Apr 2, 2016

Dan Dailey, When My Baby Smiles at Me

as SKID JOHNSON
As I'm typically a sucker for song-and-dance-centric performances, I started off quite pleased by Dan Dailey's work in When My Baby Smiles at Me. But the hook for this performance, unlike that of say, Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh, is technically supposed to be more than just song and dance - one might deduce that this performance was noticed by AMPAs due to its display of showmanship and alcoholism. In that regard, I'm not sure that Dailey is wholly effective.



The obvious elements that work in Dailey's favor are done just the way as I'd have expected. Dailey is a good performer, tackling his stage numbers with zest and aplomb. Similarly, as is typically the case with these types of performances, Dailey himself is very good at conveying an abundance of charm and likability. But it made me wonder - do I grade him up because he is satisfactory in the areas that are required for this performance's success? It was a bit of an internal debate, but watching how Dailey tackles Skid's  alcoholism put some things into perspective. Firstly, the screenplay doesn't do the characters any justice (The New York Time's Bosley Crowther: "...script is as loaded with cliches as a low-budget cowboy film. A halfway experienced movie-goer can call every turn, every line.") There's not enough there for Dailey to fully-flesh out a character plagued by alcoholism - it's a haphazard attempt to broach the topic.  Secondly, Dailey's own charm - that in which he utilizes a heavy sense of comedic showboating very representative of Old Hollywood - doesn't help to better the performance's dramatic scenes. I found the film's biggest Oscar moment (in Dailey's hands) to have been completely botched due to the destructive cross-section between Dailey's acting style and the content's dramatic requirements, and the result ends up looking really ridiculous. There are moments that work - Dailey can be profound in his more quieter scenes (his follow-up to the aforementioned Botched Big Moment is done quite tenderly). Ultimately I had to give the guy a more downgraded score - because what he does well isn't so well that it causes a lasting impact, and what he's supposed to do well isn't executed as such. It's adequate enough and people in 1948 seemed to like the film quite a bit, but I just didn't find it very compelling.

5 comments:

  1. That Daily was nominated for this retro/film performance in lieu of Bogart in "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" is mind-boggling. This film was a hit whereas Treasure was not, but it's wins for best direction, screenplay and supporting actor (WalterHuston) mean there was love from the Academy. Bogart's character was both off-putting and pitiable, not Academy hallmarks of those days, but he did his best film work here. Dan Daily was a charmer onscreen but a lightweight. I still don't get this nomination. Totally left-field.

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    1. Funny how nominations work out. I must say that I'd much rather surprise, left-field nominations over expected ones, even if I don't end up liking them much, if only so that it fights against the predictability that often plagues the Oscars.

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    2. Good point. They do make the awards more intriguing. I always remember Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie being nominated for the shock/horror 1976 film "Carrie" and thinking how interesting it was that they received deserved nominations for a film that was considered almost an exploitation film. Not the Academy's tendencies in those days, but their work could not be denied.

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  2. Haven't seen this performance yet but I can't say I'm looking forward to see it. Sounds like a very mediocre performance. But great review!

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    1. Thank you! While I didn't hate it and therefore can't say that I don't recommend it, it may be worth checking out if you're interested in Grable/Dailey/Musicals/etc.

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