Musical Monday: The Goldwyn Follies (1938)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Goldwyn Follies (1938) – Musical #237

The Samuel Goldwyn Company

George Marshall

Adolphe Menjou, Andrea Leeds, The Ritz Brothers, Vera Zorina, Kenny Baker, Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, Phil Baker, Helen Jepson, Jerome Cowan, Nydia Westman, Ella Logan, Bobby Clark, Joseph Crehan (uncredited), Alan Ladd (uncredited)
Themselves: Alfred Newman, American Ballet of the Metropolitan Opera
The Goldwyn Girls: Vivian Austin, Lynne Berkeley, Marjorie Deanne, Betty Douglas, Judith Ford, Anne Graham, Jane Hamilton, Evelyn Terry, Gloria Youngblood

Hollywood film producer Oliver Merlin (Menjou) recent pictures have bombed at the box office. Merlin overhears Hazel Dawes (Leeds) criticizing his movie as unrealistic. He hires her, dubbing Hazel “Miss Humanity” to help give his films the human point of view.

• George and Ira Gershwin are credited with music and lyrics for the songs in the film. George Gershwin died of a brain tumor. After George died, Vernon Duke stepped in to help write the score.
• Ballet numbers were staged by George Balanchine
• Ballet dancer Vera Zorina’s first credited film role.
• Edgar Bergen’s first full-length feature film.
• Metropolitan Opera singer Helen Jepson’s first and only feature film role.
• Virginia Verrill dubbed Andrea Leeds.
• Cinematography by Gregg Toland

• Technicolor cinematography

The Water Nymph ballet. Screencap by Jessica P.

Notable Musical Numbers:
• “Romeo and Juliet Ballet” performed by Vera Zorina and The American Ballet of the Metropolitan Opera
• “La traviata” performed by Charles Kullmann and Helen Jepson
• “Love Walked In” performed by Kenny Baker and Andrea Leeds dubbed by Virginia Verrill

My review:
“The Goldwyn Follies” is one of the most visually stunning musicals I have ever seen.

Featuring brilliant, dazzling Technicolor cinematography by Gregg Toland and ballet numbers staged by choreographer George Balanchine, it’s hard to look away while watching this musical.

The plot itself is rather simple. Dressed up with musical numbers, regular Hazel Dawes, played by Andrea Leads, is hired by Hollywood producer Oliver Merlin, Adolphe Menjou to review his films after a series of flops. Calling her “Miss Humanity,” he wants to make sure they have the human element. Merlin will have Hazel watch musical numbers and read scripts to see if she, as an ordinary audience member, approves and would find it believable. Oliver’s film stars the etherial Olga Samara, played by ballet dancer Vera Zorina. Hazel meets Danny Beecher, played by Kenny Baker, who flips hamburgers by day but is an aspiring singer. As she falls in love with him, she tries to find him a part in the film. Hazel hides her role at the studio from Danny, so he doesn’t think the worst of her (Merlin has paid for her housing and clothes), and also hides her relationship to Danny from Oliver, knowing he’s in love with her.

The storyline is dressed up with songs and ballet numbers, and some unfortunate “comedic” scenes with the Ritz Brothers.

Despite the light plot, this an incredibly entertaining movie. The downside are the Ritz Brothers, who I don’t find funny.

Andrea Leeds may not be well-known today, but may be best known for her tragic character in “Stage Door” (1937). Her face may look familiar to you, because she bears a striking resemblance to Olivia De Havilland.

Andrea Leeds. Screen cap by Jessica P.

And Leeds isn’t the only look-a-like here: her romantic interest is played by Kenny Baker, who I call the poor man’s Dick Powell. Despite this, he has a great tenor voice and is pleasant enough.

Kenny Baker. Screen cap by Jessica P.

Adolphe Menjou plays his standard role, though I’ll admit – I was briefly confused. I realized his characters in both “The Goldwyn Follies” and “A Star is Born” (1937) were studio owning producers named Oliver. However, this isn’t an extension of that character.

“The Goldwyn Follies” was also a landmark film for some of the actors: Vera Zorina and Edgar Bergen.

Ballet dancer Vera Zorina’s first American film was “The Goldwyn Follies.” Though she isn’t the star of this film, she plays the star of the film within a film. Zorina’s numbers and scenes are more showstopping than the leads. When she isn’t dancing, Zorina is gorgeous, has fabulous costumes and you would never know that she was acting in her first American film. But Zorina is the showstopper with her ballet numbers. One is an updated Romeo and Juliet ballet numbers – swing music lovers versus classical music lovers. This is a beautiful number, but my real favorite is the Water Nymph ballet. Before Zorina enters, the ballet dancers are in gorgeous sky blue and gold costumes, which give the feeling of water. Then Zorina enters from a small pond in the middle of the floor, dressed in all gold (and dripping with water because she just came up from a lift on water). It’s a gorgeous ballet number with beautiful costumes. These two numbers were staged by George Balanchine, who is considered one of the most influential choreographers of the 20th century. Balanchine and Zorina later married.

Vera Zorina in the Water Nymph Ballet. Screen cap by Jessica P.

For Edgar Bergen, audiences were already familiar with hum from vaudeville, radio, and film shorts dating back to 1930. But “The Goldwyn Follies” was the first time audiences saw him and his dummy in a full-length feature film. Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy play themselves and are in a handful of comedic scenes. Their jokes may be cheesy, but I won’t deny that I do laugh at some Charlie McCarthy jokes. (Also, Bergen moves his mouth, have you noticed?)

Also – don’t miss a young Alan Ladd in an uncredited role as the first auditioning singer.

The songs in “The Goldwyn Follies” was also written by George and Ira Gershwin. This was George Gershwin’s last film project, because he died of a brain tumor during production. Vernon Duke stepped in and helped complete the songs.

Is “The Goldwyn Follies” going to be on the Mount Rushmore of best musicals? Probably not – but it has some unique features going for it with Balanchine’s dance numbers and Gershwin songs.

But I can guarantee that you will be dazzled by the gorgeous Technicolor and choreography. I call this a musical a must based just on that.

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1 thought on “Musical Monday: The Goldwyn Follies (1938)

  1. I don’t know this movie at all, very interesting! Thanks much. Will have to find it and check it out. (Love spotting young Alan Ladd!)

    The first time I saw Andrea Leeds in STAGE DOOR it was so weird, I felt like I was watching de Havilland! A few years ago I was able to find her gravesite in the Palm Springs area and pay my respects.

    Best wishes,


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