What should have been a joyous celebration of Cole Porter’s musical prowess was transformed into a remake/update of sorts in Robert Lewis’ Anything Goes (1956); a lavishly absurd little bobble, rewritten by scenarists Guy Bolton and Sidney Sheldon to round out Bing Crosby’s tenure at Paramount Studios. It was decidedly a sour note for Crosby who, as Bill Benson, a Broadway legend departing for Europe in search of a new leading lady for his next show – was sideswiped by a cast of ham performers that put Der Bingle in the backseat.
Before setting sail, Bill’s agent and producer, Victor Lawrence (Kurt Kasznar) finagles an awkward introduction between Bill and new kid on the block, Ted Adams (Donald O’Connor). The two perform an impromptu soft shoe peppered in corny bits of Vaudeville that probably should have remained buried as part of that forgotten gem of the American theatre. In VistaVision and Technicolor, such campy homage is glaringly out of time, place and step with the more popular fare of its day.
The plot – such as it is – lumbers along, first to England - where Bill signs an American girl, Patsy Blair (the flirtatious Mitzi Gaynor) to headline the show, then to France where Ted accidentally signs Gaby Duval (the strangely asexual Jeanmarie) for the same part. The rest of the tale basically unravels along the lines of this complicated foursome, further confused when Ted falls for Patsy and Bill for Gaby. A subplot involved Patsy’s father, Steve (Phil Harris) and tax evasion catching up to him. But the old crime doesn’t pay scenario is thwarted in the end. Steve gets a reprieve and is at the gala opening of the new show.
In a threadbare plot wrought with possibilities, director Lewis manages to make the least out of what he’s been given. Nick Castle’s over gregarious zeal to transform even the most modest number into a showstopper resulted in gaudy and heavy-handed staging from which the film never recovers.
Amidst this bombastic mélange, Gaynor’s rendition of the title track is drowned by a chorus of cavorting dancers, tossing her about the scenery like a rag doll. Jeanmarie’s fracturing of ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You’ transforms the subtly erotic ditty into ghoulish nightmare, complete with a chorus of skinny and leering male dancers wearing top coats without shirts beneath. The whole crazy affair comes to a painful finale with ‘Blow Gabriel’ an uninspired bit of kitsch that unites Crosby, O’Connor, Gaynor and Jeanmarie for a bit of nimble footed, but flatly executed narcissism against one of the ugliest impressionist backdrops in musical history. Ironically, ‘Anything Goes’ is a film where anything and everything went - including artistic sensibilities in chic good taste.
Paramount’s anamorphic DVD is a rather mixed bag as well. Though the picture elements appear to be in reasonably good shape, there’s a curious tottering in image quality between bright wide-eyed Technicolor and some insert shots that are generally dark, under exposed and poorly contrasted. For the most part, colors are rich, vibrant and stable. There are several instances where the image appears overly soft and slightly out of focus. The audio has been remixed to 5.1 (the original mono mix is also included). There are no extras.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)