The meet-cute is shot in the Panama Channel, with a ship's shift in elevation anticipating the story's fluctuating moods, screwball fizz and melodrama aching. Carole Lombard is a hairdresser in the tropics, Fred MacMurray's fresh out of the Army and takes her to the local saloon to extol the romantic potential of music. "Romance in a trumpet? Eh!" Lombard scoffs, so MacMurray grabs a nearby bugle and blows her an impromptu love declaration. A brawl erupts when Anthony Quinn comes on to Lombard, when her liner sails she is stuck with the brash musician; they find work at Cecil Cunningham's nightclub, posing as a married couple. (Cunningham, tartly: "He's never had a responsibility in his life." Lombard, pliantly: "He's got me.") Mitchell Leisen delights in the tropical décor, the mega-sized, polka-dot bow in Dorothy Lamour's head as she sings "Panamania," in the sudden slapstick of Charles Butterworth bringing a cockfight victim back to noisy life with a little drop of iodine. Above all, in the offhand intimacy between the main players, Lombard singing "I Hear a Call to Arms" while MacMurray blows the trumpet, both in an embrace beneath a spotlight. "Everyone in the tropics drinks champagne," the heroine assures a stunned tourist, but the picture's gaiety is to soon darken as MacMurray hears the siren call of New York success; love can dissipate as easily as it materializes, one ecstatic montage of Broadway nightlife is echoed by a later, despairing one, with the hero bottoming out as his trumpeting turns as wobbly as his feelings. Leisen understands the privilege of emotion, and stages his climactic meeting in one single take, a slow dolly toward the couple making way for the triumphant final duet. This study in the duality of a genre (or, as Dan Callahan put it, the splitting of its atom) is beautifully affecting, and, with Walsh's The Man I Love, a definite point of departure for Scorsese's New York, New York. Oscar Hammerstein II and Virginia Van Upp adapted from the play Burlesque. With Jean Dixon, Harvey Stephens, Charles Arnt, and Franklin Pangborn. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce