18 December 2001 | tashman
Babes Vs. Diva's in more innocent era
Here we find various famous talents converging at the height of their fame and appeal. Where has this film been all these years? This was a big Depression stage hit for the Master, Jerome Kern, and one of his equally accomplished partners, Oscar Hammerstein II, and transferred to the screen with much of the original delight intact. Definitely a slight tale from a much more innocent era, the story is literally a competition between a team of singing divas each latching onto an attractive, naive, and somewhat star-struck fan visiting from a small Tyrolean mountain village. If it weren't so well done, you might call it all "kitschy," but the result is so sincere that one gets swept up. There are marvelous moments, but surprisingly, not too many involving the famous star, Gloria Swanson, and her handsome sparring partner John Boles. Nothing wrong with their singing, which is, well, glorious! It's the "Diva" act. Although they just skirt going over-the-top on many occasions, there is an overall lack of punch, with too many blasts sailing over their targets. There's a lot of layered shouting, as if everyone were struggling to "work the screwball angle." The best moments are enjoyed during the lush and enchanting music, and in the scenes involving the village, particularly the school-room sequences with teacher and leading bucolic Douglass Montomerey, who turns in the best performance I've seen him give, with not a hint of that namby-pamby, self-pitying, "gloomy Gus" he specialized in. Here he is robust, cheerful, positive, and often found wearing the complete Tyrolean mountain-climbing uniform, which he definitely had the legs to wear. Indeed, he, along with his fellow villagers June Lang and Al Shean, make an energetic, thoroughly entertaining lot, much better at mining the script than their more sophisticated counterparts. The settings are impressive, the period detail attractive, and the costuming, particularly Miss Swanson's wardrobe (although Mr. Boles is decked out to the nines as well), is sensational throughout. Director Joe May pulled off an impressive feat, bringing together unlikely, if somewhat battered giants like Kern, Fox, and Swanson, and making them work so beautifully together. I believe if you enjoy Lubitsch, or European flavor musicals of that era, you'll certainly appreciate this picture.