Based on the Jerome Kern stage musical, Sunny (1941) opens at Mardis Gras in New Orleans. It's crowded with colorful costumes & motion plus a bit of boogy-woogy, & soon moves into a circus show. So for such a little film, it really grabs you at the start.
A love interest is soon discovered for Larry (John Carroll), followed by the circus show featuring a comedy dance performance by ringmaster Bunny Billings (Ray Bolgier, best known as the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, but who alas isn't in the film nearly enough).
Larry's new love interest is Bunny's dance partner Sunny Sullivan (Anna Neagle), & she & Bunny are lovely when performing together. There'll also be a too-brief appearance by Martha Tilton who is in the film long enough to sing "The Lady Must Be Kissed." Frankly, she should've played Anna Neagle's role of Sunny.
Edward Everett Hale plays Henry, Larry's lawyer & nervous-nelly companion. Henry has instructions to keep Larry out of trouble. He is just such a fairy & likes to imagine Larry in short pants & acts abused that Larry prefers girls. When the girl falls in Henry's disinterested lap, he tells her he'd like to ship her back to her parents, which is no surprise to her. It's rare that the gayness of a character is so acknowledged in these old films.
At the circus show we're inspired by a juggling act with Hector the Seal, followed by a charming & imaginative rendition of "Sunny" sung by Anna Neagle while performing with the white horse Paddy. This is the sort of stuff that keeps the visuals peppy.
Throughout this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink show, there's very little story, except Larry keeps flirting with the girl on stage. Gay Henry is worried about this, as Larry is apparently prone to romantic misadventures, & has slipped the noose & is off to court Sunny.
The romance is fairly ordinary with an underlying threat, not really threatening at all, that it'll only last as long as Mardis Gras. Larry croons "Who Stole My Heart Away" as Sunny dances like a hoochy-couchy queen.
Soon Sunny's engaged to Larry & she's willing to retire from show business. On her farewell show she does sailor drag smoking a pipe & sings alongside Bolger "Two Jolly Blueboys," tapdancing about the ship's-deck of a stage set.
Aunt Barbara or "Bobba" (Helen Westley) was the one who had instructed Henry to make sure this sort of relationship didn't develop between Larry & some random girl whom Barbara cannot fathom as anything but a gold digger. She's a dissolute old eccentric globetrotter who probably thinks all young women are as bad as she was at that age.
There's an apparent expectation that Larry will marry Juliet (Grace Hartman) though they are only friends, & Juliet, an endearing halfwit, is falling for the stage magician (Paul Hartman) with a white mouse named Eustace.
The Hartmans were vaudevillians who as Fred Astair & Ginger Rogers wannabes were surprisingly popular in the '40s, though their main success was in the musical theater not the cinema. Grace died in 1955 of cancer & her husband carried on as a character actor & was Emmett the handyman on The Andy Griffith Show.
Larry whisks Sunny away from the circus life to the mansion called Waverley Hall. Aunt Bobba after a big show of not liking the girl eventually comes around. And since Juliet plans to run off to the circus with Egghead the Magician, this'll all work out swell for everyone. When Juliet & Egghead perform their dance routine to Bolero, it's wonderfully comic.
Sunny's circus pals just automatically assume they'd be welcome at her future home & turn up unexpectedly. Sunny likewise thought her friends would be welcome & was alarmed to discovery she's fallen for a man who is not nearly as tolerant as he seemed at Mardis Gras.
The circus folk practically take over Waverley Hall in order to provide entertainment with seal act, tapdancing, acrobats, until Larry's breeding gets the better of him & kicks them all out. Sunny quite rightly takes their side & leaves with them, returning with angry disappointment to her circus life.
As if musical comedies ever have any other outcome, Larry realizes that for once in his life that this romantic escapade had deeper meaning. Soon enough he redeems himself in a muddled but okay kidnapping climax.
When such b-musicals are well done there's just nothing sweeter & more innocent. Whether this one is quite done well is a hard call, since Anna Neagle & John Carroll aren't exactly charismatic & are constantly upstaged by the suppoprt roles. But I certainly enjoyed it for its simplicity, liveliness, & tunes that were at least cute even when not splendid.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl