Friday, January 05, 2007

TCM Reviews Best Foot Forward DVD

"Lucille Ball in BEST FOOT FORWARD - An Amazon Exclusive on DVD!"
by Jeremy Arnold

Warner Home Video slipped out a tasty DVD morsel just before Christmas - the 1943 Lucille Ball musical Best Foot Forward. Available exclusively on, this is a tuneful Technicolor treat sure to provide a little extra sunshine on a dark winter's day.

Adapted from a hit Broadway show, Best Foot Forward is basically a college musical with the college in this case played by the fictional Winsocki Military Institute. A young cadet has written a fan letter to Lucille Ball asking her to the prom, never expecting that she'll actually show up. But show up she does, along with her manager who sees this as a great way to drum up a little extra publicity. Unfortunately, the cadet's prom date isn't so high on the idea. Ball is delightful and sexy playing herself, and she shows off some very pleasing comic timing, though she is far from the only attraction. June Allyson, Gloria DeHaven and Nancy Walker shine as prom dates, and supplying fine Hugh Martin-Ralph Blane music throughout is Harry James and His Music Makers band.

It's especially nice to see June Allyson in her feature debut since the actress died only within the last year. She and Nancy Walker were both imported from the Broadway production of Best Foot Forward by producer Arthur Freed, who certainly knew talent when he saw it (or heard it). The Broadway show, in fact, was enough for MGM to sign Allyson to a studio contract; a year later, with the monster hit Two Girls and a Sailor (1944), she became a star.

Walker also makes her movie debut in Best Foot Forward, practically stealing the show with her sharp wisecracks - most of which are aimed squarely at her plain-Jane self. "For everyone else it's a dance. For me it's a concert," she quips. "I'd hang myself but I got a dentist appointment on Tuesday," she jokes. Walker later played "Rosie the waitress" in a series of Bounty paper towel commercials, in addition to a hit television career. Here, she and Allyson and DeHaven all get to show off their dancing skills in the film's best number, "The Three B's," in which they take turns making cases for three musical styles: the barrel house, the boogie-woogie and the blues. The energy of this song-and-dance number is infectious, and it's worth noting that it and all the other musical numbers were directed by Charles Walters, who would go on to direct the best college musical of the era, Good News (1947), which also starred Allyson. His work in Best Foot Forward reveals that he already knows how to use wide shots for maximum impact, something sorely lacking in modern movie musical numbers.

Other songs in this picture include "Buckle Down, Winsocki," the lovely ballad "You're Lucky" (with Ball's voice dubbed by Gloria Grafton), and the energetic "Alive and Kickin'," in which Walker sings on her own and dances to comic effect with Harry James. Indeed, James has quite a bit more to do in this movie than just lead his band, with some occasional dialogue and dancing and one funny moment where his entire band shouts "Lucille Ball!" as a throwaway joke. Mostly, though, the movie is a fun showcase for his band's musical talents.

Extras include the trailer, an excellent cartoon and a so-so short film. The cartoon, One Ham's Family, is a delightfully mean-spirited and clever Tex Avery concoction. The short, The Knight is Young (1938), is one of a series of musical subjects featuring Allyson before her feature career got going, and it's really of interest only for that reason.

There are far less pleasant ways to spend an hour and a half than by experiencing the bright color and lighthearted entertainment value of Best Foot Forward, and Warner's DVD looks superb, with nary a scratch.

For more information about Best Foot Forward, visit Warner Video. To purchase Best Foot Forward, visit Amazon and do a search by title.