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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Pleasure Seekers, Three Little Girls In Blue, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (Fox Cinema Archives)
The Pleasure Seekers, Three Little Girls In Blue, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (Fox Cinema Archives)
Fox Cinema Archives // Unrated // December 17, 2014
List Price: $37.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted February 12, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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Just barely so-so musical triple feature. 20th Century-Fox's Cinema Archives line of hard-to-find library and cult titles has grouped together three previously released stand-alone titles into a three-disc triple feature: The Pleasure Seekers, Three Little Girls in Blue, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim. 1965's The Pleasure Seekers--shown here in a flat letterboxed transfer that maintains its correct widescreen ratio--is directed by Jean Negulesco and stars Ann-Margaret, Tony Franciosa, Carol Lynley, Gardner McKay, Pamela Tiffin, Andre Lawrence, Gene Tierney, Brian Keith, and Vito Scoti. Three Little Girls in Blue, from 1946, features June Haver, George Montgomery, Vivian Blaine, Celeste Holm, Vera-Ellen, Frank Latimore, and Charles Smith, and is directed by Bruce Humberstone. And finally, 1947's The Shocking Miss Pilgrim is directed by George Seaton, and stars Betty Grable, Dick Haymes, Anne Revere, Allyn Joslyn, Gene Lockhart, Elizabeth Patterson, Elisabeth Risdon, Arthur Shields, Charles Kemper, and Roy Roberts. Of the three titles here, only Three Little Girls in Blue today possesses any kind of critical reputation...and with good reason, so buying this triple feature will depend entirely on whether or not you're already a fan of the movies, or their stars (...because you can just buy Three Little Girls in Blue--the only one worth your money--on its own). Let's look very briefly at the movies.

THE PLEASURE SEEKERS

As Spanish men gesticulate colorfully while aggressively displaying their boners (hey, that's how this movie sees these guys), they lasciviously ogle blonde American secretary Maggie Williams (Carol Lynley), who's having a bit of traffic trouble in a Madrid turnabout. There, she somehow spies best friend Susie Higgins (Pamela Tiffin), a gorgeous, slightly dizzy virgin coming to stay with Maggie--for, one would suppose by her eagerness to latch onto a man, the express purpose of being deflowered via the marriage vows. Heading to their spacious apartment, Susie meets her third roommate, Fran Hobson (Ann-Margret), another blonde bombshell who sings and dances for her supper--and who is, along with Maggie, the type of "sadder but wiser" girl panting Susie hopes to be by no later than suppertime (hey...that's how the movie sees these women). Soon... "man trouble" infects all three girls. Maggie is hopelessly besotted with her boss, international news agency owner and editor Paul Barton (Brian Keith), who is very much be-wigged and very much be-deviled by his attraction to Maggie, concurrent with his devotion to his wife, Jane (Gene Tierney). Susie goes to an art museum, cries, and snags slimy Spanish lothario Emilio Lacaye (Tony Franciosa), who thinks he knows just how to score this naive piece of American chicken. Finally, when she's not busting a gut out on the dance floor, Fran has time to get run over by small-town, small-time dreamboat Dr. Andre Briones (Andre Lawrence) on his Vespa--this of course, means war, with Fran encountering little to no serious resistance when she puts the goods out on display. Oh, and a next-door-neighbor (Vito Scoti) spends day and night hanging out (make your own joke) at his window, hoping to sneak a peek at the girls frolicking in their dirties (hey...that's how this movie sees underwear).

A surprisingly leaden, stodgy affair from director Jean Negulesco, The Pleasure Seekers--despite that horny title, those horny girls, and the horny atmosphere of Franco's heavily-repressed Madrid--was a bust at the box office, when ticket buyers quickly sniffed out that it was nothing more than a re-worked retread of Negulesco's big hit from ten years before, Three Coins in the Fountain. That massive CinemaScope success for Fox featured better actors (among them Clifton Webb, Dorothy McGuire, Jean Peters, Louis Jourdan, Rossano Brazzi, and Cathleen Nesbitt), better travelogue scenery, and most importantly, a better script. Here, screenwriter Edith Sommer (Negulesco's The Best of Everything, lots of TV soap operas) has devised three largely separate storylines that are just right for a third of a movie--but put together they make up one less-than-satisfying whole. Dialogue is weak and often stupid (when Franciosa takes Tiffin to the bullfights, she squeaks, "You mean he's going to kill the bull for me? I don't even kill flies!" Har dee...), while character motivations are anyone's guess. Strangely, the movie skirts around and largely avoids the issue of Lynley's and Ann-Margret's previous sex lives in Madrid...when that's the only thing that might explain why they're acting the way they do in the movie proper (one suspects the moviemakers were laughably avoiding the dreaded "whore" charge, since the women all seem to want a man desperately...but not that desperately, and not on-camera).

There's an aggressive, puerile, leering tone to The Pleasure Seekers that jars against its professed "grown up" look at these swinging singles and their ironically clashing deep-seated "safe" morality. From the Vito Scoti "peeping tom" gag that's beaten into the ground, to constant shots of the women in various stages of undress--I just assumed Ann-Margret would be the one to beat, but spectacular Tiffin wins hands-down in black bra and panties--The Pleasure Seekers seems to say these girls are ready for action...but then they're not...but then they are...but then they're not again. The Pleasure Seekers certainly wouldn't be the first Hollywood movie of the early to mid-1960s that promised sex and only delivered frustration (they all did that to some extent). However, its repeated pushme-pullyou schematic eventually becomes not just tiresome but downright irritating because once the women are sexually active (or at least one of them), we still don't buy any of the artificial, plastic emotional reasons--inbetween the lame one-liners--that we're given to help explain their behavior. Not exactly helping matters here, is the director's choice of performers. Had The Pleasure Seekers gone for a cynical, sardonic look at sex and love between cultures instead of its "they're really nice, 'good' girls underneath their desires," the selection of Ann-Margret, Carol Lynley, and Pamela Tiffin may have worked, because let's face it: these three actresses don't do "warm and lovable" all that well (Ann-Margret comes closest...but it's a skilled facade belied by that vicious, angry-faced sexual slayer that comes out during her dances). Beneath these actresses' envious bodies and beautiful faces, they're flinty, arch, and tough...which I love. However--why would I ever believe they'd be in a quandary about men and sex and love? What a shame someone didn't decide to be truly groundbreaking and have these predators do the shaking up when it came their sexual relationships, with the women dictating the terms, and not the men? Instead, we have Ann-Margret mooning over a man prettier than her (his lack of money and his pride determine if they'll get together), Tiffin wanting only a marriage license from a cad (she's finally happy when he comes around), and Lynley, in the movie's most humiliating position, first lusts after inexplicable daddy figure Keith (bright, hard, doll-eyed Lynley can't help but look at miscast Keith with alarm, sometimes), before she's pushed over to miserable weakling McKay for some sort of consolation prize (gee thanks). If this is the kind of "pleasure" they're seeking...they can have it.


THREE LITTLE GIRLS IN BLUE

A picturesque chicken farm in Red Bank, New Jersey, right after the turn of the century. Three sisters--Pam Charters (June Haver), Liz (Vivian Blaine), and Myra (Vera-Ellen)--are counting their other chickens before they've hatched when they learn their aunt Cora has died, leaving them (they hope) a sizeable amount of scratch. And what are they going to do with that chicken feed? Why...pretend to be rich and snag millionaire husbands in Atlantic City, what else? The only problem? Aunt Cora only left enough for one sister to pretend--and for not very long--so pretty Pam gets the nod, while Liz plays "social secretary" and Myra her maid. At the Chalfonte Hotel, the girls are wowed by real wealth, while millionaire Steve Harrington (Frank Latimore) is quite rightly wowed by gorgeous blond Pam. Pam fakes a drowning at the beach to have Steve save her, but Steve's handsome, brash friend, Van Damm Smith (George Montgomery) steps in, and thus the triangle is complete. Meanwhile, Liz keeps a watchful eye on dreamboat Steve, while Myra is attracted to the simple charms and honesty of hotel wine steward Mike Bailey (Charles Smith). Naturally, money starts to run out, and partners begin to switch, with tensions escalating at Steve's Maryland horse farm, where sister Mariam Harrington (Celeste Holm) gets in on the act, too.

I hadn't seen Three Little Girls in Blue for years and years, but I remember it having a fun, spirited, upbeat tone to it...and it still does. Scripted by Valentine Davies (The Glenn Miller Story, Strategic Air Command), from an adaptation by Brown Holmes, Lynn Starling, Robert Ellis and Helen Logan, Three Little Girls in Blue is really a remake of a remake, since the original play, Three Blind Mice, by Stephen Powys, was first made into a movie in 1938, with that romantic comedy subsequently remade three years later as a musical, Moon Over Miami. From what I could gather from a couple of sources, this remake, even though it was coming out just a few years after its first two incarnations, was considered an important-enough project by Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck to garner a sizeable budget for the time (over 2 million and change), and a protracted shooting schedule--some of it unintended (the original director, John Brahm, for reasons I couldn't find, was let go after a few weeks shooting, with heavier-weight stars Victor Mature and Caesar Romero also bumped to other projects when filming resumed with Montgomery and Latimore and director Bruce Humberstone). By this point in the studio's rosters, Betty Grable was the queen of the Fox lot, and June Haver was being groomed as her fill-in/successor...much as Grable had been slotted as recently-departed Alice Faye's replacement. For various reasons (most notably chance, since she came into some prominence, awkwardly, during Grable's decline and Fox's promotion of Marilyn Monroe), Haver never achieved the heights of popularity that either of these above-mentioned bookend competitors did (truth be told, she probably achieved her widest recognition when she married Fred MacMurray and retired from the screen). Three Little Girls in Blue, however, was a solid hit for the sexy blonde, and one of her better-remembered starring roles.

As for Three Little Girls in Blue, it's difficult not to have fun with this simple, charming little tale of three innocents not-so-innocently looking to scam a millionaire into marriage. I suppose today if this story was remade, there'd be some hand-wringing over the girls' not-so-ethical plan, but here...no one cares that the girls are essentially scheming for money--particularly at the end when love wins out and everyone fesses up to their subterfuges. Then-contemporary critics of Three Little Girls in Blue dismissed outright its wispy story, focusing on the songs, the performers, and the eye-popping Technicolor (which many reviewers noted was a crucial aspect of the movie's appeal). Unfortunately, this last element is largely lost to us, at least in this unrestored transfer. Colors are muted to an alarming degree, while the overall brightness of the image is quite low (there's one scene early in the story, where the girls go inside their farmhouse to discuss their estate, that's so dark and greenish that it looks as if it was shot underwater--you can't even make out the girls' faces). Clearly, this robs Three Little Girls in Blue of one of its crucial components--a candy-colored, expressive visual design that reflects and expands the screenplay's equally sunny, bright tone--denying us the carefully-controlled effects that cinematographers Ernest Palmer and Charles G. Clarke, along with the on-set Technicolor consultants Natalie Kalmus and Richard Mueller, created (one of the best moments in the movie, when lonely Vivian Blaine sings Somewhere in the Night as a curtain billows rhythmically, hypnotically over her face, is ruined in this muddy, indiscriminant transfer).

So that leaves the songs and the performers. If Three Little Girls in Blue is remembered today, it's for introducing the Myrow/Gordon standard, You Make Me Feel So Young, which is repeated at least three times in the movie). Other catchy tunes, however, like A Farmer's Life Is a Very Merry Life, On the Boardwalk (in Atlantic City), the title song, and particularly I Like Mike, are equally charming. The performers--at least the women--are perfectly cast. The three male leads are fairly anonymous (and all clearly dubbed during their singing parts), but you couldn't ask for more a more attractive, engaging trio of sisters than Haver, Blaine, and Vera-Ellen (who's also dubbed). Soulful Blaine isn't used much (a shame), while Vera-Ellen gets a couple of dance numbers, including the big, surreal dream sequence set to You Make Me Feel So Young (calling Dr. Freud for this sex imagery-soaked number, where big puff balls of sticky cotton candy line a menacing carnival set, as balloon toy soldiers come to life and threaten Vera-Ellen). I always thought Haver had a nice, hard underlayment to her beauty; she could have transferred nicely into noirs if she hadn't lost interest in her movie career. She doesn't have to do much in Three Little Girls in Blue to be believable as a gorgeous blonde men would fight over, but I suspect her seemingly unconcerned facility at "charming innocence" was just as hard-won as the rest of the moviemakers' efforts here that went into crafting this "effortless" little winner.


THE SHOCKING MISS PILGRIM

The Packard Business College of New York's top student of the graduating class of 1874 is Cynthia Pilgrim (Betty Grable), a typist who lands a job at the Pritchard Shipping Company of Boston--the job placement courtesy of the Remington typewriter company, which believes able operators will spur sales of their machines. The only problem? Pritchard's boss, John Pritchard (Dick Haymes), thought he was agreeing to hire a male typist. He doesn't care if the world's best typists are women--he's not going to hire a woman to work in the office, and that's final. The only problem? His Aunt Alice Pritchard (Anne Revere), who controls the company, is a suffragette...and she wants Cynthia hired now. Soon, Cynthia is charming the gruff men who work in the office, as well as her boss, who gets a quick peek at Cynthia's legs and decides she's wife material. Cynthia acquires lodgings at a home for eccentrics who hate Boston's stuffy morals, and she's quite content to continue working--she doesn't need to marry John, but she will if she can continue to work. And that's when the **** hits the typewriter.

Rather dreary Grable outing--no wonder it was a relative flop with audiences. By 1947, Grable had probably peaked as the world's most popular female movie star. She had two successful outings in 1945 (Diamond Horseshoe, with Haymes, and the well-remembered The Dolly Sisters), but she didn't make any movies that were released in 1946 (except for a cameo in Do You Love Me)--a big mistake in terms of continuing her brand, particularly since she was entering a difficult transition into the post-war years where audiences were beginning to move away from her kind of pictures. 1947 saw one of her biggest hits, Mother Wore Tights, but that same year's The Shocking Miss Pilgrim was a dud. This pattern of alternating hits and misses would continue after '47...only the misses would start to outweigh the hits within a few short years. Why a period musical like The Shocking Miss Pilgrim failed, while audiences turned out in droves for period musical Mother Wore Tights the same year, is up for debate, but clearly, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim's dismal tone and flat delivery had to be the primary causes for this box office slip.

Potentially, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim's proto-feminist message was perfect for those changing post-war audiences (...and maybe even a few years ahead of popular support). And to its credit, the movie doesn't have Grable knuckle under to Haymes' will. SPOILER ALERT! Yes, she's going to marry him (it wouldn't be a musical romance without that), but she not only gets Haymes to admit women have the right to work, she closes out the movie heading up her own company. For all intents and purposes, she's reached total equality with her fiance (and let's not forget the movie's romantic conflict is set into motion by Haymes' Aunt Alice, who really calls the shots back at the office). However, the road to this rewarding message (particularly for 1947) is a long one, filled with mediocre-at-best songs and a pair of actors who don't seem to have much chemistry between them. Written by the director George Seaton (after numerous other screenwriters took a crack at significantly changing Frederica and Ernest Maas' original short story, Miss Pilgrim's Progress--something the Maas' didn't appreciate: they savaged the final movie), The Shocking Miss Pilgrim simply doesn't sport enough "business" to keep this business-oriented story interesting (according to reports, an uncredited Edmund Goulding may have completed almost half of the movie, when Seaton became ill). I expected quite a bit more comedy to develop from that promising boarding house full of eccentric, Boston-hating malcontents...but it petered out with just one or two limp scenes (you know you're in trouble when even that hilarious character actor Allyn Joslyn comes over as dull). Grable's efforts to win over her office workers are sweet...but also protracted and not particularly amusing, either, while the suffragette subplot is thrown away.

None of that should have mattered as much, though, if the songs were tuneful--which they're not (from what I read, they were a bunch of leftover, unpublished--for a reason--tunes from the late George Gershwin that brother Ira quickly slapped some lyrics onto...and it shows). As for Grable and Haymes.... Grable may have projected a sweet, wholesome image that melded beautifully with that smooth, rounded singing voice, but a big part of her appeal was also, obviously, her beauty--in particular those legs. So lacing her up tight in period costumes, without respite (since there's no "fantasy" dance sequence here, there's no chance for her to shed her clothes and get into something revealing), was probably not the smartest move in terms of properly exploiting her appeal. And accordingly, she looks glum and slightly put out for the whole show (the fact that in the story she's fighting not only social prejudice but Haymes as well, doesn't exactly lend itself to her flashing that winning Grable smile too often). As for Haymes, I never did understand his appeal. On the radio, I suppose, he's fine, with that ultra-polished voice that made him as popular as Crosby and Sinatra for awhile. On camera, though, his slightly odd looks (they needed to keep his head down a bit so those nostrils aren't staring right at us) and his preoccupied, tight manner don't lend themselves to believable canoodling with shapely Grable (I don't know how they got along together during Diamond Horseshoe in '45...but here she looks less-than-thrilled to have him around). Too bad that The Shocking Miss Pilgrim's forward-thinking message got lost in such a lackluster musical.

The Video:
Even though it's a flat letterboxed transfer, The Pleasure Seekers' 2.35:1 CinemaScope image is still quite nice (blowing it up on your monitor, to fill the screen, will bump up the grain and up the image fuzziness...but not too much), with a sharp image and not too much damage. I've already written above about the troublesome Three Little Girls in Blue transfer (dire), while The Shocking Miss Pilgrim's fullscreen, 1.37:1 color transfer is not bad, considering, with okay-enough color (perhaps a tad dark), a reasonably sharp image, and not too much damage.

The Audio:
All of the releases here sport fairly loudly re-recorded Dolby Digital English split mono audio tracks, with only slight fuzz and hiss. No closed-captions or subtitles included.

The Extras:
No extras for any of the movies.

Final Thoughts:
Two Misses and a hit. Not to fool around: buying this The Pleasure Seekers, Three Little Girls in Blue, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim triple feature will depend on whether you already like the stars or the titles...or if you're some kind of Hollywood musical completist (and that's cool with me). For my money, though, only Three Little Girls in Blue was worth my time (you can still buy it separately)...and of course, that's the movie with the worst transfer here. So...I think the very best I can do for the The Pleasure Seekers, Three Little Girls in Blue, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim triple-header, is to tentatively suggest a rental...and that's only to see if you can stomach Three Little Girls in Blue' horrible transfer.


Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.

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