Film Reviews

Second Chorus (1940)

In preparation for TCM’s absolutely apocalyptic rare musical schedule┬áin the past few weeks, I had to start ticking through some of the features I’d taped earlier in the month to clear some space on my DVR. Getting low on DVR space is typically a great motivator for me to watch movies… as it gives the very dire ultimatum of “You really can’t watch anything new until you finish these.”

Things I didn’t know before watching this movie: Fred Astaire apparently called this his worst film and it also put Artie Shaw off acting forever. Yikes! I’ll admit it’s pretty simple and fluffy, but I didn’t think it was all that bad. Though I may have been biased by Paulette Godard being perfectly adorable (but also kind of brassy) throughout, and I love seeing conductors like Shaw playing themselves in their natural habitats.

The premise is fairly hokey… Danny (Astaire) and Hank (Burgess Meredith) are two trumpet players who are alternately fighting over Ellen (Godard) or working together with Ellen to keep Artie Shaw’s show afloat. The funniest thing here for me is that throughout the first part, as they’re each attempting to purse her, Ellen seems wholly uninterested in either of them, and continually rebuffs them both in order to keep doing her job. It’s an interesting take on the stock leading lady character, especially for a musical–the moment where eyes meet across a dance floor actually ends in her giving the boys a summons to a debt collector.

The big number–in fact, what attracted Astaire the pictures in the first place–is the scene where he conducts his band while dancing. I think it underscores well where the film works best and where it doesn’t work as well: simplicity. This scene is a simple, great idea and Astaire, of course, executes it masterfully. The scenes where it’s not quite clear what’s going on or why people are acting the way they’re acting–well, that’s where it gets a bit dicier.

I’m not enough of an authority on Astaire (yet — YET!) to pronounce this his worst film, though I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve seen enough that I’m not sure I’d rank any of them below it at this point. I’m just not sure I entirely trust Astaire’s authority on the matter. Second Chorus is still totally fun, charming, and pleasant–if it truly is his worst film, it’s a helluva way to hit the bottom.

2 thoughts on “Second Chorus (1940)”

  1. I have recently seen this, and didn’t know that Astaire thought that way. I kind of have to agree with him, though. It was a bit slow and boring. However, I also agree with what you said regarding Paulette Goddard. She is so lovely.

    1. Yeah, I was surprised to find that out as well! It’s certainly better than some other older musicals I’ve seen, but Astaire’s filmography sets a much higher bar than most!

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