Monday, October 27, 2008

Show Her Drinking Coca-Cola, In the Kitchen With a Can of Mazzola

The Petty Girl (1950) is a musical I was interested in seeing, partly because I'm a Harold Arlen buff and he and Johnny Mercer wrote four original songs for this film, and partly because the concept of a musical about George Petty and his famous pin-up art is intriguing.

But what sounds intriguing doesn't always turn out that way; having seen the film, it's kind of bland, and doesn't really capture the fun of the subject. Bob Cummings plays a fictionalized version of Petty, who works as a conventional painter but longs to revolutionize the world of leg art. He finds his model in Joan Caulfield, a college professor who needs to learn to let loose and be uninhibited. It tries at certain points to address the appeal of cheesecake art -- the weird combination of titillation and wholesomeness in this kind of artwork and photography -- but mostly it's just another standard musical about the longhairs vs. the lowbrows, and there's not enough comedy (even with Elsa Lanchester around) or music to make it a memorable musical.

Caulfield, an actress with a small fan cult that includes Joss Whedon,, received a big publicity buildup for her role in this picture, because it was her first picture for Columbia after several semi-successful years at Paramount, and because she was being chosen as the living version of the Petty Girl, whose anatomy couldn't actually exist in real life. (It's like casting an actress as a live-action version of Tex Avery's Red.) Caulfield was certainly pretty, and on that basis as good a choice as any, but I've never liked her that much in anything; she always seems to be a little too pleased with herself, a little low-energy without the mystery or glamour that other "cool" blondes bring to their roles.

The Arlen/Mercer songs aren't good enough to compensate; it's one of Arlen's weaker batches of songs, all in all. Though "Ah Loves Ya" is a good bluesy love song of the kind that Arlen and Mercer could both write with ease, and with better performances, it might have been a moderate success (both Cummings and Caulfield are dubbed).

The finale, one of those girl-parade numbers that every other movie musical had, may be one of the dopiest songs Arlen ever wrote -- but it does have a young and unknown Tippi Hedren somewhere in there (IMDb says she's the one "by the new electric icebox").

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