June 22, 2008
DVDs Showcase Miranda’s Talent — and Her Fruity Hats
By Chris Hicks Deseret News
Kudos to Fox Home Entertainment for the new DVD set "The Carmen Miranda Collection," which pays homage to the South American star who knocked the socks off American audiences in flamboyant musicals during World War II.
In her heyday, Miranda was known as the Brazilian Bombshell (although she was actually born in Portugal). Today she is primarily remembered as an iconic image -- the South American dancer in the colorful flowing dress with fruit piled on her head.
But during a brief period of U.S. stardom in the 1940s, Miranda was the highest paid entertainer in Hollywood -- and in 1945 was the highest paid woman in the United States (earning more than $200,000 that year).
Miranda was a mere 5 feet tall, and with an infectious toothy grin she generally played the cute Latin sidekick who fractured English in comical ways. But in song-and-dance numbers, wearing platform shoes and hats that extended impossibly upward, Miranda was larger than life, with an electric energy that made her an irresistible force of nature.
A hugely successful recording and movie star in Brazil, Miranda came to the United States in 1939 at age 30 and immediately hit it big in a Broadway stage revue, "The Streets of Paris" (the same show that shot Abbott and Costello to stardom).
Twentieth Century Fox rushed to sign Miranda to a film contract, which led to 10 pictures over the next decade. She made a few more films after that period and performed on TV but spent most of these latter years on the nightclub circuit until her untimely death at age 46.
Of her 14 films, only one, "Springtime in the Rockies," is not on DVD, although it has been released on VHS. (Which begs the question, why didn't Fox include it in this set?)
"The Carmen Miranda Collection" (Fox, 1943-46, five discs, $49.98) ... All of Miranda's other missing movies are here, however, including three that are making their home-video debut.
These films represent the comic actress/singer/dancer at her peak, performing novelty songs wearing wild dresses -- and even wilder hats -- and using her accent to earn laughs and steal scenes. She even imitates an Irish brogue in "Greenwich Village."
"The Gang's All Here" (1943, color) This is the only one of these films already on DVD (available separately and in "The Alice Faye Collection"). A vibrant World War II musical, the plot has a soldier engaged to two women -- but the highlight is Miranda's star-making performance of "Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat."
"Greenwich Village" (1944, color) gives Miranda top billing as a fortune-telling singer in this backstage musical, with Don Ameche as a classical composer who falls for a nightclub singer (Vivian Blaine in her first starring role). William Bendix costars, and Judy Holliday can be glimpsed as an extra in a party scene. (Home-video debut)
"Something for the Boys" (1944, color). Miranda is also top- billed here as one of three cousins (the others being Vivian Blaine and Phil Silvers) who inherit a Southern mansion taken over by the military. Perry Como is a young GI, and Judy Holliday has a bit part early in the film as Miranda's coworker in an aircraft factory. Bright, colorful and enlivened by Cole Porter songs. (Home-video debut)
"Doll Face" (1946, b/w) is a sanitized look at burlesque as a stripper (Vivian Blaine) tries to break into legit theater. This time Miranda gets billing below Blaine, Perry Como and Dennis O'Keefe, providing comedy and performing "Chico Chico." (Another Miranda number is a deleted scene in the bonus features as she wears a hat with a lighthouse!) (DVD debut)
"If I'm Lucky" (1946, b/w). Miranda gets fourth billing beneath Vivian Blaine, Perry Como and Harry James in this one, her final Fox film. This is a comedy about crooked politics with Como elevated to the lead role ... Phil Silvers and Edgar Buchanan costar. Miranda duets with Blaine and Harry James and interacts comically with Silvers. (Bonus features include a follow-the-bouncing-ball song by Miranda.) (Home-video debut)
Extras: full frame, audio commentary, four-part documentary: "Carmen Miranda: The Girl From Rio," featurettes, shorts, photo galleries, trailers; 12-page booklet (Each film also available separately, $14.98)
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