10/4/07

MUSICAL RAZZY AWARDS PT3--GRACE MOORE GOES GHETTO

GraceMooreandCaryGrant

Grace Moore, a phenomenally popular opera star of the twenties and thirties (many of those years with the Metropolitan Opera--she was perhaps the most famous "Mimi" of the day) was also a film star of brief but significant note. As you can see by clicking here on the ever popular Wikipedia article, she was nominated for an Academy Award for something called "One Night Of Love" and made a handful of films for Columbia in the mid to late thirties.


Alas, this was the era of the dreadful "swing it professor!" novelty tunes--where classics were jazzed up, stuffy pince-nezed types were seen cutting loose and trucking on down, and classical musicians were suddenly inspired to play boogie-woogie (Jose Iturbi anyone?) And Grace Moore didn't escape the fashion. To her everlasting discredit, she performed Cab Calloway's great viper tune, "Minnie The Moocher" in the movie "When You're In Love". (The only other significant fact about this film--which I've never seen--is that it was the first and only directorial effort of the fine screenwriter Robert Riskin--who wrote most of the great Frank Capra movies of the 1930's.)


Watching the below clip, it's hard to tell whose having a worse time. Grace--who, when she shimmies, displays all the sexual allure of an aging Polish woman going through Ellis Island--or her co-star Cary Grant, who not only doesn't look like he can play the piano, but looks like he's never even SEEN a piano...odd, this, since he plays quite gracefully in "The Awful Truth" made in the same year. This indicates to me that Grant was simply uncomfortable with the goings on that he was a part of--indeed, I'm uncomfortable watching it since it seems that at any minute Miss Moore might tilt over.


There's also something smarmy--and I of course am not blaming Ms. Moore for this--about this wholesale white pillaging of a piece of popular culture that's so definitively black. This certainly wasn't the first time that white people took black people's work and "revamped" it for their own purposes, nor would it be the last (Elvis, after all, built his early career on this). But the Calloway orchestra and this particular song belong so thoroughly to the Harlem "Jungle" band style of the era that it's appropriation for the white opera star and the all-white band that accompanies her is vaguely icky (or "ickaroo" as Calloway would have said it.) I'd like to think that one fine spring day, in 1937, Cab Calloway took the members of his band to the Rivoli Theater on Broadway (where they no doubt were seated in the "coloreds only" section) to have a good, long laugh over the honky-worlds version of their great hit...


And now, with out further ado, I'm sorry as hell to present the second runner-up award for Worst Production Number Ever Filmed to...



(rip, pause)

3 comments:

  1. You're perfectly right: Grace Moore's cover of "Minnie The Moocher" is the worst ever recorded (and filmed!). This reminds me when Pavarotti sang with James Brown!
    And be sure that the whole "When you're in love" movie is totally dumb. Even Cary Grant is not good in it!

    There's more (if ever you insist and dare to want it!) about this song and movie on my website dedicated to Cab Calloway : www.thehidehoblog.com

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  2. Thanks for posting. I was amazed to see that the youtube comments were mostly favorable. Are there still Grace Moore fans out there? I have a hunch that most of the people who posted hadn't ever heard the real "Minnie"--which is a tribute to the song. Even this pallid, white-girl version of the tune can work--if you don't know the original.

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  3. I actually like this film. Yes, Cary Grant is supposed to be an American but has an English accent and Grace Moore is supposed to be Australian and has an American accent but I've seen far worse films in my day. I love the music and the cast is funny and well, 30's. If you can get a hold of it you may just enjoy it.

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