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Movie Musical Monday, March 19th: “Lady Be Good”

March 19, 2012

Good morning, and Happy Movie Musical Monday!

Today’s film is MGM’s 1941 film, Lady Be Good.

photo credit

Conceived to be a vehicle to introduce Ann Southern (former Goldwyn Girl) as a name-musical talent, the film is your typical backstage-story-meets-light-marital-satire.  It borrows the title and accompanying song from a 1924 Broadway show, but that’s about it for similarities between the product and the source material.  The movie is also another feature from MGM’s Freed unit, and includes a couple of songs co-written by the famous producer.

Despite the fact that Ann Southern and Robert Young are the leads in this film, Eleanor Powell has top billing.  This was meant to compensate for the fact that no one really knew Ann Southern could sing, and Robert Young never seems to much.  By giving Powell top billing, MGM was basically trying to convince the public that, “No, seriously, guys: this is actually a musical.  For reals.”


Robert Young (no longer fakely Spanish) and Ann Southern (no longer in the chorus) are married couple composer and lyricist Eddie Crane and Dixie Donegan, respectively.  The movie opens with Dixie testifying on a witness stand to Judge Lionel Barrymore (who must not have had anything better to do one day than be in three scenes of this movie) that she wants a divorce.  But first, Lionel Barrymore asks, tell us how you two got together?  Apparently Dixie was the waitress that used to charge Eddie $.20 for $.50 worth of breakfast, until finally one day they started going out and “became a habit” to each other.  Then, faster than you can say, “And then one night,” we flashback to the night where Eddie is playing a song on a borrowed piano for a lyricist, while Dixie watches (because she’s a woman) with a dog named Buttons.  Eddie keeps breaking out the same sixteen bars with the lyricist is pacing back and forth, who finally turns to Eddie and says, “Listen, nothing personal, I just don’t like the tune.”  He goes, leaving Eddie in the dumps and Dixie desperate to console him.  Eddie believes that a composer and lyricist have to work together for some time to build up a style and quality that’s recognizable.  Then he goes on to list the big-name composers whose work will be passed off as songs these two characters write in the movie, plus a couple more for good measure.

Dixie blushing asks if Eddie would mind if a girl wrote lyrics to his song.  He doesn’t object to this.  Then she confesses that she’s written lyrics to his song JUST NOW on her handkerchief.  Would he mind giving her a chance?  Of course not:

(I love how playing the piano in a movie musical manifests a whole orchestra.)

Understandably, this song will be a hit (because only people in love write hits), and so they get married.  DUH.

But then of course: CONFLICT!

Back in the courtroom, Marilyn (Powell), Dixie’s BFF, tells Lionel Barrymore what happened to drive a wedge between the two lovebird-hit-machines.  She says that Eddie went “Park Avenue,” forgot his old friends and where he came from.  After a party one night, where Eddie spent most of the evening pandering to 1%-ers, Dixie tells him before bed that she wants to write a song.  Right Now.

At this point it’s important to remember that the first time these two wrote a song, it basically engaged them.  So for this couple (in 1941), song writing is essentially: having sex.  Good sex.  Top-of-Variety-charts-for-18-weeks-sex.  He tells her he’s “not in the mood.”  She reminds him that they used to be able to do it any time.  He still refuses, and they have a small tiff.  She says he’s changed, he has no idea what she’s talking about, and then Dixie drops the hint of divorcing him.  Instead of doing what men are supposed to do when they love a woman who is threatening to leave (FIGHT FOR HER, YOU IDIOT), Eddie pulls a Franklin Shepherd-esque power play by undoing his silk bow tie and telling her casually, “I mean, do what you want, I won’t stop you.  I’ll be busy eating lobster for lunch tomorrow.  We cool.”  They agree to throw in the towel.  Just like that.  Because someone wouldn’t bother to stay up for 20 minutes (do you really need more?) and write a song.

BACK IN THE COURTROOM: Marilyn is dismissed from the stand, and Eddie is called.  But of course: he’s eating lobster, so he’s not there.   Lionel Barrymore is all, “Generally divorce in the 1940’s is a damn shame, but what are you going to do?  Granted.  And now I will wheel off to the cantina to meet my brother John.”  Marilyn and Dixie get out to the street, where Marilyn says, “Let’s celebrate!” and Dixie says, “Let’s pick up Eddie’s blue suit from the cleaner’s and drop it off to him because it’s raining, and he always liked to wear it when it rained. ::SOB!::”  Clearly being in love with someone is not enough of a reason to stay married to them.

For his part, Eddie deals with the divorce by playing the piano in a lot of other women’s houses.  But one day he comes home to his bachelor pad to find that his servants have quit.  He is looking around the room and finally calls Dixie and asks her to come over right away so he can speak to her.  Dixie bolts over to the apartment–like every woman desperate and in love will always do–and Eddie tries to clean up a little for her.  When she arrives, both lie and say they can’t stay long.  They look at each other longingly, until finally Eddie confesses why he called Dixie over.  It takes a woman to run an apartment, he tells her, and could she possibly get new servants for him since his other ones quit?

Wrong question to ask.  Dixie flips, understandably.  But instead of walking out and making Eddie find the phone book and call The Maids his own damn self, she starts clucking away and picking up every piece of trash she finds.  It’s only because she’s still in love with him that she is a subconscious door mat.  While someone else cleans up his mess, Eddie takes this opportunity to sit down at the piano and tinker with a new song.  Dixie perks up.  She asks him to play back this new melody again.  And then: Inspiration.  She gets out her handkerchief and a few hours later they’ve written a brand new song.  Let’s consider this make-up sex.

In fact, they’re so exhausted from the orgasmic frenzy of song writing, that Dixie is ready to crash, so they agree to sleep and listen to it again in the morning.  This song was so good, they have also completely forgotten they are divorced, and make their way to their plush twin beds.  It’s not until Dixie gets her dress off and sees Eddie untying his shoes that she remembers: she doesn’t live here anymore.  She runs off into the night.

The next day, word has begun to spread that E&D have written a brand new hit.  It also comes out that crooner Buddy Crawford is making a move for Dixie.  Eddie finds out and is instantly taken with jealousy–I mean, he just wrote a song with the woman last night, does that mean nothing?  Eddie tries to punch Buddy, but fails.  A couple of nights later, Buddy performs the song live on the radio (as does a very queer, expressionless Virginia O’Brien, playing a character named Lull) and Eddie shows up at the club to make sure no shenanigans are taking place.  He asks Dixie to leave with him so they can talk (and maybe write another song), but she says she arrived with Buddy and it would be rude to leave with someone else.  Eddie gets upset and goes.

The next morning, Eddie sends a small greenhouse in assorted flowers to Dixie to apologize for his behavior and tells her that they have to work much more, giving him a handy excuse to see her.  Then they sit down to write another song.  Since Eddie is finally doing everything he should have done when they were married, this song-writing-love-making session results in a HIT by the Gershwins.  It takes the world by storm in a four-minute montage.  Everyone is playing this song: symphonies, the Chinese, lifeguards, jazzmen.  It’s so huge that the music industry actually holds a gala in their honor while they’re both still alive.  While there, Ann Southern sings another song her character didn’t write:

During this sequence on film, Southern’s face is cross dissolved with images of Paris, France.  Why?  These characters have never been to Paris before, and they have no ambition to go there.  We know this because it has never come up in the dialogue.  So here’s another moment where MGM was pandering directly to its audience with material from the time: A year prior to the release of the film, the Battle of France had occurred.  This was when Nazi troops invaded and began their occupation of that country.  So singing a song about the last time you saw Paris while it was occupied by a growing world threat, with the US about to enter the war, probably caused the audience of the time to think a little and possibly cry.  This is the only time any historical events of the day come up in this film.

(NOTE: This song actually won the Oscar for best song, but had been released the year before, not written for the film.  This caused a small uproar amongst the people who care about that stuff, and the following year the rules for Oscar nominations changed to ensure this sort of thing would never happen again.)

In the cab home, Eddie again makes another plea for Dixie to get back together with him for good.  She refuses, saying since their divorce, he’s finally ambitious.  He decides to give up once and for all, and gets out of the cab.

This is the point where the movie should have ended.  Eddie has carried the cross long enough, they have all this money coming in, everyone loves them and loves them together.  And they still love each other.  But Eleanor Powell hasn’t danced once, so we better keep going.

Marilyn thinks the only way to get Eddie and Dixie back together is to make Eddie insanely jealous (so I guess we are just forgetting the fact that he has said repeatedly that he wanted to get back with her, and now Ann Southern’s over it even though she isn’t).  She convinces Buddy (somehow) to send Dixie a HUGE diamond ring.  Then she’ll make sure Eddie hears about it and storms over to take his woman back by force.  Because for some reason, this seems necessary.  But let’s ignore the fact this movie is still happening and watch this AMAZING DANCE SEQUENCE with Eleanor Powell and Buttons:

It’s just so awesome.  I’m so glad we held out for that.  Powell trained that dog herself, PS.  For that, I can even forgive those patterned harem pants.

So everything goes according to plan: the ring arrives, Dixie accepts it (thinking it’s from Eddie), Buddy shows up, and Marilyn tells Eddie over the phone that Dixie got this diamond ring from Buddy.  But oops: Eddie is so enraged that he says he’s coming over and BRINGING A GUN.  General panic takes over the company while they try to get themselves together (and the women change their outfits) so they can leave without getting shot.  Eddie arrives, and everyone mistakes a boxed-pearl necklace in his pocket for a gun, and there is your typical business.  Everything works out, and Eddie dares Dixie to marry him again.  Apparently that was all he had to do all along, because she does.

As the four of them are driving back from the small ceremony in Connecticut, (I don’t know why they were there), Buddy and Marilyn cuddle in the back seat and decide they’ll get married, too, why not?  Then Dixie starts talking about a new show she and Eddie are going to start writing, and Eddie says it can wait till after their second honeymoon.  Dixie over-reacts (in this bloggers humble opinion) and tells Eddie this is a deal breaker.  He gets angry, and makes her and Buddy and Marilyn get out of the car, and leaves them on the side of the road.

Maybe Dixie preferred the song writing over hot-make-up-second-honeymoon-sex because it would have been better?  Hmmmmm.  A thought.

Anyway, cut back to New York and one day Dixie has to visit Eddie to pick up some lyrics she left in his piano bench (now how did those get there?).  And what does she find: another woman standing near while Eddie is composing!  And she is wearing a taller hat!  Eddie explains that he’s going to write a symphony, since he had always wanted to, and it looks like this sophisticated lady is going to introduce him to the right people.  The rejection of Dixie is total and complete: not only is he writing music for another woman, he is writing music in a completely different genre.  Dixie and Eddie yell at eachother, and then we get to watch a Busby Berkeley musical number, choreographed to “Fascinatin’ Rhythm.”

Even Lionel Barrymore liked this number.  He tells us because, yes: Dixie is BACK IN THE COURTROOM to ask for a second divorce.  Again, however, she says it’s not because she doesn’t love her husband.  Then Lionel Barrymore gets to be the voice of reason that should have happened about 20-40 minutes prior in this film and tells her NO she can’t have a divorce this time, silly girl, and commands her to “Go home and behave yourself.”  She, Marilyn, and Buddy leave.  Eddie shows up to court after everyone’s gone, deus ex machina style, and receives a chastising himself from L. Barrymore, who is packing up to meet his brother John for lunch again, no doubt, and wondering if the money for this project was really worth the strain to his arthritis.  Eddie leaves court thinking he and Dixie are divorced, then finds her at a roadside inn and begs her to marry him again.  Right before they kiss he stops and says, “Wait–we’re not married.”  She says, “Will you keep right on thinking we’re not?”  They kiss, the supporting cast enters, everyone sing, END OF MOVIE.

Oh: also Red Skelton is in this.  If that matters to you.


  1. Your Words and My Music: this would be a great audition song for a man going up for Jimmy Powers in City of Angels.  Provided you can find the sheet music.
  2. The Last Time I Saw Paris: Good for a World War II musical review, or if you accompany burlesque shows in music of this style.  And generally, it’s pretty.
  3. Lady Be Good: It’s a jazz standard, so you (and I) should probably know it.  Also, since everyone loves shows set in the 20’s and 30’s lately, and Broadway has fallen back in love with the Gershwins, it would probably behoove you to take a listen to the score of the 1924 show.

That’s all for now.  Be good, and Happy Movie Musical Monday!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2012 10:41 am

    I adore your Movie Musical Monday posts. I don’t know anyone who can be so simultaneously informed about, loving of, and slightly derisive of the silliness of movie musicals 🙂

    • The Reflective Artist permalink
      March 19, 2012 11:05 am

      Thank you, Redheaded Actress! They’re a lot of fun to write about–despite the fact they are often so ridiculous, I do love them.

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