Barely bsed on a 1943 play The Naked Genius by Louise Havoc, i.e., Gypsy Rose Lee, Doll Face (1946) tells of the private life of a stripper.
The play featured animal acts (Gypsy was a bit loony about pets & kept an extensive menagerie) & many other ingredients not saved by the screenwriter. The play was savaged by critics & completely bombed, but Fox had already bought the film rights for a great deal fo money before it even opened on Broadway, so were stuck with the property.
Gypsy had a role in the play but it really starred Joan Blondell as Honey Bee Carroll, who became Vivian Blaine as Doll Face Carroll in the film.
Doll Face starts right off with try-outs for a musical play. A beautiful young woman presents herself shyly almost as a small-town girl without expertise before she sings:
"Somebody's walking in my dreams/ That's why I'm talking in my dreams/ Someone keeps butting in when I start counting sheep/ Someone keeps cutting in & cutting off my sleep..."
Hard-nosed producers are impressed by her slow swing-tune performance, but ask that she pick up the tempo & try again. So she goes through the number with a jazzier take & struts away from the pianist as she belts it out.
That's when one of the handful of guys who are doing the casting cries out "That's it Doll Face, give to 'em!" as he suddenly recognized her as a burlesque performer, Doll Face Carol. "She's the reason the temperature is ten degrees higher downtown than it is uptown!"
As they continue to raggingly praise her as a sleeze star, Michael Frances Hannigan (Dennis O'Keefe) steps out on the stage to stick up for her. He's the owner of the show put on at the Gayety Theater (which really existed) & proud of his girls & has been trying to agent Carol to legitimate theater.
But they're looking for someone with "culture & class" & despite having been impressed by her performance, now that they know she's a "burly-Q," they don't want that association with their production. "You tryin' to say I ain't got class?" demands Doll Face.
Mike points out protectively that they bill her at the Gayety as "The classy chassis from Talahassee. She's from Brooklyn but nothing rhymes with that."
She's obviously heartsick. With a bit of Pygmallion or My Fair Lady, Mike decides to seek out some method that can help her get some culture.
But first we get to see a bit of the Gayety Follies. It starts with "Nicky Ricci the Bashful Baritone" (Perry Como) singing "Red hot & beautiful, that's what you are/ Red hot & beautiful, with the charms I love/ And the glamor of a movie star," as a chorus line dances through.
This really was a typical method of starting a burlesque show, with the main singer (often serving also as master of ceremonies) singing some tune about how lovely the gals are as they do a group dance or prominade giving the impression of a "big" opening.
It won't in totality be all that burlesque, at least not for the striptease component due to film censorship that didn't even go for implications. But there will be a few moments that tepidly capture the real thing. As the opening folllies number proceeds, Doll Face Carroll begins to strut the boards, singing with a Mae West inflection & showing a lot of leg.
In order to get her a reputation for "culture," Mike wants her to write an autobiography. He thinks the book should be called Genius de Milo & it'd be about the trials & tribulations of a decent downhome girl who rises in the burlesque world.
Mike'll hire a ghost writer & she just has to get the publicity. When she's no longer "just" a burlesque queen but also a writer, the world will have to admit that's class!
Mike contacts Freddy Manley Gerard (Stephen Dunne, credited as Michael Dunne), author of a well-reviewed book, & tries to hire him to ghost a book on the burlesque. Freddy really is an upperclass guy among the literati, a highbrow who has never set foot in a burlesque house.
When Mike presents his proposition, the serious writer is just not interested, not at first. But then he meets Doll Face & instanty changes his mind. As Mike & Carroll are romantically involved, & they've just gotten engaged, Gerard is bound to become the third arm of a love triangle.
It's easy to predict she'll be drawn between two good men, one lower class but decent, one upper crust & also a nice guy. In reality Doll Face never wavers from her love of Mike, but that's not how it'll look to him, & whatever goes wrong in their relationship is due to his jealous misbehavior.
Mike announces they should put on their own Broadway show rather than wait for their artists to be taken seriously by legitimate producers. The "let's put on a show!" mode provides an excuse for some pretty darned good music yet to come, though the story remains substantial, unlike some films with musical reviews that supplant story.
Carmen Miranda as Chita is Carroll's close friend with a cynical streak. Mike at one point says to Chita, "You'll probably end up being another Carmen Miranda!" which she takes as an insult. She kind of serves as a comic player through most of the film & her role could've been larger, but she does have one big dynamite stage number singing "Chico Chico (from Puerto Rico)" with probably the most thrilling dance choreography of the whole film.
Perry Como at a piano sings a very nice crooner song "Here Comes Heaven Again." He'll also reprise Vivian's film-opening song "Someone Is Walking in My Dreams" together with co-star Martha Stewart as Frankie in the Broadway burlesque show, while Doll Face is missing from the show due to plot complications.
After Mike's falling out with Doll Face, Frankie gets to be the star, but she just doesn't have the draw on the public. The show is just about doomed for lack of box office before Doll Face is back on the scene. Her public popularity after the release of her autobiography gave her the pull to save the show & move it to a Broadway theater.
In the big closing production, Doll Face will reprise the song Perry already sang, "Red Hot & Beautiful" & she & Perry together will reprise "Here Comes Heaven Again" on stage.
Perry does what must be the closest to jump-jazz that he ever sang, "Dig You Later (A-Hubba Hubba Hubba)" which he first sings with Martha Stewart. It was reprised in the closing medley by Perry & Vivian. It's a witty number with some fine choreography to go with it.
All the songs except Carmen's are sung twice which must've saved some investment in these quality compositions (by Jimmy McHugh & Harold Adamson), but fact is, each number is great, & fine to hear two arrangements for each.
Mike is proud that Doll Face, even if ghosted, will break new ground as the first burly-q to write a book. The original play's author Gypsy Rose Lee did in fact write a bestselling autobiography, but that was published in 1957 long after the semi-autobiographical play & this movie.
This is an extremely entertaining film, well acted, superb support cast, with excellent music, & Vivian Blaine is fantastic. It's too damned bad Doll Face was permitted to fall in the public domain & no dvd company has been willing to invest in its restoration with so many hissing contrasty copies already circulating in the marketplace.
Vivian Blaine should've become a much bigger star, but other than her stints in Guys & Dolls (1955) in a role she originated on Broadway, & State Fair (1945), her roles or her films tended to be minor, though her Broadway career was much bigger.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl