Passed, but I will have to comment on the fact that a lot of the music really embraces the uncomfortable casual racism that the music of the 1920s absolutely adored. There's a song about good ol' Dixie and a song about "my little Japanese". Yeah, this is one of those movies that didn't hold up well to history. While none of it seems done with vitriol, I would hold off on the celebration of these two songwriters.
DIRECTOR: Richard Thorpe
Do you know how much time I wasted trying to get the image above? I needed something hi-res for the website. But I also try to get it in the aspect ratio. I'm, like, 60% sure that this movie is 4:3, so I wanted to get the black bars in there. Nope. That doesn't exist. I tried Googling "Three Little Words 1950 aspect ratio". Nothing. So this blog is going swimmingly so far. Let's see how it continues on after this.
This is another pick-up from my in-laws. It's funny. If this was on HBO Max (and for all I know, it is), I probably would have skipped over it. Sure, I really dig Fred Astaire. I tend to watch a lot of forgettable Fred Astaire films and this one is one of those. It's got that title that just seems to bleed into the background, like many of the other movies. I'm probably going to be pretty critical of the movie as a whole, but my main criticism is that there's a lot of "who cares" to the stakes of this movie. Apparently based on the true story of these two songwriters, sometimes history isn't really meant for narrative structure. Sure, there's the element of opposite personalities finding common ground to break through the system and that's a good start. But for much of the film, the same cycle keeps on happening. Once their origin story is out of the way, the film becomes this rotating door of how these guys found inspirations for songs, few of which really penetrated history's cultural zeitgeist in any meaningful way. These songs may have been popular between the 1920s and the 1950s, but 2020 doesn't really lose their minds over "Three Little Words." (Note: They did write "I Want to be Loved by You", which does have that staying power. But the film almost treats this like a minor contribution to the musical canon as opposed to the powerhouse it is.)
But I do want to give it some props. Not all, because there is one major flaw I have with the one moment of grace in the film. It takes a while for the story to find a conflict. However, once the film finds that conflict in the last act, the movie actually becomes really watchable. Harry's sabotage of Bert was bound to come back and bite him. We get Harry's perspective on Bert's play. Because the play is panned before production, we understand his altruistic move to pull funding before Bert's reputation is ruined. Yeah, he does it in a cowardly way, but that's part of life. Harry is in a no-win situation and he rightfully faces the consequences for his decision in the long run. I'm all aboard that. The story becomes interesting in this sequence because it makes sense that Bert feels betrayed by someone who won his friendship over. While I would have moved the conflict to an earlier point in the story, the silver lining is that the movie does really sell that these two opposites become genuine friends by the time that Bert discovers the deception. But I do have a problem with one thing...
Bert is equally --if not more so --manipulative of Harry. I don't know if the filmmakers are aware of the hypocrisy that Bert's indignation seems out of place. Harry once in his career runs into an awkward situation. Knowing that Bert's career is on the line, he makes the choice to sabotage Bert's chances. It's probably not his call, but that's the narrative. However, Harry keeps falling in love with these girls who ultimately are using him. Not once does Bert actually confront Harry about his choice in women. Instead, he sets Bert up to get cheated on and dumped time and again. That whole baseball running gag? That's Bert doing the exact thing to Harry that Harry was doing to Bert. I'd like to think that the filmmakers were aware of this, thus including it in the story. But part of me thinks that there's a degree of ignorance towards these moments. The baseball sequences where Harry is distracted from women are played for laughs. If anything, they're actually a bit drawn out for the silliness factor that is the lifeblood of the film. But Harry's deception is told in this aggressively serious manner. That shift in tone between these two moments almost highlights the fact that the filmmakers really view this as a one sided issue.
Yeah, the movie stresses that Bert is unable to view the sequence objectively. But it also doesn't see Bert as the bad guy at all. We like Harry because he's bumbly and oafish, thanks to the performance of Red Skeleton. But Bert comes out of this as having to be exclusively in a place of forgiveness. That's fine, I guess, but there's never that moment of culpability for him doing the exact same thing. If anything, Bert's deception is almost more problematic. With Harry's deception, there's an element of a peer saving a peer. Any artist is too close to his work to be objective. However, Harry is a grown adult. His relationships need to be handled by him, not by committee. Every time that Harry gets into a relationship, Bert and Jess decide whether or not they need to save Harry from himself. Yeah, those women ended up being extremely toxic. (Okay, we know the first woman was toxic because we saw her cheating. I just think that they didn't like the second woman.) That culpability is central to the story. If we're meant to condemn Bert for his hypocrisy, then the movie works. But without that, the dynamic is all off. We have a very specific narrative that doesn't really play out.
I don't know what I feel about it. I suppose it won't be one of my favorite musicals ever. The songs, although a celebration of these two musicians, don't do much for me. There's something ironic about the fact that the movie showcases these songs that are supposed to make my jaw drop, but really, I eye roll. History has not been kind to Three Little Words. I imagine that some audience in history really digs it. It just does very little for me.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.