Flo Ziegfeld is in heaven reminiscing about the great shows he put on. This thin plot device is not really needed to string together a series of outstanding dance routines and vaudeville-type comic sketches, many of them by people who never worked for Ziegfeld. I got lazy and used some information from Wikipedia here.
HERE’S TO THE GIRLS/BRING ON THE WONDERFUL MEN: by Roger Edens and Arthur Freed. Sung by Astaire with a short solo dance by Cyd Charisse, followed by Lucille Ball cracking a whip over eight chorus-girl panthers, and finally Virginia O’Brien spoofs the previous scene by singing “Bring on those Wonderful Men”
A WATER BALLET Esther Williams. The usual splash-fest.
NUMBER PLEASE Keenan Wynn. Only mildly funny.
LA TRAVIATA. Hollywood liked to insert a touch of “class” when they could. This shortened operatic piece qualifies.
PAY THE TWO DOLLARS. A real classic vaudeville routine. A guy on a subway is told to put out his cigar, but unfortunately he’s with his lawyer, who insists his client not knuckle under, and manages to turn a $2 fine into a life sentence in Sing Sing. And now I finally understand the line in North by Northwest, when Cary Grant’s mother urges her son to “pay the two dollars” when he’s in court charged with drunk driving.
THIS HEART OF MINE: Classic standard by Harry Warren and Arthur Freed and written specially for Astaire who sings it to Bremer and then leads her in an extravagantly romantic dance of seduction and power-play. The choreography integrates rotating floors, concealed treadmills and swirling dance motifs.
A SWEEPSTAKES TICKET Fanny Brice. Fanny didn’t do as well in film as she did on the stage, but she’s still a funny girl. To pay the rent she givers a sweepstakes ticket to the landlord. It turns out to be a winner and she uses a lot of comic ploys to get it back without letting him know it’s worth anything.
LOVE: Another standard, this time by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, sung by Lena Horne. Lovely production in a tropical setting.
WHEN TELEVISION COMES. Starring Red Skelton. This looks like the origin of the famous “I Love Lucy” sketch where she gets drunk demonstrating Vitameatavegemin, which is mostly alcohol. The pitchman has to drink a little Guzzler’s Gin at every commercial break.
LIMEHOUSE BLUES: Conceived as a “dramatic pantomime” with Astaire as a proud but poverty-stricken Chinese laborer whose infatuation with the unattainable Bremer leads to tragedy. The story serves as bookends for a dream ballet inspired by Chinese dance motifs. Not one of Fred’s best.
THE GREAT LADY HAS AN INTERVIEW: Written by Kay Thompson originally for Greer Garson (she turned it down). Judy Garland spoofs a movie star who can only be cast in Oscar winning dramas, but wants to play “sexy” roles (a la Greer Garson, or Katharine Hepburn) giving an interview to dancing reporters about “her next picture”: a bio-pic of Madame Cremantante (the “inventor of the safety pin”). Originally to be directed by Garland’s friend Charles Walters, Vincente Minnelli ended up directing the sequence (the two were dating at the time), and Walters was reassigned as choreographer.
THE BABBITT AND THE BROMIDE: Astaire and Kelly team up in a comedy song and dance challenge in three sections, to music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. All choreography was by Astaire (third section) and Kelly (sections one and two). In spite of efforts by Freed and Minnelli, the two would not partner again on film until That’s Entertainment, Part II in 1976.
THERE’S BEAUTY EVERYWHERE: Originally filmed as a balletic finale with tenor James Melton singing and Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, and Lucille Bremer dancing in a melange of soap bubbles. But when the bubble machine malfunctioned (leaving only a fragment of the number filmed) and the formula flowed into the hallways of the soundstage, the number had to be restaged. Kathryn Grayson replaced Melton and Astaire and Bremer were cut out altogether. Segments of the “bubble dance” with Charisse remain in the final film. This is one of the most outrageous Technicolor dance numbers ever put on film. I was knocked out.