Monday, April 20, 2015

A Second Chorus (1940)

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Several classic films have the story of two guys fighting for the attention of one girl. Usually the guys are a little childish and do stupid stuff to each other to make the other look bad to the girl. Well, A Second Chorus is exactly like that, but not only are the two guys fighting for the attention of the one girl they are also fighting for attention of band leader Artie Shaw. Silly, yes I know I just finished sitting through the film.
            Danny O’Neill (Fred Astaire) and Hank Taylor (Burgess Meredith) have been in a college band for the past seven years. The only reason they have been in the college band for so long is because they have been failing all their classes purposely. At a gig one night Danny notices a woman making eyes at him. Hank also takes notice of the woman and he likes her. After Danny performs his number he goes over to the woman whose name is Ellen Miller (Paulette Goddard). Turns out, Ellen is from a collections agency and she hands him a summons under the table.
            The following day, Danny and Hank go to the collections office to try to sweet talk their way out of paying. They both flirt with Ellen like little school boys. The collections agent tells them that one of them bought a group of Encyclopedias seven years prior and never paid for it. Hank and Danny want Ellen to be their secretary so they mess with the collector that Ellen put them up to try to bribe him. The guy gets upset he fires Ellen and throws the two men out of his office. Danny and Hank then offer Ellen a job as their band’s secretary.
            As soon as she gets to the school Ellen is on the phone booking the band bigger and better gigs. Whoever she speaks to Ellen puts on an act and talks the band up to fit the venues and the owners. The band eventually gains such a reputation that word gets round to band leader Artie Shaw (playing himself). The school band kind of becomes a rival to Artie.

            At the end of the school year Hank becomes upset because he passed a class and he now has to graduate. Danny admits to Ellen that he had a hand in helping Hank pass by writing a paper so that he could be alone with her. Hank gets Danny back by proving to the dean of the school that Danny, not him, was the one who wrote the paper. Now Danny has been kicked out of the school and neither one of them can be in the band.
            Artie wants to see the band. Danny and Hank duel it out with their trumpets to try to get Artie’s attention. Unfortunately their dueling is to no avail as Artie just wanted to speak to Ellen. He wanted to speak to the band’s manger since she had been getting them so many gigs. Artie wants Ellen to be his new manager and she accepts. At the station the following day Ellen really does not want to leave for New York City. She and Danny kind of wait for the other to say the magic words “I love you don’t go” but neither of them say the words.
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            At the station Danny and Hank claimed they were going back to their hometowns to work at their families’ businesses. They both go to New York City to see Artie just after Ellen convinced Artie to let them audition for the band. Danny gets to the audition before Hank. He messes with Hank by telling the doorman to not let Hank in. Hank catches on so he messes with the notes for the song Danny is going to play on stage. Danny gets Hank back by pulling him off the stage in the back and the two of them get into a major brawl. Ellen is furious with both of them and Artie does not even want to hear their names.
            The same night at the same club where Danny and Hank audition, there is an older gentleman named Lester Chisholm who has been at several performances. Artie is a little unsettled with Lester always being there so he has Ellen go over to see what Lester’s deal is. The older man reveals that he just really likes music and that when he was younger he was forced into the family business instead of following his passion for music. Ellen gets Lester to back a concert for Artie. The only reason Lester is even backing a concert is because he believes he will be able to play his mandolin at the show.
            Danny tries to see Ellen one night. He calls to her apartment asking to come up and she tells him that he cannot it is not a good time. Lester is in her room to go over the concert. Danny thinks Hank is in her room so he leaves the building and climbs up to her room. He hides under her bed in her room where Hank also happens to be because he though Danny was in the room. They both think Ellen is being taken advantage of by an older man so they devise a plan where Danny distracts Ellen and Hank comes out of the room pretending to be her husband. Lester runs out of the room and pulls out of backing the show.
            Danny promises Ellen he will have the whole situation fixed with Lester in one hour. He goes to see Lester with Hank claiming they are there to clear Ellen’s name. They make up a song for Lester to think he can play on the mandolin for the show. They do that so they can be the only ones who can play the song and for Lester to insist on it being in the show. Danny goes to see Artie and Ellen and he makes up a song on the spot. Artie likes the song and sees if there will be a spot in the show for it. Both Danny and Hank want Lester to stay away from the show. Danny wants both of them to stay away so he has Hank keep an eye on Lester. Hank says he will try only if Danny can get him a place in the orchestra.
            Things happen that I cannot really remember. Danny gets in the show with a different number. Hank and Lester get left at the hotel passed out on the couch from exhaustion from practicing nonstop. Danny of course winds up with Ellen.
            All the praise goes to Paulette Goddard. She is such an underrated classic actress. I loved her with Fred Astaire. Goddard had this wonderful tough chick attitude in pretty much all her films and she definitely had it here. When Astaire worked with Ginger Rogers she always gave his characters such an attitude. Her attitude was snarky and sassy. Goddard’s, as I said, was tough chick but not snarky or sassy. I liked seeing that kind of attitude against Astaire’s character’s boyishness and annoyingness. I have no idea if any of that made sense. I guess to put it plainly Goddard’s attitude was perfect compared to Astaire’s annoyingness. Burgess Meredith really does nothing for me and never does in whatever film I see him in.
            This film what to me is an absolutely underrated Fred Astaire dance number. The number is called “Dig It” and he dances it with Paulette Goddard. I am just going to go right ahead and say that Goddard is one of Astaire’s best dancing partners. The woman is not out of sync with Astaire for one moment. She also looks like she had a blast dancing. The song is so much fun. The horn section on this song fantastic I love listening to it. I actually get the horn and the drumbeat mixed with it stuck in my head all the time. I actually watched “Dig It” by itself a few years ago and I never forgot it I loved it so much. I am sure that is mostly due to Goddard just being beyond brilliant with her dancing. And also the horns and drum mix as I have mentioned.

            A Second Chorus was alright. Fred Astaire’s and Burgess Meredith’s characters were so annoying. I will say that Danny O’Neill is a character that is not a typical one for Astaire. In many of his films with Ginger Rogers he was usually the love sick little boy chasing the girl. He is the same way in A Second Chorus but his character was much crueler and devilish than his other love sick little boy roles. It was interesting for me to see Artie Shaw in a film. I love Ava Gardner and she was married to him for a while. I had no idea he was even in a film and I had never heard any of his music before this. It is hard to imagine Shaw being such an ass to Ava and even to Lana Turner whom he married later on after seeing him in this film but I will believe it.  A Second Chorus is worth watching if you love and adore Paulette Goddard or if you want to see Fred Astaire in an atypical role.
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