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Thursday, September 03, 2015

Swing Has Swung at Fox

Do You Love Me (1946) Looks To Crooner Takeover

An unintended seeing-out of the Swing Era, Do You Love Me (seems there ought to be a question mark at the end of the title, but alas, no) finds Harry James and his big band losing to Dick Haymes in both musical and romantic capacity. Postwar preference was for vocalists, jitterbuggers having grown up and/or changed into uniforms. Swing would slip, and cede besides to crooners like Haymes who had luck of timing, if not talent. That he'd rival Harry James for affection of Maureen O'Hara, and come out a winner, must have seemed foregone conclusion to 1946 viewers gravitating more to voice than brass. Do You Love Me asks us too to choose between classical and pop, a near-even contest for performance time given both. Movies weren't for discarding old in favor of new, there being room under a big musical tent for all. Yes, it's long hairs and seniors that go for long-past composing, but plenty that's good was done in past centuries, based on H'wood banners flown here and in then-recent A Song To Remember, where Cornel Wilde and fresh renditions made Chopin dreamy, and jukebox adaptable.

Maureen's a college dean whose starch needs ironing, not just for disdain of modern music, but for hair kept in a bun and specs she insists on wearing. Admitted "wolf" Harry comes on strong and remains so, a tip-off that he'll not prevail, while Dick's the shy guy, an image given Haymes from a Fox start, and soon contradicted by headlines he'd generate offscreen (ducking WWII service, excess tippling, etc.). Forging pic personality from singers and bandleaders was no simple task. James and Haymes had names and sweet sound in back of them, plus habits a problematic equal to rock stars who'd complicate salesmanship a generation later. The two lived large and were governed by nobody. Fans craved both more than movie stars ... who'd read riot acts when they misbehaved? James was reckless with dice and Haymes picked up nickname "Mr. Evil" for conduct among peers. They were great when music-making, however, Do You Love Me wise for confining them to that for bulk of 90 minute run-time.

Fox saw musicals in more dollar than artistry terms. But even MGM was hard-pressed to elevate big band vehicles past level of economic expediency. Hit Parades marched by quickly, after all. Do You Love Me would be directed by Gregory Ratoff, who knew not from pride in work assigned, but ate well for playing hands dealt him. Settings are familiar: isn't the train Maureen rides a same one that accommodated Gene Tierney in a previous year's Leave Her To Heaven? And a garden stage-built for last reel recital looks mighty like false foliage used for same purpose in The Gang's All Here. Again, all such was ephemeral. Who at 20th would have dreamed anyone would watch this stuff after 1946? Makes me wonder, in fact, if there were customers beyond myself for Fox's On-Demand DVD released last year, Do You Love Me looking not as we'd wish for, but better than contempt heaped on other oldies by major disc outlets (seen the Kitty transfer from Universal On-Demand? Well, don't. It's lousy).


Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

It's too bad Ms. O'Hara has to choose between these two lunkheads. Where's John Payne when you really need him?

10:51 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

Career-wise, Dick Haymes ran out of steam fairly early, didn't he? I enjoy his singing, in any event. I have a couple of albums he recorded in the mid-fifties for Capitol Records, but I'm not aware of much he did beyond those. One of the screen's great talents, he wasn't, though he certainly never embarrassed himself.

5:02 PM  
Blogger mndean said...

Read enough Variety of the late '30s through the '40s, and you'll find plenty of interesting behavior from bandleaders of the era, from Artie Shaw blowing gigs, to Tommy Dorsey carving up party guests.

9:29 PM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Maureen O'Hara had a beautiful singing voice and I wonder why Zanuck didn't feature her singing voice. Maybe her red hair didn't fit in with the Fox blondes, such as Alice Faye, Betty Grable and June Haver?

11:00 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon has some observations about 40's music, changing times, and Dick Haymes (Part One):

Hi John,

Just as my kiddies (now grown) can have only a sort-of, kind-of grasp of what it was like to buy a 45 rpm record because you just HAD to have it (the radio stations had become the 'preview', but if you wanted your own copy, you had to get to the local record store---"Daddy, what's a 'record store'...?!"---and BUY it on vinyl)---so did we, in our generation, look in wonder at the big, fat, heavy Bakelite-or-whatever-it-was discs our parents had collected in the '40s. My dad had a number of discs which probably had their brief opportunity of being valuable before some of those vintage WW2-era recordings were remastered and reissued in vastly better-sounding, reengineered copies on compact disc. (Yeah, and now it's time for the grandkids to say, "Gramps, what's a 'compact disc'...?!") Living today, technologically speaking, is like having that blindfold put on you and rotated around five or six times---daily!---like we were when we went to birthday parties ("Gramps, what's a 'birthday party'...?!") and played 'Pin the Tail on the Donkey ("Gramps!! What's....?"---never mind!!) I never got to listen to those records dad had amassed because even by the '60s the technology had advanced to superior equipment for playing records...a different speed of rotation (33 1/3rd rpm for 'long-playing records'---you could listen to them for a whole 30 MINUTES!; or, 45 rpm for those 'singles', or actually 'doubles', counting the A and B sides.) But even by then I'm sure that they would have sounded inferior, per their limited frequency range, not to mention the 'use and abuse' they'd experienced at parties twenty and more (and now you think, jeez, is that ALL?) years before.

You are astute in noting the shift from bands and their 'sweet' or 'swinging' sounds to being nothing more than the accompanists of the star vocalist. I read a fine book about this very thing which I think was called "The Great Singers", written by an expert on the subject, Gene Lees...who'd also minor'ed in writing English lyrics to some of Antonio Carlos Jobim's great Brazilian hits. Some, like Sinatra...and actually, you have to stop right there, because who EVER became anything remotely like Sinatra? But, I was going to say that some had careers outside of a pavilion and a bandstand, or even a recording studio. But...Dick Haymes? I gotta tell you, even for me, a confirmed throwback and 'nostalgicist', I can't say I really get Dick Haymes. Plus, yes, I've read a little about his extracurricular behavior, and he seems to have been a real schmuck, in contradtion to his little boy Sunday School aspects. Plus, let me just be a total boor and say, I don't get women, OKAY? Haymes was catnip to women, even marrying Rita Hayworth to name one I actually remember. I don't get it. Haymes must have seen something other than a dweeb in the mirror, which is what I would have seen if I'd been born with his kisser. And this thing pairs him off with no less than Maureen O'Hara, who I think was one of the most beautiful women ever in films. Not that Rita Hayworth was bargain basement! So, sometimes, when I get overwrought about the great movies of the past, and the great personalities, it's good for me to remember that once Dick Haymes was a big deal. It's enough to make me lighten up on contemporaries like...well, I won't say it. I make enough enemies!

5:10 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon:

One thing that's incontestable, though all the popular music since the late '60s flies largely in the face of it, is the musicianship it required to arrange and PLAY for those bands, back then. You had to 'have the chops'. Of course, I also recognize that popular tastes were directed to smaller ensembles and different, specific instruments, and that full orchestras per se became a kind of way of punctuating the basic electric guitars 'n' drums (as per George Martin's confections for the Beatles' cheeky "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album, a little revolution in '60s pop, inspired it's said by the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds".)

Great stuff, John! It's worth while 'stirring things up' sometimes and not viewing every single, little thing from the earlier-to-mid 20th century as if it was all shining gold for the ages! And, you don't, and I enjoy that. In fact, you're very funny sometimes laying it on the line how some older films are a good substitute for valerian root in making you very, very S-L-E-E-P-Y, or otherwise disengaged. It's true. You're also candid enough to note that even the ones we think are bulletproof, imperishable, can have the same effect on one of today's 20-something's. That's the breaks. Like Bette Davis is reputed to have said, "Getting old ain't for sissies!"


5:10 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hi Craig --- To the subject of Dick Haymes, I liked him in "State Fair," and do have a CD of his tunes around here someplace, but yes, he was very much a product of his time, and when that time passed, Dick took the bobsled. Still, I find he and other 40's crooners fascinating in a way, even to a point of enjoying 50's successors like the one/only Duke Mitchell, who sang "Deed I Do" so memorably in "Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla."

As to changing formats, I was reading a book recently about the rise/fall of 45 RPM, which certainly roused memories. There been a number of books written about vintage record collectors, but so far, not a (recent) one about film collectors. Were there too few of us to count?

5:17 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Just a quick Google search reveals Mr. Dick Haymes to be a very unpleasant fellow. Six marriages, four divorces, one annulment, one separation. Allegations of wife-beating and alcoholism. Draft dodger during WW Two, the big one. Filing bankruptcy while 500,000 in debt and having nine bucks in the bank. Estranged children who refused to attend his funeral. And I'm probably leaving out some stuff. Seems he honestly earned the nickname "Mr. Evil".

Plus, I agree with Craig Reardon: Haymes looks like a dweeb.

6:34 PM  
Blogger CanadianKen said...

In light of the pile-on here in the comments, I feel the need to wave a tattered pro-Haymes banner. I thought he was a great singer (his Capitol albums from the 50's are topnotch and late-in-life TV performances revealed that, however hectic his lifestyle had been, the voice showed little evidence of wear and tear.) And I usually enjoyed him in movies. He's pretty likable in "Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and "State Fair" Admittedly "Do You Love Me", though lucrative, was a stinker; but that's in spite of Mr. H. It's all down to a lousy script, Harry James' serious limitations as a romantic film star - and the fact that O'Hara brought only her starch to the set and left her charm at home. Google searches may point up the less savory aspects of the man's life. But for a more balanced account, check out Ruth Proziby's excellent Haymes biography,"No More Little White Lies". I believe late in life, Haymes' second wife, the marvelous Joanne Dru (who divorced him in 1949 after 8 years of marriage), remarked to someone that she should have stayed married to Dick. If that's actually true, then she must have had at least a few good memories of their life together.

10:14 PM  
Blogger CanadianKen said...

Re the Dick Haymes biography: Sorry, I had the author's name a bit mangled. It's actually Ruth Prigozi.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

John, perhaps the plethora of books for and about record collectors is due to the immediate availability of recorded music....not so much for film pre VHS/DVD....Castle 8mm/Super 8 cutdowns and the Blackhawk catalogue was pretty much it for most people, unless you worked in a cinema or TV station.

5:19 AM  

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