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The Bickering Critics – Anita and George

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Quartet 2012 Reviewed by Anita ***

Dustin Hoffman outdid himself directing the British comedy-drama Quartet. Get a cup of tea and some biscuits, and settle down for a wonderful movie.

So, this is what happens: the Beecham House is a home for retired musicians, opera singers, artists, writers, directors, actors, play writes, the whole wide world of art and her artisans. This incredible retirement center is in need of money to keep going so they plan a concert on Verdi’s birthday. Just as luck would have it their event coincides with the arrival of opera diva Jean (Maggie Smith). She has realized she needs to move to a home such as Beecham House and is not exactly excited about the move. Residents are thrilled, Jean is famous for being part of Rigoletto and they intend to have her perform it again with the 3 singers she originally performed with. Jean is having none of it; she is committed to never singing again. Her fear of long-lost prime and not being what she was stops her.  Jean is afraid of sullying the memory of her once-lovely voice.

Aside of the challenge residents have convincing Jean to sing, there is one resident who is deeply effected by Jean’s moving to Beecham and that is her ex-husband Reginald (Tom Courtenav). Sadly the unlucky couple was married a grueling 9 hours around 40 years ago and Reginald has not moved on.

That’s the meat of this hilarious British comedy-drama. Each cast member is a real retired or currently working performer. Not just the main cast is top-notch players; so are the supporting actors and players. Be sure to watch the credits in full and see just how many are involved in this film. Side by-lines stories and personal challenges of our main characters are well woven into the overall story. Themes such as age, loss of memory and endings are handled with class and sensitivity while keeping you smiling all along.  If you’re in the mood for a charming comedy give Quartet a try. Its different and I love it!

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The Veil 2017 Reviewed by Anita *

Not the best film I’ve seen, but it works in this genre.  Director Brent Ryan Green attempts to tell a story about a Warrior (William Levy) who is on a war path. Our hero is left for dead after his tribe is brutally massacred. He is healed by the princess (Alexandra Harris) of a hidden tribe. She is convinced he is the savior they have been waiting for.

The whole story takes place in an American post-apocalyptic theme. A war-torn land where tribal factions live in fear and annihilation, aka Thunder Dome. Warrior—yes that is the character’s name—gets a fire lit under him by the fair Desert Princess and rises to the defense of the oppressed civilization in the final war for a dying world. Predictable as they come, our ‘savior’ turns on his own people.

The Veil is over-reaching. Story line is a mess and underachieving. More like a huge ball of cellulose film that works better in the can as a paper weight for big legal files. I was beginning to wonder is it was taking place on an alien planet, maybe an alternate Earth? Then I reasoned, nooo there aren’t any aliens. The only support I have for this scenario is one lone sky shot, however it is weak support at best. I also didn’t really like any of the characters or their performances. And trust me it is sadly lacking in the humor department—BIG TIME. I did like the make-up and wardrobe though.  Hence one *. Let’s just say, this Netflix original can stay on the suggestion line.

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Meghan Markle in “When Sparks Fly” (2014) – reviewed by George

I watched “Suits” for a few seasons, but quit before Meghan Markle joined the cast. So when I discovered that she had appeared in movies for the Hallmark Channel, I wanted to see some. In this sweet-but-not-sticky romance she does a fine job as Amy Peterson, journalist for a Seattle newspaper, while living with her parents in Lakeside, a small town outside the big city. She has plenty of girlfriends, chief among them Sammie Harper (Kristina Pesic), and a boyfriend Hank Lyons (Christopher Jacot). She also makes time to help her parents Charlie and Gloria (Keith MacKechnie and Jacqueline Samuda) with their pyrotechnic business, setting up fireworks displays for various public and private functions.
On the first date with Hank shown, they have left a larger group to walk out on a wooden dock and talk. Hank actually has the ring box in his hand, carefully extracted from a hip pocket, but before he can speak Amy gives him her news: she has accepted a job offer from a Chicago paper, and will leave tomorrow.
Seven years later Amy is preparing to return home for July the Fourth, both to see her folks and to help them with the annual Lakeside July Fourth fireworks spectacular, when Sammie calls to say that she is engaged and wants Amy to be her maid of honor, and Amy is happy to agree. So she says goodbye to her boyfriend Phil (Lochlyn Munro), who promises to join her there as soon as he can, to meet her parents.
You already know the identity of Sammie’s husband-to-be, but there are more complications: a sewer line break downtown is going to cost a fortune to repair so the mayor regretfully cancels the fireworks display to save the city the costs, but Charlie and Gloria have designed the display and ordered the stuff, which is already in transit – they can’t cancel the order and so face losing the business.
And then Phil arrives as sparks are flying between Amy and Hank…
Romances are always predictable, so execution is the prime requirement, and this film is very well done in every department.
Written by Carol Starr Schneider, Directed by Gary Yates.

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Richard Chamberlain as Philippe in “The Man in the Iron Mask” (1976) – reviewed by George

This remake has a wealth of changes, all of which are good. Dumas wouldn’t think so, but I think they add to the suspense, although the first change doesn’t make much sense: that is that Philippe is the first-born son and the rightful ruler. Then why was he the one hidden away out in the country?
The film begins with Philippe being kidnapped from a country home and locked up in the Bastille with no idea why. One day Louise (Jenny Agutter) comes to the Bastille to visit her father, imprisoned by Fouquet (Patrick McGoohan) because she would not consent to be his mistress. Her visit is by permission of Minister Fouquet, so he may think that seeing her father in prison will change her mind and then her father can go free. Philippe is in the adjoining cell and he calls her over to give her something for her father. When she sees him she reacts with shock, and he says, “Who? Who do I look like?” But before she can answer, Fouquet’s toady Duval (Ian Holm), who accompanied her as far as the entrance to the cells, bursts in and says that her five minutes are up. She whirls away from the window, but Duval has seen and goes to look. He is even more startled, and Philippe says, “What is it? Who do you see?” But no answer is forthcoming.
At the palace of King Louis XIV, Versailles, people are gathering, and Duval rushes to report to Fouquet. Colbert (Ralph Richardson) and D’Artagnan (Louis Jourdan) can hardly hide their disgust: Fouquet has robbed the Treasury and poured the money into his own palace at Vaux, and they think the foolish King must be removed, but acting against him must be the last recourse.
Now Fouquet goes to the Bastille to see for himself, and afterwards gives orders that no one is to see this prisoner without his express permission. Cut to King Louis (also Richard Chamberlain) playing croquet and courtiers fawning over how well he acquits himself at the game.
Shockingly Colbert and D’Artagnan are the ones who put Philippe in prison, thinking he would be safer there. Now Fouquet tells the King about Philippe and reminds him that Philippe, as the first born, is the true King. Louis will not permit the shedding of royal blood, feeling that if Philippe is wounded the wound will show up on Louis’s body as well. After all, Fouquet says they have identical birthmarks on the left shoulder.
Louis orders the mask, and Philippe is taken to an island castle which will be his prison, and there the mask is placed on him, and he is imprisoned again, screaming, “WHY?”
Louis returns to his accustomed cruelty towards everyone, but especially to his wife Maria Theresa (Vivian Merchant) and to a lesser extent his mother Anne of Austria (Brenda Bruce).
Colbert and D’Artagnan try a daring rescue and then D’Artagnan spends a long time teaching Philippe dueling, dancing, and all the pursuits that royals enjoy.
All leads up to the fateful party at which Philippe will take Louis’s place, and a very exciting sequence involves Fouquet finding out the small difference between the King’s new costume and the duplicate made for Philippe by the same tailor.
A very good version, with a new outlook on the basic story elements. Chamberlain is exceptional at playing two very different men, and everyone in the cast gets very high marks.
Based on the Novel by Alexandre Dumas, Screenplay by William Bast, Directed by Mike Newell.

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Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (2017) – reviewed by George

A 22-minute short now available on DVD with a selection of 6 other Disney cartoons relating to Christmas or winter.
Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) and Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel) are thrilled that Arendelle is about to enjoy the first official celebration of Christmas in many years – at least until talking to their people, who all have family traditions for Christmas, making them realize that the royal family has no traditions at all.
So Olaf the snowman (voice of Josh Gad) gets Sven the reindeer and goes around the kingdom asking families about their traditions, while singing the absolutely delightful song “That Time of Year”. And there are two huge laughs during this: one when Olaf says, “That seems safe.” and one when Oaken (voice of Chris Williams) says, “Take mine.” Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff) is also featured and gets a song, and the final song sung by the sisters is a very touching knockout called “When We’re Together”. Wonderful Christmas viewing, but really great all year round.

The other cartoons: Donald and Goofy in “”Polar Trappers” (1938)
The guys are trapping seals, walruses, and caribou to bring ’em back alive, but Donald is tired of eating beans, so goes out to trap a penguin for breakfast. Good use of “The March of the Toys”, and of course no penguins are harmed.

“Winter” (1930) B&W
Hibernating bears, ice skating reindeer, a little bear that looks like Mickey waking up a grown bear to dance with, a swimming moose, and finally Mrs. Groundhog coming out to see if she has a shadow.

Donald Duck in “The Hockey Champ” (1939)
Donald is ice skating spectacularly. He stops in a spray of ice crystals and says. “Who is this Sonja Henie?” He adjusts his cap and head feathers to simulate Sonja’s looks and takes off again. He finds his nephews playing hockey and challenges them to a game and he is amazing. Then he gets braggadocious and almost deserves what happens to him.

Goofy in “The Art of Skiing – pronounced SHEEing” (1943)
As the narrator describes the sport, the equipment, the skills of its proponents, Goofy instantly and cheerfully does the opposite. I’ve seen this a couple times before , and it always makes me laugh.

“Once Upon a Wintertime” from “Melody Time” (1948), Sung by Frances Langford
This segment of a feature film which consisted of seven such musical shorts is a wonderful mix of romance and humor, with the human couple’s reactions mirrored by a rabbit boy and girl. And when the girls get in trouble, it’s not the boys who rescue them but the horses attached to the sleigh, plus birds and squirrels. With stylized artwork, and movement timed beautifully to the music, this is particularly charming.

“Pluto’s Christmas Tree” (1952)
Mickey and Pluto go to the forest for a Christmas tree and manage to get one with Chip and Dale living in it. The chipmunks, one sweet and dumb, the other crafty and mean, disrupt Christmas and taunt Pluto by breaking ornaments and so on. Too bad to end a positive review of great material with a Chip ‘n’ Dale cartoon, but such is life. Luckily this dvd has 6 great animated shorts on it, especially “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” which can be highly recommended. And if you think the chipmunks mirror the small against the large, or the weak against the strong, or the child against the adult, you’re right as long as the small weak child is carrying an assault rifle.

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The Brass Bottle (1963) – reviewed by George

Allegedly this was the inspiration for “I Dream of Jeannie”, which debuted in 1965. Seems more likely to me that the TV program was conceived and then Barbara Eden was cast because of this movie. And further nosing about uncovers the fact that this film is a remake, indeed a second remake of “The Brass Bottle” 1914, with Lawrence Grossmith as Harold Ventimore, and “The Brass Bottle” 1923, with Harry Myers as Harold Ventimore. At any rate, this is good fun with lots of laughs and very good special effects.
Harold Ventimore (Tony Randall) is an architect working at a firm owned by William  Beevor (Philip Ober), and he is in love with Sylvia Kenton (Barbara Eden), the daughter of a known expert on ancient cultures of the Mideast, Professor Kenton (Edward Andrews). Harold has recently returned from a trip to Paris where he met a couple of artistic bent (he sculpts, she poses), Seymour (Richard Erdman) and Hazel (Kathie Browne) Jenks, who have returned to live with Harold and work in his house.
The film begins with a deliveryman carrying a large object (about five feet tall) of vase-like shape wrapped in clear plastic. He delivers it to the offices of Mr. Beevor, and when Harold sees it, he says, “Oh, my kum-kum came!” He then explains to the secretary and the delivery man that a kum-kum was used by the ancient Arabians to carry rose water. He also cheerfully reveals that it is a present for Sylvia’s parents: “He’s an Egyptologist and he’ll surely like it.”
But Mr. Beevor declares the bottle a fake. “These cheap knockoffs are turned out by the thousands.” Well, Harold still wraps it and takes it with him to dinner at the Kentons. Sylvia opens the door, and Harold sees an identical object, decorative motifs and all, obviously just purchased on the trip and fitted out as a table lamp – a large table lamp. So back to the car he goes. Also note that Professor Kenton despises Harold, despite the fact that Mrs. Kenton (Ann Doran) tries to keep him civil for Sylvia’s sake.
Back home after the dinner Harold tries to take off the bottle’s lid so he can make a lamp, but the lid is very firmly attached. When he does get it off, he falls back on the floor and hits his head as green smoke comes out of the lamp (for that is what it already is), and when Harold raises up there is the genie Fakrash (Burl Ives – the real star of the movie).
Now Fakrash takes over Harold’s life, providing him with things he does not want, like the gorgeous genie Tezra-el-Jamal (Kamala Devi), and things he didn’t know he wanted, like getting the Jenkses out of the house, and things he definitely wants, like a firm of his own building houses for Mr. Samuel Wackerbath (Parley Baer), and the hand of Sylvia Kenton, which involves the retooling of the Professor.
Special effects are seldom this smile-provoking, and the color is beautiful, as are Barbara, Kamala, and Kathie.
Music by Bernard Green, Based on the Novel by F. Anstey, Screenplay by Oscar Brodney, Directed by Harry Keller.

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Eye in the Sky (2015) – reviewed by George

I feel kind of stupid that I had never heard of this almost-four-year-old movie or its rationale before I rented it, which happened because Helen Mirren is the star. Well, it’s an important film with an important point to make, which is clearly and cleanly set up in the film.
The moral dilemma, as succinctly as I can state it, is this: You know that in a house in Nairobi, Kenya a meeting is taking place, attended by three of the top 5 terrorists in the world, according to the United States Terrorist Watch List. You can use an unmanned drone to deliver a missile and take out the 3 and the people they are meeting, but the house has walls on three separate streets, all busy with the foot traffic of the day’s business. How much collateral damage are you willing to accept? Five people? Fifty people?
And then the people assigned to Drone Control, become aware that a girl of about ten years is selling bread at the outside wall on the side street, where the house has no windows. Suddenly the whole mission takes on a kind of feeling of impossibility.
So you may have made up your mind – call off the mission. But then the smallest drone you’ve ever seen: the shape and size of what it looks like, a black beetle, is flown into the house through an open window and is used to identify conclusively the people inside – and a discovery is made. In one room are suicide vests and explosives and this could be the nexus of a new terror attack that could kill 80 or 90 people in a shopping bazaar, say. So estimates of collateral damage take on a new scary importance. But the child’s presence has given collateral damage a new meaning for most of the people involved. So they send the guy operating the beetle-drone to buy her bread, so she’ll go home. And you’d think as soon as she’s out of range, you could fire. But there are two governments involved and one of the reps of one wants the whole thing called off. So higher and higher government staffers get involved. And the basic problem is that no one can really say yes or no, to how much collateral damage is acceptable, to how much do we want these people dead, or even to what’s it worth to prevent the suicide attackers? One character says that if the bombers kill 80 people, WE win the publicity war. That was hard to hear. And while the argument goes on unresolved – the little girl comes back with more bread.
I urge you to see this and make up your own mind. No matter how much you’re convinced of what you’d do right now – watching this film and hearing the various arguments – you just might change your mind. And it’s the easiest way to find out whether they fire the missile or not, because I’m not telling.
The film stars Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Jeremy Northam, Phoebe Fox, Armaan Haggio, Aisha Takow, Monica Dolan, Richard McCabe, Babou Ceesay, John Heffernan, Michael O’Keefe, Laila Robins, James Willet, Aaron Paul, Faisa Hassan, and Iain Glen. It was written by Guy Hibbert and was directed by Gavin Hood. And it is suspenseful AND thought-provoking, a truly rare combination.

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Richard Roxburgh as Sherlock Holmes in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (2002) – reviewed by George

Wow! I was not looking forward to this because we have had so many versions of this story, but the creators here have come up with something so exciting, so scary, that it ends up being the best Hound so far. And it’s not the beast so much as the settings and the lighting and the general air of danger. And the script is seriously good.
No red-herring Laura Lyons to slow things down, no apologetic demeanor from the Barrymores, just hysterics from Mrs. Barrymore when they get found out, and the grim smell of death throughout.
The film begins with the autopsy of Sir Charles Baskerville by Doctor Mortimer (the great John Nettles, completely different from Barnaby of Midsomer) and moves quickly to the inquest where mood is established by Mortimer’s reluctance to tell the precise truth of his observations, which we see, and by the bad weather on, and sharp winds from, the moors, necessitating closure of a window near Mortimer.
Later, as the magistrate is announcing his verdict of natural causes, everyone is startled by alarm bells signaling a prison escape. The escapee, Selden (Paul Kynman), gets caught in the Grimpen Mire and is sinking, but manages to reach a gnarled low-lying limb and pull himself slowly, arduously out. One of the pursuing guards is not so lucky, but his cries for help are answered by another guard, and Selden watches as first one man and then the other are sucked down into the mire and drowned.
Back in London Holmes has granted an interview to Dr. Mortimer, who proceeds to tell Holmes and Dr. Watson (Ian Hart) of the inquest and how he omitted information (lied), and then he tells them the Legend of the Hound: Sir Hugo accused his wife of infidelity and beat her mercilessly. She fled across the moors with her husband in furious pursuit, and when he caught her, her killed her. But her devoted hound had followed and it tore out Hugo’s throat even as Hugo killed it with his hunting knife. The legend says that ever since, the hound has plagued the family by prowling the moors and piteously crying with blazing eyes and drooling jaws. Many members of the family have died suddenly, mysteriously, bloodily. And, Mortimer adds, Barrymore lied on the stand: He said he saw no marks around the body, “but I did – footprints.”
Holmes: “Of a man or a woman?”
Mortimer: “Of a gigantic hound.”
And then Holmes is dismissive as he says, “I have only investigated in the material world.” And Mortimer retorts, “I am not asking you to investigate the death of Sir Charles.”
“What then?”
“I want you to tell me what to do about Sir Henry Baskerville, the next of kin who arrives at Euston Station in 50 minutes time.”
So you see, in such a brief description of the beginning of the film, that very wonderful changes have been wrought, but you cannot know how the end of the drama involves a veritable symphony of death (although looks can be deceiving), and how changes have increased the suspense to the point that you may forget to breathe.
Others in the cast: Matt Day plays Sir Henry, Geraldine James plays Mrs. Mortimer, Ron Cook and Liza Tarbuck play the Barrymores, Neve McIntosh plays Beryl Stapleton, and Richard E. Grant is both excellent and surprising as Mr. Stapleton. Plus Inspector Lestrade (Danny Webb) is called in by Holmes for the finish.
And it would be difficult to oversell Roxburgh and Hart, who are simply superior as Holmes and Watson.
I hope I have piqued your curiosity because I really want to share this marvelous film with as many of you as I can.
From the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Screenplay by Allan Cubitt, Directed by David Attwood.

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The Masked Singer – Season One on Fox Now – reviewed by George

This show is really fun, even though it’s a bit slow. Six disguised celebrities sing while in outrageous costumes. They are paired in three separate competitions and the votes of the audience and the panel determine which one in each pair will survive to sing again. BUT they don’t eliminate three people on each show, only one of the “bottom three” will be dismissed, after being unmasked. And again the dismissal is the result of voting.
So far the two people unmasked have been (in episode 1) Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers and (last night in episode 2) Tommy Chong. I was surprised at Antonio’s unmasking – I thought he sang really well, which is supposed to be the criterion for survival. Tommy sang okay, but his dismissal might have had more to do with too much information in the Clues voiceover where the celebrity talks about career stuff before singing. Chong identified himself as an OG (older gentleman) and one of the judges, Jenny McCarthy, immediately said “Cheech”. So when he sang the judges were already saying stuff like, “Not a professional singer”, as if that were meaningful in this competition. The whole point is the unmasking and subsequent surprise.
Now why did I say “slow”? Well, the first competition last night carried us to minute 23 and the second to minute 37. There’s a little too much time spent on the judges and their guessing the identity of each one of the six singers. This must be why the songs seem so short. I have to tell you that in the voiceover part the celebrity’s voice is distorted, but when they sing – that’s really them (supposedly).
Last night the Poodle pretty much identified herself as gay, but I use “herself” with caution: Jenny thought it was RuPaul. I think the Poodle is too short for RuPaul, but what do I know? Also, the Bee said she wanted to sing for a new generation, and when asked by Judge Nicole Scherzinger when she started singing (they always get one pointed question, and the judges seem to take turns asking), the reply was “in the 50s”. The other judges are Robin Thicke and Ken Jeong. And the host is Nick Cannon.
I like this a lot, and will be there at the final ep, cheering for a second season.
I must mention one commercial from the show which really impressed me: a camel wanders around an office full of people working at desks, and asks over and over, “Do you know what day it is?” Turns out it’s Hump Day. I love it.

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George Burns and Gracie Allen in “A Damsel in Distress” (1937) – reviewed by George

The staff of Lord Marshmorton (Montagu Love) has gathered in the servants’ quarters of Tottney Castle to set up a sweepstakes regarding whom Lady Alyce (Joan Fontaine), the Lord’s daughter, will marry. Keggs (Reginald Gardiner) has written the names of the most likely men, the “eligibles”, on slips of paper and placed them in a top hat so that everyone can draw one. The prize will be the sum of all the monies paid by the subscribers – those who wish to draw, which is everyone, even young Albert (Harry Watson). But the con: Keggs has placed the slip with the most likely name in the hatband, and he draws last and extracts what he is sure will be the name of the winner. Young Albert has a most unlikely name, so he challenges Keggs in front of the assemblage, saying that he should have a slip with no name in case she marries someone not on Keggs’s “Eligibles” list. And he actually gets a new slip  with “Mr. X” written on it.
Cut to George and Gracie in their office in London, where they work as the publicity man and his secretary for Jerry Halliday (Fred Astaire), the American song and dance man currently appearing on stage there. Of course Gracie is doing everything wrong – she speaks on the phone, and turns to George and says, “He’s Hawaiian. He says he’s brown from the morning sun.” Meanwhile Jerry is trying to get to the office and is being mobbed by crowds of women, so that when he arrives he fires them (“No more publicity! No more publicity man!”) and says he’s tired of women chasing him. George argues that as long as the show is selling out every night.., and Jerry says he’s through and leaves.
Lady Alyce is walking down the sidewalk in front of the office building and has to contend with getting through the crowd waiting for Jerry. She wonders what’s going on, but then we see that she is being followed by Keggs, who has heard she’s actually in love with an American ski jumper, and he wants to protect his investment in the sweepstakes. And Keggs is being followed by Albert, who is rooting for the American. Jerry struggles through the crowd and enters his cab, and as it stops at the next corner, Alyce sees Keggs and jumps in the cab with Jerry, involving Jerry with both Keggs and a burly London bobby. But before the bobby gets involved Albert sticks his head in the cab and tells Jerry, “Don’t give her up. We’re gonna win!” Jerry escapes arrest by joining a busker who is performing one of the songs from his current show, the great number “(I’m Dancing and) I Can’t Be Bothered Now”.
The name Keggs has saved for himself is Reggie (Ray Noble), in love with Alyce and actually living in Tottney with the family. Reggie has the total support of Marshmorton’s sister Lady Caroline (Constance Collier).
There’s a wonderful dance number for George, Gracie, and Fred – really super stuff. Then later the three of them do a longer dance with a song for Gracie (“Stiff Upper Lip, Stout Fellow”) while they’re at an amusement park. They perform on great large studio sets simulating fun houses with moving floors. And Fred finally dances with Joan as he sings “Things Are Looking Up” outdoors on the castle grounds. And still to come are Fred’s versions of  “A Foggy Day” and “Nice Work if You Can Get It”.
This is a really good musical with a good amount of comedy and some songs which were new at the time, and are now firmly ensconced in the American Song Book.
Music and Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, Dances Directed by Hermes Pan, From the Story by P.G. Wodehouse, Screen Play by P.G. Wodehouse and Ernest Pagano and S.K. Lauren, Directed by George Stevens.

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