Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Doll Face

Doll Face posterThe 1946 film Doll Face begins with auditions for the famous playwright Flo Hartman’s newest operetta Park Avenue, at the Belmont Theatre in New York. A nervous Mary Carroll tries her luck and ends up wowing the judges with her singing and showmanship, until a director begins yelling out, “That’s it, Doll Face!” His dumbfounded co-directors look at him in surprise until he explains that ‘Mary Carroll’ is actually ‘Doll Face’ Carroll (Vivian Blaine), the head-liner at the Gayety Theatre burlesque show, who has a reputation for making men swoon in their seats. When Hartman refuses to have such a woman in his show, Carroll’s husband and manager, Mike Hannegan (Dennis O’Keef) appears on the stage beside the upset Carroll and vows that she’s got the talent that will make her a star. After leaving the theatre, Mike realizes that he has to add culture to Carroll’s character in order to sell her act to haughty producers like Hartman, and decides that he’ll hire a famous author to write Doll Face’s story and then put her name on it as an autobiography.

As a result, he enlists the help of the handsome writer Frederick Gerard (Stephen Dunne), who at first doesn’t agree with the idea of a book based on burlesque theatre, but then is persuaded otherwise once he sets his eyes on the beautiful Doll Face. He insists on spending as much time with her as possible in order to get the full life story (although he misconstrues almost every fact to make her appear more refined). His sudden change of heart is noted by Carroll’s best friend and fellow burlesque dancer, Chita Chula (Carmen Miranda), who makes sure to alert Mike to her suspicions about the writer. Mike needs little persuasion to acknowledge Fred’s true intentions after the author offers a hefty sum as an investment for a theatre to promote Doll Face’s career. Carroll does stay true to Mike, until, through a misfortunate series of events while going to visit a publisher for the book, her and Fred end up together on a deserted beach just outside of New York. When the worried Mike finds them there together, his concern soon turns to anger as he suspects foul play (of which, there really was none). He pushes Carroll towards Fred (figuratively and literally) saying, “Chita was right.”

With Doll Face gone, the burlesque theatre is in immanent danger of going out of business. It appears as though Carroll is perfectly happy with Fred, and Hartman even offers her a spot in a new play which will be based on her autobiography. Chita keeps a close eye on Doll Face and when it seems as though her and Fred are on the rocks, she sends over a shamefaced Mike to try to patch up the relationship; but to no avail, as Doll Face won’t even speak to him. Mike concocts a plan to reveal on the play’s opening night that by contract Doll Face is not allowed to work for anyone else, thereby allowing him to speak to her. At first, Doll Face is appalled at this move, but once Mike professes his love and that he was wrong when he found her and Fred on the beach, Doll Face realizes that she never stopped loving him. She then one-ups the cunningness of Mike by using the influence of her contract to score him a cut of the play’s profits from Hartman. Thus, the play and the couple’s true love are saved in a display of shrewd, New York business sense; because everyone knows that in both love and the theatre, the show must go on.

Carmen Miranda’s small part in Doll Face is actually the back-bone of the plot as she continually arouses suspicions amongst the love triangle and attempts to piece together what has been broken. It’s easy to see the vivacity ready to burst forth from the sequined costumes of her character, introduced as “Chita Chula: The Little Lady from Brazil”; though, sadly, such displays are conspicuously absent. The lack of focus set on Miranda is quite incompatible for such a famous personality, but such an error is slightly mended when she does an exotic Latin number in Doll Face’s play, complete with gyrating hips and a large head-dress…exactly what is expected from the persona of Carmen Miranda. This scene becomes even more evident of self-reflection when it is noted that earlier in the movie, when asked to join in the Broadway play, Chita replies that she would never want to become another Carmen Miranda (and does an impressive job of mocking her own hips). Chita appears to be a talented immigrant wanting to make her own way in the world without riding on the train of Carmen Miranda’s dress; this making perfect sense as it’s possible that Miranda was the most famous and highly-paid female performer of that time, American or not. Be that as it may, Chita is still a migrant from the Portuguese-speaking country of Brazil, attempting to fit in as American, and ‘acting’ Spanish by performing a dance number set in ‘Porto Rico’. So many inconsistencies add up to the Doll Face producers wanting the popular spice of Latin stars added to a film focused on American show business, while obviously capitalizing on the fame of a Brazilian export, who, unfortunately, is kept in the shadows.

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