Carmen Miranda in SPRINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES (1942) - CouldaWouldaShoulda Wednesdays

Carmen Miranda is precisely the kind of performer that Oscar like to never appreciates. Consider the attributes that -- at least in Oscar's strange little golden noggin -- become the big strikes against her.
  1. She's beautiful (plus she plays beautiful characters while being beautiful).
  2. She's Latin (thus "not quite white").
  3. She's a singing & dancing comedienne (thus & thus, no plus).
Yet, in 2006, Carmen Miranda's one of the few enduringly iconic performers from Hollywood's glory days of the 1940s musical. But isn't Carmen Miranda just the lady who wore fruit on her head? Isn't she mostly a joke? A sight gag that could sing a little and dance a little less? Well, lovely reader, if your answer to any of those questions is "YES" -- it's prolly a good idea that you just don't tell Lulu. Instead, cool those cha cha heels, and let StinkyLulu tell you why Carmen Miranda's performance in Springtime in the Rockies stands as a worthy CouldaWouldaShoulda performance for 1942.

Carmen Miranda shares star billing with Betty Grable, the headliner of the picture under its U.S. title Springtime in the Rockies. (Miranda's the ascendant star of Secretaria BrazileƱa, the title used to market the same flick to the rest of the Western hemisphere.) 20th Century Fox produced a whole slew of these backstage musical romantic comedies -- sometimes with Grable, sometimes with Alice Faye, always with Carmen -- in the early 1940s. The formula's always the same. The blonde heroine, fleeing something or another, winds up in some glamorous vacation site -- Havana, Buenos Aires, Miami, Lake Louise (!?!) -- where she gets all enmeshed in some inscrutably elaborate romantic intrigue. Typically, said intrigue involves a Brazilian bombshell (Miranda) as some kind of rival. Inevitably, loosey goosey, high-kickerina Charlotte Greenwood is there to provide cynical bon mots as the secretary (or the dresser or the sister or somesuch). Variously appropriate male suitors revolve through variously appropriate doors. Madcap hilarity ensues; sumptuously forgettable musical numbers abound. Suitably heterosexual coupling aligns in the end for a "march toward the camera" musical finale. Good times. El Fin.

"Nice for you to make my acquaintance..."
Carmen Miranda as Rosita Murphy, with Edward Everitt Horton as McTavish, in Springtime in the Rockies (1942).

But something about Springtime in the Rockies is just a little different.
Here, Carmen plays Rosita Murphy (her mother's Brazilian, her father's the American Patrick Murphy, do you know him?) who gets "picked up" (or as Rosita says, "push upped") by the surprisingly hot John Payne on his way to Canada's Lake Louise in pursuit of Betty Grable. Carmen's to be his "secretary" & Edward Everett Horton (whose unmistakable voice Lulu recognized as that of the Narrator from "Fractured Fairy Tales") is to be his "valet" as he woos back Betty Grable. As things proceed, Rosita takes a fancy to the "valet" (who's actually a socially-awkward, totally-loaded toothpaste heir) & sings her distinctive version of "Chattanooga Choo Choo."

Throughout the film, Miranda's Rosita is sweet & clever, not a shrewish harpy as in so many of her films. Further, her naivete becomes neither sheer idiocy nor character flaw. Instead, her naive sophistication turns out to be what saves the day, the show, and the romance. And though adorned with a shocking series of millinery confections, Miranda wears no fruit baskets atop her head in this picture. Sure, Miranda's signature malapropisms ("They spoiled the beans") are always the source of the joke, but -- somehow as Rosita -- Miranda deftly avoids being that joke's target. (Her performances in other Fox films from this era rarely avoid few of these pitfalls.) Indeed, Rosita Murphy's perhaps the only Miranda character that presents an unapologetic celebration of her remarkable beauty, charisma and comic ability. (Plus, she gets the really rich guy in the end.)

So, for your consideration among 1942's CouldaShouldaWouldas:
Carmen Miranda in Springtime in the Rockies.

No comments: