Irving Berlin’s Call Me Madam (1953) is a musical that desperately wants you to love it. That love is interpolated between genuine and forced. Ethel Merman stars as ‘the hostess with the mostest’ – Ambassador to Luxemburg, Sally Adams. She’s bold, gregarious, irrepressible, manic, enigmatic and electrifying – in spots. But two hours of Sally is like 20 minutes in a wind tunnel; it’s exhausting!
Yes, the Irving Berlin score will have you tapping and humming with pleasure, and, yes, the supporting cast featuring Vera Ellen (as the Princess Maria), Donald O’Connor (cultural attaché Kenneth) and George Sanders (Cosmo Constantine) are welcomed additions that compliment Ms. Merman. The show, however, is all Merman.
That aside, Merman delivers what may possibly be one of the most all encompassing one woman showstoppers of any year, generally living up to her powerhouse stage presence; like the female Bert Lahr, bouncing about the frame and manically sucking up the atmosphere. Is she intoxicating? Suffocating is a more accurate assessment.
Plot wise: Sally travels to Luxemburg as Harry Truman’s good will ambassador. She is instantly besought by three greed politicos who believe her arrival means cutting a check in U.S. dollars to cover their national debt. When obvious attempts fail to procure payment, the politicians and the king send Cosmo to intervene. He does but finds himself falling in love with Sally. In the meantime, Sally’s attaché, Kenneth is hopelessly succumbing to the charms of Maria who is destined to marry the rather stuffy and all together useless royal, Prince Hugo (Helmut Dantine). How does it end? For any musical of this vintage the answer should be obvious – and in fact, on this occasion – quite wonderful too.
A rather soft DVD transfer from Fox, in full frame, as originally seen, with rich, vibrant Technicolor, solid blacks and excellent contrast levels. Age related artifacts are present throughout but they do not distract from your viewing enjoyment. The audio has been remastered to stereo but has a muffled characteristic, particularly the songs. An audio commentary is the only extra.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)