During the Golden Age of Hollywood, the major movie studios routinely remade their previous successes after a passage of time. Whether it was MGM (Grand Hotel became Weekend at the Waldorf), Warners (different versions of The Maltese Falcon), or Columbia (It Happened One Night musicalized into You Can’t Run Away from It), it happened all the time. 20th Century Fox was among the primary studios wringing every ounce of juice out of its properties. In 1950, it produced Wabash Avenue, a remake of its 1943 hit Coney Island with the same top-billed star Betty Grable. She had a different supporting cast, a different director, and a different score, but for all intents and purposes, it’s the same movie in a new set of duds.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 32 Min.
Package Includes: DVD
Disc Type: DVD-R
Release Date: 02/01/2013
Former business partners Andy Clark (Victor Mature) and Mike Stanley (Phil Harris) are constantly double-crossing one another attempting to claim a piece of the other guy’s good fortune. Mike’s Loop Café in Chicago is doing fantastic business, and one of his prime assets is showgirl Ruby Summers (Betty Grable) who has a dynamite figure but makes poor choices in material with her rather gauche presentation skills. Andy tricks his way into another partnership with Mike and begins working on Ruby’s act turning her from a peroxided chippie into a chanteuse who can really sell a ballad. Along the way, the two fall in love making Mike regret ever bringing Andy into the business. But he has his own double-cross to thwart their marriage plans and to keep Ruby close to him even as she accepts an invitation to play on Broadway in Oscar Hammerstein’s new show.
The Production Rating: 3/5
With basically the same story, the success of this remake boils down to the quality of its new elements, and despite pleasing direction by Henry Koster, the other rudiments here don’t quite match the material in the earlier film. The songs and dances are somewhat weaker in the new score (new music provided by Mack Gordon and Josef Myrow producing the pretty “Baby, Won’t You Say You Love Me” and the baffling Oscar-nominated “Wilhemina”), and there is far less reliance on old standards (“I Wish I Could Shimmy” and “Harrigan” are really the only two oldies that stand out). Miss Grable is once again partnered in several numbers by the man who did the choreography for the film (this time it’s Billy Daniel), but her dancing takes on a bit of stiffness here that wasn’t evident seven years earlier. Her two leading men – Victor Mature and Phil Harris – aren’t patches on her earlier co-stars George Montgomery and Cesar Romero (Mature in particular incompetently mimes playing the piano, and both men engage in too much forced grinning) though there are a couple of pluses this new movie boasts: Margaret Hamilton as a feisty temperance league protestor who steals the show in her one major appearance and the sloppy drunk played here by James Barton (Charles Winninger in the original) who does a superb tap dance early in the movie that puts most of the rest of the film’s dancing to shame.
Betty Grable was still queen of the Fox lot (though her star was fading; she had only one more year in the box-office top ten to come, and she’d soon be eclipsed by Marilyn Monroe), and while she could still pull off her brand of wholesome cheekiness as a showgirl, those years were ending, too. It must have seemed odd for her to be playing basically the same role again but with different men, costumes, and songs, but she does her usual reliable job. Neither Victor Mature nor Phil Harris sings a note in this musical (odd since Harris was famous as a singing bandleader at the time), and while they play their parts effectively enough, there’s not quite the spark or freshness that their 1943 counterparts demonstrated. Reginald Gardiner isn’t given much to do as Andy’s right-hand man Eddie, and he, too, doesn’t do any crooning.
The film is presented in its theatrical 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The image is unusually dark throughout, and color has been so saturated that skin tones take on unnatural shades of orange or deep, blooming pink. Sharpness, however, is excellent. But the film has a fairly consistent amount of colored noise and debris, and there are even a couple of reel change markers still in place. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so there are 10 chapters.
Video Rating: 3/5 3D Rating: NA
The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. Once again, the volume level has been set uncomfortably high and will require some adjustment on the part of the viewer if he doesn’t wish to listen to a track riddled with distortion. There is some light hiss to be heard in quieter moments, and an occasional pop or two, but those are never problematic. Otherwise, this is a very typical sound mix of its day with a nice balance between dialogue, sound effects, and music. Fidelity at the proper volume level is rather good.
Audio Rating: 3.5/5
There are no bonus features for this made-on-demand disc.
Special Features Rating: 0/5
Wabash Avenue is dependable entertainment for those who enjoy star Betty Grable’s singing and dancing talents. Otherwise, Coney Island provides the snappier, more entertaining version of this story, but likely fans of the star will want both versions so they can do their own comparisons.
Overall Rating: 3/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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