Sunday, August 22, 2010

Career Girl (PRC, 1944)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I ran the first film on the Critics’ Choice two-movie DVD tribute to singer Frances Langford: Career Girl, a 1944 mini-musical from PRC (the sort of film I’m tempted to call a “mono-musical” since Langford is the only singing member of the cast). I had thought the film might be about a woman working in an office and seeking a career in the business world; instead, it’s about Joan Terry, a woman from Kansas City who had a triumph in little theatre and decided the world was ready to see her on the Broadway stage, despite the insistence of her boyfriend back home, James Blake (Craig Woods), that her real destiny was to be his wife and nothing else. As the film opens she’s moving out of the expensive (well, as expensive as PRC’s art department could make it look, anyway) hotel — she’s closed out her savings account back home and turned it into a cashier’s check to pay her bill — and into the Benton Arms rooming house, whereupon the film turns into a pretty obvious knock-off of the 1937 RKO classic Stage Door, only director Wallace Fox is several ticks of talent down from Gregory La Cava and Frances Langford (despite her genuinely pretty voice) and Iris Adrian likewise are barely in the same ballpark as Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers!

The film plods along for about 69 minutes in which writers David Silverstein, Stanley Rauh (“original” story) and Sam Neuman (screenplay) push Our Heroine farther and farther down the financial ladder, despite the intervention of a rich playboy, Steve Dexter (Edward Norris, tall, dark and considerably more handsome than most of the PRC leading men), who takes her out on a date and hits all the big New York nightspots (including, via stock footage, the Cotton Club, which had actually closed four years before this film was made) before leaving town and then suddenly returning at the end of the film to facilitate her replacing an indisposed star in a major new musical. Though Langford sings well and at least three of the songs are worthy vehicles for her voice (“Some Day” by Morey Amsterdam and Tony Romano, and “Blue in Love Again” — which could do with a revival — and “A Dream Came True” by Sam Neuman and Michael Breen), Career Girl is the sort of movie you can’t sit through without being all too well aware that not only has this plot been done to death, but the earlier versions with “A”-list stars were considerably better.

It doesn’t help that the final sequence features Langford and a chorus line (all of whom are dressed in shorts with weird objects stuck on their crotches that makes it look like they’re nude and showing ample amounts of pubic hair — how they ever got that one past the Production Code Administration is a mystery to me!) rehearsing a production number called “That’s How the Rhumba Began,” an Amsterdam-Romano song that sounds like Amsterdam was consciously looking for a piece of faux-exotica to follow up his mega-hit “Rum and Coca-Cola” for the Andrews Sisters that year, a lame ending to a movie that had at least been solidly professional before — even though Langford’s makeup and especially her hair are atrocities that shouldn’t have been visited on a basically attractive woman.