That’s Entertainment!: TIME OUT FOR RHYTHM (Columbia 1941)

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Most of you “Cracked Rear Viewers” know I run an occasional series titled ‘Cleaning Out the DVR’, where I do capsule reviews of five or six different films. TIME OUT FOR RHYTHM was going to be included in my next ‘DVR’ entry, but after watching it, I’ve decided to give it the full treatment. This has happened only once before (see PENELOPE ). It’s a 40’s B-movie lovers dream, a second-tier all-star musical comedy, and it gives The Three Stooges probably their best feature showcase of the 40’s. Plus the tap-dancing wonders of lovely, leggy Texan Ann Miller. Now how can you beat that!

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The plot’s as old as film musicals themselves: theatrical agents Rudy Vallee and Richard Lane become successful, and develop a hit show. Lane’s former flame (Rosemary Lane, no relation) comes between them, and the partners break up. Vallee and sidekick Offbeat (comic Allen Jenkins) discover Rosemary’s maid (our girl Ann) and plan on starring her in the big show. But Rosemary schemes to get the part herself and become a Hollywood star, ditching Richard in the process. Richard finally wises up, dumps Rosemary, makes amends with Valle, and the whole thing is capped off with the production number “Time Out for Rhythm”.

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The real fun is to be had in between all the romantic shenanigans. Moe, Larry, and Curly keep popping up as three dumb clucks trying to break into show biz. They get to perform some of their tried-and-true material, like the ‘Maha’ (“ah ha”) routine, where nearsighted Curly does a knife-throwing act. They’re hired to impersonate gangsters (complete with the George Raft coin-flipping bit) in order to keep Rosemary on ice. They dig up one of their old Ted Healy routines, “Melodrama”, where Curly (as usual) gets the brunt of the punishment. They share a scene with Vallee and Jenkins as three dopey messengers and, finally, the Stooges trot out on stage as rhumba dancers in a musical number, with Curly dressed in drag as Carmen Miranda!

Radio stars Brenda & Cobina (Blanche Stewart, Elvia Allman) play secretaries, doing the shtick they made famous on Bob Hope’s radio show (they even sing and dance with the Stooges in the rhumba number). Singer Joan Merrill appears as singer Joan Merrill (talk about typecasting!) and does a few songs, including a duet with crooner Vallee. Six Hits and a Miss add some 40’s song stylings, Eddie Durant’s Rhumba Orchestra provides the Latin flavor, and the popular Glen Grey and his Orchestra swing out ditties like “Boogie Woogie Man”, a bizarrely shot novelty tune sung by Pee Wee Hunt you’ve just gotta see:

Director Sidney Salkow was a ‘B’ vet mostly associated with westerns, but he handles things well on TIME OUT FOR RHYTHM. Cowriter Edmund L. Hartman worked with Hollywood funsters Abbott & Costello, Bob Hope, Martin & Lewis, and even Don Knotts, but is remembered as writer/producer of two TV family comedies, MY THREE SONS and FAMILY AFFAIR. Plenty of Familiar Faces show up in this movie, like Stanley Andrews, Billy Benedict, Richard Fiske, a very young Alan Hale Jr (GILLIGAN’s Skipper), and Stooges vets Bud Jamison and Eddie Laughton.

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But the spotlight’s clearly on Ann Miller here, in her first Columbia picture. Even though she was only eighteen when filming TIME OUT FOR RHYTHM, Ann was already a show biz veteran, having appeared in films like STAGE DOOR, YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU, and the Marx Brothers’ ROOM SERVICE. Columbia had high hopes for their new contract star, yet continuously wasted her in ‘B’ vehicles with titles like REVILLE WITH BEVERLY, WHAT’S BUZZIN’ COUSIN?, and JAM SESSION. Ann Miller later signed with MGM and was given better material (EASTER PARADE, ON THE TOWN, KISS ME KATE), but television had pretty much killed the film musical by the end of the 1950’s. Ann would remain a star via Broadway shows and touring companies. She even did a well-remembered commercial with satirist Stan Freberg spoofing her Hollywood days:

TIME OUT FOR RHYTHM won’t make anyone forget SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, but fans of The Three Stooges and/or Ann Miller will love it.  It’s a fine example of ‘B’ moviemaking from back in the day, and entertaining as all get out. Like I said earlier, how can you beat that?

Batter Up!: TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (MGM 1949)

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The National Pastime is just a frame for TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME to hang its picture in. That’s okay though, because producer Arthur Freed and the MGM Musical Dream Factory put together a rollicking, colorful romp with turn of the (20th) century baseball as an excuse to let Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra , Esther Williams, Betty Garrett, and company razzle-dazzle us with plenty of songs, dancing, romancing, and comedy.

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There’s not much of a plot in this outing. The World Champion Wolves are at spring training, awaiting the arrival of star diamond duo Eddie O’Brien and Denny Ryan, who’re off on a vaudeville tour. Eddie (Kelly) is a skirt chaser with Broadway dreams, while Denny’s (Sinatra) a shy, geeky guy who lives and breathes baseball. They get to camp just in time to hear the Wolves’ owner has died and left the club to his only relative, K.C. Higgins (Williams), who happens to be (gasp!) a girl! Eddie makes a poor first impression on K.C., so you just know they’ll end up together. Denny’s being chased by fan Shirley Delwyn (Garrett), who’s involved with a crooked gambler (Edward Arnold). Romantic complications and skullduggery ensue, but everything works out in the end, with Kelly, Sinatra, Williams, and Garrett breaking the Fourth Wall to reprise the rousing tune “Strictly USA”.

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Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen wrote the story for the film as a bullpen session for their later collaborations (ON THE TOWN, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN). Freed wasn’t ready to let the duo bat as directors, so he hired pinch hitter Busby Berkeley, the crafty veteran responsible for early hits like 42ND STREET, DAMES, and the GOLDDIGGERS series. This was Berkeley’s last credited film as director, though he did choreograph a handful of others in the 50’s. Kelly and Donen did handle the dance numbers here though, showcasing Kelly’s physical style. I especially enjoyed his exuberant tap number celebrating his Irish heritage on “The Hat Me Dear Old Father Wore”:

There are nine musical numbers in all, including the rip-roaring “O’Brien to Ryan to Goldberg”, featuring third banana Jules Munshin, who costarred with Kelly and Sinatra in ON THE TOWN, along with Garrett. Esther Williams even gets some brief pool time, swimming along while singing the title tune. Besides those I’ve already mentioned, Richard Lane and Tom Dugan lend able support as the team manager and his coach. Familiar Face spotters will note Murray Alper, Douglas Fowley , Henry Kulky, Gordon Jones, and Sally Forrest . And yes, that’s Danny Kaye in a cameo as a train passenger sitting behind Kelly and Sinatra.

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If you like classic musicals and baseball (and I do), then TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME is a solid, bases-clearing triple. Filled with toe tapping songs and silly slapstick bits (thanks to uncredited gagman Buster Keaton), it’s as American as apple pie and “Strictly USA”. And who can argue with that?

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