21 December 2014 | Ripper2RidesAgain
Charming Musical Americana
After many years of hoping, I finally got to see "Centennial Summer" this past weekend. I purchased a DVD copy from Lovingtheclassics.com. Clearly it was an old transfer print, not the greatest quality but not bad. Some scenes were brighter than others but overall it was average but far from poor in quality. The sound was fine. It's a bare bones DVD, however. No menu or extras.
I understand that the company Twilight Time was going to release a restored Blue Ray edition of this film back in September, but they ran into legal problems with the rights. Hopefully, they'll get this situation straightened out soon as I'd love to see a restored print of this. The Technicolor must be stunning!
"Centennial Summer" is an enjoyable, nostalgic film, clearly 20th Century Fox's attempt to emulate the success of MGM's "Meet Me In Saint Louis" of 1944. This Fox effort is not as lavish and it's less a musical than a film-with-songs. It was based on a novel, which I have read, about a year in the life of a Philadelphia family in 1876, when the city hosted the Centennail Exposition, a world's fair celebrating the 100th birthday of the USA. The screenplay compresses the time line into just the summer of that year and eliminates much of the quirky Philadelphia local color and lore that are sprinkled through the book. Still, the film evokes the fair itself and the excitement it creates in a far more slowly paced era. The costumes are lovely and the charming sets are full of accurate period details.
The film stars a typical line up of popular Fox stars of the mid '40s. Lovely Jeanne Crain and dark, sensuous Linda Darnell are the sisters competing for the attention of a visiting Frenchman, Cornel Wilde. The largely forgotten William Eythe, who died young, plays Darnell's neglected suitor. Although he was a talented singer, he and the rest of the leads are dubbed by other performers, a common practice at the Fox Studio. Walter Brennan and Dorothy Gish are amusing as the parents and Constance Bennett makes a glamorous turn as exotic Aunt Zenia, whose visit from Paris causes much disruption in the family's quiet life.
The score was Jerome Kern's last and it's charming and easy on the ears if not particularly memorable. Cotton Club singer Avon Long turns up do a minstrel tune with some children in a saloon scene. It's probably the film's musical highpoint. Director Otto Preminger was not noted for musical films, although he directed a couple. He keeps the somewhat rambling plot moving and the film is colorful and evocative.
It will be great if this lively, charming film gets wider circulation in a restored print soon.