A flimsy, superficial story about a family with a history in showbusiness provides an excuse to put on a series of old-fashioned showtunes, including the title number, You’d Be Surprised, the best-forgotten A Sailor’s Not a Sailor (‘Til a Sailor’s Been Tattooed) and a seemingly hundred-minute version of Alexander’s Ragtime Band. Yet somehow it got a best-story oscar nomination, beaten out by a Spencer Tracy western.
The women were good in this, at least. Ethel Merman (more of a stage actress, only her second movie since the 30’s) plays the mom. I see she did an early version of Anything Goes and a movie called Alexander’s Ragtime Band – remind me not to rent that one. She and Dan Dailey (It’s Always Fair Weather, My Blue Heaven) play vaudeville performers who weather out the decline portrayed in Cradle Will Rock, start performing at movie theaters, and gradually expand their act as they have children who grow into Donald O’Connor (couple years after Singin’ in the Rain), Mitzi Gaynor (Donald’s gal in Anything Goes), and a horribly wooden Johnnie Ray, in just about his only movie role.
Drama (barely): Donald falls for young upstart Marilyn Monroe then he and Mitzi follow her on tour instead of sticking with the parents, Johnnie leaves showbiz entirely to become a priest, and they all happily reunite for a revival show at the end. Katy and I were not impressed. The same group – director Lang, writers the Ephrons, cinematographer Leon Shamroy – made Desk Set a couple years later.