Musical Monday: Bitter Sweet (1940)

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:
Bitter Sweet” (1940)– Musical #272

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
W.S. Van Dyke

Starring:
Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, George Sanders, Ian Hunter, Felix Bressart, Lynne Carver, Curt Bois, Diana Lewis, Fay Holden, Sig Ruman, Herman Bing, Hans Conried, Edward Ashley

Plot:
Set in the 19th Century, Sarah Millick (MacDonald), falls in love with her music teacher Carl Linden (Eddy). The two elope and move to his home of Vienna, where they struggle to get by and Carl tries to sell his operetta.

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Musical Monday: Go Into Your Dance (1935)

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.

danceThis week’s musical:
Go Into Your Dance (1935) – Musical #559

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Archie Mayo, Michael Curtiz (uncredited)

Starring:
Ruby Keeler, Al Jolson, Glenda Farrell, Barton MacLane, Patsy Kelly, Helen Morgan, Akim Tamiroff, Joyce Compton, Ward Bond (uncredited), Theresa Harris (uncredited),
Themselves: Al Dubin, Harry Warren

Plot:
Famous Broadway performer Al Howard (Jolson) has been blackballed on Broadway after walking out on a successful show. His sister Molly (Farrell) enlists the help of dancer Dorothy Wayne (Keeler) to convince Al to create a duo. After creating an act, a gangster (MacLane) backs a show that will star Howard.

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Musical Monday: Music in the Air (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 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

music in the airThis week’s musical:
“Music in the Air” (1934)– Musical #549

Studio:
Fox Film Corporation

Director:
Joe May

Starring:
Gloria Swanson, John Boles, Douglass Montgomery, Reginald Owen, June Lang, Al Shean, Marjorie Main, Sara Haden,

Plot:
Set in the Bavarian Alps, small town teacher Karl Roder (Montgomery) is in love with Sieglinde Lessing (Lang), who is the daughter of composer Dr. Walter Lessing (Shean). The two meet a quarreling acting couple- Bruno Mahler (Boles) and primadona Frieda Hotzfelt (Swanson). Bruno and Frieda take advantage of Karl and Sieglinde to make each other jealous. Bruno makes Sieglinde the lead in a new operetta, leaving Karl despondent.

Trivia:
-The “Music in the Air” was originally a Broadway musical. It opened at the Alvin Theatre in New York City on Nov. 8, 1932, and ran for 342 performances.
-Directorial debut of Joe May in America. May started his film career in Germany in 1910, but fled in 1934 when the Nazis started to take power.
-Actor Douglass Montgomery was dubbed by Dave O’Brien
-Actress June Lang dubbed by Betty Heistand
-Billy (billed as Billie) Wilder was one of the scriptwriters. Billy Wilder later directed Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Blvd.” (1950).
-Gloria Swanson’s voice coach during the film was Dr. Marifiotti, Caruso’s voice coach, according to Gloria Swanson’s autobiography, “Swanson.”
-Music composed by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein
-The song “The Song is You” was a hit on the Broadway play, but was cut from the film.

Highlights:
-Hearing Gloria Swanson and John Boles sing

Al Shean, Reginald Owen, Douglass Montgomery, Gloria Swanson, June Lang and John Boles

Al Shean, Reginald Owen, Douglass Montgomery, Gloria Swanson, June Lang and John Boles

Notable Songs:
-“I’ve Told Every Little Star” performed by June Lang and Douglass Montgomery
-“One More Dance” performed by John Boles
-“I’m Alone” performed by Gloria Swanson

My review:
“Music in the Air” is a quaint little film.

The cast is excellent, the songs are beautiful and the set designed to look like the Bavarian Alps is lovely.

For contemporary classic film audiences, many are mainly familiar with Gloria Swanson in her silent films and in “Sunset Boulevard.” Like audiences forget that Irene Dunne can sing, it’s also overlooked that Swanson was in multiple musicals and has a lovely operatic voice. I think these go overlooked because they aren’t aired on television often and can be difficult to find.

John Boles also has a very pleasant singing voice.

While John Boles and Gloria Swanson are the leads, June Lang and Douglass Montgomery have the most screen time as the secondary leads. They are pleasant actors, particularly Douglass Montgomery, who is handsome (you may recognize him as Laurie from “Little Women” (1933). However, both of them were dubbed in the movie.

One thing I think is interesting about this film is that it is almost divided up into acts, as the Broadway play was. But it also isn’t obvious that it was a play (as some early talking films were), with long scenes with too much talking.

The plot isn’t very dynamic and is an old story: couples using someone else to make their lover selfish. I think that is where the film lost me a little bit. While I enjoyed it, 75 minutes of the 90 minute film is the couple making each other jealous-in between songs. That seemed a bit excessive.

The most interesting fact about the film is that director Joe May was a successful director in Germany, starting from 1910. However, May, who was Jewish, had to flee the the United States when the Nazis took power in 1934. May was unable to regain the success he once had in Germany. He made his last film 1944.

Another interesting point is that Billy Wilder (then spelling his name as Bille) is billed as one of the screenwriters. Wilder and Gloria Swanson were later re-teamed for “Sunset Blvd.”

While I find the movie pleasant, it wasn’t a success.

“We all felt fairly certain of success during shooting, but the picture flopped,” Swanson wrote in her autobiography. “The nation at large ignored Music in the Air and rushed instead to see Stand Up and Cheer, a musical starring a six-year-old Shirley Temple.”

“Music in the Air” is a film I’m on the fence about. While it was light and entertaining, I also didn’t feel very engaged. However, it was a treat to see John Boles and Gloria Swanson singing together.

John Boles and Gloria Swanson in "Music in the Air" (1934).

John Boles and Gloria Swanson in “Music in the Air” (1934).

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Musical Monday: Sweet Kitty Bellairs (1930)

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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:
Sweet Kitty Bellairs –Musical #358

Sweet_Kitty_Bellairs_1930_Poster

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Alfred E. Green

Starring:
Claudia Dell, Ernest Torrence, Walter Pidgeon, Perry Askam, June Collyer

Plot:
Flirtatious Kitty Bellairs (Dell) goes to Bath, England, on holiday and all the men are after her, including Lord Varney (Pidgeon). Though she’s a flirt, she sings “in spite of my thirty or forty affairs, I’ve lost not a bit of my virtue.” On her way to Bath, her carriage is stopped by a robber who says he won’t rob her if he gives her a kiss. While Kitty is visiting her friend Julia (Collyer), her husband Lord Standish (Torrence) leaves her. Kitty gives Julia the advice to gussy up and pretend that she has a lover, which works in making Lord Standish jealous.

Publicity shot of Claudia Dell dressed in costume as Sweet Kitty Bellair

Publicity shot of Claudia Dell dressed in costume as Sweet Kitty Bellair

Trivia:
-This film was announced to be in Technicolor in a April 11, 1930 news brief. “Although it was reported last week, that the production was to be done in black and white, a last minute dispatch from the coast states the final decision to be in Technicolor.” Though the film was shot entirely in Technicolor, only a black and white print survives.

Highlights:
–Walter Pidgeon singing

Notable Songs:
-Highwayman Song performed by Perry Askam
-My Love, I’ll Be Waiting for You performed by Claudia Dell and Walter Pidgeon
-You, I Love But You performed by Claudia Dell
-Dueling Song performed by Ernest Torrence, Perry Askam, Edgar Norton, Lionel Belmore, Douglas Gerrard and others

Walter Pidgeon in costume for "Sweet Kitty Bellair"

Walter Pidgeon in costume for “Sweet Kitty Bellair”

My Review:
Somehow these early talkie films-whether they are musical, drama or comedy- are tiresome to me. “Sweet Kitty Bellairs” is better than most of them, but still not outstanding. It’s a humorous little musical romp lasting only an hour long. I believe it’s brief length is the only reason it’s bearable.
It has the added bonus of seeing early Walter Pidgeon and we get to hear Pidgeon and Ernest Torrence sing.
The story itself got poor reception in 1930 but received high praise for it’s color film.
It’s just disappointing the the Technicolor print no longer exists.

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Musical Monday: Dames (1934)

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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:
Dames (1934) – Musical #225

dames poster

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Ray Enright, Busby Berkeley

Starring:
Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Hugh Herbert, Zasu Pitts, Guy Kibbee

Plot:
Eccentric cousin Ezra Ounce (Herbert) decides to divide up his fortune of $10 million before he dies. Part of this will go to his cousin Mathilda and her husband. However, Ezra hates actors and their daughter is looking at going into show business.

Trivia:
-Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell’s fourth film together.
-Ruby Keeler’s last film with Busby Berkely.

Notable Songs:
-Dames performed by Dick Powell
-I Only Have Eyes for You performed by Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler
-Try to See It My Way performed by Dick Powell
-The Girl at the Ironing Board performed by Joan Blondell

Ruby Keeler dancing in "Dames."

Ruby Keeler dancing in “Dames.”

Publicity photo of Dick Powell and several "Dames."

Publicity photo of Dick Powell and several “Dames.”

Highlights:
-The elaborate “Only Have Eyes for You” number that features several large shots and blown up pictures of Ruby Keeler. The best part is when Keeler rises up from below the stage through a trap door, that happens to be in the pupil of her eye.

 

blondell

Joan Blondell causing trouble for Guy Kibbee in “Dames.”

My review:
While “42nd Street” and “Footlight Parade” are my top two favorite Busby Berkeley directed films starring Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell (one of seven), “Dames” comes in at a close third.
Like the other two, “Dames” has it all: An excellent cast, breathtaking Berkeley directed musical numbers, toe tapping songs, humor and it’s very pre-code. In fact, I find “Dames” to be pretty hilarious.
An great example of humor and pre-code in “Dames” is when Guy Kibbee finds Joan Blondell stowing away in his bed on a train. Blondell isn’t wearing pajamas and Kibbee is fearful of a scandal that would make him lose the millions of dollars his very moral cousin has agreed to leave him. When Kibbee orders her to leave, she says “Why? I don’t snore.”
More humor comes when cousins Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell are in love, but we learn Powell is Keeler’s 13th cousin.
The film’s plot mainly revolves around Cousin Ezra’s (Herbert) moral code and hating theater people. This is why Ezra has disowned his relative Jimmy (Powell), because he is in the theater and trying to put on a show. As long as his family members Horace (Kibbee), Mathilda (Pitts) and Barbara (Keeler), don’t interact with Jimmy, they will get $6 million. However, Barbara is in love with Jimmy and also plans to audition to for his show.
Further complications arise when Mabel (Blondell) plans to blackmail Horace for money, know he would lose the $6 million if Ezra knew of their run in on the train.
Joan Blondell is wonderful in this film, as she is with everything else. We learn in these musicals that she really lacks the pipes to carry a tune, but her character and humor make up for it.
The “Only Have Eyes for You” number is really outstanding. it’s really a solid 5 minute homage to Ruby Keeler, complete with people dancing with large cut outs of her face and her face becoming the dance floor.
As far as Busby Berkeley, pre-code musicals go, “Dames” is the tops. Add it to your list of “must sees.”

 

Some Busby Berkeley shots: 

dames4 dames5 dames busby dames3 dames2 Dames1

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