Videophiled MOD Movies: Betty Grable in ‘Mother Wore Tights’ plus Fox musicals with Sonja Henie and Alice Faye

Mother Wore Tights (20th Century Fox Cinema Archives) is the kind of film that used to be a staple of catalog DVD releases: a bouncy musical with superstar of classic Hollywood carrying it by force of personality and energy. Betty Grable was one of the top box office stars of the day and the reigning queen of Fox thanks to her lightweight Technicolor musical romps and Mother Wore Tights, a vaudeville romance filled with musical numbers, corny comedy and sentimental family drama, was one of the biggest hits of her career. It also launched the career of Dan Dailey, who made the picture as his first film back from World War II. It showcased his strengths as a song and dance man but also as a wise guy with heart and a street-smart guy with a sentimental streak. It was the first of four movies that Grable and Dailey made together and their most successful.

Grable is the small-town girl who stumbles into the chorus of a vaudeville theater and Dailey is the show’s star act, a dancer and singer of novelty numbers. Of course, a professional partnership becomes personal and soon they have two girls and their journey of parenthood ends up with a daughter (Mona Freeman) whose private school education results in a certain snobbiness that makes her embarrassed to reveal her parents’ vaudeville roots to the social register of her classmates. So, you know, a lesson is in order, and it comes in the form of song and dance. Where Fred and Ginger were elegance in motion, Grable and Dailey are old-school hoofers, and maybe that’s part of the appeal. They have the moves but they also have a common touch and an easy likability. That trumps the slightness of the story. The film won an Oscar for its score (by Alfred Newman, the Fox house composer) and was nominated for its color cinematography and the original song “You Do.” The disc looks terrific—it’s possible that it was originally prepared for a regular DVD release and then shuttled off the Archives line as disc sales fell off—mastered from a great print with vivid color.

Sonja Henie was another Fox musical star, though she was even more specialized. Henie was a three-time Olympic champion skater who went pro in 1936 and signed a contract with 20th Century Fox to do musicals with ice-skating numbers. Six of her eight Fox films have been recently released on the Archives line, starting with her Fox debut One in a Million (20th Century Fox Cinema Archives), where Zanuck surrounded her with a strong cast including Adolphe Menjou, Jean Hersholt, Don Ameche, and The Ritz Brothers. She’s a Swiss innkeeper’s daughter training for the Olympics and Menjou is a showman who wants to launch her in show business, which would negate her amateur status. Producer Darryl Zanuck put a lot of money behind this one to launch her in style and the film shows off the budget with some big production numbers. The transfer is adequate, from a vault print with okay black and white contrast.

More releases with Sonja Henie, Alice Faye, Cesar Romero and more

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