Springtime in the Rockies (1942)
In 1940, Betty Grable and Charlotte Greenwood traveled Down Argentine Way. The next year, they basked in the Moon Over Miami (1941), and in 1942 they enjoyed Springtime in the Rockies, crisscrossing the Western Hemisphere in a series of very popular musicals showcasing a very popular star.
Betty Grable had been working in Hollywood since 1929 in small roles and B-movies, y
t it wasn’t until she replaced Alice Faye, who fell ill, in Down Argentine Way (1940) that she shot to stardom.
Audiences liked the perky blonde and her million dollar legs, and the colorful, light musicals she starred in were extremely popular during wartime.
20th Century Fox put her and a rotating cast in a string of bright musicals set in beautiful places that brought the studio beautiful profits. By 1943, Grable was the top box office star in the world, and in 1947, she was the highest paid entertainer in the country!
She was also the subject of the most requested pinup among GIs in WWII. The famous image of Grable in a white bathing suit was taken in 1943, and was later named one of the “100 Photographs that Changed the World” by Life magazine.
Grable was famous for having the best legs in Hollywood, and Fox insured them with Lloyds of London for one million dollars! But beyond her great pair of stems, there’s something incredibly effervescent, quick, and cute about Grable. She’s magnetic on the screen, beautiful, and glamorous, but not terribly mysterious.
When you watch one of her movies, it’s easy to see why her beaming pinup and adorable screen personality made her such a popular reminder of home for so many American soldiers.
As Grable rocketed through the ranks of movie stars in the early 1940s, Fox made sure to keep their hottest property on the screen. She starred in three films in both 1941 and in 1942. Springtime was the third of her 1942 releases, and was a (loose) re-make of Fox’s 1937 film, Second Honeymoon.
Fox originally bought Philip Wylie’s story “Worship the Sun” before it was published in the 1930s. The studio then re-titled in Second Honeymoon, and cast Tyrone Power and Loretta Young. A few years later, the studio re-worked Second Honeymoon for Betty Grable. The basic plot is the same, but Fox changed the title, opting for the picturesque “Springtime in the Rockies” that fit in so nicely with Grable’s previous “destination” films. But the chosen title wasn’t so easy to obtain.
Fox paid $1,160 to Republic Pictures for the rights to “Springtime in the Rockies,” as it was also the name of a 1937 Gene Autry western. Republic had planned to re-use the name for an upcoming Roy Rogers picture, but after Fox bought it, Republic changed the title to Romance on the Range (1942). Fox also shelled out $1,000 to Villa Moret, Inc, a song publishing company, in order to avoid any legal issues around the copyrighted song “When it’s Springtime in the Rockies.”
As usual, the casting for this newly re-titled film was not a foregone conclusion. Fox originally considered Fred Astaire and Rudy Vallee as the male leads, but eventually landed on John Payne and Cesar Romero, which made the movie a reunion of sorts on the backlot. I mentioned the rotating casts of Grable’s musicals, and this one is no different. Most of the actors had worked with each other before this film, and many would again.
Along with Don Ameche and Victor Mature, John Payne was one of Grable’s frequent co-stars. Payne had started as a singer before winning starring roles at Fox. He is perhaps best known for his role as Fred Gailey in Miracle on 34th Street (1947), but he also acted in several film noirs and westerns. He had already appeared with Grable in two films: Tin Pan Alley (1940), and Footlight Serenade (August 1942) by the time Springtime came along. They would star together one more time in The Dolly Sisters (1945).
Although this was the first film for Cesar Romero and Grable, they would appear in three more films after this one. Carmen Miranda was another familiar face: she plays a large role in this movie, her second with Grable after Down Argentine Way. They would both turn up in Four Jills in a Jeep (1944), too.
Springtime also features recurring sidekick Charlotte Greenwood in her fourth, and last, film with Grable (Palmy Days (1931), Down Argentine Way (1940), and Moon Over Miami (1941).)
And wonderful character actor Edward Everett Horton makes a memorable appearance. He and Grable had a flirtatious dance in The Gay Divorcee (1934), though they don’t share much screen time in this movie. See what I mean about a reunion?
Along with all the old familiar faces in this film is a new but important figure in Grable’s life. Trumpeter and bandleader Harry James appears as himself with his band the Music Makers in Springtime, making this one of his many movie cameos. Grable and James would get married in 1943.
They had two daughters, the oldest of whom was named Victoria after Grable’s character in this movie. Grable and James were married for twenty-two years before they divorced in 1965.
Enjoy this amusing article (the photo appears to have been taken during the filming of this movie–you’ll recognize Grable’s halter dress) claiming that the pair did not start their romance until after this movie premiered.
After all, James was still married to his first wife. They were divorced in 1943, shortly before James and Grable got hitched. (To learn why the article discusses James’ wife’s quandary about whether to file for divorce in Reno or California, read my post here.) Be sure to read the horrible ad about how makeup will quickly get a girl a husband, too.
To the film! It begins in New York City during a blackout. This movie was in production in June through August 1942 when the U.S. was fully engaged in WWII. But the opening scene on a darkened street with people asking a policeman the way to the 42nd Street Theatre is the only reference to the war.
Dan Christy, the star of a Broadway show called “Stars in Your Eyes,” is late getting to the theater. His co-star Victoria “Vicky” Lane (Betty Grable), doesn’t know he’s missing. Also, long, pointy fingernails, also called “stiletto nails,” have been popular for the last few years, but they are nothing new!
As Vicky prepares for their first number with the help of her friend and maid Phoebe (Charlotte Greenwood), her old dance partner, Victor Prince (Cesar Romero), shows up. He begs her to reunite with him, both professionally and romantically.
But Vicky isn’t interested in getting “Victor and Victoria” back together. After all, she is starring in a successful show in its 34th week, plus she and Dan are about to get engaged. Or so she thinks.
When Vicky hears that Dan hasn’t arrived at the theater yet, she optimistically assumes that he’s out buying her an engagement ring. Then her mind turns to darker thoughts, namely that he is having yet another affair. Unfortunately, her second guess is correct. We see Dan arrive at the theater with a woman who seems utterly besotted with the star. She tenderly wipes her lipstick off of his face with her handkerchief before he shoos her away.
Dan (John Payne) enters the theater and finds a preemptively furious Vicky waiting for him. He smells of perfume, and it’s a scent she recognizes. Indeed, in an amusing exchange before Dan arrived, Vicky explained to Phoebe that she would know which girl Dan had been out with depending on what perfume clings to him.
And she does: she recognizes the very expensive, classy brand and knows that he has been out with socialite Marilyn Crothers! (Our question for Vicky is why in the world she likes this guy and hopes to marry him when evidence of his cheating ways is overwhelming and frequent!)
But the show must go on! Vicky and Dan perform “Run, Little Raindrop, Run,” (the English language tunes are by songwriting duo Mack Gordon and Harry Warren), but Vicky manages to get a few well-placed kicks and elbow jabs in during the number. But Dan sneaks in some kisses, so they’re pretty even. You can watch the performance here.
After the number, Vicky and Dan continue their argument. Dan manages to convince her that he was late because he was at Cartier getting an inscription added to an engagement ring. Happy tears flow and they kiss, but Vicky’s joy doesn’t last long. When Dan hands her a handkerchief to wipe her eyes, she notices that it is a woman’s hanky with the initial M embroidered on it. He was with Marilyn, not at Cartier!
Sidetone: I love that Phoebe carries around knitting needles during the scenes at the theater!
After Vicky catches Dan in that heinous lie, she leaves him and the show and starts performing with Victor again. Three months pass and “Victor and Victoria” are a “dancing dansation” enjoying great success. But Dan hasn’t been so lucky.
He hasn’t been able to get backers for a new show, but at least he has a stunning bar in which to drink away his sorrows. And a sympathetic bartender (Edward Everett Horton).
One evening, Dan’s agent finds him at the bar with some good news. He has secured two potential backers, Bickel and Brown, for his show. But they will only invest if Vicky Lane stars alongside Dan. That seems like an impossibility, but his agent has a plan.
He tells Dan that Vicky is currently performing at Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies, and he wants Dan to follow her there, reconcile, and bring her back to star in the show. The agent has even brought Dan tickets to Lake Louise! Easy-peasy.
Dan dismisses the idea and keeps drinking, though the bartender waxes on about how Lake Louise is “remarkably scenic” and “the jewel of the Canadian Rockies.” (Product placement is nothing new!) After that verbal advertisement, we cut to actual advertisements and see travel posters followed by shots of the actual places:
And then we see a poster for Lake Louise advertising Victor and Victoria as well as the band in residence, Harry James and his Music Makers. We get beautiful shots of Lake Louise and then watch James and his band perform two songs on the pavilion. They were one of the most famous bands in the country which is why Fox gives James so much screen time in this film.
James started the band in 1939, and they became extremely popular in 1941 when their version of “You Made Me Love You” climbed the charts. They were a big deal; The New York Times reviewer wrote in his review of this movie that “it should be mentioned that each appearance of bandleader Harry James on the screen was the signal for frenzied applause yesterday, a totally mysterious phenomenon as far as this corner was concerned.”
Although the reviewer apparently wasn’t a fan, James and his Music Makers remained popular and appeared in many other films. You can see James, the band, and their singer Helen Forrest in Bathing Beauty (1944), for instance, along with many other movies through the 1940s and ’50s.
Anyway, now that the characters have finally gotten to the Rockies, we spend almost the entire rest of the movie at Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada at the famed Chateau Lake Louise. There has been a hotel on the site since 1890, though the Chateau in the film dates back to 1911. It is still there today, now known as the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
The lake, which was named in honor of Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise, has been a popular vacation spot for over a century. Hollywood celebs like Marilyn Monroe and Alfred Hitchcock, among many others, have stopped by, as well as royalty like Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Noor of Jordan. I visited a few years ago and it is indeed a gorgeous spot. I was tickled to find that they play Springtime in the Rockies on a loop on one of the hotel channels!
I wonder if there was some sort of sponsorship deal or tie-in that made Fox choose this setting. There is no reason that the movie has to take place there–it could have happened at any resort anywhere. The plot never hinges on anything specifically related to Lake Louise; indeed, a review of the movie in Motion Picture Herald noted that “Some effort might have been made, however, to support the title and do justice to the beauty spot of Canada which it ignores.”
After all, other movies that spotlight a location, like Moon Over Miami or Duchess of Idaho at least show montages of the characters taking in the sights or availing themselves of the location’s special activities. But Grable and the others don’t go hiking/skiing/swimming/fishing/boating or anything. They basically stay inside the entire time.
Although the rest of the movie takes place at Lake Louise, it wasn’t actually filmed there. But it was supposed to be; at least, the Hollywood Reporter wrote that Fox planned to shoot on location because of “defense regulations hindering exterior shooting in the Hollywood area.” But in the end, only B-unit footage, like the kind in the collage above of the lake and pool, was filmed at Lake Louise. Grable and the other actors didn’t travel to Canada, which explains some of the interior-focus of the movie. But most Hollywood films weren’t shot on location; the scenes in Duchess of Idaho and Moon Over Miami were “faked,” for example, but Springtime doesn’t even try.
Anyway, Harry James and singer Helen Forrest delight the crowd with the song “I Had the Craziest Dream.” You can watch it here. Fun fact: this tune would become one of Betty Grable’s signature songs. In fact, at her funeral in 1973, the song was played on the church’s organ. Harry James, Cesar Romero, and other stars from her era were in attendance.
While Dan showers, the bartender explains that his name is McTavish and that a very drunk Dan insisted he become his valet and accompany him to Lake Louise.
We learn that McTavish has spent the last twenty years at various colleges because his wealthy aunt died when he was a freshman at Harvard, and her will stipulated that McTavish receive $10,000 a year as long as he was in school. So he stayed in school…and earned diplomas from five different universities, which explains his use of big words and his encyclopedic knowledge.
But McTavish finally got tired of the classroom and decided to learn from the “world;” in other words, he wants a girlfriend. As he says, rather dramatically, “Though I’m a master of romance languages, I’m scarcely a master of romance,” and “Bachelor of arts, yes, but awfully tired of being a bachelor.” So after he inherited some toothpaste stock which freed him from the $10,000 bequests, he set out into the world. Horton is one of my favorite character actors, so he’s a welcome addition to this film.
After that interlude with Dan and McTavish, we return to the pavilion for a performance by Victor and Victoria, which you can watch here. Fun fact: Hermes Pan, best known for his work with Fred Astaire, did the choreography for this movie.
The dance is energetic and bouncy, but I’m distracted by Grable’s gorgeous pink feathers. Earl Luick designed the costumes for this film. He had been in Hollywood since the late 1920s, and was employed at Fox in the early 1940s. He designed some incredible and very pretty outfits for Grable in this movie so that she looks like she’s walking a glamorous, colorful catwalk in nearly every scene.
This dress is particularly lovely with the sequins and embroidery on the bodice, and the beautiful ombre of the skirt. Notice that her white shoes have pink heels to match the dress!
Afterwards, Vicky and Victoria sit at a table and discuss their engagement. Yes, Vicky has already gotten engaged to Victor despite breaking up with Dan just three months ago. These people move fast! Dan catches them kissing, and Vicky is astonished to see her old flame!
She peevishly informs Dan of her engagement to Victor, who remains pretty clueless about the whole situation. He busies himself making a complicated cocktail despite Vicky and Dan’s request for simple drinks. He almost burns off his eyebrows, though, when his concoction explodes in the shaker. We’re meant to think that he’s a doofus.
After this awkward encounter, Dan heads back to his room. He thinks that all is lost because Vicky is engaged, so he wants to quit and go back to New York. But he is soon confronted by another problem: his “secretary” (Carmen Miranda) has arrived.
Her name is Rosita Murphy (Brazilian mother, Irish father), and Dan hired her in a drunken stupor in Detroit on his way to Canada.
Vicky sees Dan with Rosita as they wait in the lobby, and she assumes that they are a couple. Dan catches her watching, so he puts on a romantic display with Rosita, thrilled that Vicky is jealous. That means she still cares!
So he decides to stick around Lake Louise and try to convince Vicky to come back to him and his new show. (But he isn’t going to tell her about the show because he knows that she’ll never return if she thinks it’s just business. He needs to make her love him again…)
Once Dan announces to his “staff” that they’re staying, Rosita changes out of her sharp blue and white suit and into a more typical Carmen Miranda costume. Then she performs her version of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” for Dan with her six brothers:
You can watch it here:
Dan enjoys it, though he is more interested in Rosita as a fake love interest than as a secretary or performer. He buys Rosita a white evening gown at the hotel shop and invites her to dine with him that evening. He wants to keep parading their “love” in front of Vicky.
Rosita puts on her new dress and stops by to see McTavish before dinner. She has her eye on the charmingly awkward valet, not Dan. And although she likes the dress, she borrows ten dollars from McTavish to make some additions to it. When she enters the hotel restaurant with Dan, the dress has been covered by a colorful beaded capelet, a large belt, and a blue headdress. Much more her style!
Fun fact: when Rosita arrives at dinner, a woman admires her dress and asks if it is a Hattie Carnegie design. Carnegie was a famous designer based in New York whose shops carried her own couture and ready to wear lines, as well as imports from Parisian designers.
You can watch it here:
Sidenote: Grable has the most ridiculous hairstyle in this scene. She’s all horns and weird curlicue curls.
But once Rosita admits that she isn’t in love with Dan, and that they’re not really a couple, Vicky becomes warm and friendly. The two women return to the table arm in arm, which alarms duplicitous Dan.
Then Victor asks Rosita to dance, and Dan asks Vicky to stroll outside with him, and soon Phoebe is all alone at the table. She is bummed so she guzzles champagne. (If you’re wondering why the champagne is served in a coupe and not a flute, read my post History Through Hollywood: Vice.)
The champagne goes to her head immediately (people seem to get drunk instantly in old movies), so she tipsily strolls onto the dance floor and performs her own impromptu solo.
At the end of the dance, Phoebe seems to come back to reality, and she runs off the floor embarrassed at what she’s done. We feel a little sorry for her. It was mean of her friends to leave her all alone.
You can watch it here:
During Rosita’s performance, Dan and Vicky talk on the verandah overlooking the famous lake. She tells him that she knows that he isn’t in love with Rosita, and she accuses him of being the same manipulative jerk he was before. He protests that he has changed and wants her back, but she stays strong.
Costume appreciation break. Grable’s black halter gown with the low back and ruffled skirt is a little sexier and sleeker than most of her costumes. Usually she’s dressed in colorful outfits that are adorned with feathers, sparkles, beads, and other flashy elements. The sequins embroidered on the black tulle are subtle by comparison.
McTavish then serves Dan his breakfast (note that incredible coffee pot! And how Dan is drinking his coffee out of a tea cup instead of a mug, as was typical at the time. You can read more about that here.) Perhaps because of his budding romance with Rosita, McTavish encourages Dan to keep trying with Vicky. Dan was ready to give up, but McTavish’s pep talk convinces him to keep going.
So Dan sends Vicky long stem roses, her favorite, and then comes to her hotel room that night to see how she likes him. Perhaps he thinks that at the sight of the flowers, all of her misgivings will evaporate and she will fall gratefully into his arms. But it doesn’t work. She is still angry.
To get Dan to leave, she calls Victor and asks him to come over, thinking that Victor’s imminent arrival will scare Dan away. But Victor gets there too fast, so Dan has to hide on the balcony. Vicky begs him to go down the fire escape, but he hangs out behind the curtains, instead. And so begins the classic one-man-hiding-in-a-room-while-another-romances-the-girl-who-tries-to-keep-the-two-from-meeting scene.
Dan restrains himself while Victor bashes his relationship with Vicky, but when Victor disparages his talent as a performer, he leaps out from his hiding place. Then Victor ends his engagement with Vicky, convinced that she’d been cheating on him with Dan.
Vicky is mad that Dan messed this up for her. She cries that she told him to go down the fire escape, but he explains that there is no fire escape. She replies, tearfully, “A gentlemen would have jumped!”
Once Victor leaves, Dan steps in with an engagement ring, assuming that since Vicky is now free, of course she’ll want to marry him! She throws the ring out of the open window.
We think that Vicky and Dan are irrevocably estranged (and we hope so, because their relationship seems like a nightmare of distrust and deceit), but later that night, they both go searching for the engagement ring. They run into each other, and in the very bright moonlight they rekindle their love and get engaged. Okie dokie.
They retire to their respective hotel rooms and discuss their upcoming nuptials over the phone. They plan to get married immediately. Vicky wants to go to Niagara Falls on their honeymoon, but Dan insists on New York, as he needs them to be there for the show that she still doesn’t know about. She agrees as she slathers cold cream on her face.
The next day, Vicky is chipper and pretty in her grey and yellow traveling suit. She is checking out of the hotel when Dan’s agent and the backers appear. They tell her how excited they are that she has agreed to do Dan’s new show. And she realizes that Dan might not love her after all–he was just in it for the show! No wonder he chose New York for the “honeymoon!”
Rosita (who was on her way to the pool, I guess) hears the exchange and rushes to tell Dan. He thinks the game is up, but Rosita has an idea. Somehow, she swaps the tickets to New York for tickets to California, and convinces Vicky that Dan changed his mind and was actually going to marry her in California. This is supposed to demonstrate that Dan really loves her because it would mean postponing the show, thus proving that he is not just interested in Vicky as a co-star.
Vicky is very confused, but eventually she buys the whole story. (But that doesn’t change the truth–maybe Dan really does love Vicky, but his priority was the show!)
Meanwhile, the backers have flown away, tired of waiting for Vicky to commit to the show. (I love shots of airplane travel in old movies!)
With the backers pulling out, suddenly the focus of the plot switches from Dan winning Vicky back to the whole gang pulling together to “put on a show!”
Harry James, Victor, Rosita, Vicky, and Dan pledge their own money, but they are still about $40,000 short. Then they remember McTavish and his toothpaste stock. Rosita works her magic and soon the money is theirs!
Then a stage-full of dancers are joined by Rosita and Victor.
Costume appreciation break. Vicky looks lovely in her blue beaded dress that displays her famous legs. It sold for $6,000 at auction in 2011.
Phoebe, Harry James, and McTavish appear, too. It seems that everybody got a part in the show! The whole gang performs a frenzied finale before “The End” appears. You can watch it here.
The inclusion of this “Pan-Americana Jubilee” was not random nor accidental. There was a Latin American craze in Hollywood in the 1940s with stars like Xavier Cugat and Carmen Miranda, films set in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, etc., and cartoon characters visiting our neighbors to the south.
The Latin American infusion in Hollywood films was an extension of the Good Neighbor Policy and part of a coordinated propaganda campaign during WWII led by a government office called the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA). A driving force behind this trend early on was the fact that Europe was shut to American films because of the War, so Hollywood needed to beef up its exports to Latin and South America.
The OCIAA worked with Hollywood to get more “positive” depictions of Latin America into the movies. That could mean including actors and celebrities like Xavier Cugat, or sending Betty Grable or Esther Williams south in movies like Down Argentine Way (1940), Fiesta (1947) or Easy to Wed (1946). Or it might mean including musical numbers in Spanish or Portuguese, or starring a “Latin Lover” like Ricardo Montalban or Cesar Romero. You can see a lot of these elements at work in this movie (despite the Canadian setting), and the finale is particularly relevant.
Springtime in the Rockies was in production in June through August 1942, and was speedily released that November. It was a hit and grossed more than $2 million. It’s not an especially timeless classic, but it’s a lot of fun.
Motion Picture Herald seemed to recognize the film for what it was: a lighthearted, pretty musical designed mostly to show off Grable and Fox’s other stars. The review began by noting that Fox had to change up the formula a little since ocean travel was no longer an option (WWII): “With the current impracticability of overseas cruises, [Fox] has sent its musical-comedy troupe across the border for a revue staged against the glacier at Lake Louise.”
The review goes on to call the story “slight,” but noted that the dancing and songs were enjoyable, and that the film has “music, dancing, and beautiful color to commend it to the many customers who get their musical comedy via the screen.”
The New York Times reviewer was much harsher on the film, writing that it was: “Another plushy Technicolored musical which takes one quick look at God’s country and stays indoors the rest of the time, it is little more than a very pretty floor show, with Harry James’s musical hepcats providing the accompaniment for a standard set of acts.”
Then he manages to insult the cast with some unnecessarily cruel jabs, particularly at Greenwood:
Carmen Miranda, who is not a bowl of fruit, is confusing Brazilian folk songs with “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”; Betty Grable is tossing a tidy torso in lieu of other abilities; Cesar Romero galumphs through a couple of dance routines with a grace that Arthur Murray would hardly approve, and Charlotte Greenwood, that ineffable grotesque, thrusts her gangling legs in all directions. Check John Payne and Edward Everett Horton as also present. In short, it is just the party one would expect in this Technicolored moonshine.
Though I must agree that the movie is quite predictable:
That is precisely what is wrong with the whole film; every situation, almost every line, is expected, without a single surprise. Aside from the settings and stunning costumes, practically everything in “Springtime in the Rockies” has a drearily familiar air.
And what’s more, the predictable plot doesn’t provide any real payoff. I certainly didn’t want Vicky and Dan to get back together. He’s a heel, a cheating, deceitful jerk, though she seems delighted to marry him anyway. Poor Grable spends the whole film being annoyed, jealous, and angry, but still has to convince the audience that the “happy ending” is actually a good idea, when it seems far more likely that the pair will be estranged yet again within a few weeks.
Despite the lackluster reviews, the box office receipts soared, as did Grable’s star. The year after this movie was released, she would become the top box office star in the world, take that iconic pin up photo, and marry Harry James. In less momentous news, the year after that she reprised her role in a Lux Radio Theatre version of this movie opposite Dick Powell. You can listen to the May 22, 1944 performance here.
As is typical in Hollywood, Fox saw the success of Springtime and wanted to duplicate it. The studio apparently planned a re-make for 1946 entitled Autumn in Acapulco, but it was never made.
You can listen to a radio ad for Springtime in the Rockies here. For more, follow me on Twitter, tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram at BlondeAtTheFilm, and Facebook. You can buy this movie here, and as always, thanks for reading!