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The Ice Follies of 1939
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MGM. 82 minutes.
US release: 3/10/39
Warner Archive DVD release: 3/23/09
Cast: Joan Crawford (as "Mary McKay"), James Stewart, Lew Ayres, Lewis Stone, Lionel Stander, Charles D. Brown. Featuring "The International Ice Follies" with Bess Ehrhardt, Roy Shipstad, Eddie Shipstad, and Oscar Johnson.
Credits: From the story by Leonard Praskins. Screenplay: Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf. Producer: Harry Rapf. Director: Reinhold Schunzel. Camera: Joseph Ruttenberg, Oliver T. Marsh. Music: Roger Edens. Costumes: Adrian. Editor: W. Donn Hayes.
Plot Summary: Comedy, romance, and song hit the ice in this musical. Larry Hall (James Stewart) is a professional ice skater whose act with his friend Eddie Burgess (Lew Ayres) breaks up when Larry weds Mary McKay (Joan Crawford). Mary is also a skater, and she teams up with Larry to perform, but their on-stage (or, more accurately, on-ice) partnership proves short-lived when Mary is offered a contract to make movies in Hollywood. She quickly becomes a popular film star, but Larry does not have the same luck in California; in time, he decides to head to Canada, where he gets the idea of staging an elaborate ice revue. The producers of Ice Follies of 1939 worked with the Shipstad and Johnson Ice Follies troupe to stage the film's spectacular closing ice ballet, which was filmed in Technicolor (the remainder of the film was shot in black and white). ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide
Notes: Began production in October 1938.
R.W.D. in the New York Herald Tribune (1939):
Since some kind of story was needed to lead up to the film debut of "The International Ice Follies," and top-flight players to give it the necessary publicity gloss, Joan Crawford, James Stewart, and Lew Ayres were given the unenviable job of trying to make it digestible. Their acting is smart and likable; their material is not....Miss Crawford should avoid this type of film in the future, when she has to buck poor material, a group of specialists and Metro's own lavishness.
Frank S. Nugent in the New York Times
March 17, 1939
Just when we were beginning to look forward to the Spring thaw, Metro gives us a picture called "The Ice Follies of 1939" (at the Capitol) contrary to the usual practice of dating all spectacle pictures at least a year in advance. This chronological restraint may be due to the fact that "Ice Follies" isn't altogether a spectacle picture; it also has a plot, and one which, if you will excuse our saying so, has been put on ice too late. Far be it from us to rap one of Mr. Rapf's more glittering productions; what we mildly object to is the fact that the glitter does not extend to the dialogue, the incidents, the characters (for whom "fictitious" is an understatement) or the story, which is the one about the matrimonial clashing of two careers.
And how brilliant yet harmonious both turn out to be finally, with James Stewart producing the pictures, and with Joan Crawford starring in them, while that top-flight motion-picture mogul, Lewis Stone (remember what we said about the characters?) looks benignly on. Conceive, if yon can, that great dramatic moment for all America when Verna Lee, the great star, whose hair has been dyed black to give her glamour, renounces her career on a nation-wide hook-up to go back to the man she loves. Mr. Stewart, listening in, turns handsprings and somersaults at the news (it seems Verna always takes this public-address-system method to communicate her sentiments to the man she loves). But of course Mr. Stone won't submit to that; he would rather take Mr. Stewart from his little world as an ice-carnival impreseario into the larger, more rarefied atmosphere of producing than let Miss Crawford slip back into domesticity.
Would you like to know how Miss Crawford gets her contract in the first place? She simply follows the producer's secretary into his office and tells him she isn't interested in a screen career, that nothing could induce her to accept a contract. In less than no time at all, girls, her picture is up in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre as large as Stalin's at a party congress. Miss Crawford, Mr. Stewart, Lew Ayres, Mr. Stone and the others do as well as could be expected with such roles, the ice skating is nice and the first picture Mr. Stewart produces is all in Technicolor.
If you've seen Ice Follies of 1939 and would like to share your review here, please e-mail me. Include, if you like, a picture of yourself to accompany your review, as well as a star-rating (with 5 stars the best) and any of your favorite lines from the film.
Michael Lia (February 2010)
Rating: of 5
My aunt was a costumer at the Ice Capades in Chicago in the early 1970s, and we were allowed to go backstage and meet the performers after the show. It was very exciting, and my memories are vivid of running around backstage and seeing all these different people. It was an exciting atmosphere. When Miss Crawford steps in the ring in Ice Follies, however, I have no memory at all and no excitement or interest. The only thing of interest is the color photography of Miss Crawford; she is radiant and beautiful in her fairy-princess gowns. Otherwise it is unmemorable studio trash. Mr. Rapf was no Thalberg and Mr. Mayer must have been at the horse races.
The film in its entirety stinks. It is bad and has the feel of a Flash Gordon serial; the quality is rotten, something I do not expect from MGM. There is no script to speak of and it has no feeling: I could care less if Miss Crawford gives everything up for a wimpy sexless James Stewart. What a fade-out folks... the happy lovers of the Ice Capades. Yuk.
Miss Crawford has no oomph, just one good “drunk” scene. She is saddled with male co-stars who act like dorky college roommates. She is given nothing in the script to work on except Adrian’s fabulous costumes; there are no brain tumors or blindness or guns or criminal activity or an intriguing love triangle, just the Ice and Jimmy Stewart's feelings. It is Horrible. I like Reinhold Schunzel, the director; I am assuming he just went along like everyone else and shrugged his shoulders. The audience would, too, if they did not fall asleep; and if they did wake up, they would wonder why Miss Crawford suddenly looks like Miss Hedy Lamar.
It is one of the rare occasions that I forget that I am watching a Joan Crawford film. In her scenes with Lewis Stone I can only think about Grand Hotel. I applaud him for giving his role a performance, but what a bore. All of the performances are cardboard, from a nothing script. Who exactly is to blame, I don’t know. Where was Sonja Henie? And Vera Ruba Ralston. Those girls could skate.
Okay, other than mentioning Mr. Stone and listening to nice Mr. Lew Ayres' voice, I have nothing else to say except, "Thank god it is only an 82 minute film -- and 80 of that is too long!"
Robert Viera (March 2007)
I was fortunate to record a copy of "Ice Follies of 1939" from Turner Classic Movies a few years ago and since then have had the good fortune to learn more about the history of the movie rather than base my observations purely on what is presented.
At the time the film was made, Joan's contract had just been renewed after possibly leaving MGM for Fox, since Darryl Zanuck had promised her a more diverse repertoire should she sign with Fox. (This information is in the book "The Divine Feud.") Since Joan had started her career as a dancer, her talents could lend themselves very easily to musicals. She reached a point where she wanted to expand her range from "shop girl."
She had been studying opera and had made a few recordings with the MGM symphony orchestra. Her agent presented the recordings to Mayer who, according to the book, was quite interested. I firmly believe that Mayer was no fool and would never express interest unless it was economically feasible. Joan signed a new contract and one of the first films was "Ice Follies."
When you see the film it is evident that this was a major, major production with the International Ice Follies troup participating and the finale in technicolor (something reserved only for those productions warranting a substantial investment by the studio). A major marketing campaign was in full swing about "hearing sing." As also expressed in the book, "the word on the lot" was quite impressive about Joan's singing talent boasting a range to 2 octaves with an additional 2 - 3 notes on each side. Joan was also to sing 6 new songs.
Apparently the anticipation was so great that the reigning opera diva of that period, Jeannette MacDonald, also took notice. It is written that she saw L.B. Mayer and stated there was room for only one classical singer, and it was her. Because her films with were very successful, he did not want to jeopardize yet another revenue stream. It was also revealed in another book, "The Golden Girls of MGM," that Mayer was also very much in love with MacDonald.
The end result was a film with 4 of the 6 songs deleted and only bits and pieces of one other and possibly 30 seconds in the finale.
's performance is -- as always -- stellar. You cannot help but see the focus and concentration as she did with any of her films and particularly this one since this supposed to be a turning point for her. I could not help but wonder where the missing songs were supposed to be. The film is filled with references to her great singing voice, but no voice is ever presented until the very end. What is presented is certainly very good and you cannot help but wonder what was so threatening to Jeannette MacDonald if the film were released as originally planned.
and are charming as usual. However, I personally find 's character dislikable, but the film is of its time.
One cannot help but be very impressed with the overall production values. It had to be very expensive in order to chop it up the way that it was.
In short, what could have been a wonderfully lavish production was turned into a very expensive "shop girl" picture. Perhaps with technology and interest in the film, we could see it restored. One can only hope.
Above: US sheet music, and a French window card.
Below: US herald cover and centerfold.
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