Musical Monday: Varsity Show (1937)

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:
Varsity Show (1937) – Musical #99

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
William Keighley

Starring:
Dick Powell, Rosemary Lane, Priscilla Lane, Ted Healy, Walter Catlett, Sterling Holloway, Johnnie Davis, Lee Dixon, Ford Washington Lee, John William Sublett, Mabel Todd, Edward Brophy, Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians, Carole Landis (uncredited)

Plot:
Winfield College students (Lane, Lane, Healy, Holloway, Davis) need a successful varsity show. The last few years have been a flop and the old-fashioned staff is ready to outlaw swing in the shows. The students try to get alumnus Chuck Daly (Powell), who is now on Broadway, to stage their show. While they think he’s a New York success, his shows have been flops.

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Musical Monday: The Gay Divorcee (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.

divorceThis week’s musical:
The Gay Divorcee” (1934)– Musical #121

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Mark Sandrich

Starring:
Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Alice Brady, Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore, Erik Rhodes, William Austin, Betty Grable, Lillian Miles

Plot:
Mimi (Rogers) is traveling with her Aunt Hortense (Brady) and is looking for a

Trivia:
-This was Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ second film together (out of 10 films). Following their success in “Flying Down to Rio” (1933), RKO teamed them together again.

-“The Continental” lasts 17.5 minutes. This was the longest musical number until Gene Kelly’s ballet in “An American In Paris” (1951).

-The Academy Awards for 1934 were the first to include the category for Best Original Song. Con Conrad and Herb Magidson were the first to receive this award for “The Continental.”

-Based on the 1932 Broadway show “The Gay Divorce,” which starred Fred Astaire and Claire Luce. For the film, the title was changed to “Divorcee.” Fred Astaire’s autobiography “Steps in Time” says the change was to show that the film was about the amorous adventures of a woman.

-Costumes designed by Walter Plunkett

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Musical Monday: Lord Byron of Broadway (1930)

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.

lord-byron2This week’s musical:
Lord Byron of Broadway (1930)– Musical #558

Studio:
Metro Goldwyn Mayer

Director:
Harry Beaumont, William Nigh

Starring:
Charles Kaley, Marion Shilling, Cliff Edwards, Gwen Lee, Ethelind Terry, Rubin, Jack Benny (uncredited voice on radio), Ann Dvorak (uncredited), Mary Doran (uncredited)

Plot:
Roy (Kaley) is a jerk of a songwriter who uses his old romances and love letters as inspiration for his songs. He even attempts to capitalize off his friend’s death through a song.

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Musical Monday: Down To Their Last Yacht (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.

yacht2This week’s musical:
Down to Their Last Yacht (1934) – Musical #556

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Paul Sloane

Starring:
Mary Boland, Polly Moran, Ned Sparks, Sidney Fox, Sidney Blackmer, Sterling Holloway, Marjorie Gateson, Irene Franklin, Ramsay Hill, Lynne Carver (uncredited)

Plot:
When the wealthy New York Colt-Stratton’s (Fox, Hill Gateson) lose everything in the 1929 crash, they become part of the working class. All they have left is their yacht. Nella Fitzgerald (Moran) approaches the family with the idea to rent out the yacht for a cruise for the nouveau riche. One of the passengers, gambler Barry Forbes (Blackmer), falls in love with Lucy Colt-Stratton (Fox) during the voyage. During the sea trip, the boat shipwrecks on South Sea Island of Malakamokolu. The island is ruled by Queen Malakamokalu (Boland), who made herself the ruler of the island. She makes all the passengers labor around the island. She also gives them an ultimatum: Either Barry marries her or she kills them all.

Sidney Blackmer and Sidney Fox in "Down to Their Last Yacht"

Sidney Blackmer and Sidney Fox in “Down to Their Last Yacht”

Trivia:
-Producer Lou Brock’s last film for RKO.
-Scored by Max Steiner

Highlights:
-Ned Sparks humor

Notable Songs:
-“Tiny Little Finger on Your Hand” performed by Sidney Blackmer
-“There’s Nothing Else to Do in Ma-La-Ka-Mo-Ka-Lu” performed by the chorus
-“South Sea Bolero” performed by the chorus

My review:
“Down to Their Last Yacht” is an odd little comedy mixed with music. It’s a little scatterbrained, but pretty funny and has some pre-code humor. The film begins and you think it is going to follow the three Down Colt-Strattons more, but they have a fairly minor role, except for Lucy, played by Sidney-Fox. The names you recognize are in the supporting cast (Polly Moran, Mary Bolland, Ned Sparks), but unfortunately, the straight-faced Ned Sparks is wasted in this film. He’s hardly in it.
The film was going a fairly predictable path until the boat shipwrecks. That was pretty unexpected and the plot takes a completely different turn. I’ll admit I was a little disappointed by this. The plot went completely zany, when I hoped the film was going to focus more on the social-registry family who now has to work for a living.
This is one of those movies that is comedy first and musical second, but it has enough songs to qualify as a musical. The songs aren’t memorable but they’re catchy.
“Down to Their Last Yacht” isn’t well-known as a musical, pre-code or comedy, but it’s enjoyable. It’s a quirky little hour long film filled with nonsense that you should catch.

Polly Moran in "Down to Their Last Yacht"

Polly Moran in “Down to Their Last Yacht”

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Musical Monday: Broadway Thru a Keyhole (1933)

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.

broadway-thruThis week’s musical:
Broadway Thru a Keyhole (1933) – Musical #554

Studio:
20th Century Pictures

Director:
Lowell Sherman

Starring:
Constance Cummings, Paul Kelly, Russ Columbo, Blossom Seeley, Texas Guinan, Gregory Ratoff, Hobart Cavanaugh, Helen Jerome Eddy, Lucille Ball (uncredited), Charles Lane (uncredited), Ann Sheridan (uncredited), Esther Muir (uncredited), Dennis O’Keefe (uncredited), Walter Winchell (uncredited voice)
Themselves: Eddie Foy Jr., Frances Williams, Dewey Barto and George Mann comedy team

Plot:
A childhood friend of gangster Frank Rocci (Kelly) asks if he can help her sister Joan Whalen (Cummings) get a job. Frank does and when he meets Joan after years apart, he is smitten with Joan and puts the pressure on club owner Max Mefoofski (Ratoff) to make Joan the star of the club’s show. The only problem is that Joan falls in love with bandleader Clark Brian (Columbo).

Paul Kelly and Constance Cummings in "Broadway Thru a Keyhole"

Paul Kelly and Constance Cummings in “Broadway Thru a Keyhole”

Trivia:
-Written by famed columnist Walter Winchell. The story was said to be similar to a love-triangle between dancer Ruby Keeler, her husband singer Al Jolson and New York Gangster, Johnny “Irish” Costello. Winchell denied that the story was based on the three individuals, according to Unsung Hollywood Musicals of the Golden Era by Edwin M. Bradley.

Highlights:
-The movie begins with a hand taking a key out of the door and the camera zooms in to look through a keyhole. Following this are sights and sounds of Broadway.
-Texas Guinan’s character in the film

Notable Songs:
-“Doin’ the Uptown Lowdown” performed by Frances Williams
-“When You Were a Girl on a Scooter and I the Boy on the Bike” performed by Constance Cummings and Eddie Foy, Jr.
-“You Are My Past, Present and Future” performed by Russ Columbo
-“I Love You Pizzicato” performed by Russ Columbo and Constance Cummings

My review:
“Broadway Thru a Keyhole” was a wonderful romp. It has a great comedic supporting cast, biting Pre-Code jokes and is a fun plot all over.

The plot is nothing out of the ordinary: gangster helps young girl succeed in her career, falls in love with her, she falls in love with someone else, and the gangster doesn’t want to let her go. But though this isn’t an unusual plot line, this one little film is special because it is more joke than crime.

Maybe it’s a little different because it was written by gossip columnist Walter Winchell. There are some wonderful pre-code lines such as: “I knew a hypochondriac once and was he GOOD.”

Texas Guinan in "Broadway Thru a Keyhole."

Texas Guinan in “Broadway Thru a Keyhole.”

But even better than the pre-code jokes is famed speak easy owner and performer Texas Guinan’s role in the film. Her character is similar to her real life character and it’s a treat to see her on the screen. Sadly, Guinan died four days after this film premiered.

The musical has fairly catchy songs. Leading lady Constance Cummings isn’t a stellar singer. However, I’m not sure if this is on purpose. I was curious if Cummings was cast to show that often young women were on looks and their boyfriend’s power rather than on their talent. Or I could be thinking too much into it and Cummmings was cast to use this as a vehicle. Russ Columbo brings the singing talent in his smooth, crooner tone — though he isn’t a great actor. Knowing Columbo is dead a year after this film however, makes his performance a little sad to watch.

Many of the numbers have a Busby Berkeley feel to them, though he wasn’t involved in the film. For example, one number has girls singing faces in musical notes and there are several over-head dancing shots.

“Broadway Through a Keyhole” is a musical you don’t often hear about, but if you love pre-code and 1930s musicals, be sure to add this film to your list.

Constance Cummings and Russ Columbo in "Broadway Thru a Keyhole."

Constance Cummings and Russ Columbo in “Broadway Thru a Keyhole.”

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Musical Monday: The Night is Young (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.

night is young2This week’s musical:
The Night is Young (1935)– Musical #543

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Dudley Murphy

Starring:
Ramon Novarro, Evelyn Lane, Charles Butterworth, Una Merkel, Edward Everett Horton, Donald Cook, Henry Stephenson, Rosalind Russell, Herrman Bing, Mitzi the Mare

Plot:
Archduke Paul Gustave (Novarro) is betrothed to a woman he doesn’t wish to marriage. He is in love with Countess Zarika Rafay (Russell), who his uncle Emperor Franz Josef (Stephenson), disapproves of. However, Emperor Josef allows Paul to have an affair before he gets married. Paul lies and says he’s in love with ballerina, Lisl Gluck (Lane). She agrees to live at the castle so he can continue his relationship with the countess and he will provide her clothing and her friends anything she wants. Paul warms towards Lisl and the two fall in love.

Ramon Novarro and Evelyn Laye in "The Night is Young" (1935)

Ramon Novarro and Evelyn Laye in “The Night is Young” (1935)

Trivia:
-Ramon Novarro broke his contract with MGM after this film, according to an April 9, 1938 article, “Ramon Novarro, Handsome Movie Idol, Quit Films to Follow Yoga Philosophy” by Fredrick Othman.
-Music written by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein. This was one of four films Romberg wrote original operetta for, according to Sigmund Romberg by William A. Everett.
-Based on a story by Vicki Braum, author of “The Grand Hotel”

Notable Songs:
-My Old Mare performed by Charles Butterworth
-The Night is Young performed by Evelyn Laye
-When I Grow Too Old to Dream performed by Evelyn Laye and Ramon Novarro
-There’s a Riot in Havana performed by Evelyn Laye and Ramon Novarro
-Lift Your Glass performed by Evelyn Laye and Ramon Novarro

Edward Everette Horton and Novarro

Edward Everette Horton and Novarro

My review:
This the second musical I have watched with Ramon Novarro and I’m still pleasantly surprised and delighted at how well he sings.

The Night is Young (1935) is a cute and very funny little film. The laughable lines are largely thanks to actor Una Merkel, Charles Butterworth and Edward Everett Horton. Butterworth is an actor who general gets on my nerves, but he’s very funny in this film.

Rosalind Russell in a small role as the countess.

Rosalind Russell in a small role as the countess.

While Rosalind Russell is in this film, she only has three brief scenes. She does not even mention this brief role in her autobiography.

While Ramon Novarro and Evelyn Laye carry the film well, for me, the comedic character actors are what makes this film. However, the comedy drops off a little more than half way through the film and we focus on the romance of Novarro and Laye.

Laye may not be a familiar name to most film watchers. Popular on the stage in England, she only made six films from 1927 to 1935. She didn’t make another film or television appearance until 1957 and made several appearance in the 1970s and 1980s. She has a beautiful voice and is a lovely prescience on screen, but she isn’t as memorable as her co-stars.

While there were lovely songs throughout the film, my favorite was one Butterworth sang about his horse, Mitzi, called “My Old Mare.”

Charles Butterworth and Una Merkel: The comedic relief of "The Night is Young."

Charles Butterworth and Una Merkel: The comedic relief of “The Night is Young.”

While “The Night is Young” is a fun and charming film, it’s ending fairly sad, realistic that it’s almost startling when “The End” appears. I won’t say what happens, but it’s surprising for musical comedy, when most of them seem to end happily.

If you come across this one, watch it. If nothing else, it will make you laugh and smile.

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Musical Monday: In Caliente (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.

in calienteThis week’s musical:
In Caliente” –Musical #404

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Lloyd Bacon, Busbey

Starring:
Dolores Del Rio , Pat O’Brien, Edward Everett Horton, Glenda Farrell, Leo Carrillo, Wini Shaw
Themselves: Tony De Marco, Sally De Marco, Judy Canova,

Plot:
Magazine editor Larry MacArthur (O’Brien) is taken by his assistant Harold Brandon (Horton) to Mexico so that MacArthur can get away from his gold digging fiance Clara (Farrell). In Mexico, MacArthur falls in love with the beautiful dancer Rita Gomez (Del Rio), who he once gave a bad review of her dancing in his magazine.

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Musical Monday: “Follow the Fleet” (1936)

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.

follow the fleet 2This week’s musical:
Follow the Fleet” (1936) — Musical #155

Studio:
RKO

Director:
Mark Sandrich

Starring:
Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Randolph Scott, Harriet Hilliard, Betty Grable, Lucille Ball

Plot:
Bake Baker (Astaire) joined the Navy after his former dance partner Sherry Martin (Rogers) turned him down when he asked her to marry him.
Now he’s back on shore leave and he meets her by chance at a 10 cents a dance joint.
Sherry’s bookish sister Connie (Hilliard) meets Bake’s sea mate Bilge Smith (Scott) and falls in love with him. But Bilge isn’t read to settle down and starts running around with a rich divorcee.

follow the fleet

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dance to “Let Yourself Go”

Trivia:
-This movie was made after the success of “Roberta.” RKO wanted to bring Randolph Scott and Irene Dunne back together again for another film with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as the secondary leads, according to TCM host Robert Osborne. Dunne’s contract expired with RKO and she went on to star in “Showboat” (1936). New comer Harriet Hilliard was selected to fill the Irene Dunne role, Osborne said.
-The beaded dress Ginger Rogers wears in “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” was very heavy. Fred Astaire said the dress was too heavy to be made for dancing. During the first take, a long sleeve hit Astaire in the face. After 20 more takes, Astaire felt like the first take was their best, said Robert Osborne.
-Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ fifth film together.
-The couple in the dance contest with Astaire and Rogers were unknowns picked by choreographer Hermes Pan.
-Lucille Ball and Betty Grable have small roles in the film.
-Actor/singer Tony Martin has an uncredited role in the film.
-Irving Berlin wrote “Get Thee Behind Me, Satan” was originally written for “Top Hat.”
-Adapted from the play “Shore Leave.”

Highlights:
-Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in the dance contest. They do impressive dance steps and Rogers is wearing pants so you can actually see the dance moves she’s doing.

Notable Songs:
All the songs are quality because the score is written by Irving Berlin but my favorites are:
-“Let Yourself Go” sung by Ginger Rogers
-“I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket” sung by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
-“Let’s Face the Music and Dance” sung by Fred Astaire

Harriet Hilliard and Randolph Scott in "Follow the Fleet"

Harriet Hilliard and Randolph Scott in “Follow the Fleet”

My Review:
While this was following the success of “Roberta,” it isn’t quite as good as “Roberta.” Harriet Hilliard is fine, but I would have loved to see Irene Dunne in the role.
The music in this Astaire and Rogers film is terrific since the score is written by Irving Berlin. It is also a real treat that all but one of Rogers’ dance performances are done in pants so you can see her footwork better than when she is wearing a ballgown.
The plot isn’t bad but some of the lines said in the film could be bothersome to the contemporary viewer. Such as Ginger Rogers saying you have to be dumb to get a man. Or that Harriet salvages a boat for a man she doesn’t even know.
Regardless of my issues with silly parts of the plot, if you are a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers fan, this is definitely a movie you should see. 

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