Thursday, December 22, 2011

LOVELY TO LOOK AT (MGM 1952) Warner Archive Collection

Based on Alice Duer Miller's novel 'Gowns by Roberta' and more directly on the Broadway smash hit and subsequent film Roberta (1933) co-starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Mervyn LeRoy's Lovely To Look At (1952) retains the most durable aspects of the stage show and book while ever so slightly refreshing the bouquet of memorable songs for the postwar generation. Overall, the dated material holds together remarkably well, thanks to the winning score that features such immortal songs as 'Yesterdays' and 'Smoke Get In Your Eyes'. The screenplay by Dorothy Fields, Otto A. Harbach, George Wells, Harry Ruby and Andrew Solt begins in the drawing room of aspiring Broadway producer Tony Naylor (Howard Keel) who, at present, is entertaining potential backers for his new show with a sampling from the score along with co-producers Al Marsh (Red Skelton) and Jerry Ralby (Gower Champion). The backers are enchanted by what they see and hear but less amused to learn that at present all Tony has to show for his efforts is inspiration and perspiration. They walk out without committing a single dollar to his venture.
Disillusioned, Tony, Al and Jerry decide to hit the nightclub where Tony's latest plaything, Bubbles Cassidy is performing. She wants to get married, but Tony is all fizz and no pop. The next day, Al gets the surprise of his life. His beloved Aunt Roberta has died in Paris, bequeathing him her couturier. Tony has another inspiration. The three will go to France, sell off the assets and use the money to finance their show on Broadway. A good plan, only upon their arrival they discover that Roberta is a couturier in steep financial decline. The shop's overseer, Stephanie (Kathryn Grayson) and her chief designer, Clarisse (Marge Champion) have been counting on Al to pull the company out of imminent financial ruin. After some consternation Al agrees to help the girls. He has more trouble convincing Tony that it's the right thing to do. But Tony has already moved on, finagling a selloff of Roberta to rival Max Fogelsby (Kurt Kasznar) whose girlfriend, Zsa Zsa (Zsa Zsa Gabor) is hoping to be part of Roberta's fashion show extravaganza.
Meanwhile Jerry has fallen in love with Clarisse and Stephanie with Tony - although he is as ever reluctant to commit himself to any relationship for very long. Bubbles realizes that she has been romantically betting on the wrong horse, so to speak, and eventually decides to accept a proposal from Al. This leaves Tony free to pursue Stephanie. But a falling out between Tony and Al - after the latter learns that Tony has been wooing Stephanie merely to convince her to give up the couturier - threatens not only their future friendship but Stephanie's happiness as well. For the most part the songs in Lovely to Look At are staged with great visual flare. 'I Won't Dance' is playfully performed by Marge and Gower Champion in the shop's attic, amidst cords of fabric and other fashion accessories. 'Lafayette' is a charming traveling song sung exuberantly by Howard Keel, Gower Champion and Red Skelton as the boys experience the pleasures of Paris en route to Roberta's.
The film's title song gets a clever treatment with Kathryn Grayson standing before six full length mirrors fantasizing Howard Keel has materialized in each as a reflection to serenade her. But perhaps the most spectacularly realized song is 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes' sung by Grayson and then danced by the Champions amidst a seemingly endless array of glistening stars set against velvety blue heavens. Midway through filming director Mervyn LeRoy called in Vincente Minnelli to stage a lavish fashion show finale for the film. MGM also brought in its costume designer Adrian. But Adrian's cloths seem constantly at odds with the clutter in Jack D. Moore and Edwin Willis' production design. The result is a grand spectacle more garish than lovely, a crazy quilt of oddities and severely wacky haute couture.
Red Skelton serves as the hapless master of ceremonies, constantly in the way and tripping over the countless yards of silk bunting perpetually being moved around the pavilion. Models cavort between extras attired in animal skulls and metal breast plates. Amidst all this hullaballoo Marge and Gower Champion perform a strange pas deux as bejeweled gamin and lanky jewel thief, the latter in danger of having his own heart stolen. Kathryn Grayson emerges from the fray warbling the melodic, 'The Touch of Your Hand' with Howard Keel - the romance between Stephanie and Tony reconciled in song before the final fade out. In all, the fashion show finale from Lovely To Look At is bewilderingly done in bad taste. It doesn't ruin the film as a whole, but it does tend to grate on one's nerves.
Warner's MOD DVD release is above average, though not spectacular. Lovely To look At received a Technicolor restoration all the way back in 1995 for its laserdisc release and this is the print we get from the Warner Archive. It's flawed with minor mis-registration problems. Age related artifacts are present throughout. Scratches are the most obvious and begin immediately during the title sequence. When the image is properly aligned it exhibits a razor sharp clarity that is very impressive. Colors are less vibrant than one might expect and flesh tones are at times unnaturally pinky-orange. Contrast levels appear slightly bumped, for a slightly brighter than necessary image. Overall, this transfer will not disappoint, but this is hardly an exemplary effort. The audio is mono and offers some interesting spatial separation, particularly during the film's title song. There are NO extras.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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