I Love Melvin (DVD Review)9 May, 2011 By: Mike Clark
Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Stars Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Una Merkel, Richard Anderson, Allyn Joslin.
Saying I love Melvin would be a stretch, but I do really like it a bunch — in a 77-minute quickie kind of way. And yes, there are even a couple numbers here that I love.
But let’s back up. Singin’ in the Rain opened on Apr 11, 1952, and just one month later MGM had this most unpretentious Technicolor spinoff in production, showcasing two of that all-timer’s stars: Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. He plays a Look magazine photographer of the day not named Stanley Kubrick (otherwise, the movie’s title would be different), and she is a show biz hopeful who, in one Broadway gig, gets literally tossed around like a football in a pigskin-motifed musical number, a fairly amazing scene. OK, Eddie Fisher: go out for a long one.
There really isn’t room for a whole lot of story, given the amount of screen time devoted to singing and dancing. Judy (Reynolds) lives in a New York apartment with her mother and a square pharmacist father (Allyn Joslin in suspenders) who’d like her to hook up with a rich dip who likes her (Richard Anderson). There’s also a kid sis named Clarabelle, which can’t have been an unmindful screenwriter concoction, given the ‘50s ubiquitousness of Clarabell the Clown on daily broadcasts of "The Howdy Doody Show." A tagalong on Melvin-Judy dates, she’s played (in a sweet performance) by Noreen Corcoran, who was later cast as John Forsythe’s niece in the hit TV show "Bachelor Father" once puberty ran its course.
Melvin (O’Connor) has become almost instantly smitten and, through a stunt/gesture that goes haywire, unintentionally leads Judy to believe she is going to make the front of Look. This leads to our being treated to a sometimes amusing montage of what are supposed to be bona fide Look covers, which end up showcasing Lana Turner, Spencer Tracy and (in a smaller shot) Lionel Barrymore — a case of MGM doing product placement of its own product. Further in this vein, Robert Taylor shows up to play himself at the end of a dream sequence, and there’s a very strange scene where Reynolds dances with six men — three in Fred Astaire masks and three in Gene Kelly counterparts.
One of the two standout numbers (“A Lady Loves”; also featured in That’s Entertainment! III) opens the picture, and it’s proof that Reynolds could be glamorous if the situation demanded, even if everyone involved had to work at it some. The other is fairly close to socko: the stars’ “Where Did You Learn To Dance?” duet, performed in Judy’s living room. In a way, it is a marvel of (Robert Alton) choreography, given how much spectacularly in-synch dancing O’Connor and Reynolds are able to pull off in very cramped quarters. Just before this movie came out, Doris Day had had a hit recording of “Mister Tap Toe” — which Captain Kangaroo, of all people, would later revive from time to time on his show. She could have been singing about O’Connor, though Reynolds matches him.
Given the Technicolor source, the remastering results in an eye-filler, though sometimes the skin tones are a little ruddy. Melvin is the kind of modest mid-range sleeper that Hollywood long ago lost the ability or inclination to make, though the short running time meant that the early crackhead 1953 film booker in my town had to supply a co-feature: in this case Vittorio Gassman and Gloria Grahame in The Glass Wall, which Sony featured last year on Vol. 1 of Bad Girls of Film Noir. Given Debbie’s presence, Melvin is more like a candidate for a Good Girls Whose Dads Wear Suspenders box.
One other thing: This movie’s New York location footage shows how much things changed over a four-year period that included Louis B. Mayer’s firing. When MGM filmed 1949’s On the Town, only Gene Kelly’s clout was able to finagle a very few days of Apple location work. Here, we get Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge and a lot more non-backlot material than you’d expect on a frugal budget.