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The Betty Grable musical Coney Island (1943), one of the star's best, brought Alfred Newman an Oscar® nomination for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. His score incorporates a number of original songs with music by Ralph Rainger and lyrics by Leo Robin including "Take It from There," "Beautiful Coney Island," "Miss Lulu from Louisville," "Get the Money" and "There's Danger in a Dance"; as well as such chestnuts as "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," "Pretty Baby," "The Darktown Strutters' Ball" and an especially engaging rendition by Grable of "Cuddle Up a Little Closer."
At the time of the film's release, Grable was approaching the height of her popularity as a WWII pinup and just breaking into the top ten box-office attractions among Hollywood stars. (Before 1943 was over, she would rise to No. 1.) In the movie she plays Kate Farley, an undulating entertainer in turn-of-the-century New York. George Montgomery costars as a Coney Island saloon keeper who brings refinement to her bump-and-grind image, helping her to emerge as a legitimate stage star in the productions of real-life impresario Willie Hammerstein (Matt Briggs). Kate and Eddie fall in love, but complications ensue as she dallies with a rival saloon owner played in typically slick style by Cesar Romero. Between the musical numbers, romantic misunderstandings and other plot shenanigans, Phil Silvers provides comic relief.
Coney Island, directed by Walter Lang, has an unusual credit sequence in which an off-screen chorus sings the words on the opening title card: "Twentieth Century Fox presents Betty Grable, George Montgomery and Cesar Romero in Coney Island." The film had once been planned as a vehicle for Alice Faye, then Ann Rutherford. Grable herself would star in a 1950 remake for Fox entitled Wabash Avenue, with Victor Mature and Phil Harris as her costars.
Some journalists complained that Coney Island was not historically accurate. A reporter for Variety wrote that Grable "winds up at the finish as star of a Willie Hammerstein-produced musical at the Victoria on Broadway. The fact that Willie Hammerstein didn't produce musicals, and that the Victoria was strictly a straight vaudeville theater, evidently escaped the film's scenarist [George Seaton]."
But the movie was a hit with audiences, and most critics were kind. Bosley Crowther wrote in The New York Times that "This one has Betty Grable exercising her vocal chords and limbs to no inconsiderable advantage... It has George Montgomery and Cesar Romero as a couple of rising carnival men constantly crossing each other with their conniving tricks to win her hand. And it has a fair amount of old tunes, as well as several lively new ones, which thump very nicely on the eardrums and background some colorful displays."
1943 was also the year that Grable gave up on her longtime love affair with the married George Raft and entered into her own marriage with bandleader Harry James, which would end in divorce in 1965.
Producer: William Perlberg
Director: Walter Lang
Screenplay: George Seaton
Cinematography: Ernest Palmer
Art Direction: Richard Day, Joseph C. Wright
Music: Cyril J. Mockridge (uncredited)
Film Editing: Robert Simpson
Cast: Betty Grable (Kate Farley), George Montgomery (Eddie Johnson), Cesar Romero (Joe Rocco), Charles Winninger (Finnigan), Phil Silvers (Frankie), Matt Briggs (William 'Willie' Hammerstein), Paul Hurst (Louie), Leo Diamond and His Solidaires.
by Roger Fristoe