Saturday, September 17, 2011

I LOVE MELVIN (MGM 1953) Warner Archive Collection

Don Weis's I Love Melvin (1953) is an enjoyably forgettable musical entertainment, magnificently sold as high art by MGM's overriding 'Class A' treatment and the considerable talents of its two stars Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor. The script by Lazlo Vadnay and George Wells doesn't go anywhere except through the motions - following the meager exploits of Judy Schneider (Reynolds); a wannabe Hollywood star who is actually the daughter of Frank (Allyn Joslyn); a part time drug store manager in New York City.
Frank is determined that Judy take her head out of the clouds and marry Harry Flack (Richard Anderson); a solid, but boring milquetoast prospect that leaves her romantically cold. On a routine walk through Central Park, Julie meets Look magazine's photographic assistant, Melvin Hoover (Donald O'Connor) - a bumbling and largely inept daydreamer who only comes to life when he either sings or dances. Good for O'Connor for whom dancing is his forte - but bad for Melvin.
After some finagling, Melvin promises to put Julie on the cover of Look Magazine, even though he has neither the pull nor the authority to do so. His boss, Mergo (Jim Backus) discourages and all but ignores Melvin's romantic infatuation with Julie, declaring "Wow! A girl on the cover of Look. Imagine the novelty!" As is the case with nonsensical wish fulfillment of this rank and sort, Julie does indeed eventually get her name and face on the magazine's cover - but only after Melvin forges it in a single copy to mask the lie that he probably cannot get her in the magazine any other way.
As a film, I Love Melvin is simplistic to a fault. The narrative is woefully conventional. There's really nothing fresh here. The musical numbers are an entirely different matter however, and thankfully so - particularly Judy's two dream sequences set to 'A Lady Loves' in which Judy envisions herself as Julie LeRoy - a grand film diva surrounded by fawning admirers who shower her with jewels, furs and even an Oscar. O'Connor and Reynolds do some high stepping in 'Where Did You Learn To Dance?' and later, O'Connor has an electric solo with the I Wanna Wander - a rather obvious 'Make Em Laugh' knock off from Singin' in the Rain in which O'Connor changes his wardrobe multiple times to play act his way through a travelogue of comedy. There's also 'Saturday Afternoon at the Park' a rousing football themed production number that has Reynolds as a human football being tossed about by some lanky jocks. In all, 7 songs and dances skillfully divert our attention from the fact that I Love Melvin is just a B movie gussied up to look like an A-class picture.
Oddly, the chemistry between Reynolds and O'Connor is curiously absent outside of their dance numbers. Reynolds is too coy, too shallow as it were while O'Connor is simply a buffoon rather than an amiable and awkward suitor. In the final analysis, I Love Melvin isn't grand entertainment. But it is a rather fascinating footnote and part of the reason why MGM musicals fell so quickly out of favor with audiences after WWII. In its heyday MGM had this idea that star power alone could propel a movie to profitability. During the war and without the advent of television as a viable threat for audience's attentions this logic proved sound for nearly two decades. But after the war audiences began demanding more realistic entertainment. Musical stars retreated to TV variety shows and minor gems like I Love Melvin became something of an anomaly rather than tried and true bread and butter.
It isn't that I Love Melvin is a bad film. It merely isn't an exceptional one and in a decade buffeted by changing tastes and government intervention in the industry, a movie musical had to be darn good to succeed. MGM continued to churn out musicals throughout the 50s and at an alarming rate. Some, like Showboat, Annie Get Your Gun, Singin' in the Rain, The Band Wagon, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Silk Stockings, High Society and Gigi proved exceptional hits. But as the decade wore on these became the exception rather than the rule. I Love Melvin is not in this class. It's fun, but fruitless; amusing, yet hardly legendary.
This is the second edition of I Love Melvin for the Warner Archive Collection and the preferred version for those considering a purchase of this title. While the previously issued disc had a poorly contrasted and faded Technicolor image, this reissue appears to have been sourced from an improved camera negative. There are still age related anomalies throughout and some minor edge effects but otherwise this is a fairly good presentation on MOD. Colors are generally vibrant. Contrast is bang on. Whites are white. Blacks are black. Flesh tones veer between orange and pink as is to be expected from a vintage Technicolor film that has not had proper restoration. You won't be disappointed by this transfer, but you won't be overly impressed by it either. The audio is mono as originally recorded and adequate for this presentation. We get the 'homespun' outtake of 'A Lady Loves' plus the film's original theatrical trailer as extras.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

No comments: