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OK, not great
fwb-217 November 2006
This is an OK Fred Astaire movie. A couple of good dance sequences - one with Paulette Goddard, who is not impressive on the floor, and one where he's tap-dancing while conducting Artie Shaw's orchestra. The plot is dismal, Burgess Meredith as comic relief is faintly amusing at best, though in his defense the script gave him very little to work with.

Fans of swing will want to see "Second Chorus", though, for the musical sequences. In particular, a five-minute fantasia that Shaw and the band (plus a string section) play. This piece has been scored and has been recorded several times under the title of Artie Shaw's Clarinet Concerto; but no other clarinetist, popular or classical, has brought the same excitement to the piece that Shaw did. It's worth renting for that sequence alone.

It's a real shame that the director couldn't work out a sequence in which Astaire dances to Shaw's clarinet - playing, say, "Begin the Beguine", or "Frenesi", or "Traffic Jam", or any other his many other hits. A real shame indeed.
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Astaire and Goddard Dance Together
guil1213 November 1999
In this 1941 Paramount film Fred Astaire has a new dancing partner in Paulette Goddard. They actually dance a number together. The ads read, "Fred's Best Yet! 'Cause He's Got Paulette!" Mostly Astaire dances solo in this story about two musicians, Astaire and Burgess Meredith, who try vainly to get jobs in Artie Shaw's band. With the help of Paulette, they get hired. This is a trendy "swing" musical with Shaw's band and Astaire's dancing taking the spotlight.

The Astaire-Goddard production number was called, "I Ain't Hep to That Step but I'll Dig It." Astaire had to teach Goddard to dance. He worked "like a dog" from the beginning saying, "She's a lovely girl, with a breathtaking figure, who couldn't dance and somehow resisted every attempt to break down her handicap."

They filmed it just once. Just one take. Goddard said she could never go through it again. Unusual, also, for Astaire to do only one take to any number he was in. He was always a task master at perfecting his dances. The number, viewed today, is not only totally professional; it's good.

Interesting note that Goddard's other male lead was Burgess Meredith, whom she went on to marry years later as she was still married at the time to Charlie Chaplin.
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Vas Good? ... Vas Pair-fect (but not so the film)
babblingbooks25 August 2005
SECOND CHORUS 1940 Vas Good? ... Vas Pair-fect. (but not so the film.)

The Wonderful Fred Astaire and the vibrant, young, healthy and sexy Paulette Goddard struggled valiantly with this picture. Unfortunately there were no Irving Berlin or Cole Porter melodies to hang it on. If you are an Artie Shaw fan, then you will be content. As to the acting ability of Artie Shaw, I found nothing wrong with it. He was quite natural and, as a band leader, seemed quite at home . However, he was right up there, as a dramatic actor, with Xavier Cugat and Harry James. Fred was not at his best with the love song (even Paulette looked rather dubious about it) They looked good as dancing partners but it was obvious Fred taught her what little terpsichorian skills she possessed. (nice legs, though ... but then that is my weakness) I liked the little Russian number that Mister Astaire had some fun with.

Burgess Meredith and Fred Astaire actually were pretty snappy as a comedy team. Burgess had that same glitter in his eye as Paulette (they were later married in real life)

The video that I saw was a poor copy and suffered accordingly. Perhaps it would fare better with a clear one.

With all its faults and a minimal plot, I still would recommend that you get a good copy and watch some attractive young people show the present day, minimal twits what comedy should be.

Has anyone else noticed a resemblance between Burgess Meredith and Harpo Marx? Maybe it's just the attitude. Thank you for your patience with my ramblings. Comments are welcome. OLD DAD from Babbling Books (
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True, It's Far From Fred's Best, But I've Seen Worse
ccthemovieman-121 July 2006
A generally-entertaining story that was fun to watch, except for a number of parts in the final 30 minutes which annoyed me. It was, well, the normal lying and deceiving that was played out in so many films of this era, and is so many of Fred Astaire's movies.

Speaking of Astaire, I watch his films to see him dance. That's what he does best, so it was disappointing not to see much of that in "Second Chorus."

Although I thought Charles Butterworth's character was stupid, I really enjoyed seeing a young Burgess Meredith and it's always a treat to see Paulette Goddard, one of the real beauties of the 1940s. Overall, this was a good- hearted story and when Astaire danced, he was fantastic, as always.

The songs are in here are good and band-leader Artie Shaw even showed he could act, too. I liked this despite poor tape quality. I see that this is out on DVD so I might consider purchasing this, even though Astaire himself has been quoted as saying "Second Chorus" was his "worst movie." Ouch!
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Nice music, some cute sparring, but not enough Fred dancing!
uberlibrarian13 January 2003
In this 1940 film, Fred Astaire (Danny) plays a 7th year college student (he was only 41 at the time), who keeps flunking courses so he can stay on in town and play trumpet in a very successful dance band. His roommate and fellow bandmate is played by (Hank)Burgess Meredith.

Fred & Burgess are vying for the affections of the lovely Paulette Goddard (Ellen), who meets Fred at a dance, and later takes a job as his booking agent and secretary.

Ellen is hired away by Artie Shaw, and the remainder of the movie takes place in New York. Danny & Hank have both followed Ellen to New York, and are trying to get on with Artie Shaw's band. A series of mishaps and problems follows, as both men try to win Ellen and a job with the band, while knocking each other out of Ellen's affections.

Charles Butterworth plays the unfortunate Mr. Chisholm, who is the butt of many of the jokes and mishaps.

Not very original, and on the DVD I saw, pretty muddy, but still it's Fred Astaire, and there is one nice dance number featuring Fred as a band conductor who just busts out dancing. There are also some nice big band numbers, and Paulette Goddard makes a nice foil for Astaire.

Worth seeing, if you are a Fred Astaire fan or just love big bands and Artie Shaw.
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Dancing And Band Leading Don't Mix
bkoganbing9 March 2007
After Fred Astaire finished his RKO contract in 1939 with The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, he freelanced for the rest of his career. His first film under the Paramount banner was Second Chorus which had him co-starring with marrieds to be Paulette Goddard and Burgess Meredith and big bandleader Artie Shaw. There seems to be a consensus among the reviewers that this was Astaire's worst musical film and I'm not going to dispute that.

Of course second rate Fred Astaire is better than most and he does have some nice dance numbers, but even they're not up to his usual creative genius. I think Astaire realized he was in a turkey and walked through it to collect his paycheck and move on to something better.

Poor Paulette Goddard however. She was just beginning her career and she had gotten good notices for Modern Times and The Women. She had been in stage choruses before so it wasn't like she didn't have any musical training. The following year she was in another musical disaster, the independent United Artist film Pot O' Gold with Jimmy Stewart. That was with another bandleader, Horace Heidt. Something about Paulette and bandleaders. Anyway she got a long term Paramount contract for the Forties and much better parts including three DeMille films.

As an actor, Artie Shaw was a great clarinetist and bandleader. Of course he joins other great contemporary thespians like Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Benny Goodman all who made Hollywood films at the time. His band has a few great numbers though I would have liked to have seen Shaw reprise his all time classic instrumental hit, Begin the Beguine.

The film starts off kind of dumb to begin with. We're asked to believe that the 41 year old Fred Astaire and his pal Burgess Meredith are a pair of perennial college students who keep flunking courses to stay in college so they can advertise their band as a college orchestra. Even Jack Oakie didn't stay in college forever.

After horror of horrors Meredith graduates they have to start looking for work and they keep trying to get a break with Artie Shaw. Of course it all works out in the end, but for those interested in seeing the film, I shan't say how.

Charles Butterworth is on hand to play another of his droll eccentrics and he gets a few laughs. But unless you like Fred Astaire and/or Artie Shaw you might well skip Second Chorus.
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For musicians: A BLAST!
rooprect27 March 2007
Attention all musicians (it doesn't matter if you're any good or not), you will LOVE this movie. Everyone else, I'm afraid you may not catch the full effect. Browsing through these reviews, I see a lot of negative posts from people who were expecting Astaire's usual powerhouse dancing numbers. It's a shame that these reviewers missed the musical subtlety of the performance--a slightly different but equally powerful direction for Fred.

For example, there's one number where Astaire dances a fabulous romp while conducting a band. Priceless! Anyone who's played in a band (even if it's your high school marching band) should get a thrill out of this routine. The beauty is that most conductors are stereotypically the most lifeless, brooding, nose-in-the-score dead weights you've ever seen. And to see Astaire conducting the band with pirouettes, arabesques and fancy footwork is just classic.

Another musical inside joke happens early on when a trumpet solo is sabotaged by a rival trumpeter. The rival scribbles out the proper notes and pencils in the most horrifically atonal arrangement you've ever seen or heard. Again, musicians will recognize (and "hear") what is about to happen just by looking at the butchered score. The hilarious payoff comes at the actual performance. It's a fear all musicians have when blindly sight reading a sheet of music. Once again, CLASSIC!

Then there's "poor Mr. Chisholm" and his lazy mandolin. Anyone who's ever played in a band knows about the hanger-on who's not very good at his instrument, but for whatever reasons the band leader doesn't boot him out into the street. (Btw, if you don't know the guy I'm talking about, chances are IT'S YOU.)

All in all, this was a fantastic, hilarious & inspiring experience for me, and I'm sure anyone who has dabbled on an instrument may feel the same. It has certainly motivated me to pick up my old trumpet and squeak out a few notes (much to the despair of my upstairs neighbour, I'm sure).

Musicians, don't miss this. Other great movies for musicians: Five Pennies (1959), Swing Girls (2004), Eddie and the Cruisers (1983), and of course the mack daddy of them all, This is Spinal Tap (1984).
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Astaireway To Ho-Hum
writers_reign10 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Let's begin by saying that Fred Astaire is watchable in ANYTHING such is his charisma, vocal and dancing ability but having said that this vehicle needs all the help it can get. Maybe in 1940 Paulette Goddard was considered leading lady material but even Joan Fontaine (who co-starred with Astaire in A Damsel In Distress) was better than this. It's possible also that back in 1940 moviegoers wouldn't have questioned two middle-aged guys who keep deliberately flunking courses in order to stay in College and play in a band - BUT, did no one wonder about the OTHER band members? Theoretically the band would change personnel every year given that the average College degree takes four years to obtain and presumably when the band was founded it contained members from Freshman, Sophomore, Junior and Senior Classes. On the plus side there is, of course, Artie Shaw, who ran one of the Greatest bands of the Swing era and far outclassed Benny Goodman as a clarinettist. It's one of the few pictures where Astaire has no real excuse to dance - by which I mean the storyline makes no mention of him as a hoofer as is often the case in his movies - so that the few dances have to be contrived and even then they pale by comparison to his hoofing in other films. If you're an Astaire completist you'll want to see this but there's not an awful lot to make you want to own it.
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second string Astaire
didi-56 January 2004
Second Chorus has two good scenes; the one where Fred and Paulette take the floor for some good old fashioned dancing at the end of the I'll Dig It number; and the one where Fred conducts the band and taps at the same time.

Plotwise it is wafer-thin. Astaire and Burgess Meredith play rather over-aged students (Fred Astaire a 'young man'??) who play in a band called the Perennials, a college band who start to take all the bookings from more established outfits like Artie Shaw's, thanks to their enterprising manager Goddard. Naturally both are competitive and want both to be in Shaw's band and get off with Goddard.

Yawn. Artie Shaw and his band appear and play great music, although he was no actor - you'd think all those dumb movie star brides would have taught him some tricks of the trade ... Goddard doesn't look the part and her role doesn't seem right for her. Charles Butterworth also appears as a lousy mandolin player who finances a big concert for the band.

Fairly enjoyable despite the shortcomings but no great shakes when up against Fred's best work with Ginger.
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Part of the Third Act of Astaire's career...
AlsExGal9 January 2015
... with the first act being his dance partnership with his sister and his second act being his RKO years.

"Second Chorus" is not a widely known film, but it will probably be enjoyable to any fan of Fred Astaire. If you're not particularly fond of Astaire, you might want to pass on this one since seeing Astaire in action in an unusual role is the main attraction. The story is that Danny O'Neill (Fred Astaire) and Hank Taylor (Burgess Meredith) are leaders of a band. The two have been intentionally failing in college, because they like the atmosphere, and also because as long as they are officially students they can spend their time running the band and making a pretty good living at it. When Ellen Miller (Paulette Goddard) enters the picture, they both get greedy and want her attention for themselves. Thus they each double-cross the other and both wind up getting expelled from the university, thus ending their cozy arrangement with their band. They spend most of the rest of the film continuing to double-cross one another, this time over trying to get into Artie Shaw's band as well as trying to win over the affections of Ellen, who now works for Shaw.

The things that are not so great about this film are the less than great comic timing, and the tiresome scenes with J. Lester Chisholm, played by Charles Butterworth. Mr. Butterworth is no Edward Everett Horton, and as a less-than-adequate character actor you just want to shoo the guy off stage every time he turns up. Also, if you're watching this film to see lots of Astaire's wonderful dancing, you'll likely be somewhat disappointed. He does do some singing and dancing, but this film mainly shows off his comic abilities, of which the mischievous Astaire has plenty. This part would have been better if the comic timing of the script had been tighter, though.
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I ain't hep to the film, but I dig some of it...
mark.waltz6 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This is deservedly considered Fred Astaire's weakest film, not in his performance, but in the plot line and in its production values. First of all, as a 42 year old college student who has stayed in school simply for the fact that as a student, he continues to have gigs as the college's band leader (along with Burgess Meredith!) is already a ridiculous set-up. Then, how the two best pals try to sabotage each other for the love of their young manager (Paulette Goddard, who would end up marrying Meredith in real life!) during a public audition with Artie Shaw's band isn't realistic considering the alleged closeness of their friendship. (I'm surprised that they didn't have Meredith didn't sit up front sucking on a lemon while Astaire played his solo). Toss in Charles Butterworth as the mandolin playing benefactor of a concert Shaw is giving and a plot to keep him off stage with his mandolin during the performance, and there's little to do but groan.

In spite of the fact that next to Joan Fontaine, Goddard was considered Astaire's weakest dancing partner, she actually does good in their one number together. He may have worked her hard and given her some fairly easy steps, but she manages to pull it off. Goddard does have some romantic chemistry with Astaire, not as light on her feet as Ginger Rogers, but equally as sexy. The big band sequences feature some fun if unmemorable jazz music, and Astaire's dance while conducting Shaw's band seems strangely out of place. Still, there are some moments of amusement and any film where Astaire dances can't be all that bad.
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Only Watchable Because of Astaire
Snow Leopard8 July 2004
There are not many strong points to "Second Chorus", and it is really only watchable because of Fred Astaire, whose talent and charisma provide for some good moments. The writing is noticeably weak, and the rest of the production is not strong enough to overcome the faulty story-line and the mediocre dialogue. The whole premise of the college band does not work for a moment, and there is never a time when the viewer is not overly conscious that the whole situation is contrived.

To be sure, some of Astaire's most enjoyable pictures have lightweight plots, which allow him and the rest of the cast to be the center of attention. But the good ones are much more creative than this, and they also come with much better characters and dialogue. As slight as the story lines may be in "Top Hat" or "Swing Time", you don't think about it while you are watching them, because everything else is of such high quality. "Second Chorus", on the other hand, seems thrown together, as if they just hoped that Astaire could keep it afloat by himself.

That's not to criticize the rest of the cast, who do their best. Paulette Goddard can be very charming, but her character here gives her very little to work with. She does manage to get a couple of nice moments out of it, anyway. Burgess Meredith is stuck with a character who is both ill-defined and annoying, so he never has any chance to show what he could do.

It's worth watching once, as is practically anything that stars Astaire. There is at least one very good number, and most of the time it is watchable, as long as your expectations are not too high.
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First string
dabeegee1 July 2002
Astaire is as light on his feet and with his banter in this film as Ali would be years later. Fierce and funny, this film is a knockout. I tuned in expecting to see a B-grade Astaire film as many reviews note, but found it to be an underappreciated gem. As far as disposable comedies go, this film is leagues ahead of what passes for said genre today. Effervescent and hip, the film never strikes a false note, the jazz is hot, and while the songs may not be familiar standards, they mesh well with the plot and have a comic touch that is absent in a lot of musicals. There is never a dull moment, and Burgess Meredith, as second banana, is a delight. It is thoroughly enjoyable.
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Great Acting, Weak Plot, Weak Songs
JasonLeeSmith24 March 2008
Even for a Fred Astaire film, this movie had a ridiculous plot. At 41 years of age, we are meant to believe that Fred is a perennial college student in his mid-twenties, who has just graduated and is vying with his ex-room-mate (Burgess Meredith) both for a job with Artie Shaw's band and the affections of Paulette Goddard.

The songs are few and far between, and (with the exception of "Poor Mr. Chislom") not very good. Even more surprising, there is virtually no dancing -- with more scenes, instead, focusing on Astaire doing a very bad mime of playing the trumpet.

The characters all come across as selfish, and things which are meant to be viewed as harmless pranks appear nasty and needlessly hurtful. By the end of the movie, you have not developed a level of empathy for any of them -- except perhaps for Paulette Goddard, who really shines in this movie as a great comic actress and foil for much of the movie. See it for her role, but most of Astaire's other movies are much better.
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clyde697014 March 2001
Artie Shaw's band adds a little more pop to the music than is found in most Astaire films. I found that the irritating characters that Meredith and Astaire played got in my way of enjoying the usual pleasures of an Astaire movie. I kept wanting somebody to tell Meredith that it's rude to wear a hat indoors. I found the sneaky and mean rascal that Astaire played even more annoying. Not a dog, but a picture I'll not look forward to watching again.
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Probably Astaire's worst film
latic31 October 2011
I thought The Sky's the Limit was the worst musical Astaire ever made until I saw this. This is just dismal. Start with the plot: Astaire is supposed to be a student? He was 40-plus and looked it. Never a conventionally attractive leading man, he got away with it with Ginger but here he just looks his age.

But you could forgive that if there had been any decent dancing which is all you really want from an Astaire movie. Instead, there are just three lack-lustre routines: a brief mock- Cossack dance, a decent tap routine at the end (but nothing he hadn't done far better in other movies) and a routine with Paulette Goddard who simply was not a dancer which shows in both the performance and the limited choreography presumably intended to keep within what she could do (dancing apart, she is probably the best thing in the film, beautiful and sparkling).

In addition, what songs there are, by Artie Shaw and Johnny Mercer, are below par. Even the best one, Love of my Life, is pretty mundane. Shaw's band makes up for this with some good numbers and Shaw unexpectedly turns out to be a respectable enough actor, albeit in some undemanding scenes.

But I can't help wondering if it was the presence of Shaw who wrote the score that resulted in the limited amount of Astaire routines – the big band numbers may not have left enough time for dances. Although cuts in the grating plot and unfunny dialogue could have cleared a load of space.

Astaire did not make many duds but this is one of them.
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Second Chorus
Blulite29 December 2005
I originally bought this movie in 1980 at a bookstore that sold tapes along with books. In the process of packing for a move and I am converting all of the tapes to DVD and WAS this one ever a shock! It is NOT a b movie but really stands out as a wonderful film. Astaire sings and dances with this wonderful flair. Arte Shaw's music is great, and the Jazz numbers while perhaps unknown by today's standards should not be overlooked, Paulette Goddard from her loss 2 years before as Scarlett shows she is a fine performer, and Burgess Meredith 24 years before Batman and 35 years before Rocky, also demonstrated he is a really good actor.
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promising start with charismatic leads, but confused ending,
rdolan900725 January 2009
Disappointing overall, first of all you have to buy the premise of Astaire and Meredith being old enough to be at college. They both charitably look at least 40 which throws the story in to a level of reality even further removed than you might expect from an early 40's Hollywood musical. There are great sequences, a swing number between Goddard, and Astaire is the highlight. I also enjoyed Astaire tackling a cossack dance; more of the above dance scenes would have improved the movie. The story is awkwardly constructed though and frankly unconvincing. Artie Smith is good, but the music lacks sparkle overall. Not a great or even a good movie, not a complete waste of time though, the good dance numbers are worth watching for their own sake.
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Fred's Worst
bobtaurus12 February 2007
The only things that save Second Chorus from being a complete disaster are Astaire's dancing and Artie Shaw and his band's music.

The writing is horrendous, managing to make even Astaire's character dislikable, as he does truly nasty things to his "friend," the equally dislikably nasty Burgess Meredith.

Charles Butterworth, who is supposed to be the comic foil in this picture, is as lame an actor as I've seen.

Finally, the look of the film is awful, with harsh lighting and shadows. (I realize this may be because the surviving print of this film has deteriorated over the years.) Unfortunately, the music and dance numbers are few and far between. However, if you're a die hard Astaire and/or big band fan, it's worth fast-forwarding through the dialog to get to any scene where Fred's dancing or Artie and his band are playing.
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Shut Up and Dance
LeonardKniffel1 May 2020
In a film that may have inspired "fast forward" technology, dancer extraordinaire Fred Astaire has exactly two memorable moments. Those moments, plus the music of Artie Shaw and his band, make it the kind of film best left to excerpting. Astaire and Burgess Meredith (who seems to be auditioning for The Penguin, a television role he played on Batman in the 1960s) play two foolish trumpeters (quite obviously dubbed, by the great Bobby Hackett and Billy Butterfield). The idiotic script makes you want to tell Astaire to shut up and dance, which he does once with co-star Paulette Goddard and at his best during "Poor Mr. Chisholm," when he conducts the band while tap dancing. Shaw's band playing "Sweet Sue" is also one of the few delights of this film. Shaw's skill with the clarinet is legendary, but his music cannot make up for the bandleader's acting, which is so bad he even has trouble playing himself.
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Worth it For Artie Shaw & Fred Astaire Dancing Numbers
fflambeau1 December 2012
Why spend any time describing this dull plot or the mediocre acting? You should watch this only to see Fred Astaire do a couple of great numbers, one as a Russian, another while he "conducts" the Artie Shaw band (yes, he's in a tux for that one).

What's fascinating for modern audiences is to see Artie Shaw, not so much for his acting either, but because he plays a couple of great numbers here and he was terrific on the licorice stick. He's young here too (30 years old). One number he was famous for (not here though) is "Stardust" and it featured a trumpet solo by Billy Butterfield). Butterfield actually plays for Burgess Meredith here (who like Astaire fakes poorly on the horn). We also see Buddy Rich in the orchestra playing drums next to Artie Shaw. What a combo! Shaw was a huge sensation in the 30's and 40's; an equal to the more famous now Benny Goodman. He sold more than a hundred million records. He brought along talent like Billie Holiday, Mel Torme, Buddy Rich, and Ray Conniff. He also played classical music with Leonard Bernstein. In this movie, he plays "Concerto for Clarinet". This film also brought him 2 Oscar nominations, one for Best Score and one for Best Song ("Love of my Life").

Astaire once called this the "worst movie I ever made" and for him, that's true. But it's great to see Shaw play, and how he could play! Shaw admired Astaire but said he was a tireless worker, the opposite of the kind of debonair image he presented in top hat and tails.
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Astaire and Shaw- should have done more.
Scaramouche200410 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Second Chorus as a movie is a little disappointing to say the least.

Paulette Goddard, despite the great acting ability and the great beauty she possessed, is alarmingly miscast when it came to anything slightly musical.

The Characters portrayed by Fred Astaire and Burgess Merideth are both shockingly underused - Astaire is given but two or three dance routines at the most and the odd song, whilst Merideth who was obviously the comic relief was given very poor material and very little to do, especially when both were capable of so much more. Their characters are also dis likable double crossing schmucks who never miss a chance to screw each other over, sometimes in the nastiest ways possible.

Artie Shaw however does shine. Okay he wasn't the best actor ever but then he never pretended to be or I'm sure even wanted to be. He was by all accounts portraying a man named Artie Shaw, a clarinet playing band leader and no acting was really required. He was in the film purely to showcase his music and his orchestra and it must be said, he fulfilled his contract perfectly.

Only two or three scenes save this already obscure picture from the deeper obscurity it would so otherwise deserve.

1) The scene where Astaire having had his Trumpet solo completely rewritten by Merideth for his long awaited, life changing and career defining audition with Artie Shaws band, starts blasting out bum notes and discordant musical passages that foul up the entire song. Hilarious almost pant wetting comedy, expertly acted by the confused Astaire, made even more funny by the fact that he obviously attach's the blame of the bum arrangement to the great Artie Shaw himself before realisation dawns.

2)Artie Shaws great if somewhat shortened Concerto for Clarinet which not only proves that he the best clarinet player the world had known before or since, but that his band was truly the premier big band orchestra of the day. It is a shame his music and talent could not be showcased a little more than it was. In this film it seems he talks more than he actually plays.

3) Astaire again conducting Shaws band to "Poor Mr.Chisolm" while tapping his merry little head off. Again like Shaw, Astaire was the very best at his chosen craft and this film apart from this moment does little to showcase it.

With input from top quality entertainers like Astaire and Shaw this film could have pulled such wonderful feats out of the hat, yet apart from the three scenes mentioned, it failed at almost every single level and every opportunity was missed.

The plot was weak, and the dialogue far from clever and as a motion picture alone it fails to stand up, but for lovers of Astaire and fans of Artie Shaws music may find them like I did the saving Grace of a spent force. Definitely one black cloud with two silver linings.
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Music is Great, Cast Is OK Too
DKosty12324 July 2008
This is the last film in which Artie Shaw would actually do some acting. Originally, the producers wanted to make a film with just Artie Shaw & his music. Then along came the opportunity to get Fred Astaire during one of the rare times his career lagged for a short time so they grabbed him and put some first rate folks around him.

Paulette Goddard was a very busy actress during this period. She is fine as the lead in this one too. She rarely disappointed during her career. This is a few years after she divorced Chaplin & in 4 years she would marry Burgress Meredith who is in this movie too. A lot of folks in this cast were busy going to the alter. Artie Shaw would be married 8 times during his lifetime.

Fred Astaire has a sequence conducting & dancing Shaws Orchestra, and it is an interesting sequence. There are also several famous folks doing cameos. The big thing with this is some excellent music from an era of music that is now looked back on fondly by everyone who discovers it. Big Band, great stuff & a small plot to hang on about a backer for the concert.
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The Trumpet Blows
lugonian31 December 2009
SECOND CHORUS (Paramount, 1940), directed by H.C. Potter, from an original story by Frank Cavett, was an unlikely production for which song-and-dance man Fred Astaire ever appeared. In spite of its backstage musical sounding title, Astaire doesn't enact the role of a dance director, which wouldn't have been a bad idea, actually. Unlike some of his earlier works where he would play a dancer by profession, SECOND CHORUS provides Astaire with a new kind of role, that of a college student (!) with a flare for trumpet playing. While much of the plot devotes itself to the current phase known as "the big band era," featuring band leader Artie Shaw as himself, and with more emphases on comedy during the non musical portions, for a Fred Astaire film, this might prove disappointing for having the least amount of dancing of any Astaire musical up to this point.

The story starts off with a social function of a New England university where students and guests are being entertained by the band called Danny O'Neill's University Perennials. Roommates Danny (Fred Astaire) and Hank Taylor (Burgess Meredith), trumpet players who've remained in college for seven years to take advantage of lucrative college band bookings, take notice of their friend Stu's (Frank Melton) date, a young brunette named Ellen Miller (Paulette Goddard). Danny immediately believes Ellen to be interested in him until given a piece of paper by her that turns out to be a summons from the McKinley Encyclopedia Company for unpaid bills totaling $110. Coming to Dunn & Dunn Collective Agency, Danny and Hank meet up with Ellen where she works as secretary for Mr. Dunn (James Conlin). Instead of straightening out matters about the bill, the boys manage in getting Ellen fired instead, only to hire her as both their secretary and manager. Under this newfound profession, Ellen succeeds in obtaining the boys interviews with band-leader Artie Shaw in New York. Instead of landing them jobs, Ellen is offered a position as Shaw's personal secretary instead. As Danny and Hank each compete for both Ellen's attentions and a job in Artie Shaw's band, misunderstandings occur as Ellen becomes involved with a middle-aged man, J. Lester Chisholm (Charles Butterworth).

With music and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, Hal Borne, Bernie Hannigan and Artie Shaw, the motion picture soundtrack includes: "Second Chorus," "Sugar" (instrumental); "Everything's Jumpin'" "I Ain't Hep to That Step" (sung by Fred Astaire/ danced by Astaire and Paulette Goddard); "The Ivy Shuffle," "Sweet Sue," "Love of My Life" (sung by Astaire); "I'm Yours," "Double Mellow," "Poor Mr. Chisholm," "The Moon is Shining," "Hoe Down," "Swing Concerto" and "Poor Mr. Chisholm"

Marked by none of the visual scales of the RKO Radio musicals where Astaire peaked during his six year screen partnership (1933-1939) with Ginger Rogers, for his Paramount debut, the script finds him, along with dramatic actor Burgess Meredith, in their only pairing, enacting that as friendly rivals, in something much better served by Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, playing tricks on one another in order to either get the girl or land the job in Shaw's band. One amusing scene occurs where Hank (Meredith) rearranges the musical notes of Danny's (Astaire) song sheet prior to his audition with Shaw, and trumpet playing out of synchronization with the other players to offbeat tunes causing him not to get the job. There's also another scene where Astaire dressed up like a cossack singing with a Russian accent sounding very much the way he had spoken in SHALL WE DANCE? (RKO, 1937) in a sequence where he poses intends on fooling a girl (Ginger Rogers) by pretending to be Russian dancer, Petrov. As for the dancing sequences, which are very limited, Astaire does a jive number with Goddard. While her dancing was adequate, but no match to the style of Rogers, Goddard never danced on screen again; and the "Swing Concerto" finale where Astaire not only conducts the band, but tap dances and plays the trumpet simultaneously. Charles Butterworth, in his usual droll manner, even has a song, "Poor Mr. Chisholm" dedicated to his character.

Later reissued in 1947 by Astor Pictures, SECOND CHORUS became a public domain product during the birth of home video in the early 1980s, most distributors acquiring poor quality prints taken from its reissue. Around that time, SECOND CHORUS turned up as an overplay product on various local or public TV stations as well as cable Television, notably on Nickelodeon's "Nick and Nite" Movie during the after-midnight hours prior to 1992. There was even a motion picture soundtrack of this film distributed in record stores at or about 1979-1980. The best available print to SECOND CHORUS, however, with original Paramount logo intact, can be found on Turner Classic Movies where it premiered June 14, 2004.

Regardless of its reputation being one of Fred Astaire's lesser efforts, SECOND CHORUS is still watchable, especially when fortunate enough to view it from a crystal clear print. (***)
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College students? Really?
bpress54-212-519710 May 2021
Why did they always cast people in their 30s and 40s as "college students in these cheesy films? Not saying people in that age bracket don't go to college, but it seems that every Hollywood "college" offering from this time period is filed with older actors.
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