I’m currently in the process of watching and reviewing all 50 of the films in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties DVD box set. Yesterday, I got things started by reviewing Port of New York. Today, I’m looking at the set’s 2nd film, 1940’s Second Chorus.
As much as I love all of my Mill Creek box sets, watching Second Chorus reminded me of one of the drawbacks of watching a Mill Creek release. Since Mill Creek specializes in films that have fallen into the public domain, a lot of their DVDs are more than a little rough. The Mill Creek version was obviously transferred from a seriously deteriorated print. As a result, the picture is often dark or blurry while the sound is occasionally iffy at best. That’s a shame because Second Chorus is an entertaining little film.
In Second Chorus, Fred Astaire and Burgess Meredith both play college students. (Burgess is the wacky one while Fred is … well, he’s Fred Astaire. He’s confident, he’s suave, and he’s always ready to perform.) Fred appears to be in his late 30s while Burgess looks closer to 50 but, fortunately, their age is meant to be a part of the joke. Fred and Burgess have intentionally failed their final exams for seven years so that they can stay in school and continue to lead the college jazz band. They are perennial college students and who hasn’t known a few of them? (Apparently, in 1940, there was no such thing as academic suspension.)
When a debt collector comes looking for them (apparently, Burgess bought a set of encyclopedias that he never paid for), Fred manages to charm the collector’s secretary (Paulette Goddard) away from him. Paulette agrees to serve as Fred and Burgess’s manager and even manages to get them a job with real-life band director Artie Shaw. (Shaw plays himself and seems to be perpetually annoyed whenever he’s on screen.) Will Fred finally accept some responsibility, act maturely, hold down a job, and maybe win the heart of Paulette Goddard?
Now, I should point out that, while I enjoyed Second Chorus, Fred Astaire apparently considered Second Chorus to be the worst film that he ever made. While Second Chorus is definitely no Top Hat, I think that Fred Astaire was being a little too harsh in his assessment. The music is good, the dancing is fun to watch, and the plot … well, who really cares about the plot? It’s undoubtedly a silly film that has very little going on underneath the surface but Astaire and Meredith make for a surprisingly effective comedy team.
And while nondancer Paulette Goddard may not have had as effective a chemistry with Fred as Ginger Rogers (but then again, who did?), I still loved watching them perform the I Ain’t Hep To That Step But I’ll Dig It number. This entire number was reportedly filmed in one take. Goddard had little dance experience but it didn’t matter because her partner was Fred Astaire and Fred was so good that he could make anyone look like a natural.
Second Chorus is an entertaining little movie. Just avoid the Mill Creek transfer.