Call Me Madam Movie Review
Cast & Crew
Director : Walter Lang
Producer : Sol C. Siegel
Screenwriter : Howard Lindsay, Russell Crouse, Arthur Sheekman,
On the surface, Berlin's energetic Broadway show is extremely dated. The Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse book is a gentle satire of the Washington scene circa 1951, so there are a plethora of Harry Truman jokes that may have been hilarious in 1951 but in this post-history millennium may be greeted with obtuseness from viewers whose sense of history expired with Swing Vote. It is also an old-fashioned musical vehicle, the slim plot being a bald excuse to showcase Merman.
But what a showcase! Merman plays Sally Adams, a Washington hostess loosely based on the real life Perle Mesta, a Washington party-thrower whom Truman picked as ambassador to Luxembourg. In Call Me Madam, Luxembourg becomes the fictitious Lichtenburg. Taking along Kenneth (Donald O'Connor), her private secretary, Sally falls in love with a defanged George Sanders, singing in the then-popular Ezio Pinza style of light opera frog tones, while Kenneth pines for the royal princess (Vera-Ellen).
Merman sells her songs like a tobacco auctioneer -- she telegraphs her vocals so loudly that you can turn the volume all the way down and still hear her clearly -- and her blaring voice rides up and down your spinal column like quicksilver (during their numbers together, O'Connor purportedly wore earplugs). But her energy level is hotwired and electric and when she is on screen, attention must be paid. There is no one else that can be imaged singing "The Hostess with the Mostes on the Ball," "Can You Use Any Money Today?" and "The International Rag." Merman delivers constantly and, based upon her commanding performance here, one regrets the extreme loss of her presence in the film version of Gypsy.
O'Connor, in arguably his greatest post-Singin' in the Rain dance performance, ably holds his own against the Merman dreadnaught in the delightful "You're Just in Love" and cuts loose in a drunken solo turn in "What Chances Have I?" He is also smooth style while singing "It's a Lovely Day Today," crooning aggressively to Vera-Ellen.
Lang's direction is pedestrian and clunky, a particular stylistic bump for Fox musicals. But who cares? This is primarily a performance film and the performers are paramount. Particularly Merman. And with Call Me Madam, it is undiluted Merman at her "mostes."
Swami, how I love ya.
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