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Ethel Merman's only film version of one of her stage hits!
on February 8, 2004
After too many years locked away in the vaults, the movie version of CALL ME MADAM is finally getting released on DVD.
This is the only time Ethel Merman did a faithful screen re-creation of one of her famous Broadway roles. Sadly she was passed over for the film of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN when the role was assigned to first to Judy Garland, then to Betty Hutton. And her greatest stage role, Madame Rose, went To Rosalind Russell in the movie of GYPSY. In an interview with Miss Merman she explained "the studios, in those days, they wanted picture names..but when they got to CALL ME MADAM I guess they figured they'd take a chance on me." Some chance. MADAM had played 644 performances on Broadway and had been acclaimed a big hit.
The story, a lightly satirical look at international politics was inspired by Harry Truman's appointment of Pearl Mesta as Ambassador to Luxembourg. It was rumoured that Pearl got the assignment by being a great party-giver. So, Howard Lindsay & Russell Crouse created Mrs. Sally Adams, a wealthy Oklahoma widow who gravitates to Washington and thanks to her parties is appointed ambassador to Lichtenburg. The movie retains much of what worked on stage but embellishes it with some additional funny scenes.
Best of all most of the Broadway score is retained: "The Hostess With the Mostes'"; "Can You Use Any Money Today"; "Marrying for Love"; "It's a Lovely Day Today"; "Something to Dance About"; "The Best Thing for You" and the showstopping "You're Just in Love." Added to the movie are two old Berlin standards, "The International Rag" and "What Chance Have I with Love" which becomes a hilarious dance routine for Donald O'Connor.
O'Connor also gets to dance to "Something to Dance About" with Vera Ellen. Since the two secondary leads were played by dancers, the movie allows them to develop their romance through dance and its an effective change. It also takes some of the emphasis off Merman.
Ethel is still very much the star of the picture. Belting out the songs and delivering the comic zingers with panache. It is still a very theatrical performance....you still have the sense she is playing to the back row of the balcony. But that is was Merman was all about, and that is why the film is an important document.
Some of her best lines:
Congressman: When will you arrive at your post?
Sally: I'm not sure. Where the heck is Lichtenburg??
Congressman: Sally, you wouldn't like me to make a little farewell speech tonight?
Sally: That's right. I WOULDN'T!
Grand Duke: Tell me - How does this reception differ from your famous Washington parties?
Sally: Well WE have good time!
And in the best musical comdy tradition, everything works out in time for a happy ending. Now that CALL ME MADAM is finally getting back into circulation we have a happy ending too!
(Now..if only Decca would reissue the movie soundtrack album!)