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In the musical comedy Red, Hot and Blue (1949), Betty Hutton plays Eleanor Collier, an aspiring New York actress who is involved with theater director Danny James (Victor Mature). Gangsters, murder, and kidnapping soon shake things up, as do several musical numbers courtesy of songwriter Frank Loesser. The solid supporting cast includes June Havoc, William Demarest, William Talman, and Percy Helton.
The most notable supporting player, however, is Frank Loesser himself, who steps into the role of gangster Hair-Do Lempke with memorable flair. The character of Lempke conveniently happens to know how to play the piano, prompting Betty Hutton to joke at one point, "Hey, you play pretty good. Maybe you're in the wrong business."
The New York Times' film critic Bosley Crowther took note of the unusual casting: "Mr. Loesser's histrionic debut in this film is much more fascinating than the songs he has written for it. His agonized kidnapper, who has to bear Miss Hutton's wagging tongue, is a pithy and pungent little rascal. We hope he has the nerve to try again."
According to John Loesser, who commented specifically for this TCM article, his father Frank probably got the part through the encouragement of star Betty Hutton, musical director Joe Lilley and story writer Charles Lederer, all of whom were good friends of his. (Lederer's story was adapted into a screenplay by Hagar Wilde and John Farrow, who also directed.) "He really was that tough little guy who stood on your toes and yelled at you," said John Loesser. "And he spoke a lot like Hair-Do."
Crowther's hope for more Frank Loesser screen roles was not to be. Red, Hot and Blue not only marked Loesser's sole film appearance, it was a very rare screen appearance of any sort for the man. According to his son, he did show up later briefly on the Milton Berle and Faye Emerson TV shows, but overall he was more interested at this point in getting out of Hollywood and back to New York. He did so with a vengeance shortly after this film opened: a year later, the superb Guys and Dolls debuted on Broadway, with music and lyrics by Loesser. He won Tony Awards for both, and the show remains an enduring favorite. Many more hit musicals, not to mention Tony Awards and nominations, would follow in the years ahead.
Despite his preference for the theater, Loesser was still a potent force in Hollywood. In the spring of 1950, while he was preparing Guys and Dolls in New York, he won his only Academy Award, for the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" from the film Neptune's Daughter (1949). He had previously been nominated three times and would be nominated once more. For Red, Hot and Blue, Loesser contributed four songs: "That's Loyalty," "I Wake Up," "Now That I Need You" and "Hamlet," a madcap parody of Shakespeare's play.
Betty Hutton's career was beginning to wind down around this time, though one of her best-remembered roles, in Annie Get Your Gun (1950), was coming up next. The New York Times' Crowther noted that her antics were a bit more restrained than usual in this picture: "Except for one hearty Keystone rough-house in which Miss Hutton slams people on their heads and tumbles the villains with a fire hose, you'd hardly know she packs one sock in her whole frame." Crowther laid the blame for this not on Hutton herself, who he thought tried hard to be her explosive usual self, but rather on the "flimsy and damp material."
Look for Julie Adams in her film debut.
Producer: Robert Fellows
Director: John Farrow
Screenplay: Hagar Wilde, John Farrow (screenplay); Charles Lederer (story)
Cinematography: Daniel L. Fapp
Art Direction: Franz Bachelin, Hans Dreier
Music: Joseph J. Lilley (uncredited)
Film Editing: Eda Warren
Cast: Betty Hutton (Eleanor Collier aka Yum-Yum), Victor Mature (Danny James), William Demarest (Charlie Baxter, Press Agent), June Havoc (Sandra), Jane Nigh (Angelica Roseanne aka No-No), Frank Loesser (Hair-do Lempke), William Talman (Bunny Harris), Art Smith (Laddie Corwin), Raymond Walburn (Alex Ryan Creek), Onslow Stevens (Captain Allen).
by Jeremy Arnold
John Loesser, interview
Susan Loesser, A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life