Sunday, April 15, 2018

Take Two MGMs and Call Me in the Morning

“Take two MGMs and call me in the morning.” That’s my preferred prescription when I’m feeling under the weather. My favorite MGM medicine is in the form of any movie starring Esther Williams, Hollywood’s swimming sensation of the 1940s and ‘50s. It’s so very soothing to watch beautiful Esther in those spectacular water ballets. This week, however, as I prepared for my first colonoscopy (yes, the prep is just as awful as everyone says), I took one MGM starring Jane Powell. Thanks to a recent Jane Powell movie marathon on TCM, I had four excellent options on my DVR: The Girl Most Likely (1958), Nancy Goes to Rio (1950), Hit the Deck (1955) and Two Weeks With Love (1950).

My choice was easy—Two Weeks With Love, my all-time favorite. 

The plot is simple and sweet. Taking place at the turn-of-the-century, 17-year-old Patti Robinson (Jane Powell) is miserable because her mother (Ann Harding) doesn’t see her as being grown up enough to wear a corset. During a two-week family vacation in the Catskills, Patti quickly becomes infatuated with a newcomer to the summer resort in the form of Ricardo Montalban as Demi Armendez, the nephew of a regular patron. But Patti’s rival, the slightly older, corset-wearing Valerie Stresemann (Phyllis Kirk) wants Demi for herself and manipulates Patti into acting silly in the hopes that Demi will see Patti as a child. But Demi is delighted by Patti and her antics. She agrees to dance with Demi, but keeps his hands far from her torso so he won’t notice the embarrassing absence of a corset.

Dashing Demi is charmed by sweet Patti, milk mustache and all.

Patti prefers dancing arm-to-arm in hopes that Demi won't notice her corsetless attire.

Things get worse for Patti when mean ol’ Valerie reveals her secret to the other young folk and they instantly taunt Patti, calling her a baby. Her subsequent fit of tears plays on her father’s (Louis Calhern) heartstrings. Accusing his wife of not doing a proper job of parenting, he takes it upon himself to buy a corset for his troubled daughter. Unfortunately, the ladies’ shop is closed so he buys a corset from the nearby drugstore, not realizing it is medical garment re-enforced with steel. But Patti is thrilled and dresses up for the evening’s festivities in her new corset and one of her mother’s dresses. Demi is the first to see the new Patti, so shapely and mature. They are whisked off to do a dance number in the fund-raising variety show. All is wonderful until the dip at the very end when her corset locks her into a backbend. Her family rushes onto the stage and she is released from the stranglehold. Finally, her mother acknowledges that it’s time to let her little girl grow up and agrees to buy her a fashionable La Belle Mode corset the very next day.

It is indeed a happy ending as we see Patti and Demi walk off into the sunset, with plans to court (with Father’s permission of course) when they return to the city. Now that you’ve got the main storyline, I must share some other endearing parts of this movie.

No. 1. Debbie Reynolds as Jane’s kid sister Melba 

Debbie is DARLING in this role! She sings, she dances, she charms, she wisecracks, and she has a big crush on Billy Finley (Carlton Carpenter), however, he has a crush on Patti. Melba and Billy have several fun song-and-dance numbers together, and if you don’t take the time to watch the entire movie, search on Youtube for “Abba Dabba Honeymoon” and “Row Row Row.” These numbers were such a hit that MGM sent the Debbie and Carlton on a cross-country tour to perform songs and promote the movie.

Debbie Reynolds is DELIGHTFUL in Two Weeks With Love!

A fun song-and-dance number with Debbie Reynolds and Carlton Carpenter

No. 2. Patti’s dream sequences

One evening the guests pair up for boat rides (and of course they are all singing “By the Light of the Silvery Moon”). Valerie has her hooks into Demi, leaving Patti in a canoe by herself where she fantasizes that Demi is with her. She becomes so dramatic with her imagined scene that she falls overboard, only to be rescued by Demi. Bummer for Valerie. The second fantasy sequence puts Patti in the corset of her dreams—a frothy pink confection—and she parades herself, singing and dancing, in front of all the hotel guests. 

No. 3. Busby Berkeley

The song-and-dance routines are extra cheeky and charming thanks to the brilliance of the famed choreographer.

No. 4. Super dorky scenes 

Like the accidental fireworks display emanating from under the bed of Patti’s brothers, or Patti enlisting her siblings to bury her in the sand so Demi can’t see her in her unflattering bathing costume.

No. 5. Everything Jane Powell

I love every single nuance of her performance—her furtive glances with those bright blue eyes, her awkward attempts at being sophisticated, her dramatic outbursts, and her song-and-dance numbers. Mary Poppins may be practically perfect, but I think Jane Powell is absolutely perfect. 

Happiness is spending an afternoon with sunny Jane Powell

And guess what? I met Jane Powell in real life! In 2008, Jane was the special guest of our National Paper Doll Convention in Piscataway, NJ. She and her husband Dickie Moore were lovely and of course I took the opportunity to ask if we could publish a paper doll book of Jane. She said yes! Popular paper doll artist Marilyn Henry created a gorgeous book filled with Jane’s movie costumes. A few years later we got in touch with Debbie Reynolds, and David Wolfe illustrated a wonderful book of Debbie and her movie clothes.

So next time you’re under the weather, I recommend you take two MGMs and in the morning call your best friend and talk about classic movies… and maybe even paper dolls! 

This Jane Powell Paper Doll Book is a treasure! Illustrated by Marilyn Henry, there are 2 Jane dolls and over 40 fashions from more than a dozen films of the 1940s and 50s.

Marilyn Henry's Jane Powell dressed in the corset of her dreams. 

David Wolfe included Jane's frothy corset in his delightful Hollywood Gets Undressed Paper Doll Book.

Darling Debbie Reynolds is the subject of this charming 2011 paper doll book

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