Doll Face1945

Genre: Comedy, Musical, Romance
Even if it were only to present a batch of Fox musicals in ultra-spiffy versions, this five-film box set would be a valuable slice of film history. The hook here, however, is a glimpse at the short-lived but delirious stardom of Carmen Miranda, that fruitbowl-wearing (and genuinely talented) purveyor of Brazilian samba and silliness. Miranda scores points in all the films here, especially in that Citizen Kane of absurdity, The Gang's All Here (1943), which arrives in this set in a version improved over the one that was included in the first Alice Faye Collection. The plot is best ignored, but director Busy Berkeley's mad inventiveness and the sheer Technicolor outrageousness of it all is hard to resist--and Carmen Miranda is at her daffiest, especially in the banana-licious "Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat," a signature number. Greenwich Village is another colorful bauble, with Don Ameche as a "longhair" composer drawn into the less exalted world of show business. As is often the case in these pictures, Miranda is in a frankly peripheral role but gets a lot of screen time anyway--and here her fractured English locutions and exuberant performing style are lusciously showcased. Vivian Blaine, Fox's pinch-hitting musical star for those movies that didn't feature studio queens Alice Faye and Betty Grable, is the true female lead--as she is in four of the five films here. In Something for the Boys, Miranda and Blaine inherit a decaying Southern mansion, along with distant cousin Phil Silvers (whose quasi-minstrel number is one of the more groan-worthy things in the picture). A few Cole Porter songs and a young Perry Como add musical appeal, and you can't mistake the young Judy Holliday, even if she only appears on screen for a few seconds. Doll Face, which relegates Miranda to sidekick status (and black and white, which just doesn't seem right), is an adaptation of famed stripper Gypsy Rose Lee's play. It's a very "meta" thing about a burlesque queen whose memoir becomes a hit play; Dennis O'Keefe provides the male ballast, and some extremely politically incorrect views, opposite Blaine. If I'm Lucky is another black-and-white picture with La Miranda on the margins, indicating her waning status at Fox. Its tortured plot puts a mild-mannered crooner (Perry Como) in line to run for governor. Some fine extras fill out the box set, with TV appearances by Miranda and an informative 90 minute bio, which includes serious appreciation and a clip of her final performance, taped hours before her death. In Doll Face someone tells her character, "You could be another Carmen Miranda," but there was only the one. --Robert Horton It is a testament to Carmen Miranda's status as a larger than life pop culture icon that she warrants a DVD box set for films in which she isn’t even the star. Without her, though, they would be merely pleasant diversions. The best in the bunch, 1943's The Gang's All Here, is a splashy Technicolor riot directed by the legendary Busby Berkeley (this edition, also available separately, is a big improvement over the one included in The Alice Faye Collection). Never mind Alice Faye's showgirl or James Elison's smitten soldier. All eyes are on "The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat," who plays matchmaker when she isn't otherwise wowing audiences at a New York nightclub that judging by the spectacular production numbers must have a stage the size of the Roman Colosseum. There is no denying the camp value of a phalanx of showgirls manipulating massive bananas while Miranda sings, "Some people say I dress too gay/But every day I feel so gay/And when I'm gay I dress that way/Something wrong with that?" Suffice to say, they absolutely do not make 'em like this anymore. New to DVD, Something for the Boys (1944) is an entertaining "let's put on a show" musical starring the unlikely trio of Miranda, Vivian Blaine, and Phil Silvers (with hair!) as three cousins who decide to convert the dilapidated mansion they've inherited into a home for army wives. From the same year, and also making its DVD debut, is Greenwich Village, starring Don Ameche as a composer who enters the bohemian world of New York's Latin Quarter, where Miranda works as a fortune teller at William Bendix's "members only" club. Miranda adds exotic color to two black and white musicals, If I'm Lucky (1946), featuring an underwhelming Perry Como as a crooner who is recruited to run for governor, and the snappy Doll Face (1944), based on Gypsy Rose Lee's book about a "burley-q" dancer (Vivian Blaine) who writes a sensational autobiography to legitimize herself with Broadway producers. Miranda may not be the star of these films, but with her stylized outfits, signature crazy hats, hips-don't-lie dancing (on platform heels, no less), and comic malapropisms that make fruit salad out of the English language ("You're making a mountain out of mothballs"), she is definitely the main attraction. She's am earthy force of nature for whom one will suffer Como's sleepy rendition of "Red Hot and Beautiful" in Doll Face to see her perform "Chico Chico." This set contains a cornucopia of extras, the best of which is a documentary about Miranda's remarkable life and one-of-a-kind career. A clip from The Jimmy Durante Show says it all about this ultimate show business trouper. She is stricken during a musical number, but gamely dances offstage, waving and blowing kisses to the audience. She would die 12 hours later. --Donald Liebenson

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