THE DVD SHELF: A June Grab Bag With Montgomery Clift, George Clooney and More

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08 Jun 2014

Cover art
Cover art

This month we watch the 1955 television adaptation of Kurt Weill's One Touch of Venus, Douglas Sirk's '50s melodrama "All That Heaven Allows," the Howard Hawks western "Red River" and George Clooney's "The Monuments Men."

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The recent release of the complete, 2-CD studio cast recording of Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash's 1943 musical comedy One Touch of Venus (on Jay Records) has coincidentally been joined by the 1955 television production of One Touch of Venus [VAI]. Venus, the musical, has been rarely seen over the last half century; the telecast in question was adapted from one of the not-very-many major productions, by Dallas State Fair Musicals. That summer's production was telecast by Oldsmobile on NBC August 27, 1955.

Starring as Venus is not Mary Martin, who created the role on stage, but perhaps the closest to Mary they could find. Janet Blair had been a contract player at Columbia in the early 1940s, most memorably as Rosalind Russell's sister Eileen in My Sister Eileen. Her most prominent role, though, came in 1950 in Martin's role of Nellie Forbush in the first national company of South Pacific. Blair toured with the show for three years; apparently she was good enough, though not in a league with Martin.

As Venus, Blair is — I suppose — good enough though not in a league with Martin. The Dallas production and the TV adaptation were directed by George Schaefer and choreographed by Edmund Balin. Russell Nype (post-Call Me Madam) and George Gaynes (post-Wonderful Town) co-star as the barber and the aesthete. The cast includes Mort Marshall and Iggie Wolfington (pre-Music Man) as the supporting comic duo; Laurel Shelby as the featured comedienne; and William LeMassena, Arnie Freeman and Louis Nye in small roles.

If rough and rushed in the manner of live television circa 1955, this One Touch of Venus is certainly watchable. It gives a far better idea of the show than the 1948 motion picture version, which starred Ava Gardner and cut most of Weill's score. The 90-minute telecast includes all but four of the songs; only one of the cuts, I would say, is missed. Also included are abbreviated versions of the two big ballets, "Forty Minutes for Lunch" and "Venus in Ozone Heights." (Neither have the original de Mille choreography, and are rather basic aside from the music.) While the live-TV audio is primitive, it does sound like Weill's orchestrations are used; the composer died five years earlier, in 1950. Franz Allers conducted in Dallas, although the television chores were handled by Gino Smart. (Smart received his sole Broadway credit six months later, as vocal arranger of the Allers-conducted My Fair Lady.)

What is revealed is a tuneful if slapdash musical comedy, with a rather creaky book from Nash and S.J. Perelman. (There is clearly some book adaptation, by Schaefer and John Gerstad.) The performances are okay, although Blair doesn't provide the magical spark that the show seems to need. The whole thing is okay, really, but in no way exceptional, which is what I think we'd find if someone bothered to revive the show today.



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