Coney Island (MOD)
Directed by Walter Lang
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 96 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English Subtitles: none
Region: no designation
MSRP: $ 19.98
Release Date: available now
Review Date: March 11, 2013
Former business partners Eddie Johnson (George Montgomery) and Joe Rocco (Cesar Romero) are constantly double-crossing one another attempting to claim a piece of the other guy’s good fortune. Rocco’s Ocean Gardens café on Coney Island is doing fantastic business, and one of his prime assets is showgirl Kate Farley (Betty Grable) who has a dynamite figure but makes poor choices in material with limited presentation skills. Eddie tricks his way into another partnership with Joe and begins working on Kate’s act turning her from a peroxided chippie to a chanteuse who can really sell a ballad. Along the way, the two fall in love making Joe regret ever bringing Eddie into the business. But he has his own double-cross to thwart their marriage plans and keep Kate working in his own showplace.
True to its era, George Seaton’s slim story puts Grable at the center of a love triangle (not for the first or last time) with lots of tedious misunderstandings, break-ups, and make-ups along the way. Grable’s musicals were generally not integrated ones. The songs and dances were almost always a part of a stage show or performance venue, and that’s certainly true of all of the numbers here. Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger provided four original songs for the movie: “Take It from There” was intended to be the ballad that would become a standard, but it didn’t catch on (no Oscar nomination while another Fox film that year provided the year’s Oscar-winning tune “You’ll Never Know” sung by Fox’s other big musical star Alice Faye), and “Lulu from Louisiana” provided a blackface number for Grable (well, her male chorus is in blackface; she’s more heavily suntanned). The big finale number is the forgettable “Danger in a Dance” which finds the film’s choreographer Hermes Pan paired (as he often did at Fox) with Grable in the last two sections of the number. Most of the memorable music from the film came from an array of old standards: “Put Your Arms Around Me,” “Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder?” “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” “Pretty Baby,” and “Cuddle Up a Little Closer” which Grable made a hit again.
As always, Betty Grable’s more than adequate singing, dancing, and acting make her the perfect focus of a light Fox musical confection, and she shows plenty of leg in the wintry “Pretty Baby” number and in “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” George Montgomery is all smiles and teeth as the tricky Eddie Johnson (he’s dubbed in a couple of lines of singing by Ben Gage). Poor Cesar Romero as Joe Rocco comes up short yet again losing the girl in the final reel. Phil Silvers makes one of his earliest screen appearances (this was his fifth movie) as Eddie’s partner-in-crime Frankie. Charles Winninger gets to do his drunk act in a couple of scenes as Eddie and Frankie’s pal Finnigan. Look closely and quickly, and you’ll see expert dancer James Mitchell as one of the male ensemble dancers in the “Irish Eyes Are Smiling” number.
The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Though it’s common knowledge that Fox didn't keep around its 3-strip Technicolor elements, there are certainly scenes in this transfer that would call that fact into question due to the richness and purity of color. Flesh tones, however, are all over the map. Often they’re pleasing and realistic, but they can also vary from nutmeg brown to overly pink. A good upconverting player will also present a sharp, true image here with almost no age-related artifacts that stand out. Black levels aren’t the deepest, but they’re pretty good in many scenes. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes, so this film has 10 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix when decoded by Dolby Prologic ends up in the center channel. Though once again Fox has coded the volume at ridiculously high levels, that’s easily remedied. There is still some low level hiss to be heard in quieter scenes, but otherwise the dialogue is always clear and isn’t drowned out by Alfred Newman’s Oscar-nominated musical adaptation score or the varied sound effects when they’re applied.
There are no bonus features on this made-on-demand disc.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Reportedly sales of the commercial Betty Grable Collection weren’t very good, so buying Miss Grable’s films from Fox’s MOD program seems the likeliest way collectors are going to get them. Coney Island is in many ways a typical Grable vehicle, but this is one Fox MOD disc that fans can buy with confidence.