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Anything Went

How inane is the 1956 film version of Anything Goes? Just listen to Decca Broadway's new CD release of the soundtrack album! logo
"Never was a musical comedy so aptly named." Thus writes Will Friedwald of Cole Porter's Anything Goes in his notes for Decca Broadway's re-release of the 1956 film soundtrack recording of a property that has been continually revised, tweaked, and generally futzed with throughout its history.

As Friedwald recounts, the plot of the original 1934 Broadway musical Anything Goes was to have concerned a shipwreck, but some fast thinking and rewriting had to be done before the show opened when a real-life shipwreck -- that of the S.S. Morro Castle, which burned and sank off the coast of New Jersey -- made it inadvisable to deal with such an occurrence in a light, frothy musical comedy. (As reworked, the show still took place on a ship but there was no wreck.)

Needless to say, Hollywood has a terrible track record when it comes to faithful film adaptations of Broadway musicals. The fact that Anything Goes had been rewritten even before its opening may have meant that the guys at Paramount Pictures had even fewer qualms than usual about toying with the property for the 1936 film version of the musical, originally released as Anything Goes but later retitled Tops is the Limit (???) when Paramount did the 1956 remake. The really idiotic thing about both films is that the Cole Porter score, rather than the plot and the characters, bore the brunt of the studio's meddling. The 1936 version threw out such great songs as "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" and "All Through the Night" in favor of pleasant but utterly forgettable numbers by such writers as Leo Robin, Richard Whiting, and Hoagy Carmichael, who were then under contract to the studio. (If I recall correctly, even the fabulously witty title song was largely cut from the movie; only a fragment of it is heard during the main title sequence.)

Paramount's 1956 re-attempt at Anything Goes is marginally better than the first flick in terms of the number of songs from the Broadway score that are included but just as bad, if not worse, in other respects. As Friedwald so aptly puts it: "Of all the plots associated with Anything Goes, this is by far the thinnest: Two male co-stars in a new musical comedy each have a different leading lady in mind. There is a clever switcherooney when each falls for the gal that the other one picked, but that's the whole plot." Aside from throwing out the original script, the movie benefits not one iota from lackluster new songs by the normally reliable team of Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen.

As if that weren't bad enough, the Porter classics that were retained are marred by rewritten lyrics. How sexually repressive were the movies of the 1950s? Just listen to the rewrite of an immortal line from the title song. Porter came up with "Good authors, too, who once knew better words / Now only use four-letter words / Writing prose." Believe it or not, Mitzi Gaynor sings "three-letter words" on this soundtrack album! One has to wonder if the censors required such a ridiculous change or if Paramount's suits ordered the bowdlerization so as not to offend anyone.

That's by no means the end of the egregious rewriting to be heard here; one of the worst substitutions comes when Bing Crosby croons to Gaynor, "You're a Met soprano" and she replies, "You're a Marciano," but there are countless other examples. Friedwald's notes make no mention of who wrote the new lyrics but I can't believe that it was Porter himself. It's hard to imagine him allowing, let alone participating in, such nonsense -- but I suppose we should remember that he was in very bad physical and emotional shape at the time. Porter may have lacked the spirit to put up a fight or may simply have decided to take the money and keep his mouth shut.

Aside from the fact that it's unworthy of bearing the title Anything Goes, this CD isn't even enjoyable as a studio recording of songs by Cole Porter, Sammy Cahn, and Jimmy Van Heusen as sung by film stars of the '50s; that's because the arrangements and orchestrations are tasteless and the performances of the leads charmless. Donald O'Connor comes across best if only because he's relatively relaxed, but the album does nothing for the reputations of Crosby, Gaynor, or Zizi Jeanmaire. Overall, the film and the album are so deplorable that one wishes this project had never gotten beyond the talking stages.

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