Saturday, February 19, 2011

Coney Island (1943)

Walter Lang's Coney Island manages to weave two overused plots into one fun musical that has more twists and dips than a ride on the famed Cyclone. It's basically Pygmalion meets the old movie trope 'boy meets girl / boy loses girl because her rising stardom hurts boy's ego / love conquers ego as boy reunites with girl'. This hybrid is essentially a rehash of Alexander's Ragtime Band (and scores of other movies), set in turn-of-the-century New York. Throw in an on-going Ziegfeldian rivalry between two old showmen partners that morphs into a love triangle, and you've got this 1943 musical. Despite its recycled plot, Coney Island manages to dust off these old standards, with the help of a strong cast and an Oscar nominated soundtrack, to give it a new sparkle. All this in magnificent, magical Technicolor!

Betty Grable herself seems to be an amalgamation of other cinematic beauties; she sort of reminds me of a blonde Rita Hayworth, and her mien seems to have just a touch of the winsomeness of Marilyn Monroe. Apparently, most of Grable's fans spent their time admiring her legs, which were famously insured by Lloyd's of London. However, I set my sights on the architectural wonder of her hairdo. I feared the entire thing would topple over in some of her more animated dance routines! The cast also included Cesar Romero (years before he became a quizzical Batman villain) and George Montgomery as his adversary and the winner of Grable's heart. Phil Silvers is the comedic support who steals every scene!

The movie starts out in the wonderful chaos of Coney Island when Eddie Johnson (Montgomery) pays Joe Rocco (Romero) a visit at his popular nightspot along the midway. They had been boyhood chums and rivals whose long relationship was marked with schemes of trying to cheat each other out of business opportunities, power, and money. Eddie has tracked his ex-partner down at Coney Island to get what he felt was his due, but Joe doesn't see it that way. Through another bit of trickery, Eddie manages to blackmail his way into a job at the club where he gets to oversee the nightly entertainment, namely Kate Farley (Grable), the star of the nightclub's burlesque act (and Joe's girl). Eddie sees Kate as star material and complains about her garish costumes and titillating dance numbers. He begins to mold her into a high class act by training her to be more of a chanteuse than a screecher and polishing her appearance. At first, Kate resists the modifications that her new boss imposes on her, but soon the audience goes wild for her new act and fame goes to her head. As soon as she learns to trust his instinct, Kate and Eddie find themselves falling in love. Meanwhile, Joe decides that he doesn't care that he's raking in the money because he's losing his girl. Joe concocts a new plan to break up their burgeoning love affair. He succeeds at splitting Kate and Eddie up, but Kate soon learns about the men's competitive relationship and chooses the man she truly loves.

While Coney Island may not be the most familiar musical, you might recognize some of the standard songs, including 'Beautiful Coney Island,' 'Cuddle Up A Little Closer' (courtesy of navydoctrinidad), and 'Pretty Baby.' 'There's Danger In A Dance' was, for me, the highlight of the entire movie. Betty Grable completists take note: she also starred in this movie's 1950 remake, Wabash Avenue.

Watch Coney Island's trailer (courtesy of captbijou).

More information and pictures at Dr. Macro. See also: Betty Grable: The Girl With The Million Dollar Legs.