|Marjorie Main and Fred Astaire|
In Olde New York footloose Charlie Hill (Fred Astaire of Royal Wedding) is about to walk out of yet another wedding that his wealthy aunt (Marjorie Main) will have to pay for -- or rather, pay the bride off for -- but he may have finally found the right gal in pretty Angela (Vera-Ellen of White Christmas). Angela works for the Daughters of Right, a Salvation Army-type charity and faith organization that was founded by the late Phineas Hill, Charlie's uncle. When Mrs. Hill learns that her nephew and Angela have fallen in love, she doesn't know whether to be delighted or appalled, but true love will not be denied -- or run smoothly. The Belle of New York got its start as a 19th century operetta and was tossed around as a possible production for years until former dancer and choreographer Charles Walters got the assignment to direct it and practically disavowed the picture in later years. The movie may be a trifle, but it's a charming and entertaining trifle decked out in gorgeous TechniColor and with excellent performances. The film posits the theory that falling in love is like dancing on air, which Astaire does in a nice sequence set in and above Washington Square. Astaire is especially given a chance to shine in his "Dancing Man" number where he combines his trademark elegance with his major terpsichorean skill. Leading lady Vera-Ellen, even considering that she's playing an upright, "moral" type (the film has some similarities to Guys and Dolls), often looks as if she's afraid her makeup is going to crack, but she's more than competent; her singing voice is dubbed. Marjorie Main is her usual delightful self as the grumpy but forgiving aunt, and Alice Pearce nearly steals the picture as Angela's friend, Elsie. (There's a touching moment when Elsie stands in for Angela at the wedding rehearsal and a sad, hopeful look slowly comes across her sweet homely face.) The reasonably pleasant songs by Warren and Mercer seem to be the type that might need to grow on you, although "Naughty But Nice" is well-performed by Vera-Ellen and then comically reprised by Pearce. Gale Robbins, Clinton Sundberg, and Keenan Wynn are very adept in supporting roles, and even Percy Helton has a bit as one of Angela's legion of admirers, giving her flowers at the opening.
Verdict: Call it piffle if you will, but there's a lot of talent and charm on display. ***.