Year 9, Day 67 - 3/8/17 - Movie #2,567
BEFORE: Fred Astaire carries over again, this makes 10 in a row for good old Fred, with four more coming up. He's certainly a contender, probably a shoo-in, for my most-watched performer of the year. (Last year it was Burt Reynolds with 14 films, the year before that it was Cary Grant with 22. In 2014 I think it was Woody Allen with 21, but that's only because I didn't count Hitchcock's cameos)
In a 1968 interview, Fred Astaire called "Second Chorus" the worst film he ever made. That is so not a good sign - but how could it possibly be worse than "Carefree"?
THE PLOT: When perennial college students Danny O'Neill and Hank Taylor are forced to graduate, the competitive pair seek jobs with Artie Shaw's band and reunite with ex-manager Ellen Miller.
AFTER: Well, I wouldn't say it's the worse Astaire film I've seen, but still there are things that just don't make sense, or that strain the limits of credulity. First off, Fred Astaire as a COLLEGE student? He was 41 years old when this film was released! Did people back in the 1940's stay in college until they were 40 years old? I doubt it, I thought everyone had to go to work or join the army in their twenties! Same problem with Burgess Meredith, who was a guy that looked old even when he was young, and then kept finding ways to look older - after "Rocky" and "Grumpy Old Men" he continued to act, but I think some people weren't sure if he had already died, and nobody told him.
(EDIT: Burgess Meredith was 33 when this film came out, but I dare say he looked older than Astaire here.)
They do say they've been enrolled in college for 7 years, and because they've got such a sweet deal making money with the band there's a reason why they keep intentionally flunking, but still... I could maybe see 17 years older than freshmen, but not 7. There's the typical love triangle here, with both "college" men chasing after the same woman, but I think we all know who's going to wind up with her in the end, right?
But to our lady's credit, the answer is almost "neither" - because both gentlemen act like asses in competition with each other, both for the girl and the open trumpet slot in Artie Shaw's band. They sabotage each other's auditions, and end up fighting backstage, which results in the bandleader not hiring either one of them, and spreading the word around town that they're both impossible to work with. One is forced to get a job playing the bugle at the local horsetrack, and the other is forced to play in a band in a Russian tea room of sorts. To be fair, Astaire's phony Russian accent improved greatly since playing Petrov in "Shall We Dance".
The men's scheming also ruins their intended girl's job (not once, but TWICE) so it's clear to see why she wants nothing to do with them. The second time, their monkeying around causes the backer of Artie Shaw's concert to pull his funding, so they have to find that guy and convince him to put his money back in the show. If I didn't know better, it seems a bit like they're offering him a shot at romancing Ellen if he'll back the show - which veers a little too close to prostitution perhaps.
I'll acknowledge that it's the worst NAMED film in the Astaire filmography - the "Second Chorus" sounds like it has something to do with singers in a musical play, and that's just not applicable when so much of the action concerns getting into and then performing with a swing band. Maybe it could refer to the chorus of a song, like first the verse and then the chorus part, but that seems like it wouldn't apply at all to the mostly instrumental work that a swing band would play.
And NITPICK POINT: It's just not feasible to conduct a swing band and tap dance at the same time. Astaire makes it look quite easy, but that can't be appropriate for the conducting. Because conducting is an activity that requires complete concentration, so if he's tap dancing, then he's not conducting right, and vice versa.
Also starring Paulette Goddard (last seen in "The Great Dictator"), Burgess Meredith (last seen in "Grumpier Old Men"), Artie Shaw, Charles Butterworth, Jimmy Conlin (last seen in "Lost in a Harem"), Frank Melton.
RATING: 4 out of 10 sleeping pills