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The Bickering Critics – Anita and George

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Commentary by Anita-British TV PBS

I’ve been watching a few series that can be either streamed or viewed on Netflix as well as Amazon Prime.  I’d like to suggest a some of them here.

Britannia is awesome.  If you liked or like Game of Thrones as well as anything set in the time of King Arthur you will really enjoy this take on the Roman invasion of Britain.  Action packed and at times bloody it is a good story as well as being told well.  Warning, if you are familiar with the telling of the Game of Thrones then you know not every character is as they seem and not one is safe from being terminated.  I will mention I find it odd that all the people speak the same language but we can’t have it all.

Land Girls is set in England during the WWII.  It tells the story of four women who are sent to work the farms on a posh manor for the home front effort.  These women have either lost their loved ones or husband is serving. They are each called up or volunteer to do their part.  As the series goes on we meet other women and girls.  Keeping it at four each season. I like how the series handles time changes between episodes.  It is interesting without going into so much background you lose the thread of the story.  In other words easy to follow.   The drama tells how they each deal with the woes of war as well how far war will push someone to do things they would never consider in any other time.  You will find heartening storylines, humors characters as well as dark themes and real fear.

Victoria is currently showing PBS Sunday nights.  I think it’s a good telling.  We know a lot about Elizabeth but not so much about Victoria.  The show colorfully depicts the strugglers her and husband Albert faced as they recreate the face of the British nation as well as how they are viewed on the world front.  Love the sets and detail that has gone into this making.  I know you will too.

There is a starting place if you have nothing to watch on a Saturday afternoon.  Let me know what you think or what you are watching.

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The Dress Maker 2015-Reviewed by Anita ****

Set in 1950’s this comedy-drama is great.  Kate Winslet is excellent as the lead Tilly Dunnage who as a child is banished from her home-town for the murder of one of her classmates in 1926.  25 years later Dunnage returns home to take care of her mentally ill mother with a mission of revenge in her heart and a sewing machine.  Of course she is met with dislike by the neighbors and towns people. She is glamorous, worldly and cheeky.  With her couture style she transforms those who sold her out as a child by making them into society dolls bringing out the worst in them.

The story-telling is done in an anthology style that borders on weird and bizarre.  Many of the stories are uncomfortable to the viewer.  Drama, comedy, love and murder are all found in this film.  Watch it if you get a chance.

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The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: Season Two, Disc One (1965) – reviewed by George

This second season is in color!
Episode 1: Alexander the Greater Affair, Part One
Mr. Alexander (Guest Star Rip Torn) steals a canister of a new secret gas which renders people docile – takes the fight right out of them. Solo (Robert Vaughn), is sent to find him and get the gas back before he can have it analyzed, and Kuryakin (David McCallum), is sent to Athens to check out classic writings for a clue to what Alexander is planning. This should be helpful because he really believes that he is the modern-day Alexander the Great who will conquer worlds. And his wife Tracey (Special Guest Star Dorothy Provine) is trying to find him to get his signature on the divorce papers. Mr. Kavon (David Opatoshu) is Alexander’s right-hand man, an archeologist who asks Illya, “What do you think of the human condition, Mr. Kuryakin?” The reply? “I’m in favor of it.” Eventually the good guys find Alexander’s parents Miriam and Harry Baxter (Featuring Charles Seel and Madge Blake), who own an appliance store in Dayton, working in one of Alexander’s mines in evening clothes and chains. Seems Alexander invited them over from the States just to work them to death.
As the episode ends Solo is tied under a sharp, swinging blade, and Illya and Tracey are tied over a bottomless pit with the rope placed above a candle that is slowly burning it through.
Written by Dean Hargrove, Directed by Joseph Sargent.

Episode 2: Alexander the Greater Affair, Part Two
After escaping the blade and the pit our trio continues trying to get the gas back and the divorce papers signed, and Alexander says, “I will conquer the world in no time at all.” The main henchperson here is body-builder Ingo (Featuring Cal Bolder).
This two-part opener is lots of fun, with humor being provided by virtually everybody but Alexander, who is a very serious young man.
Written by Dean Hargrove, Directed by Joseph Sargent.

Episode 3: The Ultimate Computer Affair
In the South American country of Chacua a street musician is playing guitar and singing “Hava Nagila”. As he moves and turns we see – it’s Illya! He asks a well-fed man for money and the man refuses, so Illya hits him hard with his guitar. The man yells for police and Illya is arrested. Now the man calls U.N.C.L.E. on his radio phone, and reports that Illya is on his way to the prison as planned. Captain Cervantes (Guest Star Roger C. Carmel) goes through a series of security checks and winds up in the quarters of Governor Callahan (Guest Star Charlie Ruggles), who with his two nubile nurses is admiring the ultimate computer, a device containing all the knowledge of mankind, and capable of using that information to answer any question. It is to be turned over to THRUSH, which will use it to make infallible decisions regarding world domination.
With Illya inside the prison, now Solo and his more-or-less willing helper, Salty Oliver (Judy Carne) can go to work. Salty is an international expert on improving prisons to make them more livable, and she and Solo will pretend to be married. Solo will cut off the electricity so that Illya can blow up the computer. What could possibly go wrong?
Some humor and a good portion of suspense make this episode a really good one.
Written by Peter Allan Fields, Directed by Joseph Sargent.

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Vasiliy Livanov is Sherlock Holmes in “His Last Bow” and “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” [Russian Title “The Twentieth Century Approaches”] (1986) – reviewed by George

Mr. Victor Hatherly, hydraulics engineer, is summoned by Colonel Lysander Stark to do a job in absolute secrecy for fifty guineas for one night’s work: closer to one hour’s work says Stark, for all we want is to know exactly what is wrong with one of our stamping machines; then we can fix it. Stark then explains why all this is being done in the darkest hours of the night. He has purchased a small piece of land and then discovered that it contains a deposit of fuller’s earth. Investigation has discovered that there are large deposits in two neighboring fields, and he (and his investor) want to get the product out and sold for enough money to buy the neighboring parcels.
Too much information! Why tell Victor all this? On top of this, poor unsuspicious Victor opens his mouth and says too much. He doesn’t understand why they need a hydraulics man to mine fuller’s earth – it is his understanding that the process is simply digging it out of the ground. Stark, however, is quick with a lie: “We compress it into bricks, which can be removed and shipped without revealing what they are.”
Victor inspects the machine’s chamber, and it is possible to stand upright inside it. He then inspects the works above the chamber and finds the problem, which requires only a cheap fix. Then he gets caught scratching at the floor inside the machine. Colonel Stark locks him in and turns on the machine. He is saved by a young woman, Helga, who speaks German. She removes part of the chamber’s wall at the base and pulls him through, then helps him get out through a window. While she plays innocent with Stark, Victor drags himself back to the railroad, where he escapes back to London, with the help of RR employees. These men take him to Dr. Watson for help with his injuries, and Mrs. Watson lets them in. And now we learn that, with the death of Queen Victoria and the spread of electricity, Holmes has retired to the South Downs to raise bees.
Watson rides his motorcycle out to Holmes’s small farm and finds him smoking bees to calm them so he can get the honey. They laugh and smoke and reminisce. Holmes sells honey to a neighbor, Bork, and Watson tells the story of his patient, who has scars on his face and has lost his left thumb. From Victor’s horror story Holmes deduces that the compression shack is the source of counterfeit British coins, which the spies hope will damage the British monetary system.
They go to Mycroft (Boris Klyuev), who sets up a meeting for them with the Prime Minister (Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy), and warns them that since they will be among politicians rather than criminals, they must trust no one. The meeting with the P.M. is held at 221B Baker Street, which is now deserted. The meeting is unproductive for the P.M., but Sherlock learns of a missing document and the murder of Eduardo Lucas. Next stop for the reunited Holmes and Watson is the Lucas home, where a retired but still active Lestrade (Borislav Brondukov) meets them and discusses the case. A photograph of Lucas shows him to be Colonel Stark! And the photograph of his wife, who killed him, reveals her to be Helga. And Bork is actually Von Bork, a German spy.
Now, this first part is based on “His Last Bow”, but part Two is based on “The Bruce-Partington Plans”. Spies are also after plans for a super submarine that British naval experts have come up with. And a thought-to-be-loyal young man has taken the papers and then turned up dead with 7 of the 10 papers still in his pockets. The missing 3? The Bruce-Partington Plans of course. Von Bork has already amassed a huge load of secrets, partly with the help of Altamont, a disaffected Irishman. The rest of the story involves stopping Von Bork and Altamont before the secrets leave the country. This mashup of these two stories is really clever, especially since neither of them is close to the actual finish of the series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
It’s sad to say goodbye to Vasiliy Livanov and Vitaly Solomin and Rina Zelenaya, and we were only getting to know Ekaterina Zinchenko. At least we have these wonderful interpretations of favorite characters, and can continue to rewatch their adventures over and over. Thanks to all the grand talent involved in these productions!
Sadly this last disc has no English credits.

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Murdoch Mysteries: “Poor Tom Is Cold” (2004) – reviewed by George

Like the first film, the second of three TV movies introducing Detective William Murdoch to a wider audience is outstanding. Constable Oliver Wicken (Philip Graeme), Murdoch’s right-hand man in the first movie, is found dead in a shed or out-building. The body is found by Constable George Crabtree (Matthew MacFadzean) who has been sent to find Wicken since he has not reported in. The next morning Murdoch (Peter Outerbridge) and a photographer arrive and set about examining the scene. First Murdoch removes some boards from a window so that Cavendish, the photographer (Mike Bell), will have enough light. Murdoch finds that the bullet entered the right temple and exited under the left ear – very difficult angle for a suicide. But he’s a professional: he weighs the evidence thusly. Suicide – reeks of alcohol, has a note inside his helmet “Life is unbearable without your love. Please forgive me.”, his gun has been fired. Murder – the angle of the shot, Wicken was Catholic and would not kill himself, and the autopsy shows no alcohol in his body (only on his uniform) and that his most recent meal was sausage and tea, not fish and chips as the food wrapper near the body would suggest. Also the last page in his notebook says, “11:42 All secure.” And Murdoch estimates time of death at between midnight and 2 a.m.
Quickly the family which owns the outbidding falls under suspicion, but nothing can be proved, and then the Chief Coroner (Tom Anniko) refuses to let Murdoch tell the inquest jury anything about fingerprints, claiming that it has not been proved that the patterns do not change with age or with exposure to chemicals and that to prove that each person’s marks are unique you’d have to take prints from every man, woman, and child in the world. Such sweeping ignorance made me just as angry as it made Murdoch.
With Inspector Brackenreid (Colm Meaney) as stubborn and anti-science as the coroner (for instance he maintains that the lack of alcohol in Wicken’s stomach proves nothing because it could have evaporated) Murdoch really has his work cut out. His only allies are Constable Crabtree and Coroner Dr. Julia Ogden (Keeley Hawes). And two witnesses who are not afraid to come forward, a father and son. The older man is Sam Lee (Tseng Chang) and the son is Fook Lee (Albert Chung). And one other ally who can furnish some info on one or two suspects: an old friend from the first film, Ettie Watson (Flora Montgomery), who has come up in the world.
Murdoch does get back around to the family first suspected, the Eakinses: Mr Eakins (John Gilbert), his second wife (Kathleen Munroe), and his stepson Jarius Gibb (Sean Sullivan), but none of them have a motive to kill Wicken. Murdoch must keep on looking. And he truly wants to prove Wicken a murder victim, not just for himself or Wicken, but for Wicken’s devout mother (Lynne Griffin).
Constantly involving and fast-paced, this is super stuff. Enjoy!
Based on the Novel by Maureen Jennings, Story by Cal Coons & Jean Greig, Teleplay by Cal Coons & Jean Greig and Janet MacLean, Directed by Michael DeCarlo.
And “Tom” is slang for policeman.

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Hayley Mills in “The Parent Trap 2” (1986) – reviewed by George

With the twins grown up, we now have Sharon (Hayley Mills) divorced and living with her daughter Nikki Ferris (Carrie Kei Heim) in Tampa. She is planning to move the two of them to New York soon so has enrolled Nikki in summer school to make sure she can get into a school Nikki describes as posh and snobby. At summer school Nikki meets Mary Grand (Bridgette Andersen), and they are seated alphabetically (Ferris and Grand) side by side. So they have plenty of time to scheme ways for the Ferrises to stay in Tampa, and the best idea is to get their single parents together, since Bill Grand (Tom Skerritt) is a widower. Their ideas and schemes are correct for their age group, and of course nothing works. So Nikki gets the idea to call her Aunt Susan (Hayley Mills), get her to fly to Tampa and pretend to be Sharon, and get Bill to fall in love with her, then substitute Sharon. You see what I mean about their ideas being age-appropriate.
The really hard thing to fathom is why Susan agrees, except maybe because her husband and children are all out of town for the time-being, and she might as well spend some time in Tampa with Nikki, and she imagines with Sharon, but Nikki’s plans don’t allow that.
There’s a really well-choreographed scene at the supermarket where Susan and Sharon keep almost running into each other, and then when they leave, Bill’s housekeeper Florence (Gloria Cromwell), says hello to each one and then realizes something inexplicable has happened.
Susan’s pilot husband Brian Carey (Alex Harvey) shows up and adds a little confusion, but of course there’s a happy ending and Nikki and Mary can be sisters just as they planned. A good family film, and while I enjoyed it, I’m not so sure about recommending it. I think you have to decide how much you want to see a TV-movie sequel to a really fine film.
There is also a “Parent Trap 3”, and a “Parent Trap: Hawaiian Holiday”, but I can’t find either, so reviews of those films may never happen; however, I’ll keep on looking.
Based on characters from the book “das doppelie longhen” by Eric Kastner, Written by Stuart Krieger, Directed by Ronald F. Maxwell. Theme Song “Let’s Keep What We’ve Got” Music by Charles Fox, Lyrics by Hal David, Performed by Marilyn McCoo.
The credits for “The Parent Trap” spell things differently: “Das doppelte Lottchen” by Erich Kastner (which I’m pretty sure is correct).

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The Great Lie (1941) – reviewed by George

So complicated that it is going to sound illogical on the page, but the screenplay actually works well, and the story is convincing – though I agree, it is outlandish. I think it only works because of the actors and the director – cast different people and audiences will snicker, then dwindle, and the movie will die.
The famous aviator (sort of like Charles Lindbergh) Peter Van Allen (George Brent) gets married to the famous concert pianist Sandra Kovack (Mary Astor, who got the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress – partly, I’m sure, because she is dynamite synching her playing with the real pianist). The marriage is happy, though they spend a good deal of time apart due to work. Then they find out that the marriage is not legal: Sandra’s divorce had not been whatever courts have to do to divorce papers, before their marriage. One week later and everything would have been okay.
Instead of remarrying Sandra, Pete goes back down south to the Patterson plantation and marries Maggie Patterson (Bette Davis). Then he flies over the Brazilian jungle and crashes and is presumed dead. And Sandra writes him a letter that Maggie receives and opens, saying that she is pregnant. With Pete gone, Maggie suggests that the two of them go to Arizona for the birth, then Maggie will claim the child and Sandra can go back on tour.
Then Pete returns, and Maggie lets him think that the baby boy, Pete Jr., is theirs. So that’s the great lie. But with Pete alive, Sandra wants both Pete and Pete Jr, and wants Maggie to be the one to tell Pete the truth, since she’s the one who has been lying to him.
What will Pete do? Who will he choose? Well, I can almost guarantee that you will be surprised – the only thing keeping you from being surprised is the fact that I just told you that you will be.
Happy viewing!
From a Novel by Polan Banks, Screen Play by Lenore Coffee, Directed by Edmund Goulding.

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Notorious (1946) – reviewed by George

Alfred Hitchcock’s 33rd film is a spy thriller heavy on suspense.

Miami, Florida, 3:20 p.m., April the 24th, 1946.
WWII has been over for almost 10 months, but it’s hardly out of the news. A German immigrant, a Mr. Huberman, has just been tried for espionage and found guilty. His sentence: life imprisonment. His daughter Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) has already chosen her response to her father’s traitorous activities; she has become a party girl, a promiscuous drunkard.
But an American agency thinks she is perfectly situated to infiltrate a group of Nazis who escaped Germany, and the Nuremberg Trials, and are living in Brazil. Paul Prescott (Louis Calhern), the head of the agency, tells one of his agents, Devlin (Cary Grant), to get her sober, get her trained, and get her on the plane to Rio. Devlin does his job, but he can barely contain how much he despises Alicia. Is it the promiscuity? the drinking? Or just the fact that she took the job? She, however, regards the job as a lifeline, something to pull herself out of her funk, her futureless existence. Devlin, who has a cruel streak, has waited until they are in the air to tell her that her father has committed suicide. But he gets the first of many surprises about this young woman: she receives the news as freeing; she no longer has to worry about her father.
In Rio de Janiero they set up cover personalities (using their real names) and begin to appear around the city in the haunts of the leader of the Nazi group, Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains). It is only after Devlin has grudgingly fallen in love with Alicia, that Prescott tells him the plan: Alicia is to seduce Sebastian and get the information desired, the group’s planned actions.
Devlin says Alicia will never agree, but Prescott stuns him with the news that Sebastian was in love with her in Germany. So now they take a ride at Sebastian’s favorite stables, and let him recognize her, rather than appear to have laid in wait for the man. And Sebastian is still in love with Alicia and asks her to visit. When she does, he asks her to stay for a while, and she meets his mother, Mme. Sebastian (Madame Konstantin) and five top Nazis.  When Sebastian asks her to marry him and she agrees, Devlin is convinced she is still a party girl and now he hates her. But she sees this as the only way to get the information that they need. This all leads up to a very harrowing suspense scene where Devlin and Alicia try to find the clue they are sure is hidden in Sebastian’s wine cellar.
An excellent film with the Master definitely in stride.
Written by Ben Hecht, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

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The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: Season One, Special Features (2008 and 1964) – reviewed by George

  1. “Season One U.N.C.L.E. VIPs” – a 10-minute ode to the Guest Stars (2008)
    Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Richard Donner, Dean Hargrove, Joseph Sargent, and Professor Barbara Corday extol the talents of many of the guest stars for Season One, and the featurette ends with a credit roll of all the Guest Stars , alphabetized by first name, just like on this blog.
  2. “The Cloak and Swagger Affair” – a 28-minute discussion of the show (2008)
    First discussed: the origin. MGM wanted a spy series patterned after James Bond, so Norman Felton, head of Arena Productions and soon-to-be Executive Producer of U.N.C.L.E., got in touch with Ian Fleming, and met him in New York. Fleming was more interested in sharing stories of his experiences in M-1 and in the Admiralty than of thinking about doing an American TV show, but he did contribute the name: Napoleon Solo. He did not tell Felton that Solo was the name of one of the bad guys in “Goldfinger”, which was to start shooting soon (or had already started). Anyhow Felton went ahead and created a show called “Solo”, which was to premiere, in a color pilot, in September – at least until United Artists heard about it and said, “No way. ‘Goldfinger’ is our Christmas release, and you cannot use that name.” Then Ian wrote to Norman assigning to Felton all of his rights to the character named Napoleon Solo for one pound. Next, Felton involved Sam Rolfe, who created “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” However, because of the name of the hero, Rolfe was always credited as Developer of the series, not Creator. He did create U.N.C.L.E., but then so many questions were asked that he had to come up with a meaning for it.
    Dean Hargrove says that each episode had to feature “The Innocent”, which I have been calling “The Girl of the Week”, although their term is better, because one week the Innocent was played by a boy actor named Kurt Russell.
    Everyone interviewed says how much they enjoyed making the show, how it was the best times on set they ever had, and Robert Vaughn says, “It was the best four years of my life.”
    My thoughts: Obviously inspired by James Bond, but in reality nothing like Bond at all. Bond was and is a man who does not care much for others. He will rescue you if he has to, but always with a bit of disgust that he has to expend some time and energy on someone else. Sean Connery always played it tougher than Fleming wrote it, so even though Daniel Craig really loved Eva Green, the template set by Connery was certainly active during the U.N.C.L.E. years, when Solo and Kuryakin were gentlemen with senses of humor, but always gallant and brave. And while the show could be funny, both spies felt a sense of responsibility toward that week’s Innocent. They had honor, sort of a novel concept today, when only our military seems to know the word.
  3. “Solo”, the Original Pilot in Color (1964)
    The color Pilot is 1:10:06 long, and the black&white Episode One is 50:52 long, so 19 minutes and 14 seconds were cut. That sounds like a lot, but it was basically shortening and tightening. I watched the B&W pilot again just before watching the color one and it was really hard to put my finger on what I would call a cut, except in one instance (keep reading). Of course some time was saved when they replaced Will Kuluva as Mr. Allison with Leo G. Carroll as Mr. Waverly, because Kuluva had a fair amount of dialogue with Solo which was not reshot with Carroll, and Illya had less to say as well; ironic because the black&white ep promoted him to second billing. One cut that I thought should not have been made was Solo’s line to Elaine explaining THRUSH. He says, “THRUSH might be a man – or a woman – or a committee. It’s a secret international organization – very powerful and very wealthy. THRUSH has no allegiance to any country nor to any ideal. It will embark upon any undertaking it may decide is in its own interest. And when it succeeds, many many people pay a terrible price.” I guess that some of this was stated in later episodes, but never this succinctly or well.
    The billing in color was Starring Robert Vaughn, Also Starring Will Kuluva as Mr. Allison, Guest Stars Patricia Crowley as Elaine May Donaldson, Fritz Weaver as Viulcan, William Marshall as Ashumen, CoStarring Ivan Dixon as Soumarin, David McCallum as Illya. This was at the end. At the beginning only Vaughn and Crowley were listed. So while some of the film was reshot, a lot of it was used. I was prepared to say I liked one better than the other, but they are so similar there’s no way to choose. Excellent in either form – of course color is preferred, so maybe I’ve made a choice after all.
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Everybody Sing (1938) – reviewed by George

This musical comedy revolves around a wacky family of people who love to perform, even though maybe they should confine themselves to plays at home. Now, some in the household are talented, like the cook Ricky Saboni (Allan Jones) and the maid Olga Chekaloff (Fanny Brice) and younger daughter Judy Bellaire (Judy Garland). But Mama Diana Bellaire (Billie Burke) is a florid, gesturing actress and papa Hillary Bellaire (Reghinald Owen) is an awful playwright. And Diana’s live-in costar Jerrold Hope (Reginald Gardiner) is hopeless.
The older daughter Sylvia (Lynne Carver) is realistic about the stage, but is in love with the cook and loves that he sings so well (to her).
Judy gets expelled from her exclusive school (though you wonder how Hillary can afford it) for singing swing instead of Mendelsohn, and that starts a series of crises. Ricky is actually supporting the family with the money he earns singing at the nightclub of Signor Vittorino (Henry Armetta) and that is how Judy’s school was getting paid for. Now the parents want to send Judy to school in Europe and Ricky gives Hilary a loan. But Judy sneaks off the ship and goes to Vittorino for a job.
Things get more nutty after that.
Garland was considered a sure star and the picture was sold as her springboard (and of course that was true), but Jones and Brice are certainly responsible for a lot of the memorable moments in the film. The best song in the show (to me) is “The One I Love”, which Jones gets to sing several times. He also gets to sing “Show Must Go On” on opening night for the show financed by Signor Vittorino. These two songs have lyrics by Gus Kahn and music by Kaper and Jurmann. And Brice has a wonderful number “Quainty Dainty Me”, with music and lyrics by Kalmar and Ruby.
Judy does a modernized version of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in blackface, and seems to think that it’s a realistic disguise (it isn’t) and that she won’t be recognized (she is). But she sings and swings so well that Ricky and Vittorino give her the job anyway (not realizing she has run away from home, or Europe, or whatever). For me the biggest laugh in the show was when Olga tells the police that she and Judy will follow them, and suddenly turns tail and strikes out for who knows? Maybe Connecticut.
A movie 80 years old is bound to have some problems, but overall, if you can get past the blackface, you will find something here to like.
Original Story and Screen Play by Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf, Directed by Edwin L. Marin.

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