Monday, May 05, 2008

Alice Faye Is More Popular Than Betty Grable?

Fox released a Betty Grable collection on DVD, and it didn't do well enough for them to release a second set (so far), but they have announced The Alice Faye Collection, Volume 2, with "Hollywood Cavalcade," "Rose of Washington Square" (aka "Please Don't Sue Us, Fanny Brice"), "The Great American Broadcast," "Hello, Frisco, Hello," and the USO tribute "Four Jills in a Jeep" (which doesn't actually star Faye; she and Grable and other Fox stars appear as themselves).

If the Faye collection sold better than the Grable collection, as this seems to indicate (though it may be that the films in this collection, being mostly black-and-white, are cheaper to remaster than Grable's mostly Technicolor movies), it surprises me; neither is among my favorite musical stars of the period but I'd always assumed that Grable was better-known. Apparently not.

Speaking of Fox musicals with Alice Faye, the best of the lot, Busby Berkeley's The Gang's All Here, received a transfer with incorrect colors last time around; Fox is releasing a "remastered," and hopefully corrected, version with the same extras, either individually or as part of a Carmen Miranda Collection -- which, except for Gang, is really more of a Vivian Blaine collection, since she's in most of those movies.

Every studio in the Golden Age of Movie Musicals (tm) had its strengths and weaknesses. Fox's strengths included photography (especially in Technicolor, of course), musical direction (Alfred Newman's arrangements could be overdone at times, but they were a lot more tasteful than the garish, generically loud work of the MGM department) and comedy relief players like Phil Silvers (who also helped out some musicals at Columbia). I think their front-line talent, like Faye and Grable, was not nearly as strong as the other studios'; their top musical stars are a lot more limited than anybody else's.

Update: It occurred to me that if Faye is indeed more popular than Grable, it might be evidence that movie-musical performers with one outstanding talent hold up better than performers who are good but not great at everything. Faye wasn't very strong as an actor, wasn't really a dancer, but she did have a genuinely outstanding singing voice. Grable was a valuable performer because she could supply all four things you look for in movie musicals: singing, dancing, acting, and looks. But she wasn't great at any of those things, she was good, not great. I think you could argue that a performer who is outstanding at one or two things but weak at other things will inspire more interest years down the road than someone who is good but not outstanding at everything, even though the latter performer is probably more valuable to the studio at the time.


Thad said...

I concur with the notion that the use of Technicolor in Fox's musicals was quite often beautiful. And yes, Alfred Newman (and Johnny Mercer too) was a gifted composer. (MGM sure did like the big-brassy pretentiousness. It infected their cartoons too!)

The print struck for the DVD master of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is the only one that should ever be publicly seen. It also needs to be shown to anyone who thinks Technicolor couldn't glow. I was appalled by the master being used in previous releases/documentaries.

Oh, and nobody can beat Grable's legs!!!

Brent McKee said...

"Alice Faye Is More Popular Than Betty Grable?" Well certainly she was in the Phil Harris household!

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Anonymous said...

I have always assumed that when they were making the films Faye was more popular than Grable. I think Grable's movies showed up on TV more often and stayed on longer because so many of them were in color.

Also remember Alice Faye was Archie Bunker's dream girl.

Anonymous said...

Alice Faye certainly was far more popular than Betty Grable was during the short span of her career. Her decision to leave Fox and never come back probably hurt her as far as remaining in the American consciousness. Whereas Betty Grable was involved in films in various ways throughout most of her life, which attributed to her enduring success. Alice Faye was the biggest singing film star of her day. She outsold Judy Garland, Doris Day and many others. Not only could she sing but she was one of the most natural beauties to grace the screen. I'm looking forward to volume two of her films!


gerry dillon said...

Betty Grable has been audited as the 2nd most popular female star (after doris day)in the history of motion pictures. 10 years in the top ten box office stars. yes Betty was more popular than Alice Faye, Grable's dvd box set was priced at $60 originaly and yes the 2nd vol is on its way, Alice Fayes box sets are cheaper to restore as most are black and white.

AndrewS said...

I disagree with your assessment of Alice Faye's acting. She was very adept at light drama and light comedy. She always comes off as sincere and a real person, even when doing stock characters with mediocre scripts and direction. The first time I was blown away by her acting talent was in a documentary on Fox musicals. In an emotional ballad, she is shown before the take begins picking something out of her teeth and and being lackadazical, a couple of seconds later as the song playback begins she is instantly and completely in character, passionately putting over a sad song with complete sincerity.