Musical Monday: Street Girl (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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Street Girl (1929) – Musical #629

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Wesley Ruggles

Starring:
Betty Compson, John Harron, Jack Oakie, Ned Sparks, John Harron, Guy Buccola, Joseph Cawthorn, Doris Eaton, Ivan Lebedeff

Plot:
The Four Seasons is a jazz group made up of four musicians Mike Fall (Harron), Joe Spring (Oakie), Happy Winter (Sparks) and Pete Summer (Buccola). They are talented but are financially down on their luck. They find Frederika Joyzelle (Compson) on their doorstep, about to pass out from hunger. The band takes her into their flat, where she helps do the housework. Frederika is an immigrant from the country Aregon, where she was a talented violinist. Frederika joins the band and helps them rise to fame, particularly when she performs for the visiting Prince of Aregon (Lebedeff).

Trivia:
• Gus Arnheim and His Cocoanut Grove Ambassadors dubbed the musical performances of John Harron, Ned Sparks, Jack Oakie and Guy Buccola
• Russ Columbo dubbed Betty Compson’s violin playing
• Originally titled as Barber John’s Boy.
• Based on the short story “The Viennese Charmer” by W. Carey Wonderly.
• Remade as That Girl From Paris (1936) and Four Jacks and a Jill (1942).
• Director Wesley Ruggles’s first full-talking picture.
• The second film RKO released.

Highlights:
• Doris Eaton’s performance at the end of the film

Notable Songs:
• “Lovable and Sweet” performed by John Harron, Ned Sparks, Jack Oakie and Guy Buccola, dubbed by Gus Arnheim and His Cocoanut Grove Ambassadors
• “Broken Up Tune” performed by Doris Eaton
• “My Dream Memory” performed by Betty Compson on the violin, dubbed by Russ Columbo

My review:
Actress Betty Compson isn’t well-remembered today but was a major (and busy) star in silent films and in early talkies.

Here in “Street Girl” Compson is the leading lady who goes from broke to famous. Because Compson is supposed to be eastern European of a fictional country, she is hard to understand with her fake accent.

Of our supporting and leading men – John Harron, Jack Oakie, Ned Sparks, John Harron, Guy Buccola – Oakie and Sparks are the ones to steal the show and the actors in this film who stood the test of time in Hollywood.

I have never seen Oakie look so young as he does in “Street Girl,” and we actually get to see perpetually grumpy Ned Sparks smile at the end! John Harron, who plays Compson’s love interest is stiff and forgettable – while he continued on in films for many years, most of his later roles were not of the leading man nature like he is here.

Prince Nicholaus of Aregon is played by Ivan Lebedeff, who’s background is almost more interesting than any film he starred in. Hollywood tried to build Lebedeff as a major star in the early 1930s, but he became more successful in supporting and bit parts. Lebedeff was born in Russia and his father served in the royal court of Tsar Nicholas II, and Lebedeff served in the Tsar’s military during World War I. When it was clear the White Army was losing control of Russia, Lebedeff fled to France and then went to the United States in 1925. In films, he generally played roles like he did in “Street Girl.”

The real highlight here is at the very end – former Ziegfeld Girl, Doris Eaton performs one number at the end, “Broken Up Tune.” I only wish we got to see more of her! Eaton performs with the Radio Picture Chorus, who do something that precedes Busby Berkeley’s quick close up of the chorus girl … except here, the woman runs up to the camera (that’s on the floor) and practically baseball slides on the floor so that she has an out-of-focus close-up.

“Street Girl” (1929) is certainly a pre-code film; including seeing a nearly nude Ned Sparks coming out drying off with a towel, not knowing Betty Compson is in their flat. I bet you never thought you would see Sparks in a towel!

As far as early musicals go, “Street Girl” is better than most. The songs don’t exactly weave into the plot, particularly because the Four Seasons jazz band performs “Lovable and Sweet” FOUR TIMES – good thing it’s a catchy and fun song. I guess in a way, it’s not a true musical, because there are only three songs, but seven performances.

Overall, this is an interesting study of early musicals and also interesting because it was RKO Radio Pictures’s second film release.

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