Monday, November 29, 2010

TWO SISTERS FROM BOSTON (MGM 1946) Warner Archive Collection

Director Henry Koster's Two Sisters from Boston (1946) is billed as a musical - but its program of packaged delights doesn't quite bare out that snap assessment by MGM's marketing department; its screenplay by Miles Connelly much more prone to flights of slapstick and featherweight clich├ęd comedy. Nearly all of the musical numbers are subordinate to this comedy of errors and frequently interrupted by the action taking place elsewhere within the scene. For once, producer Joseph Pasternak's blending of the light and heavy seems to lack his usual aplomb for slick, stylish entertainment - instead coming up a rather curious hodgepodge of vim and vigour that, if hardly cohesive, is nevertheless easy on the eyes and ears for the duration of its running time.

MGM's resident soprano, Kathryn Grayson co-stars as Abigail Chandler - a proper Bostonian woman whose move to New York for music lessons has resulted in her appearing nightly at The Golden Goose - a Bowery speakeasy that is about as classy as mud. Doted on by her friend and sometimes musical manager, Spike Merango (Jimmy Durante), Abigail's 'career' in showbiz is a kept secret from her family back home. It is eventually exposed as rumour during her sister, Martha's (June Allyson) piano recital.

Abigail's honour impugned, the family make haste to New York to see for themselves if the rumour is true. But Abigail's uncle (and benefactor), Jonathan Chandler (Harry Haden) has ulterior motives in learning the truth. He has set his cap on becoming Boston's mayor. Together with his wife, Jennifer (Isobel Elsom) and Martha in tow, the trio arrives at Abigail's apartment only to be flimflammed by her into believing that The Golden Goose is a time honoured play and that she has already procured a position of distinction within New York's Opera company.

Jonathan decides to book tickets for the opera to celebrate Abigail's success, leaving Abigail in a quandary that Spike quickly rectifies by schmoozing the opera company's doorman, George (Chester Clute) as well as its assistant stage director (Franco Corsaro) into believing that Abigail is the mistress of Lawrence Tybert Patterson (Thurston Hall) - the opera's key patron. In the meantime however, Martha has learned the truth about Abigail. Although she is heartbroken at her sister's betrayal, Martha decides to keep her secret and shield the family from its fallout.

Regrettably, news of Abigail's instatement in the opera's chorus reaches Lawrence Tybert Patterson Jr. (Peter Lawford), seated with his mother Ella (Nella Waker) in their private box, moments before the performance. Lawrence Jr. confronts Abigail backstage. However, not knowing who he is, she admonishes him as an ill timed stage door Johnny before effectively upstaging the opera's star tenor, Richard Olstrom (Lauritz Melchior) during the performance.

Convinced that Abigail is legit, Jonathan and Jennifer go back to Boston, but Martha stays behind for her own particular brand of humorously flawed damage control. Her first stop is the Patterson household, where she confronts Lawrence Jr. with an apology and then a heartfelt plea for his father to reconsider Abigail for the opera. Lawrence Jr. agrees that Abigail has talent and invites her to give a recital at a house party being given that weekend. Unfortunately, the Patterson's butler, Wrigley (Ben Blue) is a frequent patron of The Golden Goose and, after hearing Abigail sing at the party, exposes her as the Belle of the Bowery. Spike, who has been serving as Martha and Abigail's chaperone asks "what's wrong with being the Belle of the Bowery?" to which Mr. Patterson Sr. explains that anyone who would claim that title for themselves would be unfit to hold a more prestigious position within the opera. To save face and provide Abigail with her opportunity, Martha lies to Patterson and his guests that she is the star of The Golden Goose. To prove it, she trains with Spike and makes her debut the following night at speakeasy as the Pattersons look on.

While Lawrence Jr. and his mother are quite distinctly insulted by this bawdy display put on for their benefit, Mr. Patterson is not so easily fooled. Realizing the sacrifice that Martha has made to save her sister's face, and more importantly, understanding just how much Abigail wants to better herself socially, Mr. Patterson agrees to provide Abigail with the opportunity she's always wanted. In the final moments, the Chandlers are seen as guests of the Pattersons in their private box at the opera as Abigail takes her rightful place at Olstrom's side on stage.

Despite lavish production values and a stellar cast, Two Sisters from Boston is not one of MGM's more impressive efforts. From the studio that gave us Anchors Aweigh, The Harvey Girls and Meet Me In St. Louis, Two Sisters from Boston is decidedly a poor country cousin in both its musical weight and deportment.

Jimmy Durante is quite irrepressibly charming as the big hearted musical director of The Golden Goose. But the rest of the cast seem to flounder in a screenplay that spreads the musical program too thin to sustain the narrative. Grayson is given two plum solos - both interrupted by other bits of plot taking place elsewhere in the scene. Allyson only sings once! Melchior belts out a few operatic arias but these too are used more as filler when the screenplay is struggling for something witty to say, rather than for the sheer presence of their musical enjoyment. In the final analysis, Two Sisters from Boston is a rather tiresome footnote in MGM's illustrious history as purveyors of the greatest musicals of the 20th century.

This Warner Archive edition is adequate though not stellar. The image is, for the most part, solid. Age related speckles and dirt are evident everywhere, but the gray scale has been nicely preserved with considerable grain evident during several sequences. The audio is mono, as originally recorded, but quite bombastic during the musical sequences with minimal hiss and pop elsewhere. There are no extra features.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)






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