Give a Girl a Break is another of the films I’ve been catching up on from TCM that isn’t available on Netflix, but I’m slowly working through them–hopefully before the next big DVR-buster of a schedule pops up. Anyway, it’s a great example of the behind-the-scenes musical subgenre, with a familiar but cheerfully welcome set up.
In the pre-production of a new Broadway musical, the star actress walks out, and the producers must find a replacement in an open casting call. In a very theatrical turn, the director, composer, and gofer each discover a girl that they believe should win the role, and begin to champion her to the others. The paired-off players include: the director, Ted (Gower Champion), who somewhat begrudgingly thinks the only logical choice is his former dance partner, Madelyn (played by his real-life wife, Marge Champion); the musical’s composer, Leo (Kurt Kasznar) is rooting for (and attemption to woo) ballerina Joanna (Helen Wood); and lovably clumsy gofer Bob (Bob Fosse—who might know a thing or two about choosing dancers) is pushing for ingénue Suzy (Debbie Reynolds–see, he has great taste).
Looking at the cast list, it may seem obvious how it’s going to play out, but the film has fun adding in all the twists and turns. Fosse and Reynolds have a few very cute numbers, and seeing the Champions work together is also very fun, even if Ted is supposed to be less than thrilled that his former partner has come out of retirement to deign their production with her presence.
Check out the title number, which is a cute way to set up the story and introduce us to the main characters. I love the section when it comes down to our final three girls reading Variety and just calmly destroying the dance floor with their impressive ballet stretches and Debbie’s lightning-fast tapping, like it’s the most casual thing in the world.
The characters are pretty clearly and simply drawn, but it certainly works for the style—the look of the picture is also very simple, as seen in the clip above with the three girls dressed in solid, primary colors to distinguish them. Many of the sets reflect this as well, and you can always kind of see the “edges” of the stage, but I think it just adds to the charm.
My favorite number is what I’ll call the “balloon” number, which actually gave me pause at first when I couldn’t figure out quite how they were making balloons appear out of thin air. One of the things I love about watching about films from this era is the fact that CGI is taken out of the equation. It’s not because CGI is necessarily always a bad thing in modern films, though I do have a particular love for practical effects, but by removing the possibility of CGI, there’s an inherent fun in trying to figure out the magic trick as an audience member.
Anyway, I did finally figure it out (it is fairly obvious), and it’s great to see filmmakers getting so inventive in their camera and editing techniques in this period. I always love seeing moments that are uniquely and distinctly cinematic—something that can’t be replicated on stage. This is one of them. Musicals in particular are often very obviously taken from their theatrical influences, so it’s great to see these stages of innovation meant to distinguish film from theater.
Give a Girl a Break is cheeky, breezy fun, not overly reaching for any particularly high form of art, but it’s a fun picture with some great performances and characters.