“Up on your heels; down on your toes.”
“Good News” began as a Broadway musical that opened in September 1927. It proved to be very popular, lasting for 557 performances. In 1930, MGM produced a film version directed by Nick Grinde that also was well received although it did omit a number of the original songs.
In the 1940s, MGM was establishing an enviable reputation for film musicals under the guidance of producer Arthur Freed and in 1947, it turned to “Good News” once again. The story was growing pretty old, but with an enthusiastic cast, gorgeous Technicolor and a couple of new songs, MGM had another hit on its hands.
Warner Home Video has now released the 1947 Good News on DVD and included a couple of rather interesting supplements with it.
Tommy Marlowe, a woman-crazy football star at good old Tait College, is better known for his sporting exploits on the field than his abilities in the classroom. He is soon smitten with new student Pat McClellan who is on the make for the most handsome and richest of the Tait College men. All this blinds him to the charms and interest of student Connie Lane — a plain-Jane (if you can call June Allyson a plain-Jane) and also part-time librarian.
All appears lost for Connie in her quest for Tommy until, on the eve of the big game, it transpires that Tommy is flunking French. For the good of Tait College, Connie agrees to tutor Tommy so that he can pass and thus participate in the game. Meanwhile, Tommy finally has his eyes opened both to Pat’s fortune-hunting ways and Connie’s down-home virtues. But can he somehow avoid his promise to Pat to become engaged to her after the big game and instead find true love with Connie?
Warners has been doing us a service of late in releasing a number of 1940s MGM musicals on DVD. Thus we’ve seen Anchors Aweigh (1945), On the Town (1949) and Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949). Now, from 1947, we’ve got Good News. The difference is that this time we don’t have any of the A-team — no Kelly, Sinatra, Garland nor Astaire. What we do have is the youthful eagerness of June Allyson and Peter Lawford, an energetic Joan McCracken, and the voice of the “velvet fog” Mel Torme.
For many, I know, June Allyson is an acquired taste. If you start off seeing her in some of her seemingly incredibly perfect wife roles from the 1950s, I think it’s easy to be turned off. Go instead to some of her earlier films such as Two Girls and a Sailor (1944, MGM) or Words and Music (1948, MGM) or the title at hand. I think you’ll be surprised at the vigour and energy she brings to her roles. And speaking of energy, how about Joan McCracken? She’s not particularly well known for her film work, but she capitalizes in Good News on her high energy notices from the stage version of “Oklahoma.” She plays Babe Doolittle, one of Connie’s best friends, and shines in one of the film’s songs “Pass the Peace Pipe.”
Peter Lawford is another acquired taste, and not one that I’ve ever taken greatly to. He’s required to sing and dance in Good Times and he certainly tries hard, but it’s obviously not his forte. And I remember him admitting as much during the segment of That’s Entertainment (1974, MGM) that he hosted. Lawford wasn’t actually the first choice for the role of Tommy. Both Van Johnson and Mickey Rooney were initially considered. On the other hand, it’s a delight to see Mel Torme in Good News. He looks a very young, fuzzy-cheeked 24-year-old. He has a couple of songs and the words just flow like honey from his lips — smooth and slow.
There’s no doubt that the plot of Good News is an old chestnut. Given the basic story, though, MGM dressed it up about as well as was humanly possible. The screenplay was the first for Betty Comden and Adolph Green who would go on to write many successful Broadway and film musicals (how about Singin’ in the Rain [1952, MGM]). The film retained many of the best known musical numbers such as “Good News,” “The Varsity Drag,” and “The Best Things in Life Are Free” (the latter probably being the one best-liked and most-recognizable today), and added a couple of new ones — “Pass the Peace Pipe” and “The French Lesson.” Direction was by Charles Walters who had previously worked as a dance director on several MGM musicals. It was his first such assignment and he keeps the film moving along briskly and stages the major musical numbers well. Finally, the film is graced with the lustrous Technicolor of the era.
Warners’ DVD of Good News is a welcome package indeed. The Technicolor film looks simply great. There are 32 scene selections including separate ones for each musical number. The film is presented full-frame in accordance with the OAR and looks almost like a brand-new film. There are virtually no age-related imperfections and the colours are sharp, bright and clean. The image is just marginally below that of the benchmark Singin’ in the Rain in overall quality — there being perhaps the occasional instance of softness evident. The mono sound is also in good shape.
The DVD basically replicates the supplementary content of the earlier laserdisc version from MGM/UA. It includes two musical numbers from the 1930 version — “Good News’ and “The Varsity Drag” and a number deleted from the 1947 one — “An Easier Way.” The 1930 numbers are a delight, especially the “Good News” one which includes an incredibly rubber-legged routine by an unidentified male performer and is headlined by 21-year-old Dorothy McNulty who gives a very spirited performance. As the DVD notes, McNulty would change her screen name to Penny Singleton who became the comic strip character “Blondie” on film for Columbia and later the voice of television character “Jane Jetson.” The deleted 1947 number apparently was dropped due to pacing concerns, but I enjoyed it better than some that were included.
Cast and crew information is provided, with some detail (but not comprehensive) on June Allyson and Peter Lawford. The original theatrical trailer (not in nearly as good shape as the film itself) rounds out the package.
The gloss of the film’s packaging can’t hide the fact that the whole proceedings are a little bland. Everything’s almost too polished looking. Take away the Technicolor and Good News might be substantially diminished. One just has to look at the slight raggedness of the numbers from the 1930 version to realize the conformity that’s been imposed on the 1947 version and the contribution that colour makes to camouflaging any remaining imperfections. In fact, there’s a vitality and realness (if one can use that term in connection with any film musical number) about the 1930 numbers that make one wish to see the whole version. And that leads me to Warners’ missed opportunity on this disc. It would have been wonderful to see both versions included in full rather than just a couple of excerpts from the earlier one. Warner has had this inspiration before when it included two versions of The Big Sleep and Strangers on a Train on their respective discs, so too bad they didn’t go the extra mile here. There’s no indication on the DVD that the 1930 version is incomplete or in really bad shape, so was the option of including it with the 1947 version just not considered? There are many instances of remakes in the WB and MGM catalogues that could be treated in such a way in the future. Hopefully, Warner will give serious consideration to doing so.
Good News is a great-looking and reasonably entertaining, if predictable, musical from the MGM golden era of film musicals. It benefits immensely from Technicolour and the DVD delivers that benefit in spades. Warner Brothers has given us a very nice DVD package that includes some fascinating numbers from the 1930 version. The problem is that such excerpts just whet our appetite for the whole thing.