13 August 2003 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Janet is sexy but Buddy can't Hackett
'Walking My Baby Back Home' is a pleasant low-budget musical, featuring a score largely cobbled together from other sources. The opening credits feature a choral rendition of the (familiar) title song, over a shot of a young couple's feet: the boy is walking the girl back home. This reminded me of a much better movie musical: 'The Barkleys of Broadway' opened with a shot of a man's and a woman's dancing feet ... then the camera quickly moved upwards to reveal that these dancers were Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, reunited on screen after 10 years apart. During the opening credits of 'Walking My Baby', I expected the camera to move upwards to reveal that these dancing feet belonged to Donald O'Connor and Janet Leigh, the personable young leads in this movie. When no such thing happened, I was forced to conclude that these people in the opening shot were dance doubles, filling in for the leads ... which gives us a taste of things to come.
This movie is pleasant but nothing much. (Except for the bizarre 'Top of the Town', Universal Studios' musicals were never impressive, and always low-budget.) O'Connor plays an eager young guy just out of the army with his buddies, and determined to succeed in showbiz as a bandleader. Janet Leigh plays his supportive girlfriend: attractive, a lithe and sexy dancer, but given little to work with here. She has one good number, in which she sings a new lyric written to the old Stephen Foster tune 'Camptown Ladies', but with two extra beats written into the jazzed-up melody line. I found this song annoying for two reasons: Universal's front office was obviously using a public-domain tune to save money ... and, having made this decision, they then tinkered with a beloved popular tune by bunging a few extra notes into it in the hope of making it more 'jazzy' for a 1950s audience.
The gross and vulgar Buddy Hackett plays O'Connor's army buddy, although Hackett is much too fat to be plausible as a guy who just got out of the service. Shortly before this movie was made, Hackett had attracted a lot of attention with a nightclub routine in which he impersonated a Chinese waiter. That routine is excruciatingly enacted here, in an early scene when O'Connor and his army buddies decide to get some lunch in a Chinese takeaway, but find the place deserted. 'We need a Chinese waiter,' says Hackett. 'Why don't YOU be a Chinese waiter?' O'Connor replies. This is Hackett's cue to tie a string across his eyelids (ostensibly making him look 'Chinese') while he babbles pidgin English in a singsong voice. I found this routine offensive and laboured, and it doesn't build to a punchline. Buddy Hackett's shtick here is the most offensive impersonation of an Oriental I've ever seen BUT ONE ... the all-time worst is Robert Ryan's ying-tong routine in 'Clash by Night'.
I'll rate 'Walking My Baby' 4 out of 10, mostly for Janet Leigh's gorgeous looks and lithe moves. Trivia note: more than 20 years after this movie was made, Janet Leigh (still with a great figure!) guest-starred in an episode of 'Columbo' as an old-time movie star who commits a murder. A couple of sequences from 'Walking My Baby Back Home' were inserted into the 'Columbo' episode to represent film clips from the career of the fictional movie star Leigh was playing. That 'Columbo' episode is a lot more entertaining than this weak movie. It's astonishing to realise that 'Walking My Baby Back Home' was directed (very limply) by Lloyd Bacon, who previously directed one of the greatest movie musicals of all time: '42nd Street'.