31 July 2005 | eschetic
One of the great guilty pleasures
MGM may have released it, but MAIN STREET TO Broadway plays like one of those student film projects which combine a dime's worth of financing, a brilliant concept and a dazzling cast who nearly surmount a nonexistent script and amateur direction to produce something "those in the know" HAVE to see.
Put together as an ad for Broadway and professional theatre, it is difficult to believe that respected Broadway playwright Robert E. Sherwood actually came up with THIS story. A supposedly promising "new wave" playwright, coming off a failed workshop about the nature of "independence" (no MAN should be tied down to a commitment to a woman - this was 1953 so there wasn't a hint of gay subtext) is persuaded by his eager agent (Agnes Moorehead - well, maybe just a hint of subtext) to write a play to show off Tallulah Bankhead as a normal American housewife, just like his girl's mom. (Well, maybe MORE than just a hint of that subtext.) The play is called CALICO AND LUST.
Most of screenwriter Samuel Raphaelson's script about the process of actually getting a play on has less credibility than the more famous wartime vehicle for shorter stage star cameos, STAGE DOOR CANTEEN, but when the parade of real stars and personalities starts rolling, you forgive it an awful lot.
The opening memorial to the beloved Empire Theatre is from a different film entirely (a documentary), but heart warming.
The mini-thread about the evolution of a Rodgers and Hammerstein song ("There's Music In You"), especially when legitimate musical superstar Mary Martin (just back from the London run of SOUTH PACIFIC) is working on it, rings true. If only the show R&H were *actually* working on at the time, ME AND JULIET, had had another song this good in it - 'though it did have the reworking of Rodgers' "Under The Southern Cross" from VICTORY AT SEA into the hit "No Other Love Have I".
While most of the familiar footage we have of famed director Josh Logan (who had directed SOUTH PACIFIC for R&H on stage and screen) is from this film, it's a pity they couldn't have also gotten their ME AND JULIET director (and Broadway immortal), George Abbott, into the film as well.
We DO get to see at least a glimpse of famed playwright John Van Druten working with the cast of the still running THE KING AND I, which he had directed for Rodgers & Hammerstein a year and a half before, and Tallulah (with all too few films to her credit) has a grand time playing a caricature of herself.
Contrary to most listings, Jack Gilford does NOT play himself (unless he actually was a theatre box office treasurer during the blacklist), but his presence is always a delight - even when miraculously coming up with a $2.40 balcony ticket to the playwright's sold-out opening for the playwright's girl's Hoagy Carmichael-ish Indiana boyfriend.
You may want to crawl into a hole when Gertrude Berg, as the playwright's overly enthusiastic landlady tries to drum up intermission enthusiasm at his floundering opening, but she plays the stereotype against an honest backdrop.
None of the problems of the movie are ascribable to the "plot actors." Although it's hard to find further credits for the playwright (Tom Morton) in either this database OR the Internet Broadway Database, one assumes he may have changed his name - he had all the makings of a strong young leading man just waiting for the right script, like A HATFUL OF RAIN or a Sunday IN NEW YORK. Rosemary DeCamp was already playing the "Mother" parts she specialized in on TV.
Wallow in the things and the personalities which do work, then screen a copy of Woody Allen's BULLETS OVER Broadway for a funnier - and more strangely credible - fiction about getting a play on...and imagine what a GREAT movie MAIN STREET TO Broadway might have been had the creators and their astonishing supporting cast of theatre stars had as much fun with their show as Allen and his company did. Since we can't have THAT film, at least we can have a great double feature blending both guilty and honest pleasure at the movies' version of theatre.