4 December 2004 | django-1
so-so Monogram musical comedy, with not enough of Vera Vague or Jimmie Davis
With Vera Vague listed ABOVE the title, and with Governor Jimmie Davis prominently billed (after his two earlier fine vehicles for Monogram, MISSISSIPPI RHYTHM (see my review) and LOUISIANA), I was expecting a wonderful gem of a b-programmer with lots of Vera Vague's hilarity and lots of great music from Davis. Wrong. Why Vague, slapstick star of many great Columbia comedy shorts, is top-billed in the film, I don't know. She is basically a supporting character, playing the type of role she had in other musicals, sometimes with a rural theme as this one has, where she would be an acquaintance of the female star and would be fourth or fifth-billed. Here she plays Gypsy Jones, owner of a third-string nightclub where she herself is both manager and entertainment. What there is of her is wonderful--she does get to do a few routines on her own, but she is mostly reacting to the antics of the star, Katy of the title, who is played by Virginia Welles. Welles is a charming lady who sings well (though not remotely country!) and handles both comedy and romantic banter with class. Strangely enough, she made a film very similar to this one a year later, also for Monogram, called CASA MANANA, also directed by Jean Yarbrough (which is also something of a letdown, despite the presence of Spade Cooley and Robert Clarke in the cast--I can review it if anyone cares enough). The other "star" of the film is Phil Brito, who was featured in three musical films for Monogram between 1946 and 1950. This was his last film for Monogram. He seems to be one of those talents who could do big-band singing yet also pull of "classy" country material-- if you could imagine Eddy Arnold fronting the Spade Cooley Orchestra, you'll have some idea of his style in this film. Brito plays Dodo Dixon (backed by his Dixie Doodahs!), a small town phenomenon who has Virginia Welles singing for him back home. She wins a soap company singing contest (run by traveling talent scout Warren Douglas) and gets a gig in New York, and Dodo also goes to New York to hit the big time. Both Welles and Brito do well, with Dodo eventually landing a regular gig at Vera Vague's club, and using his rural folksy charm to promote his gig and winning over New Yorkers, who prove themselves to be just plain folks after all despite their hard-shell from city living. The end. While there is a chronology to the film and the scenes progress in a logical manner as the plot develops, there is little dramatic tension because both Welles and Brito's characters never really face any setbacks as they work their way up. Even in a throwaway rural musical, there has to be some "earning" of success. And the writers provide no dramatic buildup. Even the final scene, in a courtroom, provides no real suspense, not even the comedic type you'd see in a Three Stooges short where you'd worry that the Stooges would be jailed for contempt or something. There are a few mild laughs, everyone smiles and agrees on everything, and the film is over! As for Governor Jimmie Davis, he does two songs, both excellent-- "Take Me Back To Tulsa" and one I wasn't familiar with, the chorus of which goes "with the bases loaded, I struck out," that was clever and enjoyable. That's all Davis does in the film. I first saw this about 15 year ago and was let down. I gave it another chance now, and on second viewing I'm still let down. Welles and Brito are talented people, but the way Welles' character is written, she is somewhat bland and far less interesting than Vera Vague, who steals any scene she is in. Brito is certainly fine and carries his part of the film, but his character lacks the distinctive cute touches (the running joke about the signs falls flat for me) needed to make us WANT Dodo Dixon to become a star. And when we see Jimmie Davis do even a throwaway song, we wonder why the soap company and Vera Vague don't hire HIM as their performer (instead of Dodo Dixon), as Davis is such a pro and so much more interesting and commanding of a performer. There are some familiar faces in small roles throughout the film-- Tris Coffin, Ray Walker, Donald Kerr, Joseph Crehan, Earle Hodgins-- as is common in late 40s/early 50s Monogram product. Overall, this is an adequate piece of bottom-of-the-bill product, but only devoted fans of Vague and Davis need to search for a copy, and they will probably be let down as I was.