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  Once Upon a Time Dance Stance
Year: 1944
Director: Alexander Hall
Stars: Cary Grant, Janet Blair, James Gleason, Ted Donaldson, William Demarest, Pedro de Cordoba, Howard Freeman, Vaughan Glaser, Gabriel Heater, Lloyd Bridges
Genre: Comedy, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Broadway producer Jerry Flynn (Cary Grant) is down on his luck after his last three shows have flopped, and flopped badly. Tonight's performance over, he tries to look on the bright side, but while he is backstage in his office he is paid a visit from his banker, Mackenzie (Howard Freeman), who tells him his theatre will now have to be sold. This is the last thing Jerry wants to happen, so he makes big claims to him about his next show being bigger and better than anything before - and he almost believes him. And so, out on the street on his way home, Jerry tosses his lucky nickel over his shoulder - and fate intervenes...

Yes, this film was actually made, and as if the producers were nervous about how it would be received there's a little caption that tells us that this is the best form of escapism while there's a war on, as it's a modern fairytale and please don't hate us for bringing you this ridiculous story. Well, it doesn't entirely say all of that, but there is the gist of it. And right enough, the film flopped as badly as one of Jerry's shows, as if audiences said, yes, we need escapism, but there's only so much whimsy you can take and this is a film about a dancing caterpillar for the love of God.

It's a terpsichoreanly talented creature that Jerry pins his hopes on to be the next big thing, because that nickel is picked up by two little boys, one of whom, Pinky (Ted Donaldson, briefly popular in the the Rusty the Dog series), plays the harmonica while Curly the caterpillar prances about in time with the music. Now, crucially the film seems to be attempting to teach the audience about using their imaginations, as we never actually witness the caterpillar's gyrations - in fact, we never see the beast at all and have to take it as read that it really is as spectacular as the characters say it is.

Although, like Jerry's best friend Moke (James Gleason), what we cannot imagine is exactly how tremendous a dancing caterpillar could possibly be. Indeed, Jerry finds that the media take a lot of persuading as well, and it's only when a radio presenter (Gabriel Heater, playing himself - he was a now-forgotten rival to Walter Winchell) picks up the story that Pinky's pet becomes a sensation. If it sounds like something that should have been a cartoon, then that is not lost on the script which brings drama to the situation by having Walt Disney trying to buy Curly to put him in a film.

Interestingly, Disney are presented as a rather coldhearted corporation who just want to make money, something mirrored in the personality of Jerry who has made a deal with them without the permission of Pinky. To complicate matters, Pinky's sister Jeannie (Janet Blair) is involved as she is the one who looks after him; this is because he is an orphan, to play on our sympathies even more, significant due to the amount of sentimentality that arises from the plot. How can Jerry be so callous as to exploit a little boy? Why, he's as bad as the scientists who wanted to dissect Curly. Any themes of faith are confused by the overriding and far too simplistic ones of decency, although Once Upon a Time does manage to spin out a flimsy idea with quite some confidence. But it's just too silly, and too schmaltzy, to bear the weight of the vital suspension of disbelief. Music by Friedrich Hollander.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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