2 February 2000 | marcslope
Broadway in your living room...
In 1951, Phil Silvers starred in a Broadway musical comedy satirizing the then-champ of TV, Milton Berle -- his ego, his drive, his anything-for-a-laugh desperation. It ran a year but lost money. That didn't stop producer Albert Zugsmith from filming the show, and I mean filming the show -- at a Los Angeles theater, with audience-reaction shots and no attempt at movie production values. It was filmed in cheap color and 3-D (no 3-D prints survive) and given a limited release.
The current print has a vastly reduced running time, with several musical numbers missing. As a movie, it isn't much. But as a curio of a certain kind of stage musical at a certain time in theater history, it's invaluable. The music is loud and brassy, the staging unsubtle, the pace fast. And while Silvers disparages the movie in his autobio, it's a fine documenting of his comic style and energy. The general tackiness of the enterprise (perfunctory song cues, boilerplate romantic subplot, cheesy sets, non-PC attitudes toward women by today's standards) actually add to its period charm. It's also fun seeing a pre-Dick Van Dyke Rose Marie, playing a very similar part.