Sunday, February 26, 2012

I DOOD IT (MGM 1943) Warner Archive Collection

Vincente Minnelli's fledgling MGM career was ill served by I Dood It (1943) a preposterous bit of musical dumb show that is more 'dumb' than 'show', despite being sold with gusto by Red Skelton and Eleanor Powell. Fred Saidy and Sig Herzig's screenplay is a loose retread of a Buster Keaton silent movie but without Keaton's flair for sight gags. In this reconstitution Powell is Constance 'Connie' Shaw, a Broadway star whose greatest admirer is a lowly drycleaner, Joe Riverton Renolds (Skelton). Joe never misses one of Connie's performances, showing up to the theatre always wearing the best in men's apparel that he's pilfered from the shop both he and Ed Jackson (Sam Levene) co-own.
Ed is constantly warning Joe that his scheming will come to no good, and this prophecy seems to be right on the money when Joe shows up one evening backstage to ask Connie out on the town. Owing to a jealous argument Connie's has just had with co-star Larry West (Richard Ainley) over his midnight rendezvous with Suretta Brent (Patricia Dane) - a wealthy socialite who producer Ken Cawlor (Thurston Hall) is hoping will back their next show - Connie agrees to go out with Joe. After all, he's dressed like he has money. The wrinkle is, of course, that he's practically penniless.
Regrettably, Connie and Joe show up at the same nightclub where Suretta and Larry are sparking. Larry's latest indiscretion sends Connie into a fury. On a spur of the moment, she trashes her dressing room, then agrees to marry Joe to get back at Larry. The rouse turns sour however, for Joe who believes that his new wife is truly in love with him. On their wedding night Connie plans to spike Joe's drink with a powerful sleeping pill, thus avoiding connubial bliss. But as fate would have it, she confuses the drinks and ends up swallowing the spiked cocktail herself, leaving Joe to helplessly drag her heavy dead weight into the bedroom to put her to bed.
In the meantime another of the current show's players, Roy Hartwood (John Hodiak) is a saboteur working for Nazi interests. In between performances he's been busy with the painstaking task of drilling through the theatre's basement wall to expose a stockpile of U.S. defense supplies on the other side. Roy's plan is to plant a bomb downstairs and blow everything up. (Honestly, wouldn't it be easier just to break into the back window of the building next door after everyone's gone home?)
After our initial glimpses of Roy, the film rather forgets about him until its last act. In the meantime, the show must go on. Larry tells Joe that Connie really doesn't love him. Joe informs Connie that he isn't rich and Connie declares that she wants an annulment to pursue Larry. Inexplicably (or perhaps more to the point, because the screenwriters have painted themselves into a narrative corner from which there is no escape) the plot jumps to an audition for Connie's new show. Lena Horne and Hazel Scott take center stage; Scott displaying a hypnotic command of the piano with a classically rendered version of 'Takin' A Chance on Love' that effortlessly segues into its mesmerizing boogie-woogie finale. Horne sings 'Jericho' - a jazzy riff of the time honored tale about Joshua blowing his horn to tear down those fabled city's walls of sin and corruption.
The plot moves into its final act with Roy asking Joe (who knows Roy's part on stage by heart) to go on in his stead. Joe, who is still desperately in love with Connie, agrees, not realizing that in taking Roy's place he has given the saboteur ample time to go below and plant his bomb. Making mincemeat of Roy's part and all but ruining the final performance of Connie's show, Joe suddenly realizes Roy's diabolical plan and rushes to the basement to challenge him in an all-out brawl. Having saved the day, Joe is declared a hero. Realizing that Larry and Suretta are in love, Connie forsakes him and returns to Joe's side.
Thus ends, I Dood It as mercilessly uninspired as it began. In retrospect, the most depressing aspect of the film is its rather anemic musical program. This is a musical - remember? Yet, save the aforementioned Horne/Scott interlude the only other musical moment of merit is Eleanor Powell's technically superior tap routine with a lariat set to 'So Long Sara Jane' (sung by Bob Eberly).
Jimmy Dorsey and his orchestra are featured twice, once under the title credits to minimal effect, then later at a nightclub where they perform 'Star Eyes' (sung by Bob Eberly and Helen O'Connell) on a revolving platform. Unfortunately, I Dood It also steals two of its most iconic moments from other Eleanor Powell films. The hula dance that Joe hallucinates while trying to commit suicide after he reasons that his romance with Connie is hopeless has been excised from Honolulu (1939) while the film's 'big' finale is merely a regurgitation of the poop-deck finale from Born to Dance (1938) with re-orchestrations from Dorsey replacing 'Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue' with a woefully dull rendition of 'Anchors Aweigh'.
By the mid-forties wartime rationing had hit Hollywood hard. One of the ways the studios combated shortages in building materials was to creatively utilize already existing indoor and outdoor sets with minimal redressing. But another way they compensated - particularly in the case of musicals - was by recycling performances from past movie successes excised from their original intent and haphazardly inserted into a new film. No new construction and no added expense. All fine and good in the days when movies only played for one or two weeks at the local theater with no way for the consumer to revisit them at home in their own way and in their own good time. However, with the advent of home video this exercise becomes glaringly obvious.
In the final analysis, I Dood It is as inane and misguided a hodgepodge as its title suggests. The film marked the end of Eleanor Powell's contract career at MGM (save a few cameos later on). It did nothing to advance the careers of either Red Skelton or Vincente Minnelli, although in retrospect, it also did nothing to harm them either. As a casual film buff I'm usually a sucker for such high gloss, ultra-glamor but I Dood It is a colossal embarrassment and a complete waste of your time. That's a pity because Powell's lariat dance and Hazel Scott's piano solo are virtuoso first rate contributions to an otherwise utterly forgettable film.
Warner's MOD DVD release is actually quite good. The B&W elements are in remarkably good shape. Save a few rather obvious age related artifacts (scratches, nicks and chips) the image is mostly clean, solid and showing good tonality throughout its gray scale. There is no video noise or edge enhancement to contest. The audio is mono as originally recorded, but again, remarkably clean and often quite robust. The only extra is a badly worn theatrical trailer that appears to have been photographed in sepia. Bottom line: Not Recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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