Three Little Words
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Three Little Words (DVD)
Fred Astaire, Vera-Ellen and Red Skelton star in this musical biography based on the lives and career of one of the United States' greatest songwriting teams--Three Little Words. From the moment they meet, lyricist and vaudeville star Bert Kalmar (Astaire--Silk Stockings, Easter Parade, Top Hat) and piano player and song huckster Harry Ruby (Skelton--"The Red Skelton Show") are destined for great things. The two have nothing in common except, together, the ability to craft chart-topping songs and the lifelong friendship that grows between them. Now, through work, women, setbacks and success these two reach the heights of their profession and overcome a rift that threatens to divide them forever.]]>
Three Little Words (1950) was an example of Hollywood's late-'40s/early-'50s interest in the lives of famous songwriters. Fred Astaire plays vaudeville dancer Bert Kalmar, whose act with Jessie Brown (Vera-Ellen) runs aground due to his interest in magic acts and a backstage accident. While in rehab, he meets composer Harry Ruby (Red Skelton), and the two discover a knack for writing Tin Pan Alley songs, then Broadway shows, together. There's some mild conflict in their lives as portrayed in film, but mostly the movie is an excuse to pull out a slew of Kalmar & Ruby songs such as "Who's Sorry Now," "My Sunny Tennessee," "Nevertheless," "I Wanna Be Loved by You," and the title tune. Vera-Ellen is an excellent partner for Astaire, and the relatively restrained Skelton puts in a good performance. Also appearing are Arlene Dahl as a musical actress, Gloria De Haven as her own mother, a young Debbie Reynolds as Boop-a-Doop girl Helen Kane, and the real Harry Ruby as a baseball player playing catch with Skelton, the movie Harry Ruby. Three Little Words isn't one of the great MGM musicals of its era, but it's an entertaining picture, especially for fans of Astaire. --David Horiuchi
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The movie takes us thru a decade of their partnership, as they unveil classic standards such "My Sunny Tennessee," "Who's Sorry Now?," "Nevertheless," "All Alone Monday," and the intoxicating "Thinking of You." Along the way, we get to see Kalmar's fixation with magic and Ruby's baseball mania. We also witness the duo engage in minor and major spats, actually resulting in an estrangement between the two, which isn't resolved until the movie's final act when Kalmar finally produces lyrics to a longtime unusable Ruby tune.
Let's face it: no one does hats, top coats, and tails better than Fred Astaire. But, going into it, Fred Astaire and Red Skelton didn't seem, at first, to be the sexy choice to play Kalmar and Ruby (especially Skelton), but the end result doesn't lie. Astaire and Skelton make it work beautifully. Three Little Words is a funny, touching, nostalgic musical bio which I've seen so many times I've got the order of the songs (and most of the lyrics) memorized. In the Astaire film lexicon, this film might not rank up there in critics' eyes, but in my humble opinion, this fun blast from the past is right up there in terms of entertainment value. Red Skelton, who I usually think is one note, raucous, and borderline annoying, here is more subdued and hams it up less. He actually acts! Fred, who must tie with Bruce Lee as filmdom's top two actors with 1% body fat, is spry and elegant as usual. On the dance floor, he is sublime. And when he sings, he has better phrasing and more sincerity than Bing Crosby. Fred Astaire makes everything he does look effortless.
The supporting cast is excellent. Vera-Ellen nicely complements Fred on and off the dance floor. As Jessie Brown, Vera-Ellen is pretty, understanding, and down to earth, while her excellent dancing is at times exuberant ("Mr. and Mrs. Hoofer at Home" and "Come On, Papa") and at times enchantingly balletic ("Thinking of You"). Red-headed Arlene Dahl is beautiful and classy as actress Eileen Percy, and, as a bonus, she can carry a tune ("I Love You So Much"). The dependable Keenan Wynn is, well, dependable. Gloria de Haven fills in for her mother, who was the first to introduce the song "Who's Sorry Now?", while a young Debbie Reynolds makes her MGM debut as Boop-Boop-a-Doop girl Helen Kane.
Because Kalmar and Ruby got along so well and had no real animosity between them, it was decided to create a subplot to explain the 5 years in which they didn't collaborate. The real reason was that both Kalmar and Ruby were busy with their own different projects, but, of course, that wouldn't wash in filmdom. So, the whole storyline of Kalmar's Broadway play and what Ruby did about it was fabricated. Another fabrication was the running subplot of the title tune, which supposedly gestated for 10 years before becoming a song. In real life, "Three Little Words" was written a lot faster than that and became an instant standard. Another fake scenario was the street scene where Kalmar and Ruby encounter Helen Kane, while hashing out "I Wanna Be Loved By You" on a sidewalk piano. Never happened. Of course, you can't deny the fact that all these made up scenes did make the movie more interesting.
The Special Features include the great and informative 15 minute featurette "Three Little Words: Two Swell Guys," "Roaming Through Michigan," a Fitzpatrick Traveltalk short, the classic cartoon "Ventriloquist Cat," a theatrical trailer, and the audio-only bonus "Paula Stone's Hollywood USA Radio Promo" (wherein she talks with Harry Ruby and Fred Astaire).
Three Little Words is an overlooked musical that stands up really well to the test of time. It is chock full of great songs (some of which you'll recognize, even if you don't know from where). It stars a legendary performer (who couldn't wait to play the role of Bert Kalmar) and a wonderful, enthusiastic supporting cast. It is also unashamedly nostalgic and hokey. What a fun movie!
A flick (like the new Porter bioflick) I'm going to watch again.
And there's music, dance, laughter, and tears too. What's not to love?
Most recent customer reviews
Musical about songwriters Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar.
Not a serious biography, but rather selection of some moments in their life.Read more