Royal Wedding (MGM) illustrates what is wrong with most splashy Techni-colored cinemusicalsand how entertaining they can sometimes be in spite of it.
The film lacks the pace and style of a good Broadway show (or of MGM's own On the Town). Its songs & dances serve merely as interludes in the kind of plot that cinemagoers know too well. But within these tired limits, the movie offers some amusing comedy, expert staging of individual numbers, bright lyrics by Alan Jay (Brigadoon) Lerner and, best of all, Fred Astaire who, at 51, has never danced with greater skill or ingenuity.
Ironically, Royal Wedding's plot seems no less a banal fiction for patterning itself loosely on the true story of how the famed dance team of Adele & Fred Astaire broke up. The movie's Astaire and his sister-partner (Jane Powell) are musicomedy favorites who dabble in an occasional romance, but shun matrimony on the theory that they owe themselves exclusively to their joint career. When they go to London to do a show, romance pairs Jane with a young peer (Peter Lawford) and Fred with a chorus girl (competently played by Winston Churchill's daughter, Sarah).
Lyricist Lerner's script touches up the story with such humorous byplay as a sly spoof of etiquette in a London pub on the eve of the royal wedding. It also gives Comedian Keenan Wynn a chance to shine in the double role of a brash, slang-spewing Broadway agent and the Oxford-accented twin.
Despite Actress Powell's willing energy, Astaire's best dancing partner turns out to be a clothes tree. Picking it up as a rehearsal prop, he uses it to create a little masterpiece of grace, timing and inventiveness. He scores again in two other numbers that take imaginative advantage of the screen's technical magic. In one, he hoofs all over a room's ceiling and walls; in the other, he and Partner Powell work the lurching of an ocean liner into their shipboard act. Their best number together, matching the show-stopping caliber of Astaire's clothes-tree dance, is a rowdy comic song with a title that sets some kind of record: How Can You Believe Me When I Say That I Love You When You Know I've Been a Liar All My Life?
The Groom Wore Spurs (Fidelity; Universal-International) tries to poke fun at a singing cowboy movie star (Jack Carson) who is a bit of a stinker, fears horses and cannot sing. Though the idea seems worth a farce, it is clumsily turned, geared to a creaky romance (involving Ginger Rogers as a lawyer) and powered by melodramatic nonsense. The joke proves to be not so much on western heroes as on Hollywood farceurs.
Fourteen Hours (20th Century-Fox). A suicidal young man named John Warde stood the U.S. on its ear 13 years ago when he perched all day on the 17th-floor ledge of Manhattan's Gotham Hotel before going over the edge. Inspired by Joel Sayre's New Yorker account, "The Man on the Ledge," skillful moviemakers have turned one of 1938's most exciting news events into a tense, semi-documentary drama that bids firmly for 1951 film honors.