The Hostess With the Mostess

Posted: 15/01/2013 in 1953, Call Me Madam, Musical

Call Me Madam 2

Our first major musical of 1953 might just end up being the best by the time the year is over.  The Walter Lang directed Irving Berlin musical Call Me Madam is a sheer joy to watch throughout.  Although the film does not contain the serious themes of other musicals of the period (with the possible exception some timely conversations regarding fiscal responsibility), it makes one long for the show tune driven song and dance extravaganzas of yesteryear.  Sure there are a few moments when the story falls a bit flat or falls into predictability, but that does not take away from the enjoyment of Ethel Merman and Donald O’Connor bringing the house down with their stellar performances.

The story here is simple.  Ethel Merman plays the U.S. Ambassador to the fictional country Lichtenburg Sally Adams.  Miss Adams is a Washington socialite whose father struck oil, and now she finds herself in what is assumed to be a position she has received as a favor from the president.  Ambassador Adams is not a political thinker, and she does not fit in with the Washington elite, let alone European royalty.  Miss Merman could easily fall into the stereotype of the naïve woman, who does not belong in government, and at times she does, but overall she delivers the best female performance of the year so far.  She’s funny, charming, irreverent, and at some moments even cunning.  In a year of flat female characters so far, Ethel Merman finally gives us a female character with some complex range.

If Ethel Merman gives us the best female performance of the year so far, Donald O’Connor definitely gives us the best supporting male performance this year, as Adam’s press sidekick Kenneth Gibson.  The bottom line is O’Connor can sing and dance (and boy can he dance)!  Mr. O’Connor lights up the screen every time he is on it.  Most enjoyable is the highlight number “You’re Just in Love.”  While that song is the highlight, there are few wasted moments spent in song and dance, and O’Connor steals the show in several of the scenes.  Add to this a capable ensemble, and one has the recipe for a very enjoyable musical.

The music is great, the costumes are great, and the script is sharply humorous.  The only weakness this film has is that it does fall into a being a rather predictable love story in the final act.  However, it’s a generally light hearted comedy, so doesn’t one predict an easily tied together happy ending?

***1/2 ~AOS

Up next, George Stevens western Shane.


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