“Dearest Enemy””Dearest Enemy” Retells Revolutionary Legend
My deep thanks yet again to Video Artists International (VAI) for preserving on DVD musical comedies that were seen on television back in the 1950s. Since they remain in their catalogue, I should repeat my original reviews at least once a year for the sake of new readers.
Looking at the VAI website, I see that there is Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate” from 1958, historically as well as entertainingly important thanks to Alfred Drake and Patricia Morrison in their original roles. There is Rodgers and Hart’s “A Connecticut Yankee” from 1955 with Eddie Albert and Janet Blair. This was “live” television, mistakes and all. My favorite is the time when a knight’s beaver kept falling over his eyes and he could barely open it on the third closing. I have been reporting on new entries in this series as they appear.
The most recent entries form a neat contrast to how the originals were handled. First of all, each show was allowed 77 minutes for the musical itself and a good deal of cutting had to be made. That is acceptable. Second, the picture and sound are obviously 1950-ish, far from the state of the art features of today’s technology. That adds to the charm of watching these videos.
“Dearest Enemy” is a 1925 early effort by Rodgers and Hart that contained only one song that outlasted the original run, “Here in your arms,” but the rest of the score is by no means inferior to most musicals of the times; and Larry Hart’s clever rhymes show the promise of even cleverer ones to come. It was shown in 1955.
The cast has Cornelia Otis Skinner as Mrs. Murray, who became a legend when she delayed General Howe from surprising George Washington by throwing a party; and Anne Jeffrey as Betsy, who distracted his second in command (played by Robert Sterling). Cyril Ritchard steals most of his scenes as a jolly and prancing Howe. The party is history, the rest is Broadway.
It is helpful that Jeffrey’s operatic voice was nicely matched by Sterling, whose voice is strong enough to keep up with hers.
From what I could research, this television version seems very faithful to the original play, except (I suspect) for the framing device of having Howe and three other generals look back years later at how a bunch of lovely colonists lost the war for Britain.
And of course one can see the future hit tunes of Rodgers and Hart developing in this early collaboration, although it is still a far cry from their tradition-breaking “Pal Joey.”