Give a Girl a Break (1954)

Ted Sturgis (Gower Champion) is a director/choreographer working on a brand new Broadway show. When he gets into a spat with his hot-tempered star, Janet, she decides to break her contract and leave the show without a leading lady.

(Image via elculturaldejorgecano.es)

(Image via elculturaldejorgecano.es)

Ted begins hunting for a replacement to take on the starring role. His former dance partner, Madelyn Corlane (Marge Champion), is one option, but Ted is sure she’s given up show business, so he turns to the papers to advertise an open casting call. Promising young dancer Suzy Doolittle (Debbie Reynolds) catches the eye of Bob (Bob Fosse), Ted’s assistant. Composer Leo Belney (Kurt Kasznar), on the other hand, immediately takes a liking to Joanna Moss (Helen Wood).

After turning down 152 girls at the auditions, it’s up to Suzy, Joanna, and Madelyn (who, as it turns out, hasn’t exactly put show business behind her) to compete for the part.

Give a Girl a Break was directed by Stanley Donen. Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett wrote the script, from a story by Vera Caspary.

From the lovely, illustrated opening credits to the consistently-bright mood to the lavish final number, Give a Girl a Break is every bit the classic Hollywood showbiz musical. It’s a delight.

But more than anything else, this film is a real treat for Broadway buffs. The screen, and several musical numbers are shared by Bob Fosse and Gower Champion, two of the biggest names names in American theater. Champion won eight awards for his choreography and Broadway directorial efforts, and was nominated for several others; Fosse won thirteen and was nominated for many more. These awards included multiple Tonys for both men.

I’m interested in Broadway musicals but haven’t had the opportunity to see many. (I saw The Lion King when it came to Detroit on tour a few years ago, and have seen local productions of classics like Hello, Dolly! — which, I learned after watching this film, was directed and choreographed by Gower Champion in 1964!)

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Given my limited exposure to Broadway, I personally chose to watch Give a Girl a Break largely because I’m a fan of Debbie Reynolds. Though the film hasn’t jumped to the very top of my Reynolds ranking, she’s as wonderful as ever here. Part of what is probably best-described as an ensemble cast, she shares a sweet romance and a few lovely song-and-dance scenes with Fosse (including a fun “daydream” sequence), but doesn’t steal the film.

Even if she’d given her best performance ever, it would have been impossible for Debbie to steal the show with Marge and Gower tearing up the floor. This was my first time watching them dance together and to say I was impressed would be an immense understatement. They’re a captivating pair. That rooftop dance scene is a wonder to behold!

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Script-wise, Give a Girl a Break isn’t the most captivating film I’ve ever seen. The story is as thin as a sheet of rice paper. Luckily, for me, all of the dancing (and there is a lot) kept my interest and made up for a story that could’ve been better.

I would recommend Give a Girl a Break mostly for Broadway admirers or those who love Debbie Reynolds musicals. With my casual interest in Broadway musicals and my love for Debbie Reynolds, the film was just the ticket for me, but it won’t appeal to everyone since the appeal rests so heavily on the dance numbers.

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