Ameche wants Lamour to be... Slightly French (1949)

Not a day goes by that I don't thank the gods for Turner Classic Movies. Why? Because I get to find quiet gems like Slightly French. My eternal love for Don Ameche encouraged me to record this film one day, and I'll admit I was only expecting something that was just entertaining enough to pass 90 minutes without me checking my phone every few seconds. What I got both surprised and delighted me, a very fast-paced comedy with genuine laughs, good chemistry among its cast, and one damn good musical number. Most important of all, though, was that Slightly French gave me a better appreciation for Dorothy Lamour, an actress whose legacy seems to be comprised of wearing a sarong and running around with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Of course, that's a highly unfair way to look at Lamour's career, and Slightly French proves that the instant she comes on the screen.


We start on a dark, mysterious corner, where a beautiful blonde smokes a cigarette while standing by boat docks. A man tries to pick up the blonde, and they slowly go into a dance. More men appear, then a line of women do too as they all engage in dancing. Eventually, a crane with a cameraman comes into the frame, revealing to us that this is a movie set, more specifically Hollywood director John Gayle's (Ameche) movie set. And he is driving everyone insane. A
crazed perfectionist, John becomes apoplectic that his film's French star Yvonne La Tour (Adele Jergens) isn't fiery enough, she's not giving the camera her blood, sweat, and tears. Ms. La Tour begs to differ -- she's become completely exhausted by John's incessant takes and collapses when they roll the camera again. Meanwhile, in the office of studio producer Doug Hyde (Willard Parker), Doug insists to a co-worker that he was right to bring his old friend John to the studio. Sure, the guy is stubborn
and absolutely relentless in his drive to make a movie, but John is an artist with a capital A, he's allowed to be a little irritating. Doug's defense crumbles when his secretary pops in to inform him that La Tour just passed out and had to be sent home. John is confident she'll be back tomorrow, though, and they can finally knock out that number. (Side note: Ameche was constantly cast as fast-talking, insanity-inducing, scheming men. Either studios didn't like him or he was just really good at it. I like to go with the latter.)

To balance out John's moodiness, the film gives us his sister, Louisa (Janis Carter). She doesn't get her brother's obsession with filmmaking, but to help him relax, and because she's starving, Louisa drives them to a carnival. Walking through the festivities, John notices a beautiful girl (Lamour) performing at a "Brazilian Beauties" show. He's amused, but he keeps meandering. He stops to watch another performer and is surprised to find that it's the same woman, only this time she's
playing a Chinese woman named Cherry Blossom (not going to lie, this part is cringeworthy, from Lamour's accent to the barker's un-PC remarks). Who is this gal? As Louisa chomps down on cotton candy, John catches a "Streets of Paris" show starring Fifi. I think you can guess who plays Fifi. The director finds her impersonation skills impressive, but thinks nothing of it the next day when Yvonne La Tour doesn't show up to the set. Her doctor has advised her to take 6-8 months off, and the studio head,
who we only hear through an intercom throughout the movie, wants Doug to fire John immediately. John wants to save the picture, though, for Doug's career, not his own. (Ha.) He thinks that if they switch La Tour's part from a French girl to an American one, La Tour could easily be replaced. The studio head, J.B., is having none of it, and John is let go. He goes back to the carnival that night and heads straight to the "Streets of Paris" show, where he watches Fifi own the stage. You can see her number here.

He gets an idea and goes to Fifi's dressing room, but the sweet, carefree French girl that was just in front of him is now a gum-chewing, slang-speaking, wisecracking woman who doesn't trust the eagerness of John. When he tries to invoke his name as a famous movie director, she doesn't know it -- after all, when does she have the time to go to the movies? She only gets an hour of free time for dinner, so John invites himself along and convinces her over their meal that she would be the perfect replacement for La Tour. "You have
aptitude, spirit, and intelligence, and you're not afraid of hard work. It'll be tough, maybe tougher than what you're doing now, but it'll be worth it. Fame, fortune, your name in lights!" All she has to do is pretend to be French since the studio won't consider an American girl. Instead of Mary O'Leary, she'll be Rochelle Olivia. So, what's John's stake in this? He came up with film's story in the first place, and he thinks that if he saves the picture by replacing La Tour, the studio will either be grateful enough
to give him back his job or Mary-as-Rochelle will demand he be her director. John paints a masterful picture of fame, fortune, and adoration which Mary admits sounds wonderful, but she couldn't pull it off. "All of a sudden, somebody would come and tap me on the shoulder and say, 'Hey Ms. Olivia, your O'Leary is showing!'" She agrees to it, though, after she hears how much the movie means to John.

Mary has talent, but she needs more work if she's going to pass as Rochelle Olivia, so John has her come stay at his house, assuring her that they'll be much too busy working for there to be any monkey business. Finding Doug visiting with Louisa, John hides Mary in the coat closet so the producer won't know about her until she is introduced as Rochelle. He then tells Doug that he has decided he's through with movies, a lie you'd think Doug would see through but instead he buys it. However, Louisa doesn't, pulling Mary out of the closet once Doug leaves. John explains, saying they'll claim Mary is a French cousin of Louisa's friend Nicolette. She isn't thrilled with the idea, and Mary isn't thrilled with Louisa until she realizes the woman isn't John's wife. Yep, romantic feelings are already brewing.

The next morning, Mary is all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed -- she actually got to sleep in! She quickly comes down to Earth, though, when her lessons begin. That pal of Louisa's, Nicolette, moves in to coach Mary from morning until night, drilling into her the French language, the history and geography, as well as singing and dancing lessons so there can be no doubt as to the authenticity of her French-ness. In addition to all of that, John works with her on the script, which includes teaching her about
lighting, camera placement, and hitting her marks. During one such lesson, John kisses Mary as part of the scene, which she misconstrues as a real kiss. When he pulls away and tells her she did the scene well, she bursts into tears, stunning him. Thinking John has finally pushed her too far, Louisa comforts Mary, who confesses that she's in love with him. Louisa discourages her, saying that John is too self-centered and focused on directing to ever return her feelings. (Gee, thanks for the pep talk,
lady.) Mary decides if she's going to win John, she'll work to become the best actress he's ever seen. She apologizes to him for her little meltdown, but he gently tells her that he should have complimented her on how well she's been doing. Right when it looks like he might use the "L" word, John declares she's ready to be introduced as Rochelle Olivia. Well, that was a letdown. Frustrated, Mary takes a dip in the pool and bumps into Doug, who forgot something at the house and came by to
retrieve it. Unaware of who he is, Mary chats with him until Louisa and John rush over and motion for her to leave while they distract Doug. When Doug asks who she is, they reply that's she is just some girl who likes to use their pool, some married girl that is. Later, Mary worries that she ruined John's plans, but Louisa thinks it can be salvaged -- after all, Mary was in her bathing suit, so it's probable that Doug didn't pay attention to her face. It's really flawed logic, not to mention a
touch insulting to both sexes, but whatever, maybe that's just me. John and Louisa decide to throw a party in honor of their guest Rochelle, and they cross their fingers that Doug doesn't recognize Mary in an evening dress with her hair piled up. Mary's promise to be "as French as French fries" doesn't help their shaky hopes. The night of the party arrives and while Doug is convinced he has met "Rochelle" before, he is still enchanted.

Mary performs a song for the guests and Doug finally knows why she seems familiar -- she has the same mannerisms as Yvonne La Tour! John slyly suggests to Doug that they use Mary to finish the movie, but then negates it by saying that Mary hates movies anyway, and her family would never let her do it. When Doug talks to her about making a screen test, Mary says she would only consider doing it if John directed the test. We don't see the screen test, but we do see later that day as John tells Mary it
looked great. (Speaking of looking great, check out that mirrored cabinet over Lamour's shoulder.) Doug sends her flowers along with an invitation to dinner, which she agrees to so she can refuse a contract until the studio lets John come back. These dates continue, with Mary continually saying "no" to the movie so Doug's interest multiplies. One night, John jealously waits at home for Mary to come back from one of these dates. Louisa points out to her brother that he may have feelings for Mary, but
he refutes it. Besides, why isn't Louisa upset? John always thought she had a thing for Doug. You can tell by the look on her face that she does, but she likes Mary, saying that "Mary couldn't happen to a nicer guy." In short, the Gayles can dish out romantic advice, but they can't take it themselves. When Mary does return, John picks a fight with her, and considering this film is a take on Pygmalion, it's a conversation we've heard before -- John thinks she's enjoying herself too much when she
should be focused on the task at hand, and don't forget, he made her! Thankfully, Mary isn't one to let that slide: "This whole clambake was to get you back in pictures and now that you're almost there, do I get any thanks? No. Do I get a pat on the back? No. Just the usual stinging, that's all! You've got a nice, even disposition, always mad! Just because I want to be with Doug, who's a nice, kind, considerate guy like you wouldn't know from, you make out always like a jealous husband!"

Suddenly it hits her -- John is jealous? Just then, the phone rings, and it's Doug. J.B. refuses to rehire John, but Mary has Doug try again. Try he does, as we're treated to a montage until finally the studio head gives in. The contract is signed, and we're given that lovely musical number I mentioned so long ago at the start of this post. It's the same routine we saw from the beginning of the film, only slightly modified and this time it isn't interrupted by John calling for a better take.

The set is a dark, rain-soaked alleyway, with cobblestones, street lamps, and a small fountain. In a sparkling dress, Mary sings the torch song "Love Masquerade," and then runs to another set to dance. This set is more barren, decorated with broken columns, Greek statues, and a very shiny floor. It doesn't quite fit with the other set, but who cares? If you want realism, watch the news. The dancing here is nice to watch, smooth and balletic. Some of the scene compositions are beautiful to look at,
too. The tricky thing is I'm not 100% sure it's really Dorothy Lamour dancing the entire time. I've never seen her dance like this before, and if she was this good, why wasn't she put in more dance-heavy musicals? Also, some shots are back far enough from her that it could easily be a double, and the shadowy lighting and editing cuts could cover that up as well. I've watched the number a few times with my eyes glued on Dottie, including once when I put my face inches from the TV screen, and
I think I'm going to have to say Lamour had a double in the more intricate dancing spots. Watch the scene here and let me know what you think. The quality of the link isn't as good as the DVD, but really, I need to see it on the big screen in order to be completely confident in my claim. I haven't read Lamour's autobiography, either, so maybe she says something about it there. I would love for it to be all Lamour, but it just seems doubtful.

Anyway, back to the plot. John praises Mary for her outstanding work, but now that he's back on the picture, he doesn't have time to think about Mary. And she was so close the other night when he was jealous about Doug! Louisa doesn't understand why she doesn't just stick with Doug, but Mary points out that Doug doesn't really know her, he just knows Rochelle Olivia. Besides, now that she signed the contract, Doug will probably drop her like John did. She's proven wrong when Doug calls her up
for a date, but still, he's not John. They go on a series of outings anyway, angering John who claims that he's only thinking about how the late nights will affect her performance in the movie. Louisa encourages him to go to the party Doug and Mary are at at that moment, and he does, finding the couple holding each other closely as they dance. John pulls her aside to admonish her and she loses it, finally telling him she was in love with him but now she sees how cold and selfish he is. "If I have to be Rochelle Olivia for the rest of
my life, just don't forget that Mary O'Leary is underneath!" she yells, turning around to see a group of eavesdropping reporters. (Although, who needs to eavesdrop? Mary was being pretty loud.) Among the group is poor Doug. He lets Mary walk away, but he can't resist punching John. He goes to his office and talks to J.B., expecting to turn in his resignation. Instead, J.B. is excited -- the girl is good and they just got thousands of dollars of publicity for free. They'll keep Mary, but John is out.

At John's house, Mary packs up her things and starts to leave when Doug stops by. She's surprised to learn she isn't fired, but even more surprised when Doug tells her he knew all along she wasn't French -- he played along to help buoy her confidence. (Okay...) He knows Mary didn't mean to hurt him and as she hugs him in gratitude, John walks in. Neither Doug nor Mary want to talk to him, and they leave. Filming of Ten Days in Paris continues, but without John, Mary's performance
suffers. The new director isn't doing too well and Mary's health causes the set to shut down more than once. Doug is being pressured to get things under control. Louisa comes by his office to tell him that John is sincerely sorry about the trick he pulled and now he's suffering because Mary left him. What's more, she thinks Mary's problems are because she's lovesick for John. Doug is deflated for all of three seconds before he realizes he should be with Louisa. It's kind of silly it took so long for these two
to get together. Oh, plot contrivances. In the next scene, we see that John has been hired back without Mary's knowledge. She begins the scene that she and John were working on when he first kissed her, and when it comes time for her to embrace her love interest, John yells "Cut!" He berates Mary, but she's so happy to see him she doesn't care. He takes the actor's place and they act out the scene, ending the film with one long-overdue kiss.

So, who was the director of all this fun? Edward Buzzell? Norman Z. McLeod? Nope -- Douglas Sirk! Yes, before he became the king of Technicolor melodrama, Sirk had a rather interesting filmography. He directed Lucille Ball in the underrated Lured (1947) , a somewhat low-budget film noir. The next year, he worked with Don Ameche for the first time in another film noir, Sleep, My Love. While not as good as Lured, it does co-star Claudette Colbert and Robert Cummings, and you can watch the full movie here. The next year brought another noir, Shockproof with Cornel Wilde. The early 1950's seemed to be Sirk's comedy period, until he achieved infamy with his melodramas, starting with 1953's All I Desire. I feel like a lot of Sirk's filmography has been forgotten, with people focusing everything on his melodramas instead. I'd be the first to agree that that period is immensely rich and fascinating, but I enjoy Sirk's other genre works as well. The big musical number definitely shows his experience with film noir, and he worked beautifully with black and white. Another Sirk touch is the use of mirrors. The director liked employing reflections to flesh out characters, such as Jane Wyman's Cary in All that Heaven Allows, but here the mirrors are used more to show people in the frame without having to go to a wider shot. For example:




Slightly French is a remake of Let's Fall in Love, a 1933 Ann Sothern flick that I'm now dying to see. I can't comment on the comparisons between the two movies, but Slightly French plays the song "Let's Fall in Love" constantly throughout, including a scene where Lamour sings the tune. I'm not going to pretend that Slightly French is for everybody. It's definitely not a top-notch flick, and it certainly has flaws, but if you like Ameche, Lamour, and/or Sirk, I'd say you would enjoy it. I had trouble finding it streaming online, but you can catch it on TCM like I first did or you can buy the DVD here. Sadly, the DVD's packaging is a joke -- no extras, subtitles, or even a menu. But hey, I'll take what I can get.






A lot of these screenshots here are just me gawking at the set for John and Louisa's house. I'm not even sure I like the set, but it does fascinate me. There's just so much going on, and half of it doesn't even belong together.

















With love,
Michaela

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This is my entry to the fabulous Dorothy Lamour Blogathon, a celebration of dear Dottie. Click here to see the roster.

Comments

  1. I was shocked to learn Douglas Sirk directed this movie! I guess I'm one of those who only focuses on his melodramas. Having said that, though, I think I'd love this film. Sirk is a good director, Ameche is always fab, but I'm really looking forward to seeing Dorothy Lamour in this role. She sounds amazing!

    Thanks so much for the introduction to this little-known film, and for joining the Dorothy Lamour party!

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    1. The pleasure was all mine. Talking about Don Ameche has become essential to my blog. He was such a lovable ham! Lamour is an actress I rarely watch, something I wasn't aware of until I signed up for the blogathon and looked through her titles. I can't wait to see what recommendations I'll get this weekend.

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  2. Wow, there are a lot of mirrors, aren't there?! I actually have the opposite problem - I've seen more early Sirk than later. But I really enjoy Ameche and Lamour and liked this film when I saw it - your excellent post really makes me want to watch it again and pay more attention! :)

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    1. Thank you! I'm hoping to really look at Sirk's early stuff this year. I found Has Anybody Seen My Gal? on YouTube, and I'm sure Amazon will become my best friend. Again. Do you have any recommendations?

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  3. I like Sirk a lot, so would be very interested to see this. Probably zero chance of it turning up on the UK TCM, but I'll keep my eyes open for it! Great piece!

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    1. Thank you! You never know, TCM could surprise you!

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  4. Well, I love Don Ameche and I love Dorothy Lamour so this movie sounds like a win-win!

    About the swimsuit part - how could you NOT notice Lamour's face!! I would think any guy would remember it!

    I'm always taking screenshots of random rooms in movies too haha. I keep wanting to have a weekly feature to spotlight some of them but none of the days of the week go with the word architecture - a lame excuse I know...

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    1. If you love both of the stars, this movie should be right up your alley. Lamour in particular gets a rather meaty role, pretending to be French and all. Regarding the swimsuit, I'm glad that we find out that Doug knew who Mary was all along -- it would really be stretching my imagination to believe that he didn't recognize her.

      Some sets just beg to be drooled over. The one for this movie is...interesting. I can't say I love it, except maybe Mary's room, but it's such a mixture of styles that it looks bizarre. If they stuck with one theme, it would be fine. I hope you get a series worked out -- I'm sure it would be great.

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  5. I love Don Ameche, and thanks to the blogathon I'm learning to admire Dorothy Lamour. I hope I can see this film soon - the scenarios look spectacular!
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Kisses!
    Le

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    1. It's not a film many seem to know of. I can't say it's everybody's cup of tea, but since you love Ameche, you'll enjoy it. Just seeing him makes me giddy. Thanks for reading!

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