Not bad as a B-level musical, but be wary of the public domain video and audio quality
Nov 12, 2011
The mid-Forties were a time of turn-of-the-century nostalgia by Hollywood studios and the ticket buyers. Provided the actors looked wholesome, the sets were elaborate and the songs appealing, a lot of tickets could be sold by showing an America that was simple, friendly and happy...and far away in time from WWII. Just think of Meet Me in St. Louis, Up in Central Park, The Dolly Sisters, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, The Harvey Girls and Cover Girl. Republic Pictures, a B level studio if there ever was one, sent out Calendar Girl in 1947. It's an A effort from a B studio, but the final product, while looking good, suffers the same fate of so many movies from B studios...actors who look great and can't act.
It's Greenwich Village in 1900, and moving into a brownstone rooming house are two old friends, aspiring composer Johnny Bennett (William Marshall), big, blonde, poor and innocent, and aspiring artist Steve Adams (James Ellison), big, dark, wealthy and charming. The rooming house is filled with other artists and musicians, ranging from the almost perpetually unbilled Gus Schilling as a painter of horses who spends his time eating bananas and mumbling, to that reliable tenor Kenny Baker. The misunderstandings accumulate like single socks when Johnny and Steve both meet Patricia O'Neil (Jane Frazee), aspiring dancer and daughter of the local fire brigade chief played by Victor McLaglen. It's not long before both men find her special, with Johnny writing songs inspired by her and Steve, that devil, painting her portrait, then submitting it in a calendar competition by adding some leg. Spread liberally throughout the movie is the fireman's jamboree, Delmonico's, the brownstone's patio, a convivial beer garden and Steve and Johnny's rooms. They all get songs to sing there written by Jimmy McHugh (music) and Harold Adamson (lyrics). These two were old pros with many hits between them, and they provide songs that are romantic, melodic and bounce along in the style of the period. If none of the songs are especially memorable, they get the job done nicely. Two, "At the Fireman's Ball" and "Calendar Girl" are nice, indeed.
But by the time the movie is half over, we realize that we're not going to learn anything more about the characters or story than we already have, that the songs will be at a level that won't improve, and that there's a long way to go to the end. And this is because of the casting, which was probably the best Republic Pictures could come up with. Jane Frazee gets top billing. She's a proficient light romantic lead who dances well and looks a lot like Vera Ellen. While she looks about 20, however, she sounds about 35. Marshall and Ellison both look like handsome Hollywood hunks, but neither is believable. Ellison, as usual in his movies, comes across as a self-aware actor. Marshall just seems out of his depth, especially when called upon to do a little dancing and sing the songs he's given. Even Gail Patrick, the quintessential selfish society princess, who plays Steve's rich fiancée from Boston, seems adrift. Well, we'll always have the memory of her as Cornelia Bullock, Carole Lombard's older sister in My Man Godfrey. The problem here, I think, is that we're never sure if we're supposed to detest her or warm up to her.
Calendar Girl is in the public domain. The version I saw looked and sounded awful. When movies look this bad it's hard to find things to like; there's just too much work to get past the blurs and dirt. Unfortunately, that goes for so many public domain titles that are sold using marketing terms such as being 'remastered" or "new transfer." Still, I'm a sucker for Tinsel Town's versions of wholesome Americana. Given a decent DVD transfer, Calendar Girl just might seem better than it appears. Unfortunately, it's unlikely the movie will ever get a decent transfer.