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NANCY GOES TO RIO/TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Jane Powell, Ann Sothern, Carmen Miranda, Louis Calhern, Debbie Reynolds, Ricardo Montalban
Directors: Robert Leonard, Roy Rowland
Audio: English monaural, French
Subtitles: English, French
Video: Color, full-frame
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: Four short films, Reel Memories with Jane Powell, trailers
Length: 191 minutes
Release Date: April 8, 2008

Aba daba daba daba daba daba daba said the monkey to the chimp!

Films ***

The name “Suzanne Burce” probably means little to most people.  But, the petite Miss Burce was blessed with an angelic soprano voice and had been a child star of early 1940’s radio before graduating to the silver screen.  In her film debut, Burce played a Deanna Durbin-like character in the 1944 Edgar Bergen film Song of the Open Road.  Although the film is now mostly-forgotten, it did make one lasting impression on young Suzanne Burce - she would adopt the name of her screen character and henceforth would be known to the movie-going public as Jane Powell.

As a blossoming star, Jane Powell was bubbly sweet yet modest, endearing characteristics which would soon define her own screen persona.  She was signed by MGM and made her first film for the studio in 1946, Holiday in Mexico.  For the better part of the following decade, Jane Powell would hone her wholesome image as MGM's resident girl-next-door.

Most of Powell’s early musicals were tame teen flicks co-starring other MGM child stars such as Elizabeth Taylor or Roddy McDowall.  The year 1950, however, saw the release of two films in which Jane Powell received her best roles to date - Nancy Goes To Rio and Two Weeks With Love.

Nancy Goes to Rio is, ironically enough, a remake of the 1940 Deanna Durbin film, It’s a Date.  Seventeen-year-old Nancy (Jane Powell) is an aspiring if flighty actress who yearns to follow in her mother’s footsteps as an acclaimed singer and theater star.  All Nancy wants is a chance!  That golden opportunity soon arises when a celebrated writer, after witnessing one of Nancy’s performances with a small acting troupe, decides to offer her the lead in his new play.  The only drawback is that the same role has already been offered to Nancy’s own mother!  How to break the bad news?

Nancy takes a vacation down to Rio to surprise her mother with the good news and to prepare for the role.  But unbeknownst to Nancy, her own mother (Ann Sothern) is already rehearsing for the same role, and inevitable, crushing disappointment will surely await either mother or daughter!

To complicate matters, while sailing down to Rio, Nancy befriends a dashing and well-meaning fellow cruise ship passenger, Paul Berten (Barry Sullivan), who inadvertently overhears rehearsal lines from her play and erroneously assumes that Nancy is pregnant!  The gossip spreads quickly, although Nancy is never made aware of her supposed predicament!  Once in Rio, the misunderstandings only compound and soon implicate the innocent if gossipy Lothario himself as the father of Nancy’s unborn child!  Ah, the very makings of a wild and crazy musical screwball comedy!

And naturally, what hot-blooded MGM musical set in Rio would be complete without the Brazilian Bombshell herself, Carmen Miranda?  The famously flamboyant singer-dancer has a supporting role in this film as Nancy’s new friend but also finds time to whirl through a couple of dance numbers in her trademark flashy outfits and hats.

Flirtatious innuendos aside, Nancy Goes to Rio is actually a wholesome and somewhat generic MGM musical.  Despite its potentially shocking (for the era) sub-plots, the film proceeds along in a very innocent and light-hearted manner that, by the end, reinforces rather than diminishes the Jane Powell image as the epitome of the girl-next-door.

In general, Jane Powell rarely ventured into very mature roles as an MGM actress, and Two Weeks With Love is simply another case in point.  This old-fashioned musical centers around an annual vacation trip for a turn-of-the-century family.  Eldest daughter Patti (Jane Powell), just turned seventeen and now impatiently awaiting her eighteenth birthday, hopes to find romance on the vacation to the Catskills in New Jersey.  However, in her parents' eyes, Patti is still a child, just like her little sister, Melba (Debbie Reynolds), and as parents are wont to do, they generally tsk-tsk or pooh-pooh her every attempt to grow up.

So, while Melba may swoon over the innkeeper’s son, young Billy Finlay (who himself has a crush on Patti) with impunity, Patti must hopelessly fancy the more mature and very dashing Demi Armendez (Ricardo Montalban), who sees her, as her parents do, as just a child.  Patti’s own comically awkward attempts to flirt with her fantasy man only end in regular embarrassment.  Even worse, Patti has a serious rival for Demi’s affection in Valerie (Phyllis Kirk) who, being a year older than Patti, fills out her corset in a decidedly more pleasing manner.  Poor Patti!  She does not even own a corset, yet another point of great consternation for her.

Two Weeks With Love has several musical highpoints about forlorn love or crushed puppy love.  A young Debbie Reynolds sings the delightful “Aba Dada Honeymoon.”  Jane Powell, while not generally regarded as a dancer, has a dream sequence in which she dances and shows off her new corset to Ricardo Montalban.  Other standards include the ensemble piece “By the Light of the Silv’ry Moon.”  Fans of vintage Hollywood musicals may be delighted to learn that legendary choreographer Busby Berkley helped to stage the musical sequences in Two Weeks With Love!

Two Weeks With Love, with its sweetly old-fashioned sentiments, Fourth of July festivities, period costumes and glamour, is an ideal film for family entertainment.  Small wonder that Jane Powell herself has chosen this film as her personal favorite over her other films, including Royal Wedding and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

Jane Powell’s film career waned by the mid-1950’s as MGM phased out its musical division.  Fortunately, she continued singing on stage and Broadway musicals and has left behind a fine musical legacy as one of the last and greatest of MGM’s singers!

Video ***

Both films in this two-disc set are full-frame Technicolor musicals.  The colors are bright, although focus is mildly soft in the usual Technicolor fashion.  There are minimal age-associated defects but certainly nothing that significantly interferes with the viewing experience.

Audio ***

Monaural audio tracks are provided in English or French.  Check out each performance by Jane Powell, who truly had an amazing voice.  In Nancy Goes to Rio, she coos a smoking rendition of “Embraceable You” and solidly delivers the operatic aria “Musetta's Waltz Song” from “La Boheme.”

Features ** ½

This release is a two-disc set and can be purchased either separately or as part of the Classical Musicals from the Dream Factory, Vol. 3 box set.

Disc One holds the movie Nancy Goes To Rio, two short subjects, and a trailer.  The first short film is “Wrong Way Butch,” a comedy about an accident-prone factory machinist.  The second short is the classic and rather funny cartoon “The Peachy Cobbler” in which some magical elves secretly make shoes for a generous cobbler.

Disc Two holds the movie Two Weeks With Love, two short films, an interview, and a trailer.  One short is “Crashing the Movies” (7 min.), a motley collection of actual daredevil stunts.  The other short is the Tex Avery cartoon “Garden Gopher” (6 min.) about the comic struggles for backyard supremacy between a determined dog and a gung-ho gopher.

TCM’s Reel Memories with Jane Powell (43 min.) is definitely the best bonus feature on the disc.  Movie guru and TCM host Robert Osborne interviews Jane Powell as she reminisces about her stage name, her movie experiences, and growing up as a child star on the MGM lot.   For the most part, this 1995 documentary focuses on Powell’s MGM years and includes numerous clips from her MGM films.

Summary:

This two-disc set should delight fans of Jane Powell, one of MGM’s finest singers.  These early films with Jane Powell may be fairly generic MGM fare, but even an average MGM musical is several notches above most other musicals from rival studios of the day!

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