Sunday, July 3, 2011

Three Little Words - a movie review by Robert Steven Mack

I think we can say without the smallest morsel of doubt, that by the time Fred Astaire was fifty-one years old in the world of 1950, he was already an iconic living legend in his own right. Fred Astaire (1899-1987) was a renowned actor, dancer, and entertainer -for more information see my blog on the late Mr. Astaire's memoire "Steps in Time" - who has dazzled generations of moviescreengoers with his debonair elegance, nimble charm, and playful enthusiastic attitude.

In the year 1950, he and born comedian Red Skelton (1913-1997) would meet in the musical-comedy-romance-biography "Three Little Words." The film stars Fred, Red, dancer Vera Ellen, and red-head Arlene Daul. The film documents the chronicles of the "Tin Can Alley Song" writing-team Kalmar & Ruby with Fred Astaire playing Bert Kalmar and Red Skelton playing Harry Ruby. Vera Ellen plays Jessica Brown Kalmar's former dancing partner and eventually wife and Arlene Daul as Ruby's wife. In his autobiography "Steps in Time" Fred Astaire talked about how much he enjoyed working on this film and with his co-stars Red Skelton and Vera-Ellen. Believe it or not, it shows! When watching the film you can see how much fun Fred Astaire had. I got this film in the Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory Warner Home Video box set. It was not a film that immediately popped out at me. In fact, I often find show-biz biographies enjoyable but they are usually not feel-good films.

This film has a refreshing and ingenuitive quality of both a bouncy romantic musical comedy and a potent story of a journey through success. Fred Astaire does not have as many dance numbers in the film but those that he does have are immensely graceful and energetic and done with complete expertise (Mr. Astaire choreographed this film along with his partner Hermes Pan). Both Fred Astaire and Red Skelton do a decent amount of clowning and dancing but have more of a chance to display their suprisingly good acting skills when the film calls for it. This is perhaps one of the reasons Mr. Astaire thought so infinitely highly of this film as he had a rare chance to exhibit his acting qualities which can be quite meaningful in some places.

Continuing in the same realm of discussion, Mr. Skelton, known for his rare comedic abilities and impressions, gives us a thought-provoking portrayal of Harry Ruby. Shifting further gears, Mr. Astaire's lovely partner Vera Ellen and he put on quite a show. Indeed,in his autobiography "Steps in Time," Mr. Astaire stated that it was always a joy to work with her - in stark contrast to his memories of Ginger. Although Mr. Astaire did not realize it during his lifetime - and perhaps it would be quite shocking to him today to hear that - he and his most well known partner, Ginger Rogers, definitely have a good beat on screen despite all the feathers that were flying backstage - and on stage...pun intended. One could argue, indeed my mother Diana does, that the reason for their famous chemistry was due to the fact that they did not always get along. On the other hand, a counterargument could be made that this strive was not the reason for their on-screen success: Fred and Miss Rita Hayworth -whom he appeared twice with- look tremenduously moving on screen and reportedly got along fine and with the utmost ease.

The bottom line for "Three Little Words," which is really what I do now think and hopefully yet presumably always will: IT IS TERRIFIC!

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack

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