When it comes to movie musicals, there are certain titles that have become iconic. The Sound of Music...The Wizard of Oz…Singin’ in the Rain…and, of course, I Love Melvin! (Insert sound of needle scratching off a record here). Okay, maybe not that last one. Coming just a year after the release of what I, and many others, consider the greatest movie musical of all time (Singin’ in the Rain), this little toe-tapper reunited two of that more iconic film’s stars. So here comes Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor in 1953’s I Love Melvin.
Reynolds plays Judy, a young woman who still lives at home with her parents and younger sister but dreams of hitting the big time as an actress in musical theater. She is currently a part of the chorus in a show called Quarterback Kelly, but she has just gotten a promotion to a more featured role. In a big football-themed musical number she plays, get this, the football! We’ll talk more about that later. During one of the performances, she meets a budding young photographer named Melvin (Donald O’Connor) backstage. He quickly becomes quite smitten with her and sees big possibilities to make a name for himself with his bosses at Look Magazine if he takes some photos of this lovely young actress. Judy ends up agreeing to pose for him. Now, young ladies, let me just interject here…when some guy claiming to be a photographer says he wants to take your picture, you run away! Didn’t you ever see Fame?
Any-hoo, the young couple starts spending more and more time together, despite the disapproval of Judy’s father. He wants her to marry box company heir Harry Flack (Richard Anderson). At one point, Judy mentions that if she were to appear on the cover of the magazine, things with the fam might be better. Melvin then embarks on a mission to fulfill this wish, but when he hits trouble he ends up creating a fake issue of the magazine to try and win everybody over. Yep, that’ll work.
At only 77 minutes in length, I Love Melvin is a compact little musical that is both delightful and completely bizarre. The story that strings the various musical numbers together is trite, to say the least. In fact, the film pretty much tosses the plot out the window for much of the film until they reach the point where they have to wrap things up. This film isn’t about telling a deep meaningful story, though, it’s about giving plenty of opportunities for the stars to sing and dance. Truth be told, the songs themselves are not terribly memorable, but the execution is a lot of fun.
Actually, fun is putting it lightly. Some of the musical numbers are completely bat guano. The most notable example is the football number where Debbie Reynolds wears a laced up brown swimsuit to play the football itself. In this sequence a bunch of singing dancing football players literally pass her, run down the field with her, and kick her through the goal posts. She’s lucky she doesn’t get spiked before an endzone dance! I will say, as human footballs go, Debbie Reynolds looks dang good! Still, the sequence is one of the nuttiest moments I’ve ever seen in a movie musical. Donald O’Connor has some wild moments of his own. In one sequence he zooms around a gazebo on roller skates. His weirdest sequence though has him trying on various costumes and dancing around in a variety of different styles. This all leads up to him playing all the different characters in a pantomime of a murder mystery. Perhaps the strangest moment of the film, though, is when Debbie Reynolds dances with a trio of guys wearing creepy looking rubber Fred Astaire masks. I’ve never seen anything quite like these musical numbers. I was completely enthralled with it all and yet couldn’t shake the thought of “what on Earth am I watching?”
What makes this weird little film work is that both Reynolds and O’Connor are at the top of their game. Both are utterly charming as they go back and forth scene stealing from the other. The supporting cast also includes some wonderful performers, including Una Merkel as Judy’s mother and Jim Backus as another Look Magazine photographer.
When I sat down to watch this film, all I knew was it was a musical. It ended up being both sweet and trippy. It’s a strange film that satisfied my interest in both old musicals and cinematic oddities.