Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, April 6, 2017


Whatever Lola Wants: Tab Hunter and Gwen Verdon
DAMN YANKEES (1958). Produced and directed by George Abbott and Stanley Donen.

"I was the ugliest woman in Providence, Rhode Island." -- Lola, remarking upon her origins

Joe Boyd (Robert Shafer) is a manic fan of the Washington Senators baseball team. The Devil -- in the form of a man named Applegate (Ray Walston) offers him a chance to become young and play for his favorite team against the "damned Yankees," even offering him an out. As "Joe Hardy" (Tab Hunter), Boyd becomes a star player with many fans, but he can't quite forget the wife, Meg (Shannon Bolin), he left behind. But will 172-year-old vamp Lola (Gwen Verdon) be able to keep Hardy in line? With its highly theatrical premise, this Broadway hit should not have worked as a movie but it does, mostly due to its performances and its recreation of some excellent production numbers. With the exception of Tab Hunter, most of the Broadway cast was transplanted to the big screen, a wise decision, especially in the case of Verdon. Although Verdon may not have been seen as a truly formidable sexpot, she is a highly talented performer with great dancing and acting skills and a really killer figure. Walston is as delightful as ever, and Hunter [Island of Desire] -- while not in the same class as the others -- does an okay job as the rather shy Hardy who wants to stay faithful to his wife. He briefly attempts some dancing as well and manages to pull it off. Rae Allen and Jean Stapleton [Dead Man's Folly], both of whom also appeared in the Broadway show, are snappy as, respectively, the inquiring reporter, Gloria Thorpe, and the likable neighbor, Sister Miller. Shafer and Bolin were primarily stage performers, and the former appeared in just this one picture. The score by Adler and Ross boasts some tunes that have become standards: "Whatever Lola Wants:" and the spirited "You Gotta Have Heart," but there's also Joe's nice farewell to his sleeping wife ("Goodbye Old Girl"); a snappy Mambo number; and the knock-out production number for Verdon and Hunter's "Two Lost Souls." Bob Fosse [Cabaret] did the choreography for both show and film; he and Verdon were married two years later. There's lots of dark humor and a poignant conclusion.

Verdict: One of the very best of the hit Broadway show film adaptations. ***1/2.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - it's been a long time since I have seen this one all the way through - wonderful to have Verdon on film in her glorious prime, doing Fosse's trademark moves. Awesome!

I recently watched the Tab Hunter documentary and he admitted he was out of his league making this film, and that Mr. George Abbott was not very nice to him. But he said Gwen was a joy and helped give him confidence int he musical numbers.


William said...

I always suspected that Verdon was a nice person, and I've no doubt she was kind to Hunter, and that Abbott got impatient with his comparative lead-footedness!