Monday, March 26, 2012

Let's Do It Again - 1953

“Let’s Do It Again” (1953) gives us a last look at a frivolous musical comedienne Jane Wyman before a long stretch of more “soapy” roles. To be sure, she had her serious talents already explored in her Oscar-winning performance in “Johnny Belinda” (1946), and “The Lost Weekend” (1945) with Ray Milland, with whom she’s teamed again in this movie.

It’s a different matter to take on a frothy role after one is already established; we see her character is not like the old ditzy chorus girls she used to play when she was younger. Her dignity, partly due to age and party due to simply paying her dues, helps her stand out in this otherwise lightweight movie.

I'll bet your house parties look like this.  I know mine do.   

The film will be inevitably compared (unfavorably) with the original comedy “The Awful Truth” (1937) with Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, and Ralph Bellamy. Most remakes, a lot of us would agree, are disappointing. I wouldn’t look at this as a do-over, though. It’s just another take on a scenario, only with music and set in a 1950s bubble bath. Step right up here, we got your modern furniture, we got your off-the-shoulder gowns. You say you want opera gloves? Sister, we got opera gloves.

Ray Milland is a Broadway composer who, much to the chagrin of his wife, Jane Wyman, spends much of his time on the town carousing without her. She is a former musical star who retired to be a wife. She attempts to make him jealous with a tall tale about staying out all night with his rival composer, played by Tom Helmore. When Milland balks at her story about spending the night with Mr. Helmore in a motel, she, completely unruffled, comforts him, “Darling, don’t look so worried. It was approved by the auto club.”

She plays the scene well, and we see Wyman has not lost her flare for comedy. As their fight moves briskly to the bedroom, she does a does a modest striptease, a few cheesecake poses, singing and never spoiling her perfect makeup in the shower.

Ray Milland gets a few funny bits, especially one later on in the film with Helmore as they discover they have the wrong hats, but for the most part it’s Miss Wyman’s movie. She sings, she dances (Milland is dubbed), and looks great.  Her best scene, when she tries to win him back after he dumps her for another lady, is when she crashes a party for his fiancée and her parents. She pretends to be Milland’s sister, a world-traveling chanteuse and anthropologist.

Her performance in this scene is terrific, purposefully over-the-top, and a 180-degree turn from the prim, pouting neglected wife. Her suddenly low, husky voice announces for us a bawdy extrovert, sexually charged, and swinging a long cigarette holder like a drum majorette with a baton. She greets her “brothers” Ray Milland and Leon Ames with a sensual kiss on the mouth, and asks Leon, “The thing been giving you any trouble lately?” Her slang-infused repartee is hysterical.

Then, with little provocation, she launches into a song and “interpretive” dance taught her (and sung earlier) by nightclub singer Valerie Bettis. Wyman refers to it as the Zambezi Puberty Ritual. Here it is below.

Please remember to scroll down to the bottom of the page and mute the music so you can hear the video.

Aldo Ray is a rich uranium miner from Alaska who has long had a crush on Miss Wyman back in her performing days. He is cute here, a clean-cut boy, a country bumpkin who can do a mean mamba dance, and who romances Wyman in anticipation of their honeymoon, “this time next month we’ll be moose hunting."

Aldo Ray, with his whiskey-rasp of a voice had better roles ahead of him, but was one of those actors who never seemed to get real breaks. Here’s a great commentary on his work over at Where Danger Lives.

Mary Treen plays the maid (of course), one of Hollywood’s most stalwart supporting actresses, who still did occasional TV roles in her later years. Have a look here at this earlier post on Mary Treen.

Trivia for you younger folks: with the advent of mp3, the term of a music “album” is probably used less these days, last used for CDs, but it came from the days -- as we see when Jane Wyman plays a record -- when 78rpm records were issued in an album set. That is, a bound book with five or six sleeves to hold as many records. In this case, Miss Wyman holds an album of several song hits by popular singer Dick Haymes. Broadway cast albums (I think “Oklahoma” was the first to be issued) held the entire show, two songs per record, several records for a whole show, in the many sleeves of a rather heavy photo album-type bound book.

You think mp3 revolutionized the industry? You have no idea what 33 1/3 long-playing records did for the industry (especially as regards classical music). Long playing (LPs) were introduced to the general market in 1948, and according to this article from Billboard magazine (August 2, 1952), the year before “Let’s Do It Again” was released, they (along with 45’s) had accounted for half the sales -- 78s were still hanging in there.  Only for a couple more years.

Here’s a cast album from the Broadway hit “Brigadoon” in 78rpm (the paperboard album long since has fallen apart after moldering in someone’s cellar for decades) and also in LP. Would we have the patience today to wait for “side 10” to hit the spindle?

One last look at Jane Wyman’s musical talent, and off-the-shoulder gown, and opera gloves.


David Lobosco said...

I have never seen this movie - but would love to. She made two great musicals with Bing Crosby, and she had a pleasant voice. Great review!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks, David. I'm a big fan of "Here Comes the Groom". Wyman was adept at musicals, comedy, and drama. I've never heard her proclaimed to be what is called in the industry "a triple threat", like, say, Judy Garland, but I guess she was.

KimWilson said...

Not one I've seen, Jacqueline. It sounds like a riot, though. I thought Jane Wyman only did drama!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, Kim. Wyman tucked a lot of comedies under her belt before the dramas. Made herself over a few times. That first clip I wish had started a couple minutes before the song, because that's where she delivers her funniest lines.

Laura said...

Like you, I thought this was a fun film. I especially enjoyed the '50s "look" and costumes. I especially loved Wyman's pink strapless gown in the party scene.

Love your look at 78s. I've got a couple around here -- along with numerous 10" 33 1/3 LPS. That size seems to have been popular in the '50s before 12" became the standard. (For instance, my aunt gave me her 10-inch album of SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, since it's my favorite movie.) We still play lots of records at our house, along with CDs. Although we've upgraded much of our LP collection to CD, there are numerous albums we still have only in LP format, plus I acquired several boxes of great albums from my dad that he wasn't able to transport to his new home when he retired. Although we still play records, I'm very glad that having to flip the record constantly, as with 78s, went out of style!

Thanks for the fun side trip down memory lane regarding record albums!

Best wishes,

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, Laura. I have a number of LPs and 78's, too. The chief draw for the new technology is its portability. We can take mp3 players or CDs, etc., in the car and carry them around. I still don't believe they beat the tone and fidelity of LPs. My personal favorite thing about 78s is that when they recorded them, there was not the ability to "mix" tracks. Essentially, what you're hearing is a live performance recorded on the spot, and sometimes the result has startling vigor and depth because of it.

Caftan Woman said...

Settled for all time: Jane Wyman could do everything, plus wear those fashions like nobody else.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

CW, I yield the floor and am willing to abide by your decision.

Laura said...

I agree with everything you say, Jacqueline. Those albums that we've upgraded to CD were generally purchased for "portability" -- being able to play in the car, in the iPod, etc. Also, a number of my favorite musicals were put out on CD with additional tracks and elaborite liner notes, so at least I was getting "something new" for the purchase! Still love the sound of LPs, though.

I bet only those of us of a certain age know what it's like to expect a certain tick, pop, or skip when we hear a particiular song, because that flaw was on our LP and we heard it over and over! LOL. That's the drawback of LPs, of course, but still a relatively rare problem and one I'm willing to live with for the great sound. I like your comment about the "live" performance being recorded, too.

Best wishes,

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Here's an interesting thing: The 2007 Broadway hit "The Drowsy Chaperone" had a special LP cast album release as a novelty (in the show, the narrator listens to an old cast LP recording that brings the show to life).

Article here:

I can remember another article (though I can't locate it at present) where members of the show (younger members) were astonished to discover that the LP sound of their show had a better sound than the CD cast recording.

HKatz said...

I love that the person who posted that video called it "Wow Man Is That Wyman?"

It's a great fun routine. And it reminds me of two different Ann Miller tap dance routines ("Too Darn Hot" from Kiss Me Kate - especially when the guy says "go, girl go" - and "Prehistoric Man" from On the Town, for the anthropological sexiness).

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Welcome HKatz. Yeah, the routine is reminiscent of Ann Miller's two other numbers, both fun routines. Especially the "Prehistoric Man" dance. Something just too sexy about our cave-dwelling ancestors. I think it's the strapless pelts.

Classicfilmboy said...

I remember watching this about 25 years ago, so my memory of it is sketchy. I remember it being pretty straightforward and enjoyable, and Jane Wyman seemed to be having a lot of fun with her role.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I agree, filmboy, Jane Wyman probably enjoyed the job.

Related Products