Thursday, March 7, 2013

Classic Film Review: Good News

Good News (1947)
Directed by: Charles Walters
Based on the play by: Lew Brown et al.
Starring: June Allyson and Peter Lawford

Chances are, if you are looking for a good old-fashioned musical from the 40s and 50s, your first stop would be MGM -- the major studio that produced Singin' in the Rain, The Wizard of Oz, West Side Story, Meet Me in St. Louis and Showboat, among others.

For every Gene Kelly pirouette and Judy Garland solo, there are those lesser-known gems from MGM that would otherwise be completely forgotten if not for specialty channels like TCM

And, considering the DVD is next to impossible to track down, TCM may be the only way classic film buffs can view (and own) director Charles Walters' thoroughly enjoyable adaptation of the college-set musical, Good News.

It's a familiar premise, one we've seen in countless musicals and romantic comedies over the decades: A college football captain named Tommy Marlowe (Peter Lawford) falls head-over-heels for the campus' beautiful, wealthy "it" girl, Pat McClellan (Patricia Marshall). When Pat rejects Tommy's advances, he discovers her passion for the French language and vows to become fluent himself in an attempt to woo her. He enlists the help of brainiac Connie Lane (June Allyson), and she sets aside time from her busy schedule to tutor him in French. And then, wouldn't you know it, Connie finds herself smitten with the star athlete. It's your standard tale of (seemingly) unrequited love set to bouncy music, vivid technicolour and show-stopping dance numbers.

All musicals require a suspension of disbelief, arguably even moreso than any other genre. People, often complete strangers, are liable to break out into a perfectly synchronized song and dance routine -- only to resume their everyday activities the moment the song reaches its concluding notes.

However, Good News unintentionally requires its viewers to suspend their disbelief even further with one particular gaping plot hole and a couple of contrived situations that strain plausibility.

The gaping plot hole? Well, that would be the fact that the film claims it's set in the 20s when, in actual fact, all the costumes and hair-styles are very clearly contemporary (i.e. circa 1947). And the plot contrivances? It would be too long-winded to list here but, in a nutshell, Tommy finds himself torn between winning the final football game of the season and proposing to Pat after the victory or losing the game on purpose to win over the affections of the bookish Connie.
Peter Lawford and June Allyson

Regardless of these quibbles, it's hard not enjoy this rousing musical. The songs are surprisingly catchy considering the film has fallen off the radar when people talk about movie musicals. You'll find yourself humming "Lucky in Love" well after the end credits. And, while "The Best Things in Life are Free" is no doubt viewed as the film's romantic highlight, keep an eye out for the amusing exchange between the charming Allyson and Lawford when they duet on "The French Lesson."

In terms of genuine show-stoppers, however, there's only one that comes to mind: "Pass the Peace Pipe", an infectious song-and-dance number led by Joan McCracken (professional dancer and ex-wife of Bob Fosse).

But what it all comes down to in the end is the two charming leads. While Allyson and Lawford both have their detractors, I'm not one of them -- they are both a joy to watch. While they may not have the greatest singing voices they try their darndest to really belt it out. Where they do both excel is in their onscreen presence and overall likeability -- and both are fully capable of burning up the dance floor as they prove in the closing number, "The Varsity Drag."

For pure, unadulterated musical entertainment, Good News proves to be just that.



  1. I've got a soft spot for this film too...I even used a clip from that great "Pass The Peace Pipe" number in a dance montage video I made a year or so ago. As goofy as its use of Native American cultural references is, it's still highly entertaining.

    If I had an issue with the movie, it was that Peter Crawford just looked too damn old to be a college kid. I know it's typical to have older people in these roles, but he just didn't fit for me (as much as I do like him). I just checked - he was 24 when this came out! Go figure...It just feels like he had done a couple of tours of duty with the Rat Pack already by this point.

    I like him in Royal Wedding even more, but that's probably due to Jane Powell lighting up everything she gets near...

    1. Yeah, the references in the song made me cringe a couple of time but damned if I wasn't smiling by the end of it.

      That's funny you say that about Peter Lawford: On TCM they mentioned that he was 24 years old at the time of filming vs. June Allyson was 30 at the time!!! Regardless, I took more issue with Lawford's slight build. How are we expected to believe he's the captain of this big football team? He was so tiny.

      I haven't seen Royal Wedding. I'll add that to my list...