“That’s the trouble with this business. They’ll never give a new face a chance,” a backstage hand sweeping floors complains in Footlight Serenade while at that very moment, one new face belonging to Betty Grable’s Pat Lambert is being given her big break.
Chosen out of sixty chorus girls not only for her ability to dance and chew gum at the same time but also her easy on the eyes beauty, Pat discovers she’s caught the eye of pompous boxer turned Broadway headliner, Tommy Lundy (Victor Mature).
Yet unfortunately for Tommy, the man no one dares to say no to in a sea of yes men has just picked a woman who’s recently said yes to another man down at city hall (in the form of John Payne’s fellow dance man, Bill).
Pushed into keeping their vows a secret from the lovesick brawler just to ensure the show will go on, when eventually the two men begin to battle over Grable, the onstage choreographed bouts take a threatening turn for realism after Tommy vows to knock out his romantic rival for good.
The last fully black and white filmed musical for Fox’s rising box office superstar Grable, while she was billed after Payne in director Gregory Ratoff’s fast-moving yet predictably formulaic “let’s put on a show” subgenre offering, it’s Grable’s show from start to finish.
And as Footlight’s hardworking hoofer/secret bride, the dancer dazzles in a role that seems tailor-made for the star as alter-ego Pat Lambert’s onscreen big break coincided with Grable’s offscreen break into films built around her as the overall lead in her own right.
Rounding out an excellent cast with affable turns by the charismatic Mature who makes Payne’s underwritten Bill that much duller by comparison, Footlight Serenade packed the screen with future TV stars and A-listers alike including Jane Wyman, James Gleason and Phil Silvers.
Aside from her likable girl-next-door approachable blend of carefree charm with capable moves (hoofing it up in the crop top clad bubblegum number with Payne), Serenade really gets going in a boxing Betty Grable led chorus girl showpiece to “I Heard the Birdies Sing.”
Although forgettable by today’s standards due to its generic plot, this B-musical helped foreshadow the big breakout to come for new(er) face Betty Grable in future Fox Cinema Archive hits like their recent DVD release of Mother Wore Tights which was one of the star’s personal favorites.
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