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Panama Hattie -- What A Mess!


lydecker
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Finally caught up with some of my recordings of the films of March's SOTM and discovered just how bad, bad could be with "Panama Hattie."  Let's see, just some of the more questionable decisions included: The adaptation of a Cole Porter musical which got rid of much of the Cole Porter music, a title character who would often simply disappear from view in favor of giving way too much screen time to the not-so-hilarious antics of Red, Rags & Co., Lena Horne scenes (which were really the high point of this disaster) thrown in with no linkage to the rest film (Yes, I get it  -- so the studio could excise her scenes for the South but still . . . ) an annoying, semi-bratty child, a romance which got about ten seconds of screen time, Marsha Hunt (who I generally love) totally wasted, Nazis and a gag-inspiring "Rah, Rah America" song by the whole cast for the finale. If ever a film screamed:  Committee Decision it was this one. Poor Ann Sothern.  She deserved a lot better than this trash.

 

Lydecker

 

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I don't know the film at all. The show was a big Broadway hit for Ethel Merman; and just look at the rest of this cast:

 

http://www.ibdb.com/production.php?id=1028

 

The film cut most of the original songs, substituting songs that were never in the show (almost always a mistake).

 

Here's Ethel singing (later in her career) one of the show's big hits:

 

 

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Finally caught up with some of my recordings of the films of March's SOTM and discovered just how bad, bad could be with "Panama Hattie."  Let's see, just some of the more questionable decisions included: The adaptation of a Cole Porter musical which got rid of much of the Cole Porter music, a title character who would often simply disappear from view in favor of giving way too much screen time to the not-so-hilarious antics of Red, Rags & Co., Lena Horne scenes (which were really the high point of this disaster) thrown in with no linkage to the rest film (Yes, I get it  -- so the studio could excise her scenes for the South but still . . . ) an annoying, semi-bratty child, a romance which got about ten seconds of screen time, Marsha Hunt (who I generally love) totally wasted, Nazis and a gag-inspiring "Rah, Rah America" song by the whole cast for the finale. If ever a film screamed:  Committee Decision it was this one. Poor Ann Sothern.  She deserved a lot better than this trash.

 

Lydecker

Good post. As Bob said in the closing remarks, it was a bit hit for MGM (after all the obvious tinkering). I agree that the minute you remove some of those great songs, it quickly goes downhill. At this point, all they needed was a flimsy excuse for a musical, because any gags Red did and any jingoistic anti-Nazi stuff went over like gangbusters with the audience. 

 

But as for PANAMA HATTIE itself, this stage production should be remade into a much more faithful film version.

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Hard to believe watching the movie this was an Ethel Merman vehicle on Broadway. It's obvious they decided to build it around Red Skelton. Poor Ann didnt have much luck in the few musicals she was cast in......

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Hard to believe watching the movie this was an Ethel Merman vehicle on Broadway. It's obvious they decided to build it around Red Skelton. Poor Ann didnt have much luck in the few musicals she was cast in......

MGM was trying to gauge Ann Sothern's appeal and suitability as an A list star of their more prestigious fare, as opposed.to her proven popularity in the Maisie programmer series. Unfortunately for Ann, they fumbled badly with PH,.as.has been noted here Besides Skelton and the other comedy relief,.they tried to help her by taking the focus off of her, by overloading.extraneous acts, something that was par.for the course for many musicals at that time. They were known as Specialty Acts, and would be slotted into nightclub scenes.

 

It seems that after reputedly disastrous previews in late 1941, the studio went back and added more of this, further removing the emphaisis on Ann; this second go round is probably when the jingoistic military vibe came in, as by then we were at war. Despite its success, the debacle of this film led Ann to lose another Merman Broadway vehicle, DUBARRY WAS.A LADY, and the studio signed Lucille Ball to a long term contract, specifically so she could do this film. With this, it seems that.MGM gave up on making Ann one of their top A list stars.

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MGM was trying to gauge Ann Sothern's appeal and suitability as an A list of their more presgigious fare, as opposed.to her proven poplarity in the Maisie programmer series. Unfortunately for Ann, they fumbled badly with PH. They tried to help by overloading.extraneous acts, although this was par.for the course for many musicals at that time. They were known as Specialty Acts, and would be slotted into nightclub scenes.

 

It seems that after reputedly disastrous previews in late 1941, the studio went back and added more of this, further removing the emphaisis on Ann; this second go round is probably when the jingoistic military vibe came in, as by then we were at war. Despite its success, the debacle of this film led Ann to lose another Merman Broadway vehicle, DUBARRY WAS.A LADY, and the studio signed Lucille Ball to a long term contract, specifically so she could do this film. With this, it seems that.MGM gave up on making Ann one of their top A list stars.

From some of what I read, Lucy complained that MGM often gave her Ann Sothern's castoffs. Some sources say Mayer bought DUBARRY specifically for Ann but she turned it down (maybe because they were eliminating most of Cole Porter's songs-- which ironically is what happened with PANAMA HATTIE). Ann kept making Maisie pictures for the next few years and Lucy who was in over her head in these musicals (because she couldn't sing or really play an instrument) quickly fell into supporting roles at MGM in comedies or had leads in less prestigious fare, like crime dramas. Lucy barely lasted at MGM three years. Ann made films at MGM from 1937 until 1950. Lucy would have a hit in the mid-50s at MGM with a new contract riding on the success of her first sitcom, then she and Desi flopped badly with the follow-up and she was once again toast at the lion. The point I am making is that careers at MGM went up and down for a lot of these actresses.

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MGM was trying to gauge Ann Sothern's appeal and suitability as an A list star of their more prestigious fare, as opposed.to her proven popularity in the Maisie programmer series. Unfortunately for Ann, they fumbled badly with PH,.as.has been noted here Besides Skelton and the other comedy relief,.they tried to help her by taking the focus off of her, by overloading.extraneous acts, something that was par.for the course for many musicals at that time. They were known as Specialty Acts, and would be slotted into nightclub scenes.

 

It seems that after reputedly disastrous previews in late 1941, the studio went back and added more of this, further removing the emphaisis on Ann; this second go round is probably when the jingoistic military vibe came in, as by then we were at war. Despite its success, the debacle of this film led Ann to lose another Merman Broadway vehicle, DUBARRY WAS.A LADY, and the studio signed Lucille Ball to a long term contract, specifically so she could do this film. With this, it seems that.MGM gave up on making Ann one of their top A list stars.

 

 

That's a shame. It was their fault the film was such a mess. Not hers.

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Lucy who was in over her head in these musicals (because she couldn't sing or really play an instrument.

I was recently watching old SC TV clips on YouTube and particularly enjoyed Catherine O'Hara's interpretation of Lucy in "Count Floyd's Christmas Special"

 

She stands there as a bunch of male dancers and singers all perform energetically around her during an elaborate musical number. Periodically, they turn to her so she can croak out one word: "Christmas" while holding a cigarette and grinning. then they go back to singing the song.

 

I like Lucy, but it's a pretty clever skewering of her not exactly Titanic musical abilities.

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I was recently watching old SC TV clips on YouTube and particularly enjoyed Catherine O'Hara's interpretation of Lucy in "Count Floyd's Christmas Special"

 

She stands there as a bunch of male dancers and singers all perform energetically around her during an elaborate musical number. Periodically, they turn to her so she can croak out one word: "Christmas" while holding a cigarette and grinning. then they go back to singing the song.

 

I like Lucy, but it's a pretty clever skewering of her not exactly Titanic musical abilities.

 

 

LMREO!!!

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I was recently watching old SC TV clips on YouTube and particularly enjoyed Catherine O'Hara's interpretation of Lucy in "Count Floyd's Christmas Special"

 

She stands there as a bunch of male dancers and singers all perform energetically around her during an elaborate musical number. Periodically, they turn to her so she can croak out one word: "Christmas" while holding a cigarette and grinning. then they go back to singing the song.

 

I like Lucy, but it's a pretty clever skewering of her not exactly Titanic musical abilities.

Right-- the song 'Friendship' is clearly her singing at the end of DUBARRY with help from Kelly, Skelton and O'Brien. She repeated this song on an episode of I Love Lucy, in a duet with Vivian Vance. But the tune does not require her to be a decent vocalist-- and she is nearly off-key in both versions. 

 

Whoever hired her at MGM was obviously swayed by her looks, but they made a mistake attaching her to the musical unit. She was able to show a little skill dancing but otherwise she was a big dud as a musical star. They should have known right away, based on her roles at RKO, that she was better as a wisecracking dame in comedies and crime dramas. When Harry Cohn hired her at Columbia when she was ditched by MGM after the war, he smartly used her in screwball comedies. And due to these successes combined with her zany work on the radio sitcom My Favorite Husband, she was poised to take the world of television by storm.

 

Incidentally, Lucy still didn't get the memo years later that she was not cut out for musicals. She signed on to do the musical Wildcat on Broadway which had a relatively short run (for a variety of reasons, but the main reason being she simply couldn't swing such a grueling musical part); and then she famously tried again in the 70s with MAME, where the only decent number is the one where Robert Preston's Beauregard sings to her on the plantation (probably the scene that SC-TV spoofed).

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I wonder why they haven't shown the "MGM parade" short wherein Ann is featured singing " the last time I saw Paris"

 

she does such a bang-up job with her rendition, and it's also a song that is rich with meaning as Paris was of course occupied by the Nazis at the time of its release.

 

(Or maybe they have shown it and I just haven't seen it.)

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I wonder why they haven't shown the "MGM parade" short wherein Ann is featured singing " the last time I saw Paris"

 

she does such a bang-up job with her rendition, and it's also a song that is rich with meaning as Paris was of course occupied by the Nazis at the time of its release.

 

(Or maybe they have shown it and I just haven't seen it.)

I believe Ann sang "The Last Time I Saw Paris" in Lady Be Good which was shown this month as part of the SOTM tribute to her.

If it was her voice (and I think it was) it was a lovely rendition.

 

Lydecker

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I believe Ann sang "The Last Time I Saw Paris" in Lady Be Good which was shown this month as part of the SOTM tribute to her.

If it was her voice (and I think it was) it was a lovely rendition.

 

Lydecker

 

 

They also feature it in a short they sometimes run.........

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I was recently watching old SC TV clips on YouTube and particularly enjoyed Catherine O'Hara's interpretation of Lucy in "Count Floyd's Christmas Special"

 

She stands there as a bunch of male dancers and singers all perform energetically around her during an elaborate musical number. Periodically, they turn to her so she can croak out one word: "Christmas" while holding a cigarette and grinning. then they go back to singing the song.

 

I like Lucy, but it's a pretty clever skewering of her not exactly Titanic musical abilities.

And, if you want more proof, here's Lucy performing "The Jitterbug Bite." 

 

 

 

Lydecker

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MGM apparently did not think much of LADY BE GOOD nor PANAMA HATTIE as both were shot in black and white. I agree PANAMA HATTIE is pretty awful. I am not exactly crazy over LADY BE GOOD either. Its unfortunate Sothern did not do DUBARRY WAS A LADY. Sothern was mostly misused by MGM ditto Lucille Ball. I wish Southern had not turned down ALL ABOVE EVE playing Bette Davis' theatre friend. I wonder if any kind of video exists for The TV spectacular LADY IN THE DARK?

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I wonder why they haven't shown the "MGM parade" short wherein Ann is featured singing " the last time I saw Paris"

she does such a bang-up job with her rendition, and it's also a song that is rich with meaning as Paris was of course occupied by the Nazis at the time of its release.

(Or maybe they have shown it and I just haven't seen it.)

There is an MGM Parade episode nine according to imdb.
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MGM apparently did not think much of LADY BE GOOD nor PANAMA HATTIE as both were shot in black and white. I agree PANAMA HATTIE is pretty awful. I am not exactly crazy over LADY BE GOOD either. Its unfortunate Sothern did not do DUBARRY WAS A LADY. Sothern was mostly misused by MGM ditto Lucille Ball. I wish Southern had not turned down ALL ABOVE EVE playing Bette Davis' theatre friend. I wonder if any kind of video exists for The TV spectacular LADY IN THE DARK?

Well, MGM was.like most studios in the early 1940s, using Technicolor sparingly. Even their boxoffice.musical stars like Judy Garland were still.getting only black and white vehicles. What probably changed this was the huge success of the Good Neighbor musicals at Fox, starring Alice Faye or Betty Grable. Even at this time, pre 1943, they could still get black and whiite: Faye in THE GREAT AMERICAN BROADCAST, Grable in FOOTLIGHT SERENADE.

 

The huge wartime grosses probably sped up this process, and soon the likes of MGM, and.Columbia were giving their musical stars technicolor.vehicles.

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Well, MGM was.like most studios in the early 1940s, using Technicolor sparingly. Even their boxoffice.musical stars like Judy Garland were still.getting only black and white vehicles. What probably changed this was the huge success of the Good Neighbor musicals at Fox, starring Alice Faye or Betty Grable. Even at this time, pre 1943, they could still get black and whiite: Faye in THE GREAT AMERICAN BROADCAST, Grable in FOOTLIGHT SERENADE.

 

The huge wartime grosses probably sped up this process, and soon the likes of MGM, and.Columbia were giving their musical stars technicolor.vehicles.

I concur. MGM usually wasn't a leader when it came to technology. It waited to see what other studios were doing and played it safe. 

 

Sometimes black-and-white photography works better with certain genres, such as film noir-- as in I WAKE UP SCREAMING or FALLEN ANGEL.

 

Later, as some actresses past their prime continued making films, black-and-white was used to mask their true age. 

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