review for Panama Hattie on AllMovie

Panama Hattie (1942)
by Craig Butler review

The Broadway musical from which Panama Hattie was drawn was noted for its rambunctiously sophisticated Cole Porter score and Ethel Merman's brawny performance of same, not for its negligible book, so it makes sense that the filmmakers made considerable alterations in the script for the cinematic version. What doesn't make sense is dispensing with most of the score and substituting inappropriate and inferior numbers in its place (a common practice at the time). The result is another one of those movies that's not really about anything, but that just ambles along with a not-too-convincing plot, throwing in little conflicts that are never really explored or taken seriously by anyone. Fortunately, Hattie has a capable and engaging star in Ann Sothern. If her voice is less a clarion call than Merman's, it's still a forceful instrument, and she has an easy and attractive way with a song. Sothern also knows how to put across a laugh line and how to play the kind of saccharine sentiment that passes for emotion believably and effectively. She's supported by a trio of male comic talent that may not be to everyone's taste but does what they're asked to do, and by the surprisingly effective deadpan humor of Virginia O'Brien and a couple of sinuous turns by a delectable Lena Horne. If the new songs vary in quality (reaching a nadir with the offensive wartime lyrics to "The Son of a Gun Who Picks on Uncle Sam"), the Porter songs are first-rate.