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There’s No Business Like Show Business

There’s No Business Like Show Business is the movie that showcased the song of the same name.  It is from 1954 and surprisingly, has very little misogynistic content.  It regales the tale of the Donahues, a family of Vaudeville performers.

It begins with the story of the mother and father’s Vaudeville act.  They have three children, but are forced to give up the act during the depression.  She does radio work and the father has an act centered around women.  Dad is a little bit of a jerk who objectifies lots of women throughout the movie.

After the depression they are able to take up the act again, but this time as a family of five.  This only works for a little while because the children are growing up and want to have their own identities.

The oldest child is a son named Steve.  He becomes a priest much to the distress of his family.  They even give him a musical number where he evangelizes.  Then he performs a marriage, but really falls off the screen.

The daughter is the familial glue.  She is the one who tries to keep everything together throughout everything.  She is peppy, perky, and full of faith.  So she knows that everything will be okay.  She marries an unimportant man and is pregnant at the end of the movie, ending up with a pretty perfect little life.

The youngest son has the most remarkable story of the children.  He falls in love with Marilyn Monroe (Vicki Parker) and when she puts her career before him, at least for part of the movie, he gets drunk, leaves the act, and disappears.  There is then a morose part of the movie where everyone is depressed.  Eventually he comes home and there is a great reprise where they all sing together.

Marilyn Monroe is really a secondary character in this movie, which does not happen very often.  She is an aspiring show business gal and meets Tim the night she gets her big break.  She then has a musical number called “Heat Wave.”  I have no idea how it got past the censor boards.  She is dancing around in a skimpy bottom with a big skirt attached, talking about how she is hot and makes the temperature rise.  This is emphasized by the fact that she has male dancers with her.  I am sure that it was quite a number back in the day.

The most remarkable character in the movie is Molly, the mother played by Ethel Mermen.  She narrates, she sings, she dances, she is the show business person in the whole movie.  She also holds it together for the post part while her family is falling apart.  Molly forgives Vicki for breaking Tim’s heart and it’s all okay, because the night she forgives Vicki, Tim comes home.  He was just in the navy the whole time.  This is probably one of Ethel Merman’s stronger performances that I have seen.  She is charming, graceful and incredibly worth watching.

The dad is somewhat unremarkable.  He sings, objectifies women, tries to ensure his children fulfill classic family and sexual roles, and then goes to look for Tim because he’s gone.  He’s not a very good husband, poor Molly.

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The Pajama Game

Apparently Doris Day was a very big deal in 1957.  She was hailed as a triple thret.  She could dance.  She could sing.  She could act.  She could even show some leg.  She could work as a union rep for a pajama making company or at least that is the premise of the movie, the Pajama Game.  Her name in the movie is Katherine “Babe” Williams.  Everyone calls her Babe.  It is her nickname, which was appropriate in 1957.  No real person is named Babe.

A new guy comes in named Sid Sorokin played by John Raitt, who I had never seen before.  He sings well and even does a duet with himself via tape recorder.  That takes a great deal of skill.  Sorokin is in charge of the pajama factory being as efficient as possible.  He and Babe fall in love.  Their love is caught in the middle of a strike by the pajama factory workers.  He even fires her when she blows a circuit to support the Union.  I can support that kind of boldness in a woman, especially in 1957.  The production crew strikes over a 7.5 cent raise.  When Sid Sorokin gets into the books of the big boss man, he finds out that a 7.5 cent raise was approved six months ago.  Boss Man then tells everyone they have gotten their raise, but denies them backwages.  The workers don’t know they’ve been lied to and celebrate with a great big cheer.  The movie ends with Babe and Sid sharing a pair of pajamas in a fashion show, so her legs are revealed very saucily and his manly man chest is shown to the world.

There is also a secondary story between a character named Gladys and Vernon Hines who they call Hinesy.  Vernon is an abusive alchohol and Gladys is his girlfriend.  They are essentially a source of levity in this movie, even though he’s really an abusive idiot.  He used to be knife thrower and part of their storyline revolves around a fight with Gladys.  He is drunk and uses his throwing knives to try and hit Gladys and Sid (who he thinks are romantically involved.)  He is unbalanced and violent with his girlfriend.  It’s about as funny as it sounds.

The other point about this movie that I found so striking was its racist turn.  It wasn’t immediately apparent to me, but in a factory setting, every single character was white.  In a low income factory neighborhood the likelihood of every single person employed there being an attractive white person is low.  Maybe it is just me, but nothing makes me want to watch a musical more than sweatshop labor, union abuse, alcoholism, racism, and knife weilding abusers.  Maybe I should stop watching old movies.  I fear I may become disillusioned.

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