Thursday, April 6, 2017

I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now - 1947

IWonder Who’s Kissing Her Now (1947) is a delightful scrapbook of turn-of-the-twentieth century song hits by composer Joe Howard.  The biography is typical Hollywood fiction; and one wonders why the Dream Factory even bothered to concoct a biography at all when it seems never to have the intention of telling the facts.  The tunes are the real draw of the show.  If crafting a credible script is difficult for legal reasons, or just the lack of a dramatic story, why not just let the music stand for itself?

We continue our series on musicals about composers.  Looking back to a film we discussed previously, Deep in My Heart (1954), about the life and work of Sigmund Romberg, that was a movie in which a parade of stars took turns singing Romberg’s hits.  The story starring José Ferrer was entertaining (especially his comic masterpiece scene), but using this template of showcasing the music through the talents of a stable of stars would have worked well for I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now, certainly preferable to the story that was cobbled together.

Mark Stevens, who played opposite Ann Blyth in Katie Did It (1951) previously discussed here, stars as Joe Howard, an affable composer in Gay Nineties New York City.

June Haver plays his “sister”—the daughter of the man who took him in when he was orphaned as a boy.  June will eventually develop into his love interest, a job she wants sooner rather than later.

She is a bouncy teen, prone to stringing a series of white lies, and her spunk gets her in and out of trouble.  Some of her targeted “innocent” backhanded compliments to various leading ladies who have an eye for Joe are pretty funny.

Her character was made up for the movie, by some sources made up just for her.  
Interestingly, both Mark Stevens and June Haver were second stringers in Hollywood at this time, but putting two second-stringers together make for refreshing exuberance.

She’s a great singer and dancer, and Mark Stevens also shines as a song-and-dance man—pretty impressive for somebody who was also groomed for film noir parts. I am not really certain at this time if Stevens did his own singing (maybe a reader has more information) but since he did start his career as a singer in nightclubs, I’m prepared to believe it is really his voice.  If so, it’s absolutely beautiful.  His singing is one of the very best things about this movie.  I’d love to have the soundtrack.

The songs include “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now,” of course, but also the rousing “Goodbye, My Lady Love” (which, if you are familiar with the stage musical Show Boat, is usually sung by the characters Ellie and Frank in their act), “Honeymoon” (accompanied by a “magic lantern” show so evocative of the era), and ”Hello, My Baby!” (which most of us associate with the singing frog leaping out of the strong box in theWarner Bros. cartoon).

Regarding “Goodbye, My Lady Love,” June Haver is wearing darker body makeup to suggest a “mulatto” character because the song is performed as a cakewalk, in the setting of the period style of entertainment.  Mark Stevens, who leaves the piano to escort her in a few steps and sing of his “heart on fire”, with top hat and cane, is not wearing darker makeup.  Did the southern movie distribution market tremble at the suggestion of this romantic pairing?  Were the miscegenation riot police busy somewhere else burning crosses?  I have to smile, wondering if Hollywood inadvertently pulled a fast one on the racists who were so careful to avoid such cozy interracial images.

Martha Stewart (not that one) and Leonore Aubert play two veteran ladies of the stage who lead Mark Stevens astray for a little while. It’s funny how, along with young June Haver, a trio of women deceive poor Mark.  William Frawley plays Martha's manager, and any movie with him is aces.  We last saw him a few weeks ago in My Wild Irish Rose, and he just seems a natural for this era.  He started in vaudeville in 1914, and though we've seen Mr. Frawley in many movies, and on TV, he seems most natural scowling backstage at a vaudeville theater, cigar in his teeth.  How many times did Fred Mertz reminisce with Ethel about their vaudeville days?  It's just in his blood, and on his face.  He wears it like a carnation in his buttonhole. 

Reginald Gardner has a brief, but standout role as the real-life partner of Joe Howard, William M Hough (or one partner. Howard worked with several lyricists – at the time this movie was produced, one such person came forward with a lawsuit to demand credit for his part in creating the title song).

The movie is richly filmed with wonderfully staged musical numbers (in Technicolor, despite these black and white studio publicity photos), some cleverly framed shots, and dialogue lines that are treasured reflections of the time – but only if you know the era. Most viewers today might not guffaw over the line, “She’s a beautiful woman, not one of the Cherry Sisters.” If you have never heard of vaudeville’s worst ever act, that might pass right by you. I laughed my head off.  At the time this movie was made, two generations of Americans still remembered. 

Admittedly, I have a fondness for this type of movie, especially when it aspires to nothing more than being an earnest valentine to the subject matter. Deep probing into what haunts composers is best left for documentaries – if there are any. George Jessel, the chief ambassador of vaudeville, produced this movie.  He and director Lloyd Bacon present it with nostalgic affection.  It might well have been better to just give up the pretense about presenting a biography of a composer, and just let his music tell us about him.

Next week, we turn to more musical fare with Alan Alda and Alexis Smith in Rhapsody in Blue (1945), the life and work of George Gershwin.

The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.


Caftan Woman said...

Ah, the music of my life. It truly is, although I dispute the hubby's contention that I must have been born circa 1850.

Found out a few years ago that in her youth, my mother had a thing for Mark Stevens. I knew we had Rod Taylor in common, but Stevens was a big surprise.

I'm thrilled with this series as it opens up a whole new fork in Memory Lane.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I swear, we were separated at birth, CW. My mother used to sing these songs, so I grew up on them - the music of my life, too. (Actually, since I had "older" parents, I also, of course, had older grandparents. Photos of my grandparents in their youth are the same as in these Gay Nineties movies. And Gibson Girl Grandma Lynch would bust out with a tune from time to time.) I have something in common with your mother: I'm developing a thing for Mark Stevens too.

Thanks for taking the road less traveled down Memory Lane with me.

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