Musical Monday: Sweet Adeline (1934)

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:
Sweet Adeline (1934) – Musical #195

Warner Bros.

Mervyn LeRoy

Irene Dunne, Donald Woods, Hugh Herbert, Ned Sparks, Joseph Cawthorn, Wini Shaw (billed as Winifred Shaw), Louis Calhern, Nydia Westman, Dorothy Dare, Phil Regan, Noah Beery (uncredited), Milton Kibbee (uncredited)

In the early 1900s, Adeline Schmidt (Dunne) is the daughter of a beer garden owner (Cawthorn). He disapproves of show business and his daughter’s romance with composer Sid Barnett (Woods). The show Sid wrote is produced, and Adeline gets the lead. In her success, Adeline starts seeing the rich Major Day (Calhern), leaving Sid feeling jilted.

• A film adaptation of the 1929 Broadway musical written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, though the play and the film are not similar.
• The only two songs kept from the 1929 Broadway musical were “Here Am I” and “Why Was I Born?”
• Wini Shaw’s character of the spy was created for the film and wasn’t part of the Broadway show.
• Wini Shaw is billed as Winifred Shaw in the movie.

• The swing number of “We Were So Young”
• The number “Lonely Feet” with the three-way mirror and the dance number

Irene Dunne and Louis Calhern.

Notable Songs:
• “Here Am I” performed by Irene Dunne
• “We Were So Young” performed by Irene Dunne
• “Why Was I Born” performed by Irene Dunne
• “Molly O’Donahue” performed by Phil Regan
• “Lonely Feet” performed by Irene Dunne
• “‘Twas Not So Long Ago” performed by Joseph Cawthorn, Irene Dunne, Phil Regan, Hugh Herbert and Nydia Westman

My review:
Kentucky-born Irene Dunne became known for her sparkling comedic roles in Hollywood. But initially, she was brought to Hollywood for her singing abilities, though those aren’t the roles she played initially.

After several years in “weepy roles,” Dunne was cast in a string of musicals in the mid-1930s including, “Stingaree” (1934), “Roberta” (1935), “Show Boat” (1936) and this film, “Sweet Adeline” (1934).

Set in the 1890s, Irene Dunne plays Adeline, daughter of a beer garden owner, who is love with songwriter and composer, Sid Barnett, played by Donald Woods. When Sid finally gets his big chance, Adeline is cast in his musical as the lead. But instead of bringing them closer, Adeline becomes swept up in the new, exciting life and is romanced by Major Day (Louis Calhern). To add to the complications, Adeline replaced the original lead, Elysia (Wini Shaw), who both holds a grudge towards Adeline and is also a spy for the Spanish-American War.

The film “Sweet Adeline” is loosely based on a 1929 Broadway musical written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. When the film version was released five years later, many critics criticized it for being so different from the Broadway play, but unanimously praised Irene Dunne for her portrayal in the lead role and singing.

I really enjoy “Sweet Adeline” (1934). I love the 1890s setting with the Gibson Girl fashions and the general vibe of this musical.

Irene Dunne feels perfectly suited for this role. Her Adeline character begins as a sweet young woman who dreams of being an actress (against her father’s wishes). Once she becomes a star, she transforms into a woman who lives a rich and fast life – going to parties and missing rehearsals. Her behavior is almost frustrating but gives her depth and character development.

Louis Calhern is someone you love regardless if he is playing a cad or a kindly grandfather. Calhern is a cad in this play but thought to be respectable as Major Day. Major Day is who Adeline’s father wants her to marry, but we later learn that he has no intention of marrying Adeline, thinking it was understood that she would be his kept woman. The patriotic cad of Major Day is also believed to represent nationalistic themes in the post-World War I produced Broadway musical.

Today, actor Donald Woods doesn’t get enough credit, but I always enjoy seeing him in films. Woods plays the tortured hero of Sid Barnett. He finds success in his career, but his personal life suffers as his love shares their successes with others.

While only two of the songs from the original Broadway show are used, we get to hear Irene Dunne sing the ultimate torch song, “Why Was I Born?” I didn’t know this song came from this Broadway show.

“Sweet Adeline” is filled with lovely songs, beautifully shot and also some laughs. It’s a Warner Bros. film released during Busby Berkeley’s extravaganzas being released. “Sweet Adeline” shows that the kaleidoscope-like numbers weren’t needed for a successful story.

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