After struggling to be recognised in Hollywood for several years, the beautiful Carole Landis was cast in One Million B.C. by Hal Roach and launched into stardom. Moon Over Miami, in which she stars opposite fellow popular pin-up, Betty Grable, and Don Ameche and Robert Cummings, was her fifth film after she had made a name for herself. This was the second film she would make in 1941 opposite Betty, the other being the evocatively titled film noir, I Wake Up Screaming.
Barbara (played by Carole Landis) and Kay (played by Betty Grable) are sisters, and singing waitresses at Tommy’s Texas drive in restaurant. Along with their Aunt Susan (played by Charlotte Greenwood), they have been cheated out of a fairly large inheritance due to tax and legal fees. Kay decides that they will no longer be demeaned by working at a greasy spoon, and that they must go to Miami so that she can marry a millionaire, guaranteeing they will be set for life.
Once they’ve arrived at a luxurious hotel in Miami, Kay pretends to be a wealthy heiress, Barbara her personal assistant, and Susan her maid. Jack, a hotel waiter, soon arrives at their suite with a trolley full of champagne and chilled glasses sent from Jeffrey Bolton, heir to millions, who has been hosting a party for three days straight. Jack and Susan soon become interested in each other, whilst Kay phones Jeff’s suite and criticises his choice of champagne, causing him to invite her to his party. When he arrives, she is delighted to find that he isn’t some crotchety geriatric, but handsome and young. Barbara is stuck by him, too, but Jeff and Kay are both oblivious to this.
At the party, Kay also meets Phil McNeil (played by Don Ameche) who Jeff dislikes. Phil is unimpressed by Kay’s dancing and singing at the party. Phil also repeatedly falls asleep during an initial conversation between he and Kay, before buying Kay a drink after being impressed by her spunk. He proceeds to insult her face, figure and voice, before saying that he hopes he will fall in love with her. Kay is, unsurprisingly, quite unmoved.
Jeff and Phil begin a heated rivalry over Kay’s affections, with Jeff casting aspersions on Phil’s character, before Phil interrupts them by posing as a hotel waiter. Phil also crashes Jeff and Kay’s boating date, by chasing them with his own speedboat in a scene that is reminiscent of Live and Let Die.
Phil takes Kay on a date aboard a submarine, and admits the wants to have a more serious life than the one he has been leading, which has been that of a playboy. Before Kay can fully respond, Jeff appears at the window to the submarine, causing Kay and Phil to burst out laughing.
Back in their hotel room, Barbara informs Kay that they’re $150 short for their hotel bill, causing Kay to panic. Susan then blithely informs them that Jack has won that amount at the races, resulting in Kay and Barbara convincing their reluctant Aunt to borrow the money from Jeff. This also convinces Kay that she must get either Phil or Jeff to propose to her, and she asks Barbara to come dancing with them so that she can distract Jeff, because Kay has fallen for Phil. Phil and Jeff are initially reluctant to have Barbara come along, but when she appears wearing a beautiful silver dress and without her glasses on, Jeff suddenly realises how beautiful she is. Typical.
Jack has proposed marriage to Susan, and they dance and sing in merriment when their “employers” leave the suite.
Barbara is heartbroken when she rightly observes that Jeff still wants Kay, largely because Phil has always won what Jeff has wanted. He also admits that he has long been in his father’s rather large shadow. Barbara encourages him to be more independent and make something of himself, and while he is impressed by her honesty, he is still set on being with the elusive Kay.
Phil and Kay go on a romantic boat ride and express their love for each other, and all seems well, until Phil admits that he’s bankrupt and that the McNeil Mills will only be solvent again in five years. Kay admits her entire scheme to marry well to him, resulting in Phil telling her that it should be that way if it’s what she desires. Despite being convinced that Phil will expose her as a fraud, Kay is surprised to find that Jeff wants to marry her, with Phil having told him that Kay preferred him over Phil. Barbara is devastated, but accepts that it must be so or they will be ruined.
Jeff holds a lavish engagement party, but Kay is jealous that Phil seems to be involved with Connie, a supermarket chain heiress who has the best beef in the country. She decides to leave the party early so that she and Jeff can fly to his island that night to avoid anymore envious feelings on her part. She and Phil share a reluctant goodbye, with Kay disappearing whilst Phil is admitting how much he will long for her.
In the hotel suite, Jack overhears their entire scheme and is thoroughly unimpressed due to his intense dislike of gold diggers. Susan fakes fainting so that Jack will go to the bathroom for smelling salts. They then lock him in the bathroom before he can expose them.
Once they arrive on the Bolton’s private island, Jeff’s father initially mistakes Barbara for Jeff’s fiancée, but likes Kay just as well and teaches her how to cook “gas house eggs”, which is a fried egg in bread and tells her to call him ‘Willy’.
The next morning, after Jeff and Barbara go riding due to Kay’s dislike of horses, Willy once again jokingly suggests that Jeff and Barbara are better matched, but Jeff easily dismisses the suggestion, much to Barbara’s concealed hurt. Phil then unexpectedly arrives on the island, much to Jeff and Kay’s displeasure. Phil claims that Jeff asked him to be his best man, which Jeff denies. Phil also tries to interfere with Kay and Jeff’s plans for their honeymoon, which causes Jeff to be even more annoyed. Willy is then condescending about Jeff’s ambitions to work outside of the family empire, calling him a family ornament. Jeff decides that he will speak to one of his father’s business contacts about getting a job in South America at the party Willy is throwing that night for the bridal couple to be. Jack also arrives on the island unexpectedly, intent on speaking to Jeff, but he agrees to hold off until he’s convinced that Kay really loves Jeff and not just his fortune.
At the party, Phil tries to persuade Kay that she should not marry Jeff because she does not love him, which angers her, especially because Phil won’t admit that he loves her and that’s why she shouldn’t be with Jeff. In the meantime, Jeff decides to take a job in South America to prove himself, and Kay is given all the credit for this change of heart whilst Barbara sits miserably by.
Kay goes into the house to pack and get away from Phil, but he follows her and tells her that he won’t let her marry Jeff. Jack, who has been comically watching the pair the entire party much to Susan’s annoyance, listens to this at the door before running off and fetching Jeff. Susan then locks Jack in the kitchen, but he bursts out just before Jeff says that he wants to marry Barbara, despite his knowledge of her complicity in Kay’s monetary motivations.
The film ends with the three couples all happily at the beach: Barbara and Jeff strolling down the boardwalk, Kay and Phil under an umbrella, and Susan and Jack water-skiing, which ends with them plummeting into the water due to Susan being on Jack’s shoulders.
Carole as second lead
According to the Wikipedia article dedicated to Carole, the most successful period of her career was the early to mid 1940’s, and that during this time she often played the second female lead, as she does in Moon Over Miami. While Betty Grable is the star of the film and she does very well as the lead, Carole’s acting style, which was rather subdued and understated in this film, perfectly counterbalances Betty’s more overtly comic style.
Carole is also incredibly pretty in this film. The fact that Jeff doesn’t recognise how lovely she is because of her glasses is an eye roll inducing trope on its own, but even more so because of how ridiculous it would be for anyone, mineral, vegetable, animal, to not recognise Carole’s looks. And although, as I said, Betty does well in the lead role, I almost prefer Carole’s turn as Barbara, because her quiet performance provides a good counterbalance to the comic performances of Betty, Charlotte Greenwood and Jack O’ Hara. She also has good chemistry with Robert Cummings, who she also provides a good balance to, with his grinning, schoolboy-esque performance as Jeff.
The film is light and fun, and not at all taxing to watch, with upbeat songs and lively dance numbers that show the “Latin fever” that America was experiencing at the time that the film was made. Don Ameche and Betty Grable had been paired in Down Argentine Way the year before, which also starred Charlotte Greenwood, and also had a decidedly latin American feel as the title suggests.
The only thing I can criticise about the film is that Carole isn’t given more to do. While this is not, as I said, a serious film by any stretch of the imagination, she isn’t given much to do except moon over Robert Cummings and look sad when he dopily pursues Betty. It would have been so much more to the film, and Carole’s service, if they had expanded her part and perhaps cut back on some of Jack O’ Hara’s screen time, as his over-the-top comic antics get a bit long in the tooth towards the end of the film. The film also tries to lamely go against Carole’s image as a sex symbol, and therefore her nicknames of “The Ping Girl” and “The Chest”, but does so half heartedly, thereby actually reinforcing this image. Which once again just increases your disbelief at the fact that two men are pursuing Betty whilst she has an equally, if not even more beautiful secretary/ sister on the scene. I would have also really liked to have heard her sing more, as she only really sings at the beginning and end of the film. It would have been especially nice if she had been able to sing some kind of duet with Betty.
Overall, despite Carole not being the lead in the film, she is definitely memorable. This film has also made me want to seek out more of her movies, especially I Wake Up Screaming, so that I can see a different side to her.