Wednesday, February 25, 2015

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? (1945)

You'd think a movie with a script by Morrie Ryskind (A Night at the Opera) and a score by Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill (no credits needed), would be long-considered a classic. But the answer to the musical's title, Where Do We Go From Here?, is "down the memory hole."

It's certainly an unusual concept for a musical, being the story of Bill Morgan, a 4-F scrap dealer who wants to impress the soldier-crazy slut Sally Smith, while blind to the affections of the good-girl Lucilla Powell. An inept genie in a magic lamp tries to grant Morgan his wish to join the army, but succeeds only in sending him back and forth through time -- the American Revolution, Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World, and 16th-century New Amsterdam -- while encountering Sally and Lucilla's ancestors along the way.

Fred MacMurray tries unsuccessfully
to look down June Haver's dress.
Alternately refined and juvenile, lively and tedious, Where Do We Go From Here? feels like a Broadway show that 20th Century-Fox decided would make a swell Technicolor movie instead. Gregory Ratoff's directing style consists of long, unedited takes without the panache of, say, Alfred Hitchcock or even Laurel & Hardy. While it works for the astonishing USO production number "Morale," it tends that much more to make the movie resemble a filmed play.

Not that Where Do We Go From Here? is without charm. Fred MacMurray, the man least likely to sing Kurt Weill, does a nice job with the dreamy "All at Once" and "If Love Remains" -- two numbers that are probably Cafe Carlyle staples even today. "The Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria" (guess which scene), on the other hand, is a 10-minute mini-opera that impresses for its sheer audaciousness. 

But the score's overall sophistication is so far out of step from other '40s movie musicals and its own silly script that Where Do We Go From Here? probably bewildered its original audience. Sometimes bizarre is good. Other times it's just... bizarre.

Anthony Quinn and Fred MacMurray get cozy
while ignoring the hot squaw on the rug.
Along with MacMurray, the cast is something of a ragtag bunch. Joan Leslie and June Haver are beautiful but bland second-tier leading ladies. Mexican-born Anthony Quinn is a fast-talking 15th-century Indian chief who threatens to scalp Morgan, before selling him the island of Manhattan -- which already has Times Square street signs. (If you love relentless anachronistic humor, Where Do We Go From Here? is for you.) 

Gene Sheldon goes back
in time so he can refuse to
make this movie.
Stage actor Gene Sheldon speaks more dialogue as the idiot genie than he probably did in the rest of his career. If you're old enough, you may remember Sheldon on TV as either Zorro's mute sidekick, or variety shows playing banjo while making funny faces. Actually, you probably don't, but I do.

Where Do We Go From Here? has some trappings of an A-picture but with a B-movie running time of 74 minutes. (A sequence featuring Roy Rogers and Gabby Hayes, presumably set in the Old West, was excised before its release.) Too, its May 1945 release date -- rather late for a flag-waving, World War II-themed picture -- suggests that it had been sitting on the shelf for at least a year. Like Fred MacMurray's character, Where Do We Go From Here? was probably never in quite the right time or place.

                                             ********************************** 
Anyone interested in watching the lengthy "Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria" production number can go here.

The demo for a deleted song, combining tongue-twisting lyrics and insulting Native American humor, can be heard here performed by Gershwin & Weill.
 

No comments:

Post a Comment