Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alfred E. Green|
|Produced by||Albert Zugsmith|
|Written by||Gene Towne|
|Based on||Top Banana (stage musical)|
by Johnny Mercer and
Hy S. Kraft
|Music by||Johnny Mercer (music)|
Hy Kraft (lyrics)
Bill Finnigan (add'l songs)
|Edited by||Terry O. Morse|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|January 27, 1954 (US)|
Top Banana is a 1954 musical film based on the musical of the same name, starring Phil Silvers, and featuring Rose Marie, Judy Lynn, Jack Albertson and Joey Faye, all of whom reprised their roles from the Broadway production of the musical.
In New York City in the early 1950s, Jerry Biffle (Phil Silvers) is the star of the Blendo Soap Program. He has been invited to participate in an autograph-signing party for his new book at an important department store. Jerry meets Sally Peters (Judy Lynn), one of the department store models, and makes her part of his TV troupe. As part of his campaign to court Sally, Jerry gets Cliff Lane (Danny Scholl), the tenor of his TV company, to sing to her over the phone. When Sally and Cliff meet, they fall in love, with Biffle ignorant of the complications.
Biffle engineers a big publicity wedding between Cliff and "a girl," not knowing that Sally is the girl. To further complicate his life, Jerry learns that he is about to lose his sponsor. The publicity elopement between his girl and Cliff almost shatters his entire career and life.
When it seems that his whole world will cave in, Jerry's sponsor comes up with a new format for the Blendo program and, as far as Jerry is concerned, the day is saved.
After concluding its successful engagement on Broadway in 1952, Top Banana went on tour for a year playing in major cities across the country. Phil Silvers and the cast finished their successful run at the Biltmore Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. During that engagement, Harry Popkin negotiated with producers Albert Zugsmith (Touch of Evil, The Incredible Shrinking Man) and Ben Peskay to film the show exactly as it had been presented on stage in sold-out performances across the country. The company packed up the sets and costumes and moved to the Motion Picture Center Studios in Hollywood, where a mock theater "stage" set was built.
The film was shot over five days.
Zugsmith and Peskey decided to film it in 3-D, the popular trend at the time, with the idea in mind that this approach would give the entire audience a choice seat at a top Broadway show, for merely the price of a movie ticket. Zugsmith envisioned this format as a new way to inexpensively film stage shows, and present them in theaters across the country.
The crew developed a rather complicated tracking shot for the opening of the film. The camera would be the person approaching the theater. It would go to the box office and buy tickets, enter the lobby and proceed down to a seat in the third row, center stage. The lights would dim, the overture would play and the show would begin. This elaborate opening was abandoned in favor of a static shot of the theater marquee, which then dissolves directly into the stage show.
Top Banana was photographed with Natural Vision cameras in July 1953, the same rigs that filmed the trend-setting Bwana Devil, as well as other popular 3-D pictures such as House of Wax, Fort Ti, Charge at Feather River, Devil's Canyon, The Moonlighter, Southwest Passage and Gog. Unfortunately for the producers, the film was in post-production in September 1953 just as The Robe and CinemaScope hit theaters, and 3-D was starting to decline at the box office.
While shopping the property around for a distributor, the producers announced they would release the film in a flat version only, citing the public's declining interest in stereoscopic films. In early December, they signed a distribution deal with United Artists. Later that month, the success of some new 3-D releases prompted UA to announce in the trades that a 3-D version would, in fact, be available for exhibitors. This is the only reference to any release of the stereoscopic version of the film.
When it was sneak previewed, shown to the trade publications, and released in February 1954, it was shown in the "flat" version only.
Phil Silvers said about the film:
There was so little money that "Top Banana" was shot in a day and a half. [The director] just pointed the camera and let it roll. He didn't dare stop. In the final cut, you could see a stage hand walking behind a drop. The sound quivered and faded, and yet it managed to pick up every off camera shoe squeak. The 3-D process was obsolete by the time the picture was released, so the 3-D film was projected on regular two-dimensional machines. This left all sort of strange vertical blurs. But the comedy was still there. Somewhere. I made nothing out of the picture. "Top Banana" is occasionally shown on the TV too-late shows, which adds a little blur of their own. The young film buffs who stay up all night consider it a collector's item. With its out of sync sound, inexplicable noises, scenes that seem to be underwater, it's now avant-garde.
Rose Marie had all of her musical numbers cut from the final cut of the film. In 2017, she noted that a producer had made sexual overtures on her, and when she came back with a sharp retort, the offended producer cut out all of her songs. It would be the only time Rose Marie had experienced any form of sexual harassment during her 90-year career in the entertainment industry.
The film was photographed in Eastmancolor, and processed by the Color Corporation of America laboratory in Burbank, California. The lab went out of business the following year. Although unconfirmed, it is presumed that all of the original elements were junked at that time. The negatives were labeled under the production company name, Roadshow Productions.
The only material in the MGM/UA library today is an edited 16mm release print of one side (missing about 15 minutes of footage depicting the rehearsal for the introduction of "Miss Blendo"). This is the version which has been released on home video. There are no original elements of the film that currently exist. It is one of two 3-D films lost in the original stereoscopic form, the other being Southwest Passage. The edited footage does survive in several 16mm prints struck in 1954, but it is currently not available in the video version offered by MGM.