PANAMA HATTIE (director: Norman Z. McLeod; screenwriters: Jack McGowan/Wilkie Mahoney/based on the musical play by Herbert Fields, B.G. DeSylva and Cole Porter; cinematographer: George J. Folsey; editor: Blanche Sewell; music: George E. Stoll; cast: Ann Sothern (Hattie Maloney), Dan Dailey (Dick Bulliet), Red Skelton (Red), Marsha Hunt (Leila Tree), Virginia O'Brien (Flo Foster), Rags Ragland (Rags), Alan Mowbray (Jay Jerkins), Ben Blue (Rowdy), Lena Horne (Herself), Jackie Horner (Geraldine 'Gerry' Bulliet), Joe Yule (Waiter), The Berry Brothers (Themselves); Runtime: 79; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Arthur Freed; MGM; 1942)

"The wartime musical/comedy Panama Hattie was a hit on Broadway for songwriter Cole Porter and its star Ethel Merman."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

The wartime musical/comedy Panama Hattie was a hit on Broadway for songwriter Cole Porter and its star Ethel Merman. As a film it was a bomb when first released to a preview audience, but the studio spent big money reshooting and adding a few scenes--which paid off into making it a box office success some 11 months later when released. The sprightly Ann Sothern takes Merman's role and sings "I've Still Got My Health." The Broadway diva was never sought after by Hollywood, while Sothern never became a Hollywood star though prepped to become one.

It's based on the play by Herbert Fields and B.G. DeSylva. Norman Z. McLeod ("Horse Feathers"/"Topper"/"Alice in Wonderland") has no feel for drawing out the comedy, as Red (Red Skelton), Rags (Rags Ragland) and Rowdy (Ben Blue) are a trio of goofy 'comic relief' sailors looking for Nazi spies and protectively hanging onto working-class gal Hattie Maloney (Ann Sothern), the brassy Panama Canal nightclub owner, as she's squired around town by divorced Philadelphia society guy Dick Bulliet (Dan Dailey) and his sharp-tongued daughter (Jackie Horner) and very British butler (Alan Mowbray).

It's only the Cole Porter songs that keep things watchable. The film is noteworthy for being the first film at MGM for legendary black singer Lena Horne, who had no role but would sing two songs (therefore the studio could easily edit her out of the film for the racist Dixie crowd). One song was "Just One of those Things," the other was "The Sping." 

REVIEWED ON 5/22/2010       GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"