Call Me Mister

 

Call Me Mister

Screenplay by Albert Lewin & Burt Styler

Photography by Arthur E. Arling

Art Direction by Lyle Wheeler & Joseph C. Wright

Set Decorations by Thomas Little & Frank E. Hughes

Costumes by Charles Le Maire

Edited by Louis R. Loeffler

Choreography by Busby Berkeley

Music & Lyrics by Mack Gordon, Sammy Fain, Harold Rome & Frances Ash

Produced by Fred Kohlmar

Directed by Lloyd Bacon

Theatrical Release: 1951

 

Cast:

Betty Grable

Dan Daily

Danny Thomas

Dale Robertson

Benay Venuta

 

Production Studio:

Theatrical: 20th Century Fox

Video: Fox Cinema Archive

 

Video

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Resolution: 480i

Codec: MPEG-2

Disc Type: DVD-VOD

Bit Rate: Moderate (ca. 5.0~6.0 Mbps)

Runtime: 95:30

Region: 1

 

Audio:

English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono

 

Subtitles: None

 

Bonus Features: None

 

Presentation:

DVD Clamshell Case: VOD

Street Date: April 16, 2013


 

The Movie: 7

The 1951 movie Call Me Mister is based on a sketch review of the same title from 1946. The action takes place in U.S. occupied Japan just after the surrender. While tens of thousands of GI’s await discharge Dan Daily is trying to sell his dancing shows that he’s been carrying around since he joined the Army in hopes someone would ask him to dance. He accidentally runs into Grable, his old flame, who clearly has a love/hate relationship going here. Fearful she may slip and get back together with him she and her friend (Venuta) hop it down to Kyoto to put on a show. Daily goes AWOL to follow her while Dale Robertson, the C.O., woes her hopelessly. The catch, and it’s a smart one, is - uh, I can’t ruin it for you.


          


Fox never produced a musical that stood proudly alongside the late 1940s and early 50s classics that issued from that studio just three miles away in Culver City, But even MGM’s second tier musicals like Good News, I Love Melvin, A Date with Judy) have technical and artistic values that Fox rarely approaches. Fox doesn’t even seem to luck out musically, as the present Call Me Mister with its hodgepodge of contributors attests - not until they nabbed the rights to produce the great Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals later in the decade. Appropriately enough, the songs in Call Me Mister have a 1940s swing feel to them - some decent, one or two (like the shameful Japanese Girl Like American Boy) execrable. Songs, choreography, costumes and story aside, Call Me Mister does have entertainment value and some interesting casting moments, and is worth seeing for those reasons alone.


          


There’s Danny Thomas of TV’s Make Room for Daddy fame (and Marlo’s dad) in an important supporting role. He plays a dishwasher who fawns all over Grable - curious that he wears what looks suspiciously like a wedding ring throughout the movie, but nothing is made of it. Thomas gets to do two songs and a lengthy uninterrupted stage monologue any comic today would be embarrassed to try to put over. Which reminds me to ask: Why doesn’t Director Bacon ever think to shoot Thomas looking at his audience instead of directly into the camera? Thomas is worth watching just for the anomaly he is and represents. Be on the lookout for Richard Boone as an annoying mess sergeant who is limited to just about one word “POTS!” which he growls at Thomas repeatedly; Jeffrey Hunter, in only his second accredited movie role, is a private with an unintelligible southern accent; and the incomparable Bobby Short is the lead singer in the Going Home Train number which bears an uncomfortably close resemblance to the 1962 Peter, Paul & Mary song This Train.


          


Miss Gable, then 35 and still possessed of the best looking legs in show business, was one of two favorite WWII GI pinups (the other being Rita Hayworth), and Call Me Mister spins off on that fact. Despite passable but  limited technique as a singer, dancer and actress, she was nevertheless a very popular and engaging entertainer. I always liked her. In How to Marry a Millionaire, she holds her own alongside the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall. Despite the talents of Busby Berkeley, who staged the dance numbers on Call Me Mister, some of the dances in general are oddly two-dimensional - the tap routine with Grable and a trio of sailors is remarkable for how static it is. On the other hand Going Home Train is lively and I’m Gonna Love that Guy Like He’s Never Been Loved Before is superb on all counts. Grable has never sounded better and the staging with a barracksful of Gi’s is brilliant. Her scenes, both dramatic and musical, with Dan Daily (whose breakthrough role in musicals was with Grable in the 1947 Mother Wore Tights) are sweet, though her costume in I Just Can’t Do Enough For You Baby is a ridiculous attempt to make her into a vamp. A nice song, though, which neither Daily nor Grable can sing properly. On the other hand, or foot, Daily always looks so relaxed when he dances that Grable seems like she’s just barely getting the hang of it by comparison.


          

 

Image: 9

Fox Cinema Archives, like Warner Archive, are not DVDs in the usual sense but burned just as we would do at home. They have no menus to speak of, only chapter advance every ten minutes. Unless “Remastered” (a term that is hard to wrap one’s mind around since it is unlikely we would have on hand the previous video version), these video discs are simply transferred “from the best materials available” and are thus entirely dependent on the condition of those sources. Fox’s 1951 Technicolor musical Call Me Mister is one of those good sources. Color is rich and vibrant, with gorgeous skin tones and nice detail in the shadows and no high level blow outs. In addition there’s nary a scratch or any debris to get in the way of our enjoyment of this movie. No edge enhancement to speak of, and transfer artifacts are just about non-existent. I do wonder if the image is cropped on all sides, as the framing on the dance numbers strike me as too close for comfort. The only visual evidence that this is a burned DVD and not the genuine article is the break-up we see on occasion on fast forward.


          

 

Audio & Music: 7/5

Fox’s minimalist approach to the transfer offers clear dialogue and singing vocals. Choruses, orchestras, effects are all nicely balanced - not an example of MGM-like perfection, but quite respectable in its own right. I was less happy with the result for the quartet of taps in the clangorous opening number.

 

Extras:

None.


          

 

Recommendation: 7

Call Me Mister marks the second collaboration of Lloyd Bacon and Busby Berkeley. Do you remember the first? That was 42nd Street almost twenty years earlier. The tunes here are serviceable but not memorable, the dancing slightly below par on average, with a couple of standouts; the plot is familiar, but thanks to Grable and Daily, projected with warmth, romance and frustration by turns. Danny Thomas is a curious player. I don’t think he has a clue how large his acting is for the movies, which makes sense considering his background in radio and night clubs. He’s something to behold, though. The image quality is outstanding. Recommended with some caveats as noted.



Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

May 1, 2013


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