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Thanks to her burgeoning film career, a highly publicized marriage and cover stories just weeks apart in Life and Look magazines, Lana Turner was the sizzling movie personality of 1940. The ads for her MGM musical Two Girls on Broadway (1940) hailed Turner as "The Girl They're All Talking About! Lovely Lana, America's Blonde Bonfire, in her hottest, most daring role!"
The movie is a remake of Broadway Melody of 1929, an MGM hit from the days of early sound films, with Turner, George Murphy and Joan Blondell (in her first MGM picture) forming the love triangle provided in the earlier movie by Anita Page, Charles King and Bessie Love. Only three years into her film career, 20-year-old Turner commanded top billing above her more experienced costars.
The story by now had a familiar ring. The trio of stars play ambitious young performers struggling to make their mark in New York. Eddie and Molly (Murphy and Blondell) are a dance team who are planning to marry when Eddie gets a break in a big Broadway show. Instead of Molly, the producer casts her beautiful younger sister, Pat (Turner) opposite Eddie. To add insult to injury, Molly is given the job of cigarette girl. When Pat and Eddie fall in love, she tries to avoid further hurting Molly by taking up with a wealthy playboy (Kent Taylor), but Molly catches on and gallantly sacrifices her own happiness for her sister's.
Most reviewers of the day realized that the plot took a definite second place to the showcasing of a bright new star. In The New York Times, Bosley Crowther wrote, "With Lana Turner figuring prominently in the doings, it is fairly safe to predict that none of the patrons will bother to inquire where and when they have seen Two Girls on Broadway before. There is an indefinable something about Miss Turner that makes it a matter of small concern."
In retrospect, Two Girls on Broadway seems significant as an indication that, had Turner and MGM determined to concentrate on her musical abilities, she might have had a totally different career. Her ability to dance with "precision and grace," as one reviewer put it, is on display in two numbers written specifically for the film, "My Wonderful One, Let's Dance" by Nacio Herb Brown, Arthur Freed and Roger Edens, and "Broadway's Still Broadway" by Harry Revel and Ted Fetter.
The latter number in particular is given spectacular staging by dance directors Bobby Connolly, recently arrived at MGM after many successes at Warner Bros., Eddie Larkin and Merrill Pye. The song begins with Murphy and Turner as bar patrons; after he serenades her, the crane-borne camera pulls back to reveal an elaborate set of stairs, columns and moving walls. The pair spin through a dizzying succession of steps, including lifts and pirouettes, that place considerable demands on both partners.
The number is suggestive of routines that Hermes Pan had recently choreographed at RKO for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, leading more than one reviewer to think that Turner might be in line to succeed Rogers as Astaire's partner. A writer for The Hollywood Reporter opined that "Lana Turner is the gal Fred Astaire should be dancing with if MGM wants to duplicate the old Astaire-Rogers sizzle." Instead, of course, Turner would veer away from musicals to find her niche in melodrama.
Two Girls on Broadway was Turner's third film in a row for director S. Sylvan Simon, following These Glamour Girls and Dancing Co-Ed (both 1939). The latter film also featured band leader Artie Shaw, with whom Turner entered into a brief and tempestuous marriage during the filming of Two Girls on Broadway. He was her first of seven husbands.
Producer: Jack Cummings
Director: S. Sylvan Simon
Screenplay: Jerome Chodorov, Joseph Fields, from story by Edmund Goulding
Cinematography: George J. Folsey
Film Editing: Blanche Sewell
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: Roger Edens, Ted Fetter, Harry Revel, George Bassman (uncredited), Chet Forrest (uncredited), David Raskin (uncredited), Robert W. Stringer (uncredited), Bob Wright (uncredited)
Costume Design: Dolly Tree
Cast: Lana Turner (Patricia "Pat" Mahoney), Joan Blondell (Molly Mahoney), George Murphy (Eddie Kerns), Kent Taylor ("Chat" Chatsworth), Richard Lane (Buddy Bartell), Wallace Ford (Jed Marlowe).
BW-74m. Closed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe