Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Week 3 Musical... Mister Big!

My Week 3 Musical was furnished via Cinecon! (I will be watching one of the suggested films for week 4, either Anchors Aweigh, On the Town or Meet Me in St. Louis... Let me know if you have a preference!)

Back to the Week 3... I was super duper excited to see that Mister Big (1943) was on the schedule for Cinecon this year. This gem of a movie stars an 18 yr. old Donald O'Connor, Peggy Ryan and Gloria Jean. It was Universal's answer to the Judy Garland/ Mickey Rooney MGM teenage musicals only Universal's B musicals were made on 1/4 of the budget. The kids are all at a drama school and want to add in hip jazz music into their curriculum, but run into problems when the matron of the school insists that they do the Greek tragedy Antigone instead. (Incidentally, Antigone is one of my favorite plays... of course a skinny Donald in a toga did look pretty ridiculous!) The kids are able to put on a musical variety act in the end, and the strict matron sways to their way of thinking.

I was never a fan of Garland/Rooney films mainly because of Rooney. I never found much to like about him; I always thought he was a bit annoying. I really enjoyed this Universal knock off however. Donald O'Connor was perfectly charming as the boy all the girls want. They even tackle him a few times pulling at his hair and clothes. Donald meanwhile is falling for the Matron of the school's niece, Gloria Jean. There was a forward from Gloria before the movie began (she is still alive and living in Hawaii). She spoke about how much she adored Donald. She said that she always thought he didn't get enough credit for his singing voice; that she absolutely loved it when he sang. She also told a story of how he took her behind one of the background drops and hugged her so tight that he cracked a couple of her ribs. The studio PR changed the story to say that a beef cake actor had done it during the filming of her following film. I thought that this was so cute. (I mean, come on... how adorable is that young Donald?!!)

As much as I adored Donald's scenes with Gloria, my favorite parts were his dance numbers with Peggy Ryan. They bicker during most of the movie, and they even push each other around in their dances. Both were very acrobatic and had great comedic timing, you couldn't help but laugh while watching them. The three of them (O'Connor, Jean and Ryan) made multiple teen B musicals for Universal and its easy to see why. They were great together.

This film was more of a hoofer film than the Garland/Rooney musicals. The song numbers are sweet and wonderful, but the dancing is where the real talent of all the kids shines through. It also had more of a jazzy/hip beat to it. Even the standards seem a little jazzed up. I am now on the hunt for the other Universal B musicals that these three did together. Mister Big (sad to say) has never been released on home video or DVD. I know that Universal is considering "opening their vault" much like Warner Bros. did, and I hope they quickly get around to these amazing Teenage B Musicals!! (Meanwhile you can vote for Mister Big on its page in the TCM database for release on home video)

Here are two youtube videos of Mister Big. (The embedding feature was disabled for these two particular videos... also, the sound on these isn't awesome. Since this movie has never been released beyond the original 35mm.... one can only guess as to how these videos were made) Give them a chance though... They are both Donald and Peggy dance numbers.

So the hunt begins! I am on the look out for any of the B Musicals with Donald! Let me know if you have any leads!

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