Saturday, November 17, 2007

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (20th Century Fox 1953) Fox Home Video

Richard Sale’s The Girl Next Door (1953) is a rather bizarrely amusing claptrap of oddities that comes together in a practically delightful way. The film stars resident Fox rival blonde to Betty Grable – June Haver (in her last screen appearance) as Jeannie Laird; a superficial nightclub chanteuse who buys her first home in the glamorous foothills of an isolated community, then rants and reels at her neighbors, cartoonist and single father, Bill Carter (Dan Dailey) and his ten year old precocious son, Joe.

The absurdity is that Jeannie quickly becomes fixated on Bill as a potential beau – a move that sticks in Joe’s craw. You see, Joe has become used to the ‘father/son’ routine and sees Jeannie as a definite threat to his monopoly on dad’s time and friendship.

As Jeannie and Bill’s romance heats up Bill cancels a retreat he planned for Joe – a move which prompts Joe to write his father’s paper and claim that his popular cartoon strip is not legitimate since it depicts an idyllic father/son who go fishing in Canada – something Bill and Joe did not do.

There are some delightful moments to be had in this otherwise conventionally small musical offering from 20th Century-Fox. On the plus side: The ‘Nowhere Man’ ballet is an overblown film noir regurgitation of MGM’s Girl Hunt ballet from The Band Wagon (1953) but interesting for its psychological underpinnings. In it Bill, who is observing the ballet from his front row seat at the nightclub where Jeannie is performing, projects his overly protective male machismo into the sequence. He becomes a sort of blithe spirit of the ‘Johnny Dollar’ detective serial – rescuing Jeannie from rival pawing cads.

There’s also Bill and Joe’s delightful dish throwing dance routine to the confirmed bachelor song, ‘I’d Rather Have A Pal Than A Gal.’ On the negative, is Bill and Joe’s rather tacky pas deux as a pair of dancing duds in a father/son dream sequence ballet.

The musical program isn’t exactly trend-setting, but it’s more than passable and it does make valiant inroads toward establishing the ‘integrated musical’ – then a revolutionary staple of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musicals and, occasionally, some of MGM’s more progressive efforts from the mid-forties, whereby songs echo a character’s sentiments and/or emotional state and are not merely tack-ons for pure entertainment value. In the end, The Girl Next Door doesn’t expect much from its audience and its audience seems only too happy to reciprocate the feeling with a nod and a smile.

Fox Home Video’s DVD is a tad below their usual standard. The full frame DVD captures the garish color palette of Fox musicals from this vintage. When the 3-strip Technicolor is perfectly aligned the image is bright, sharp and eye popping. Unfortunately, just like Fox’s other release ‘With A Song in My Heart’, ‘The Girl Next Door suffers from intermittent Technicolor mis-registration.

There’s also a thin patina of film grain (a curiosity, since Technicolor was a ‘grain invisible’ system of photography – much more so than B&W). Flesh tones again are more orange than natural. Certain scenes appear to have an overly blue/green tint that is distracting. Minor edge enhancement exists. The audio is mono but nicely represented. Three vintage featurettes and the theatrical trailer round out the extra features.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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