Pin Up Girl (Blu-ray Review)
DirectorH. Bruce Humberstone
Release Date(s)1944 (June 18, 2019)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
Made during World War II, Pin Up Girl (1944) is a lighthearted bit of musical nostalgia starring Betty Grable as a stenographer who yearns to be a showgirl. Back home in Oakland, California, Lorry Jones (Grable) and her friend Kay (Dorothea Kent) volunteer as USO hostesses and Lorry entertains the boys with song-and-dance numbers. The girls move across the bay to San Francisco for office jobs in the big city and get waylaid into show biz. When the show closes, the girls leave for Washington, D.C. to work for the government as stenographers, but Lorry tells everyone she’s going on a USO tour. On the way, the train makes an overnight stop in New York City, where Lorry meets sailor Tommy Dooley (John Harvey), a returning war hero, and Kay meets his buddy Dud (Dave Willock).
The girls join the boys at a nightclub run by Tommy’s friend Eddie (Joe E. Brown), and Lorry continues her deception by telling Tommy she’s a Broadway musical comedy star. When they later meet accidentally in Washington a few days later, she changes her appearance by donning a conservative suit and glasses pinning up her hair. Amazingly, Tommy fails to recognize her (guess she possesses the Clark Kent/Superman magic).
A hyperactive Martha Raye stars as Molly McKay, the real Broadway star. She sings a few songs and offers forced comedy moments, while also serving as Lorry’s rival for the affections of Tommy.
The film, a mere trifle, features Charlie Spivak and his Orchestra, a second-tier swing band of the period. The songs by Mack Gordon and James V. Monaco include You’re My Little Pin Up Girl, Time Alone Will Tell, Don’t Carry Tales Out of School, and Yankee Doodle Hayride, none of which became hits. The choreography is by Hermes Pan, who worked often with Fred Astaire. Pan’s most elaborate creation for the film involves the Skating Vanities, roller skater/dancers who carry huge ostrich feather fans of red, white, and blue and glide around creating interesting patterns reminiscent of Busby Berkeley’s elaborate geometric arrangements of chorus girls in Warner Bros. musicals of the 1930s. Pan also duets with Grable in an excellent Apache dance number. The Condos Brothers, a tap dance duo, perform two numbers marked by precision synchronization.
Most of the numbers take place on a stage or in a night club, so they emerge naturally, rather than stopping the action dead. The finale, which goes on far too long, features Grable as a drill sergeant calling commands to an all-female chorus marching in close order drill. Intended as a patriotic salute to the fighting men overseas, the sequence should have been edited down considerably.
The tone is bright and the conflicts are easily resolved. The film is pure escapism (the studio didn’t want any dark material to mar its cheeriness). The title capitalizes on a famous photo (shown under the title credits) of Grable wearing a one-piece bathing suit and high heels, back to camera as she peers over her shoulder. This was given out to thousands of servicemen and became one of the most iconic pin-up photos of the war. As a musical, the movie is just fair. Without memorable songs or a captivating screenplay, it is no more than a mildly entertaining artifact of Hollywood’s World War II output.
The Unrated Blu-ray release, featuring 1080p High Definition, is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Clarity is not as sharp as previous Twilight Time releases and the Technicolor doesn’t offer the deeply saturated hues typical of the process. The Skating Vanities number truly pops with its massive ostrich feather fans of red, white, and blue the skaters wave about as they weave around the stage. Grable’s outfits include a lush black gown slit down the middle to show off her million-dollar legs, a maroon business suit, a red and black lace dress with matching collar ruffle, and a pale blue army uniform. The Apache number, lit to suggest a nighttime Parisian street, is a departure from the other numbers’ high-key lighting.
Audio is 2.0 DTS-High Definition Master Audio. English subtitles are available for the deaf and hard of hearing. Dialogue is clear throughout, with most of the film shot on sound stages. A few brief scenes are shot on the back lot. The musical numbers come across well, though in the numbers featuring Spivak’s band, individual instruments can’t be detected unless they have a solo spot. Applause is balanced effectively when it follows performances.
The Unrated 83-minute Blu-ray is released as a Limited Edition of 3,000 units. Bonus materials include an audio commentary, a deleted musical number, the original theatrical trailer, the Twilight Time catalogue, and a booklet.
Audio Commentary – Film historian Richard Schickel begins by explaining the phenomenon that gives the film its title – the pin up girl. It was thought that photos of pretty young women would satisfy the “hormonal firestorms” of overseas troops who missed their wives and girlfriends at home. Studios distributed thousands of photos of pretty young women posing in bathing suits or in semi-provocative positions. Betty Grable posed for one of the most instantly recognizable pin up photos of the war, which is shown under the title credits. Grable started working in Hollywood in movie choruses in 1929. She was fired from both RKO and Paramount, but 20th Century Fox hired her to replace ailing Alice Faye in Down Argentine Way. Faye never enjoyed movie star life and wanted to settle down and raise a family, so Grable rose to stardom as the studio’s permanent blonde replacement for Faye. Grable was good-natured, never complained, was eager to work, and was never put on suspension. She first made the list of top box office stars in 1942 and remained on the list for ten years. When Pin Up Girl was made, Grable was about to marry Harry James. She was known for nostalgic films set in former eras, but Pin Up Girl was contemporary. At one point, 20th Century Fox insured Grable’s legs with Lloyd’s of London for one million dollars. Joe E. Brown, who plays Eddie the night club owner, was a veteran vaudevillian and comedian. Hermes Pan dances with Grable in the Apache number. Movies would often show what a night club or theater stage could not possibly accommodate. Grable disappeared from the screen after 1952, making only three more films afterwards. She co-starred in How to Marry a Millionaire with Marilyn Monroe, Fox’s new blonde star and the latest popular sensation. In her heyday, Betty Grable represented the triumph of America over evil.
Deleted Musical Number – In this footage, Lorry is introduced onstage by Eddie (Joe E. Brown) and, accompanied by the Stardusters and Charlie Spivak and His Orchestra, sings This is It.
Twilight Time Catalogue – Twilight Time Blu-ray releases from 2011 to the present are listed in a click-on menu.
Booklet – An 8-page insert booklet contains an uncredited critical essay, 3 color photos from the film, and a reproduction of the movie’s poster art, with Betty Grable’s legs dominating.
– Dennis Seuling