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Moon Over Miami

Moon Over Miami(1941)

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Moon Over Miami (1941) proved that Down Argentine Way (1940) wasn't a fluke. That musical film had been Betty Grable's first at 20th Century-Fox after a decade of making movies at other studios. When her contract at Paramount ran out in 1939, she felt that her career was going nowhere and seriously considered leaving Hollywood. But then Darryl Zanuck came calling with an offer of a new contract at Fox, which she accepted. Down Argentine Way was a monster success, and Grable's career went right to the stratosphere. Eventually she'd be the number one Hollywood star of the 1940s.

Small surprise, then, that Zanuck quickly re-teamed her with Down Argentine Way co-star Don Ameche for Moon Over Miami, another smash hit. It was such an 'A' production that Fox lavished more money and attention on it than ever before, devoting a full year to preparation and four entire months to shoot, including six weeks in Florida under second-unit director Otto Brewer. (The rest of the movie was directed by Walter Lang.)

The story is just substantial enough to get the job done. Grable and Carole Landis play sisters who work as singing waitresses at a Texas hamburger stand. When they receive a small inheritance, they quit their jobs and head to Miami with their aunt (Charlotte Greenwood) in search of rich husbands. Or as Grable puts it: "We're going to Miami. That's right, Miami! Where rich men are as plentiful as grapefruit and millionaires hang from every palm tree!" To land the right guys, they pose as heiress (Grable), secretary (Landis) and maid (Greenwood), and check into the swankiest hotel in town. In time, they all find their husbands in the form of Don Ameche, Robert Cummings, and Jack Haley, but not before some energetic song and dance numbers and amusing plot complications.

The script was based on the play Three Blind Mice by Stephen Powys, which had been filmed in 1938 as a non-musical (under its original title), and would be again as Three Little Girls in Blue (1946), another musical. The general story device of three women looking for love, however, goes back at least to Sally, Irene, and Mary (1925) and was reworked in many other movies over the years, including Our Blushing Brides (1930), Girls About Town (1931), Ladies in Love (1936), Keep Your Powder Dry (1945) and Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), among others.

The original songs in Moon Over Miami are by Ralph Rainger and include "You Started Something," "Solitary Seminole" and "Kindergarten Conga." The latter has a fantastic tap sequence in which Grable dances with famed choreographer Hermes Pan. Apparently it was during this number that Grable collapsed from exhaustion, the result of having worked every day of production.

It would be easy to dismiss Moon Over Miami as simply a fluffy, candy-colored trifle, but such a judgment would be sorely lacking in understanding of what makes movies work. The appealing lightness and charm of the film just makes it a little harder to notice the skill and intelligence with which it blends musical performance with story and plot - not only allowing us to accept the singing and dancing characters but also linking the numbers to the plot progression. These are keys to any successful musical film and are quite challenging to pull off. Like a good dance number, they only look easy. The Fox musicals of the 1940s have always been unfairly overlooked in favor of the more polished MGM pictures of the same period, but they are equally important in the shaping of the musical film genre.

And while Moon Over Miami shapes the genre, it's also a tremendous amount of bright, sassy fun. The gorgeous sets, dreamy nightclub settings, colorful costumes, glamorous location footage, snappy dances et. al., combine to give new meaning to the word "pizzazz." Moon Over Miami even finds a way to work in a speedboat chase that could easily have inspired the one in Live and Let Die (1973), with boats jumping over spits of land in a network of bayous.

Fox Home Entertainment's DVD is available by itself or as part of the four-disc "The Betty Grable Collection Vol. 1." Moon Over Miami is the only one of the four titles not to have a commentary track (which is strange since it is considered by some to be Grable's best musical), but there are a few other nice features: a sizable gallery of stills, trailers for other musicals, liner notes by film historian Sylvia Stoddard, fetching artwork on the case and the DVD itself, and four postcard-sized "lobby cards" thrown in to boot. Picture and sound quality are tops.

Carole Landis and Betty Grable teamed as sisters again in the film noir I Wake Up Screaming (1941), which has also just been issued on DVD. Soon afterwards, they would each travel tirelesly on the USO circuit.

The high quality and entertainment value of a film like Moon Over Miami doesn't keep it from being, essentially, an ordinary Hollywood movie of its time - which just goes to show what a romantic time it was.

For more information about Moon Over Miami, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Moon Over Miami, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeremy Arnold