Monday, August 08, 2016

OVP: Small Town Girl (1953)

Film: Small Town Girl (1953)
Stars: Jane Powell, Farley Granger, Ann Miller, S.Z. Sakall, Robert Keith, Bobby Van, Billie Burke
Director: Laszlo Kardos
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Original Song-"My Flaming Heart")
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

With the Oscar Viewing Project, frequently I find myself stumbling across films that I have never even heard of, even with spending most of my life perusing the annals of movie history, and it's always something I find as kind of a delight.  I genuinely love movies (regardless of the era) and would happily watch one every day until the day I leave this earth without any qualms or worries about boredom.  As a result, I occasionally go on a bit of a binge, and did that this weekend watching four, and am already itching to start a fifth this evening before going into a pantheon of Olympics.  Before I get there, though, I want to talk about the sweet, lovely Small Town Girl which I caught Sunday afternoon.

(Spoilers Ahead) The movie is something of a trifle, one of those below-the-line type films that major stars like Jane Powell seemed to churn out at a staggering pace during the 1950's.  She stars as Cindy, the daughter of the local judge (Keith) who has sentenced the handsome playboy Rick (Granger) to thirty days in jail for speeding through town with his Broadway star girlfriend Lisa Bellmount (Miller).  While in town, Rick begins to find the country life quaint, and after nearly freezing Cindy to death in a coat closet (long story), he falls in love with her on a Manhattan night out, eventually breaking her from her boyfriend Ludwig (Van) who is happily pursuing stardom, and it's implied, Lisa, and they fall madly in love all while finding a few moments for singing and hoofing.

It's not a difficult-to-predict plotline, of course, and there's nothing here that's intensely groundbreaking, but the movie is innocent fun.  For those who are seeing his name on a musical, yes, Farley Granger does sing, but he isn't particularly strong at it and all of the actual musical numbers are done by Powell, Van, and Miller.  His principle role here is to be devastatingly handsome (he is, and is one of those guys that would still be considered handsome even by modern standards) and kind of a cad, and he relishes in both, while Powell is saintly with spunk, and since that's pretty much the description of every Jane Powell role, she holds up admirably.  My favorite parts were the two supporting lovers, but mostly because I have a joyous and undying love for Ann Miller (literally my favorite moment in any musical's opening credits is when I see Miller's name, as I know I'm going to like it), and Bobby Van is wonderfully charming as a Broadway-loving beau.  This film features the most famous moment of Van's career, where he acrobatically hops through town for four straight minutes, jumping repeatedly.  It's wildly entertaining even if it sounds a bit loopy, and worth catching on YouTube even if you can't get access to the picture.

The film only received one Oscar nomination, one of those random Best Song citations, and it's completely outside the tone of the film and really feels oddly more-suited for another film.  The song, sung by Nat King Cole in a cameo in the picture, is a marvelous piece of music.  It's rich, lovely, and perfectly-suited for Cole's love-lost vocals, but it's completely alien to the rest of the picture.  The film is a lighthearted musical comedy, and this is a song that you sing to Celia Johnson while she's contemplating a love affair, not while two young paramours are on a first date in the city.  Half of me thought that they must have had Cole under contract or the studio had this piece of music and wanted to profit off of it as a single, but it feels very out-of-place in the film.  If we were judging solely based on the merits of the song I'd give it five stars (I'm buying it on iTunes right now), but as it pulls me almost entirely out of the picture, I have to dock some of that Oscar love.

Still, it's a fun little picture, one I wouldn't have seen without the OVP so once again the breadth of this endeavor is rewarded.  If you've seen the film, what are your thoughts?  Were you equally charmed by Van and Miller, or were you all about our principle leads?  Did you like "My Flaming Heart" or find it an unusual detour?  And just in general-what's your favorite Jane Powell musical?  Share in the comments!

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