Three Little Words (1950) starring Red Skelton, Fred Astaire, Vera-Ellen, Arlene Dahl
Three Little Words is a long-time favorite movie of mine, for several reasons. First, I’m a large fan of the comedy of Red Skelton, and he’s given plenty of room to work his comedy, both physical and verbal. Likewise, I’m a fan of Fred Astaire, and I love to watch him dance. And he has his own very good sense of humor, that plays against Red’s very well. And thirdly, I’m a fan of well-done musicals, and Three Little Words definitely counts in that regard.
The basic plot deals with a (fictionalized) biography of two musical composers, Bert Kalmar (played by Fred Astaire) and Harry Ruby (played by Red Skelton) who are thrown together and become one of the top writing teams of their day. There’s conflict, ups and downs, pretty girlfriends (played by the talented Arlene Dahl and Vera-Ellen), and many musical numbers. Many of the musical numbers are extremely memorable. Twenty years after I’ve heard So Long, Oolong I can still hear the song playing in my head as I write this … and that’s a compliment.
I truly enjoyed Three Little Words and I hope that you do as well. I rate it 3 stars out of 5.
Editorial review of Three Little Words | Red Skelton | Fred Astaire | musical comedy, courtesy of Amazon.com
Three Little Words (1950) was an example of Hollywood’s late-’40s/early-’50s interest in the lives of famous songwriters. Fred Astaire plays vaudeville dancer Bert Kalmar, whose act with Jessie Brown (Vera-Ellen) runs aground due to his interest in magic acts and a backstage accident. While in rehab, he meets composer Harry Ruby (Red Skelton), and the two discover a knack for writing Tin Pan Alley songs, then Broadway shows, together.
There’s some mild conflict in their lives as portrayed in film, but mostly the movie is an excuse to pull out a slew of Kalmar & Ruby songs such as Who’s Sorry Now?, My Sunny Tennessee, Nevertheless, I Wanna Be Loved by You, and the title tune. Vera-Ellen is an excellent partner for Astaire, and the relatively restrained Skelton puts in a good performance. Also appearing are Arlene Dahl as a musical actress, Gloria De Haven as her own mother, a young Debbie Reynolds as Boop-a-Doop girl Helen Kane, and the real Harry Ruby as a baseball player playing catch with Skelton, the movie Harry Ruby. Three Little Words isn’t one of the great MGM musicals of its era, but it’s an entertaining picture, especially for fans of Astaire. —David Horiuchi
Funny movie quotes from Three Little Words
Bert Kalmar (Fred Astaire): I wouldn’t write that song with you if you begged me.
Harry Ruby (Red Skelton): Begged ya? I didn’t even ask ya.
Bert Kalmar (Fred Astaire): I guess you just can’t help it, Harry. I feel sorry for you.
Harry Ruby (Red Skelton): Feel sorry for me? You must think I’m just a …
Bert Kalmar (Fred Astaire): I could tell you what I think of you in just three little words. You’re a dope!
Harry Ruby (Red Skelton): I got plenty of tunes in me!
Soundtrack for Three Little Words
- Where Did You Get That Girl? – written Harry Puck, Bert Kalmar, sung and danced by Fred Astaire, Vera-Ellen (dubbed by Anita Ellis)
- She’s Mine, All Mine – written by Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar, sung by Fred Astaire, Red Skelton, Vera-Ellen, Arlene Dahl
- Mr. and Mrs. Hoofer at Home, music by André Previn, danced by Fred Astaire, Vera-Ellen
- My Sunny Tennessee, written by Harry Ruby, Herman Ruby, Bert Kalmar, sung by Fred Astaire, Red Skelton
- So Long! Oo-Long (How Long You Gonna Be Gone?), written by Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar, sung by Fred Astaire, Red Skelton
- Who’s Sorry Now?, written by Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar, Ted Snyder, sung by Gloria DeHaven
- Test Dance, music by AndrÃ© Previn, danced by Fred Astaire
- Come on, Papa, written by Harry Ruby, Edgar Leslie, Bert Kalmar, sung by Vera-Ellen (dubbed by Anita Ellis), danced by Vera-Ellen, chorus
- Nevertheless, written by Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar, sung by Fred Astaire, Vera-Ellen (dubbed by Anita Ellis), and Red Skelton, danced by Fred Astaire, Vera-Ellen
- All Alone Monday, written by Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar, sung by Gale Robbins (later by Arlene Dahl)
- You Smiled at Me, written by Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar, sung by Arlene Dahl
- I Wanna Be Loved by You, written by Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar, Herbert Stothart, sung by Debbie Reynolds (dubbed by Helen Kane)
- Thinking of You, written by Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar, sung by Fred Astaire (later by Red Skelton), danced by Fred Astaire, Vera-Ellen
- I Love You So Much, written by Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar, sung by Arlene Dahl
- Three Little Words, written by Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar, sung by Fred Astaire (later by Red Skelton)
- You are My Lucky Star, by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, sung by Phil Regan
Cast of characters
- Fred Astaire (The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle) … Bert Kalmar
- Red Skelton (The Red Skelton Hour, Whistling in the Dark) … Harry Ruby
- Vera-Ellen (White Christmas, Love Happy) … Jessie Brown Kalmar
- Arlene Dahl (Journey to the Center of the Earth) … Eileen Percy
- Keenan Wynn (Annie Get Your Gun) … Charlie Kope
- Gale Robbins (Calamity Jane) … Terry Lordel
- Gloria DeHaven (Yellow Cab Man) … Mrs. Carter De Haven (as Gloria De Haven)
- Phil Regan … Phil Regan
- Harry Shannon (Executive Suite) … Clanahan
- Debbie Reynolds (Singin’ in the Rain) … Helen Kane
- Paul Harvey (Spellbound) … Al Masters
- Carleton Carpenter (Up Periscope) … Dan Healy
- George Metkovich … Al Schacht
- Harry Mendoza … The Great Mendoza
Trivia for Three Little Words co-starring Fred Astaire, Red Skelton
- Vocals for Debbie Reynolds were dubbed by Helen Kane.
- Vocals for Vera-Ellen were dubbed by Anita Ellis (who in turn was a regular performer on Red Skelton’s radio show).
- Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby were friends of Fred Astaire from their early days together in vaudeville. Astaire said the film was one of his all-time favorites.
- A billboard for the Marx Brothers in Animal Crackers (1930) is seen in the film.
- The dress worn by Gale Robbins in the All Alone Monday number is the same dress worn by Ann Miller in the Girl on the Magazine Cover in Easter Parade (1948).
- Gloria DeHaven plays the part of her own mother, Mrs. Carter DeHaven.
- The real Harry Ruby appears in a bit part as one of the baseball players. He is the one who catches the ball thrown by Red Skelton (as Harry Ruby) and tells ‘Ruby” to take it easy