Thursday, January 5, 2012

Meet Me in Las Vegas - 1956

“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).

 Paul Henried also has a minor role, and Jim Backus as the hotel manager gets to briefly bluster, and Jerry Colonna rips his otherworldly tenor on "Lucky Charm".

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.


Lobosco said...

Not a great musical but it has always been one of my guilty pleasures. You can't go wrong with Dan Dailey and Cyd Charisse!

Caftan Woman said...

This is one of those movies that I have never seen all the way through from beginning to end, but have caught bits of over the years and I'm glad it was made. What a kick to see those acts in their natural environment. If only the Mary Kaye Trio had been included. Sigh.

Nice point about the Dailey's sensitivity as a hallmark of his screen persona. I'm still waiting for his Oscar nomination for "It's Always Fair Weather".

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

"Guilty pleasures" probably fits the bill for a lot of viewers. It's like pink cotton candy, nothing substantial, but pretty and enjoyable while it lasts.

CW, I agree, I think seeing the acts "in their natural environment" is what gives this film some historical value.

I've been wanting to get to "It's Always Fair Weather" for a long time. Maybe this year. Was waiting to see if I could pin it to some kind of series about post-War adjustments. I don't know. We'll see.

KimWilson said...

I must admit something, Jacqueline: I often do burst into song. I do this with my family and dogs mostly, but I have been known to sing (or even rap) a few bars from a song in one of my history lectures. My family is just used to it, but my students get a real kick out of it. Anyway, back to the film, I've never seen it. I'm actually not that familiar with Dailey's work, but I do know Charisse's well. Sounds like an entertaining film--plus, I'd like to see the Sammy Davis bit.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I'll admit, too, Kim, so do I. In sometimes the most inappropriate locations. Doctor's waiting rooms. Or even in examing rooms. During job interviews. Funeral services (it's okay if you're singing "Amazing Grace" or something like that, but nobody expects "Everything's Coming Up Roses"). It's like a tic, I think. My mother used to do it, too. She did not have a great voice, but I think she knew every word to every song ever written. And lyrics poured forth from her like running water, in the car, while my father drove, cringing.

A friend of mine once saw me in my car at a stoplight, and she asked me the next day what on earth was I doing? Singing?

Only certain people understand, Kim, and you seem to be one of them. We share the same affliction.

Yvette said...

Can't remember if I saw this or not, Jacqueline. I was never big on Dan Dailey, so I might have missed it.

But I still enjoyed reading your review. I love that line about Agnes Moorehead's hair,
"...a cross between tomato soup and the fires of hell." HA!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, Yvette. This movie is nothing if not colorful.

Grand Old Movies said...

I haven't seen this particular movie (though I've seen the 'volleyball' dance excerpted on Youtube; it's actually a pastiche of "The Sleeping Beauty" ballet, using the same Tchaikovsky music). But I second your appreciation of Dan Dailey. He was not only a pretty good dancer, but an excellent actor. He had the ability to 'act' in his musical numbers: in his 'Advertising-wise' number in IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER, he's not only singing and dancing, but he does it in character, letting us see what his self-loathing advertising executive feels about himself and his profession. A great performance.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I'm so glad somebody finally commented on the volleyball segment. It cracks me up.

Yes, I do like Dan Dailey. I've got to get to blogging about "It's Always Fair Weather" sometime, really. I love your description of his performance there. Thanks so much for stopping by.

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