Monday, 29 February 2016
There's No Business Like Show Business (1954)
It's a fact of life in professional wrestling that it's not enough to just dump a couple of good wrestlers in the ring with no context to it, and expect the crowd to care. I mean sure, there's a small hard core audience who will rate it "four and three-quarter stars!" and rave about the "wrestling clinic" the participants put on. And that small hard core audience may even be right about the technical ability on display. But if the story isn't there - if there's not a compelling reason to the bout - the average fan isn't going to get engaged.
And so it goes for this 'musical comedy', which is big on music and short on comedy. It's packed to the gills with talented performers giving it their all, and I'm sure that if you're a hardcore song and dance enthusiast you'll find plenty to like. But for the rest of us, most of the opulent musical numbers just bring the film to a halt.
Now it's true that the picture is about a Vaudeville family, and so you'd expect such performances to be an important part of their lives, but the script relies on that fact alone to justify their inclusion, without any regard for whether they really fit there or make sense or are even particularly good songs. It also throws so many of them at you - I doubt that there's ever a gap of more than 5 minutes between numbers - that it feels like the film's story (such as it is) never gets a chance to get moving. It's a film where events happen, but they all feel like distinct items on a checklist, rather than a natural narrative.
As an example, consider the 'romance' arc for Mitzi Gaynor's character. We see her invited to lunch by a young man. The next time we see the two characters together, it's so the young man can ask her brother (a priest) to perform their wedding ceremony. He then disappears from the film entirely, though we do get dialogue mentioning that she is pregnant and the two of them are happy together.
Yeah. Quite how I'm supposed to be engaged by this plot line (if it even deserves the term), I don't know. But I guess they couldn't allow any more time for it what with needing to fit at least 4 different performances of "Alexander's Ragtime Band" into the picture.
This is a definite case of having all the right ingredients to make a fine product, and then mixing them in entirely the wrong quantities and getting a soggy mess instead.