Musical Monday: Shine on Harvest Moon (1944)

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.

This week’s musical:
Shine on Harvest Moon (1944) – Musical #131

Warner Brothers

David Butler

Ann Sheridan, Dennis Morgan, Jack Carson, Irene Manning, S.Z. Sakall, Marie Wilson, Robert Shayne

Set in the early 1900s, this fictional biographical film follows vaudeville and Broadway stars Nora Bayes (Sheridan) and Jack Norworth (Morgan). As the couple rises to the top, they are blackballed by an old show business enemy who buys all theater chains.

-Though Ann Sheridan could sing and performed in other musicals, she was dubbed by Lynn Martin

Photo of the real Nora Bayes and Jack Norwood

-The film focuses on the marriage and performances of Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth. However, Jack Norworth was the second out of Nora Bayes’s five husbands (the film does not focus on the other husbands). Jack Norworth was also married five times.

-Jack Norworth was still living when this film was made (he passed away in 1959). Nora Bayes died of cancer in 1928. The success of this film, helped Norworth get a role in Jean Renoir’s “The Southerner,” according to Vaudeville, Old and New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America by Frank Cullen, Florence Hackman, Donald McNeilly

-Ann Sheridan made this film right after she returned from Mexico where she was getting a divorce from George Brent, according to The Women of Warner Brothers by Daniel Bubbeo.

-The Technicolor sequence
-Performance montage showing Bayes and Norwood’s rise to fame

Notable Songs:
-“Time Waits for No One” performed by Ann Sheridan, dubbed by Lynn Martin
-“It Looks Like a Big Night Tonight” performed by Dennis Morgan, Jack Carson, Ann Sheridan
-“Don’t Let Rainy Days Get You” performed by Irene Manning and Ann Sheridan
-“When It’s Apple Blossom Time in Normandie” performed by Ann Sheridan and Dennis Morgan
-“I Go For You” performed by Ann Sheridan and Dennis Morgan
-“Shine on Harvest Moon” performed by Ann Sheridan (dubbed by Lynn Martin) and Dennis Morgan

My review:
“Shine on Harvest Moon” is one of those biographical musicals that holds little truth to its subject, but at least it’s extremely entertaining.

This musical takes us back to the nostalgic days of the early-1900s when vaudeville was king. Ann Sheridan plays Nora Bayes and Dennis Morgan plays Jack Norwood, who were famous vaudeville and Broadway performers and were at one time married. Bayes was the first person to sing George M. Cohen’s “Over There” and Norwood wrote songs like “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

In the film, the couple rises to fame but then are blacklisted when their enemy, Dan Costello (Robert Shayne), buys up all the theaters and bares them from performing there. Costello is getting even with Nora for leaving his show.

While it appears this didn’t happen (from what I can find on Norwood and Bayes), it makes for a good story filled with conflict.

Ann Sheridan and Dennis Morgan as Nora Bayes and Jack Norwood

In the supporting cast: Jack Carson and Marie Wilson co-star as fictional characters in this biopic. Carson plays vaudeville magician The Great Georgetti and Wilson is his dizzy assistant. The two are friends with Bayes and Norwood and provide the comedic relief. Cuddles Sakall is also in the cast as delightful and funny as ever.While Robert Shayne is an antagonist, Irene Manning also plays a supporting role of another fictional vaudeville star, Blanche Mallory, who is jealous of Nora, because she liked Jack and wanted to be his vaudeville partner.

From “When It’s Apple Blossom Time in Normandy” to “Who’s Your Honey Lamb,” the nostalgic early-1900s tunes are great fun and sweet. As always, Dennis Morgan was in good voice, but I was disappointed that Ann Sheridan is dubbed (though you can hear her voice in one or two songs), because Sheridan sang well in other musicals. However, Lynn Martin’s voice matched Ann Sheridan’s very well.

Jack Norwood also wrote the title song “Shine on Harvest Moon.” The songwriting process in films is humorous to me. Sheridan and Morgan are riding along in a carriage and all of a sudden, this tune and words come to them so easily.

While this film is entertaining, the real treat is at the end when the movie goes from black and white to color for the finale number. Nora and Jack’s luck looks up and they introduce “Shine on Harvest Moon” in the Ziegfield Follies. (The real couple really did introduce this song in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1908). Ann Sheridan’s vibrant red hair looks gorgeous against her yellow dress and bonnet. After the two sing their song, Jack Carson and Marie Wilson come on and perform a reprise of “So Dumb But So Beautiful” so we have a chance to see them in color too. Jack walks through a “farm” with Ziegfield Girls dressed as various produce, from watermelons to tomatoes. The Four Step Brothers also come out and tap dance dressed as scarecrows, which I’ll admit, was a little creepy. Other than the scary scarecrows, the Technicolor segment is just beautiful.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times didn’t give “Shine on Harvest Moon” a great review when it came out, because he remembered Bayes and Norwood and wasn’t pleased by the representation.

While this is an inaccurate biographical musical, I still enjoy it. My only complaint is that it’s not on DVD.

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