This week’s musical: Small Town Girl (1953)
Director: László Kardos
Judge Gordon Kimbell (Keith) throws big city hot shot Rick Livingston (Granger) in jail for going 80 miles per mile in a small town with his Broadway dancer girlfriend, Lisa Bellmount (Miller). While he’s under lock and key, the judge’s daughter, Cindy (Powell), ends up falling for Rick.
–Nicholas Brodszky and Leo Robin were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song for the song “My Flaming Heart.”
–Dances choreographed by Busby Berkeley.
— Ann Miller’s “I’ve Gotta Hear That Beat” performance has 86 instruments coming up through the floor with the musicians hidden beneath, according to The Rough Guide to Film Musicals by David Parkinson.
— Musical director is André Previn.
— Costumes by Helen Rose.
— Country music legend Hank Williams would have made his screen acting debut as the town sheriff but died before shooting started.
— Nat King Cole’s appearance and performance
— Ann Miller’s “I’ve Gotta Hear That Beat” number
— Bobby Van’s exhausting three-minute jump through town.
— “I’ve Gotta Hear That Beat,” performed by Ann Miller tap dancing and hands coming out of the floor playing drums and holding saxophones, clarinets and violins.
— “My Flaming Heart,” performed by Nat King Cole
Small Town Girl is a fun, colorful musical with an outstanding cast. However, of Jane Powell’s MGM films, this is not her best. The storyline isn’t a bad one and it has some cute, humorous moments, but I prefer other Powell films such as Luxury Liner and Holiday in Mexico. Farley Granger plays the arrogant, rich playboy well but is a poor romantic match for Powell.
While Jane Powell is known for her beautiful, operatic voice, she doesn’t have many notable songs or musical numbers. The real stand-out musical numbers come from the supporting cast of Ann Miller, Bobby Van and an appearance from singer Nat King Cole as himself.
Ann Miller’s Busby Berkeley choreographed “I’ve Gotta Hear That Beat” is a visually amazing piece. The number is complete with Miller’s high speed tap dancing feet and instruments being played by bodiless hands. A second impressive, though exhausting, number is Bobby Van’s “Take Me to Broadway,” featuring him jumping through his small town. While this is quite a feat, it also makes my knees hurt just watching him bound down the street, shaking hands and jumping across hedges. Also, while Van’s jumping is interesting, his character is fairly annoying.
For Nat King Cole fans, you also have the opportunity to see the velvet-voiced singer during a nightclub scene, which is a real treat.
The film has a terrific supporting supporting cast with Robert Keith and Fay Wray as Powell’s parents, Billie Burke as Farley Granger’s mother, and S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall as Van’s father. You also get the comical Chill Wills as the jailer. Once big stars of the 1930s, Burke and Wray seem wasted in this film as they both have less than 10 or 15 minutes of screen time.
For me, Robert Keith and Cuddles Sakall provided the most comedic entertainment and were honestly my favorite part of this film.
While I enjoy Small Town Girl, but I wouldn’t suggest it as a “must see,” unless you are a huge fan of any of the stars in this movie.