Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Dance Party: West of the Wide Missouri


This week's Dance Party clip comes from a film which is a sentimental favorite of mine. Don't ask me why, I can't really explain it.


Back in the 1960s, Walt Disney attempted to resurrect the long-dead studio system by putting two young triple-threats under contract for a series of musical films. John Davidson and Lesley Ann Warren were first paired in The Happiest Millionaire, with a score by Disney's favorite composing team, the Sherman brothers. That film clocks in at a whopping 2 hours and 45 minutes, and was presented as a prestige event, even including an intermission. (Hard to imagine an intermission in a movie, but several 60s films used them, including Hello, Dolly!, Lawrence of Arabia, Funny Girl, and Cleopatra. They called these "road show" movies.) Even with Fred MacMurray providing comic relief, The Happiest Millionaire isn't much of an event. Any movie which requires singing from Greer Garson and Geraldine Page is in trouble.

Disney's next film for Davidson and Warren is much more satisfying. It carries the unwieldy title The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band, and is scored once again by the Sherman brothers. It concerns a family of homesteading music makers who help settle the expanding west, and become embroiled in the presidential election of 1888. Riveting stuff, eh? Think The Partridge Family Goes Nebraskan. In addition to our ingenues, the film stars Buddy Ebsen, Janet Blair, and Walter Brennan; the film was originally envisioned as a two-part episode on Disney's Wonderful World of Color for television, which explains such recognizable faces as Richard Deacon and Wally Cox in supporting roles.

The following clip takes place on election night, and the happy couple are feuding; they attempt to one-up each other by dancing with other partners. Davidson and Warren acquit themselves nicely here, and the sequence takes on added significance at about the 3 minute mark. That's when Davidson is partnered with a perky blond in a mustardy, greenish gown: it's Goldie Hawn, only a year before her break-out on Laugh-In. It's a tiny role, billed as "Giggly Girl," but she gets some nice moves. I get a kick out of knowing that another of the film's stars was a teen-aged Kurt Russell; decades after appearing in the same film, Hawn and Russell became a Hollywood couple, remaining together for 21 years. They claim not to have met during filming of Family Band, though they both appear in this clip. Even if they had, Goldie would have been robbing the cradle had she sidled up to Russell in 1968. (Cutie-pie Kurt appears in his own Dance Party here.)

Walt Disney was dead before Family Band was finished, and his successors pulled the plug on the contracts of Lesley Ann Warren and John Davidson, and indeed on the whole live-action musical genre. The wholesomeness of the Disney label could not compete in the era of Sgt. Pepper and Hair. It would be 25 years before the studio tried another live action musical feature, with 1993's Newsies.

But this clip from 1968 is a pretty fun one. Isn't Hawn a terrific dancer? Here she partners with Davidson and ends up in a dance-off with Warren. Ebsen gets to hoof a bit, and if you keep your eyes peeled, you'll spot Richard Deacon, Wally Cox, and our boy Kurt Russell. Enjoy:



Goldie Hawn turned 64 this week.