Musical Monday: “Tanned Legs (1929)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

tanned legsThis week’s musical:
“Tanned Legs” –Musical #496

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Marshall Neilan

Starring:
Arthur Lake, June Clyde, Sally Blane, Ann Pennington, Dorothy Revier, Nella Walker, Albert Gran, Allen Kearns, Edmund Burns
As themselves: Johnny Johnson’s Orchestra

Plot:
There is a lot of romantic trouble as the Reynolds family vacations at a seaside resort.
Peggy Reynolds (Clyde) is unhappy with her philandering parents (Nella Walker, Albert Gran) who are both carrying on with people closer to Peggy’s age than theirs. More romantic trouble occurs as Peggy’s sister Janet (Blane) is dating Clinton Darrow (Burns), who is only interested in the Reynold’s family money. Peggy is dating Bill (Lake), who constantly proposes and she refuses.
Peggy decides she needs to fix her family. But things get even more messy when Mr. Reynolds buys stock from his mistress, Mrs. Lyons-King (Reiver) and Clinton blackmails Janet over love letters. When Peggy tries to save her sister’s reputation by taking the letters from Clinton’s room, Janet thinks her sister is stealing her boyfriend and Bill thinks Peggy is cheating on him.
The musical portion of this film comes in as the actors rehearse for the resort’s charity show.

Trivia:
-Advertised as “All Dialogue!”
-Actress June Clyde’s first credited film role. The former vaudeville star was supposedly selected for the film because of her nice legs, according to “The First Hollywood Musicals” by Edwin M. Bradley.
-Actress Olive Borden was supposed to star in the movie but was replaced by June Clyde, according to “Olive Borden: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s Joy Girl” by Michelle Vogel.
-Pianist Oscar Levant, who later starred in several films such as “American in Paris” (1951), wrote several of the songs for this film.

Highlights:
-In the first minute, as the camera pan the beach, a man is dancing with a mermaid.

Notable Songs:
-“Come in the Water, the Water Is Fine” performed by June Clyde
-“You’re Responsibile” sung by Ann Pennington and Allen Kearns
-“Tanned Legs” sung by Ann Pennington

Allen Kearns and Ann Pennington in "Tanned Legs" (1929)

Allen Kearns and Ann Pennington in “Tanned Legs” (1929)

My Review:
Director Busby Berkeley is frequently credited as “saving the movie musical.” Berkley’s elaborate kaleidoscopic-like dance numbers set to tunes written by Al Dubin and Harry Warren graced movie screens in the early 1930s. Before that, movie musicals were frankly a mess and were quickly losing popularity.
Take “The Wedding of the Painted Doll” number from “Broadway Melody” (1929). A mess. Seriously. The number starts with two girls dancing and all of a sudden more and more and more dancers come on stage until there are maybe 40 dancers. The number of people isn’t unusual, except everyone is flailing and doing their own thing– from pirouettes across the stage to cartwheels to high kicks.
This wasn’t unusual before Berkeley figured out how to make musicals work with the dawn of sound.
“Tanned Legs” is not quite as bad when it comes to musical numbers, but you can certainly use it as a gauge of how movie musicals evolved into something much more sophisticated even three years later with “42nd Street” (1933).
In the first number called “Come in the Water, the Water Is Fine,” the camera man starts out about 50 to 100 feet away from the stage. I think it was supposed to be like a person watching from the distance, and then moving closer.
As the camera gets closer, June Clyde is just standing and singing and girls are doing odd (and sloppy) sumersaults behind her. They aren’t even together. They all lay down, lifting their legs in a sequence, but not together.
The plot is about as mediocre as the musical numbers but is rather charming in the “1920s flaming youth” sort of way.
For me, the biggest treat was seeing Sally Blane, sister to Loretta Young, and Ann Pennington in a film- it was actually the first time I had ever seen either actress perform.
If you are looking for terrific acting, fascinating musical numbers and catchy songs- this movie really isn’t for you. But you have to keep in mind that this talkie is very early in the dawn of sound period- so they were still learning.
If you are looking for a time capsule into film history, 1920s flappers and the evolution of movie musicals, this may be more for you.

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