Sunday, August 23, 2009
LOVELY TO LOOK AT – Detail of the original MGM Records 10-inch (mono) LP jacket. Most of the MGM musicals were first released as 10-inch LPs.
MGM Musical Scores:
LOVELY TO LOOK AT: Songs: Jerome Kern (music); Otto Harbach, Dorothy Fields, (lyrics)
TEXAS CARNIVAL: Songs: Harry Warren (music), Dorothy Fields (lyrics)
Arrangements/Orchestrations: LOVELY: Leo Arnaud, Wally Heglin, Conrad Salinger TEXAS: David Rose
Rhino Handmade RHM 2 7842, TT: 68.08, 23 tracks (mono and stereo) **** Quintessential
Producer: George Feltenstein, Performed: MGM Soloists, Studio Orchestra & Chorus, Musical Directors/Conductors: Carmen Dragon, David Rose
by Ross Care
Lovely To Look At is the second screen version of Jerome Kern’s second most well-known work (after Show Boat), Roberta. The 1934 musical comedy was first filmed by RKO in 1935, and remade by MGM in 1952 when Metro dusted off what was considered a somewhat creaky screenplay even in 1935 and turned it into a still less than compelling but visually dazzling tale of Broadway show biz confronting Parisian haute couture. However, with Otto Harbach’s original lyrics also revamped by Dorothy Fields, the score remains a class act with some of Kern’s loveliest and most poignant melodies, including the classic “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” “Yesterdays,” (both beautifully sung by lyric soprano Kathryn Grayson), “I Won’t Dance,” and the title song (which was added to the RKO film version and earned an Academy Award nomination for “Best Song” in 1935).
While hardly as dramatic as Kern’s Show Boat (which MGM had also remade with Lovely stars Grayson and Howard Keel in 1951) Lovely To Look At is one of the most gorgeous Technicolor films ever photographed, and the arrangements (mostly by Leo Arnaud) and orchestral sound (supervised by Carmen Dragon who would soon compose the score for the ‘50s sci-fi classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) vividly reflect the film’s dazzling cinematography. The fusion of music and visuals peaks in the spectacularly populuxe fashion show finale, directed (uncredited) by Vincente Minnelli, and completely underscored with Arnaud’s lush and sometimes modernistic transcriptions of the Kern melodies. Particularly amazing is the arranger’s unique jazz take on “Yesterdays” (“Fashion Show Part II”).
I once saw an original IB Technicolor print of then-rarely seen Lovely To Look At at a Kern film retrospective in New York, and had truly never seen such color rendered on film before. The smolderingly saturated reds in the “Yesterdays” sequence, a torrid backdrop to an erotic Marge and Gower Champion dance duo, are perfectly matched by Arnaud’s primitive/moderne arrangement which is driven by aggressive piano vamps and throbbing tuned tom toms. Like many of the other numbers the purely orchestral and extended (three part) fashion show sequence is heard in vivid stereo. Listen also to the sleek arrangement of Ann Miller’s “I’ll Be Hard To Handle” which, with its swirling woodwinds runs and witty rim shots, seems to anticipate the sound of the innovative ‘50s big band, the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra.
Lovely To Look At is accompanied by five bonus tracks from Texas Carnival, an even more obscure MGM/Esther Williams musical from 1951. The score again features Fields lyrics, and music by the prolific Harry Warren, who for over three decades created some of the greatest and most popular songs ever composed in Hollywood.
Unfortunately the Texas Carnival numbers are not among them, but do include another always welcome Ann Miller number, “It’s Dynamite,” in which the dynamic Ms. Miller is backed-up by a jazz combo with a terrific vibes soloist. Rhino Handmade again provides a superb restoration for lovers of the lesser known but still classic film musical, and for devotees of dazzling peak studio-era orchestral sound beautifully revived in stereo.