Friday, July 05, 2013

Friday's Old Fashioned: Tonight and Every Night (1945)

London. Music Box Theatre. Tommy Lawson (Marc Platt), an American, turns up to audition for a well-regarded dance troupe. He explains he does not dance per pre-determined choreography – ha! – he dances according to feeling. He dances in the moment. He demonstrates. The gruff if tender-hearted artistic director Tolly (Florence Bates) serves up random songs from the radio for his accompaniment. To each one he dances as his heart instructs. But then Tolly’s radio happens upon a fiery, spittle-throwing speech. She quickly changes the channel. Tommy instructs her to go back. He can dance to that, he declares, and, hey, whaddyaknow? He does!


The speech-giver is Adolf Hitler. This is London circa 1941, smack-dab in the middle of The Blitz. Thus, while “Tonight and Every Night” is chock full of songs and dances, most of which simply serve as vehicles for the stars to strut their stuff rather than comment on the action, WWII is never far away.

The main story is beguiling Rita Hayworth’s starlet Rosalind Bruce being courted by a persistent RAF pilot Paul Lundy (Lee Bowman). But it doesn’t feel like a main story. It feels like a side story with lifts in its shoes, trying desperately to pawn itself off as the main story. Its tone is oddly reminiscent of a sitcom, a game of give and take, in which Rosalind moves back and forth from thinking he’s up to no good to thinking he’s wholly chivalrous. Meanwhile, Tommy finds himself jealous of Rosalind’s RAF Pilot only to realize he really has feelings for Judy (Janet Blair), though I was never completely convinced he had feelings for either. These stories will come to a dramatic end, and while I whole-heartedly admire their attempts to go for a tough wrap-up, it feels unearned and inconsistent with the movie’s tone.

The Music Box Theatre was based on the real life Windmill Theatre, which proudly, defiantly remained open all throughout WWII – yes, even at the height of The Blitz. I recorded the film of Turner Classic Movies and host Robert Osborne explained that originally the film was conceived as a straight drama until, in order to fully capitalize on Hayworth’s rising star, they transformed it into a musical. Reviews are not necessarily the arena for “What they should have done…” laments but it’s difficult to endure “Tonight and Every Night” without wondering what-could-have-been had they stuck to the original plan.

It's an intriguing idea - the theater raising its curtain come rain, shine or air raid siren - and that is, in fact, why I was so curious to watch it. And there is a glorious moment when The Blitz has left a certain portion of the troupe homeless and Judy declares in that sort of breathless whoosh of a voice that you could only get in the Golden Age: "Of course we've got a home. Why don't we just live right here at the theater?" It suggests the sort of cheerful resistance to wartime that the movie aims to capture.

It just doesn't quite meet that aim. It never hones in on a theme and drifts about, over dependent on Hayworth's star power. At one point a marquee on the theater advertises “The Blitz Follies” and, frankly, that would have been a much more appropriate title.

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