview with Miss Greenwood’s biographer) is their aunt who slings hash in the kitchen. The three of them dream of marrying rich men, and take off to Miami to hunt for some.
Don Ameche and Robert Cummings, boyhood rivals, are the rich fellows. Since the girls do not want to appear as golddiggers and because they have very little money between them, Betty gets to pretend to be the wealthy heiress, while sis Carole plays her secretary, complete with unflattering glasses because she is not supposed to outshine Betty, and Charlotte gets to be the maid. Lanky Miss Greenwood, with the most eloquent posture in Hollywood, can make her point or just get a laugh by standing or leaning, or taking a deep breath.
Both the dapper young white dinner jacketed rich fellows chase after Betty with her deep red lipstick and her blonde hair pulled off her face in the impossible upsweep. With giant stars on her dress and a giant bow in her hair, she is a walking exclamation point.
Cummings is the goofier, more hapless millionaire’s son, and Ameche is the more suave and savvy. We know who’s going to end up with Betty when we hear Mr. Cummings sing. He lumbers on bravely, but it’s a good thing he’s rich because he’ll never make any money singing. Ameche’s smooth, gentle tenor is always a surprising contrast to his rather gravely speaking voice. He could be the last man sporting a pencil thin mustache at this period. (See the blog "Allure" for photos of some famous mustached actors of Hollywood's Golden Age).
After some trickery and water sports shot on location in Ocala and Cypress Gardens in Florida to give the film a hint of travelogue, each girl walks away with her rich fellow, though Miss Greenwood is improbably paired with hotel barman Jack Haley. Miss Grable comes off as a bit of a petulant heel, and a spoiled brat, but it’s her movie.
Frank and Harry Condos are the pair of specialty dancers who flank Miss Grable in a couple of numbers, and take the lead themselves in the “Seminole” number where a huge troupe of dancers dressed in patterns emulating the traditional clothing of Seminole Indians takes off in a colorful and not terribly PC tribute to something sort of Florida-ish.
It’s a frothy vacation with glimpses of Florida in an era when location shooting was not the norm, a glimpse of Betty Grable in a white bathing suit, which is a precursor to her famous image as a war pinup, and a fantasy of what it might be like to leave your lousy job and travel to an exotic place where everybody is having fun. The vacation only lasts 90 minutes, but you can’t beat the price.