...it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there...
I was going to review Seems Like Old Times next, but I have to skip back to the beginning after finally seeing Goldie's first movie ever.
The One And Only, Genuine, Original Family Band, 1968
This was a pleasant surprise. I really liked this movie, though I didn't think I would. The concept couldn't sound more boring, even to a history buff like myself. It's set during the contentious presidential election of 1888, between Democratic incumbent Grover Cleveland and Republican challenger Benjamin Harrison. Not exactly a formula for box office bonanzae, even back in 1968. I'd hate to have been the one pitching this one to Disney:
Mr. Disney: Hmm. I don't know. Who did you have in mind to play the lead?Originally intended as a two part tv movie, TOAOGOFB was based on the exploits of some real life historical figures, the Bower family of South Dakota.
Pitcher: Well, John Davidson's available, and Walt Brennan's signed on.
Mr. Disney: Uhhh. Who else?
Pitcher: And Buddy Ebsen.
Mr. Disney: Errr. The Beverly Hillbillies guy? Is that all? I don't know.
Pitcher: Oh... and uh, I think we can get Kurt Russell.
Mr. Disney: Russell? Why the hell didn't you say so?! That kid's gold! When can you start production?
The Bowers became quite popular in the area because they had they own family band. . . . At the time, there was only one brass band west of the Missouri River, the military band attached to the Seventh Regiment, then stationed in Fort Meade. The military band was scheduled to perform at [a] celebration. Calvin [Bower] went to extreme measures and was successful to persuade the committee to also book his Family Band to play for the occasion.In the movie, the fictional Bowers are divided along party lines with Grandpa (Walt Brennan, who else?) a cantankerous Democrat, and his son (Buddy Ebsen) a quiet Republican. Brennan's granddaughter gets involved with a dashing Republican newspaperman (John Davidson). He convinces the whole family to move to the Dakota territory, hoping they'll add to the solid Republican majority.
. . . When the chairman called for music, the leader of the Fort Meade Band responded. After the speaker spoke, the chairman hardly rose when the Bower Band began to play without permission. The Bowers took the crowd by surprise and there was much clapping and shouting. It took the breath right out of the Fort Meade band and they folded up their music racks and left the platform. This was the introduction of the Family Band to the Black Hills.
Davidson and the local Republicans are working to get Dakota admitted to the Union as two separate states, in order to shift the balance of power in congress with the addition of four Republican senators.* Davidson gets a shock when he finds Walt Brennan in the schoolhouse, doing a sort of 19th Century Jay Bennish act for the kids.
The eerie topicality of TOAOGOFB is one of the delights of this movie. The musical numbers are horribly bad** (with the notable exception of the finale, which is Goldie's only scene), but I laughed out loud at the unexpected parallels between 1888 politics and today.
Besides the issue of overtly political schoolteachers, the movie touches on political demagoguery, freedom of speech and dissent, and even stolen elections. As you all should know (I'm not ruining anything for you) Benjamin Harrison won the 1888 election despite losing the popular vote by over 90,000. During the movie's election night party scene, the Democrats' elation turns to violence when they find out that their man lost after the electoral votes were tallied. A riot starts and the meeting hall gets trashed. It only stops when the One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band plays "My Country 'Tis Of Thee" to calm the crowd down.
After the brawl, Buddy Ebsen gets up to address the partisans with words that are appropriate whether the date be 1888, 1968 or even 2006:
All of us here together can build the greatest united country in the whole bloomin' world if we'll just remember one thing. There's a time to stand up and fight for what you believe in, and there is a time to join hands and work together, or all the fighting doesn't mean a thing.The teenaged Kurt Russell made the most of his small part. Despite the fact that he hated dancing, Kurt acquited himself well during the musical numbers. Goldie's one-line part featured some pretty good dancing, as well as her trademark smile. The big scene involves a sort of dance-duel between Lesley Ann Warren and John Davidson as they try to make each other jealous by do-si-do-ing with other partners. Goldie is Davidson's "other partner."
There are no scenes between Goldie and Kurt; and their off screen romance developed many years later. Goldie's memoir, A Lotus Grows In The Mud, includes the story of how she met Kurt the second time, during the casting of 1984's Swing Shift. Goldie apparently didn't even recognize Kurt, and although he remembered Goldie, Kurt had a big crush on Lesley Ann Warren at the time. Funny how the two of them were in the same movie without realizing that they were soulmates until sixteen years later!
I totally recommend TOAOGOFB, but only if you are prepared for the odd combination of Gilded Age politics and good old fashioned Disney schmaltz. I give it 3½ stars.
* As you all know, in 1888, Senators were elected by the state legislatures.
** I can't emphasize enough how bad the songs are. The libretto includes a rousing tribute to Grover Cleveland, "Let's Put It Over With Grover," (don't rock the boat/ give him your vote...) and a similarly pukeworthy paean to Benjamin Harrison, titled simply "Oh Benjamin Harrison," (he's far beyond comparison...). However, the final dance number, "West O' The Wide Missouri," is well choreographed and the song is pretty catchy. Also, 60 year old Buddy Ebsen showed he could still do a nice soft shoe routine.