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The songs of Jerome Kern, one of America's most celebrated songwriters, have frequently been used in films, with seven of them earning Academy Award nominations and two ("The Way You Look Tonight" and "The Last Time I Saw Paris") winning Oscars. Among the nominated tunes was "Lovely to Look At," from Kern's score for the RKO musical Roberta (1935), starring Irene Dunne, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Dunne later said that having Kern write "Lovely to Look At" for her was "the thing I'm proudest of."
MGM used the title Lovely to Look At (1952) for its remake of Roberta, which had in turn been based on Kern's Broadway hit of the same title. After MGM bought the rights to the property, the RKO musical was shelved for several years. Stepping in as the stars of Lovely to Look At were Howard Keel, Red Skelton and Gower Champion as showbiz buddies who hope to parlay Skelton's inheritance of a Parisian dress salon into a big Broadway show; and Kathryn Grayson, Ann Miller and Marge Champion as the men's romantic interests. Zsa Zsa Gabor pops up as a character whose name is, appropriately enough, Zsa Zsa.
The movie features 10 Kern songs, including such standouts as "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," sung by Grayson and hauntingly danced by the Champions to choreography by Hermes Pan; "I Won't Dance" as interpreted by the Champions; and, of course, "Lovely to Look At," sung by Keel and Grayson. Miller shines with "I'll Be Hard to Handle," staged by Pan with a chorus of male dancers wearing wolf masks. Other songs include "Opening Night," "Lafayette," "Yesterdays," "You're Devastating," "The Most Exciting Night" and "The Touch of Your Hand." As a bonus, Skelton throws in his hilarious "Irish Tenor" routine.
Although Lovely to Look At was directed by Mervyn LeRoy, the film's fashion-show finale is the work of Vincente Minnelli, an expert in color and movement who stepped in when his friend had to leave the production prematurely. Adrian, MGM's top designer, had created more than 40 costumes, at a cost of $100,000, and Minnelli recalled later that he was determined to give them "as extravagant a mounting" as he could. In four different sequences, with Kern's music as a backdrop, Minnelli shows off the designer's street clothes against a green background; bathing suits backed by blue; the dancing Champions on a red set; and formal wear with the chorus in gold armor against a backdrop of opera boxes.
Producer: Jack Cummings
Director: Mervyn LeRoy, Vincente Minnelli (uncredited)
Screenplay: George Wells, Harry Ruby, Andrew Solt, from play Roberta by Dorothy Fields and Otto A. Harbach, based on novel Roberta by Alice Duer Miller
Cinematography: George J. Folsey
Original Music: Jerome Kern, Jimmy McHugh
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Gabriel Scognamillo
Editing: John McSweeney, Jr.
Costume Design: Adrian
Principal Cast: Kathryn Grayson (Stephanie), Red Skelton (Al Marsh), Howard Keel (Tony Naylor), Marge Champion (Clarisse), Gower Champion (Jerry Ralby), Ann Miller (Bubbles Cassidy), Zsa Zsa Gabor (Zsa Zsa), Kurt Kasznar (Max Fogelsby).
C-102m. Closed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe