In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult.
Cast: Norma Shearer, Clark Gable, Edward Arnold, Charles Coburn, Joseph Schildkraut, Burgess Meredith, Laura Hope Crews, Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher, Peter Willes, Pat Paterson, Hobart Cavanaugh (uncredited), Mitchell Lewis (uncredited), Frank Faylen (uncredited)
Les Blondes: Virginia Grey, Virginia Dale, Paula Stone, Bernadene Hayes, Joan Marsh, Lorraine Krueger
Director: Clarence Brown
After World War I, Harry Van (Gable) hopes to break into show business. He travels around the country performing and runs into an acrobat, Irene (Shearer). After a brief acquaintance, the two are separated for more than 20 years. Harry is later traveling through Europe in 1939 with his dance group, Les Blondes en route to Geneva. Their train is stopped and can’t cross the frontier because of the political climate and the impending possibility of war. Harry and his troupe have to stay at an Alpine hotel with other stopped due to the conflict including a scientist (Coburn), honeymooners (Paterson, Willes), a political activist (Meredith), and a munitions tycoon (Arnold) and his mistress, Russian countess, who Van thinks he recognizes as Irene.
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, I’m starting a weekly feature about musicals.
Paulette Goddard, Fred Astaire, Artie Shaw, Burgess Meredith, Charles Butterworth
Danny O’Neill (Astaire) and Hank Taylor (Meredith) are seventh year college students who flunk on purpose to continue playing the trumpet in their college jazz band.
They meet Ellen Miller (Goddard) who becomes their manager for the band. And when band leader Artie Shaw (as himself) hires Ellen, Danny and Hank scheme and double cross each other to get into Shaw’s band.
-Astaire and Meredith are both supposed to be college students. Though they were supposed to be in college for seven years, they were both much too old to be students. Astaire was 41 and Meredith was 33.
-Meredith and Goddard were married at one time, but no during this film. The two actors didn’t get married until 1944.
-Billy Butterfield dubbed Meredith’s trumpet playing and Bobby Hackett dubbed Astaire’s. If you play a musical instrument or were ever in band, it’s pretty obvious that neither is playing. They are pretty terrible at faking it.
Artie Shaw and his band performing in “Second Chorus.”
-No song really stands out, though you do get to hear Artie Shaw and his band perform several time. This is another example of having the opportunity to hear a popular band leader of that time period.
-Goddard and Astaire dance together in the song “Dig It.”
-A good comedic moment for Goddard is when she talks to varying groups of people to sell the Astaire and Meredith’s bands. She talks to proper old women, thugs and teenagers-acting like she is one of them with each.
-Astaire works in a Russian restaurant and plays in the restaurant band, dressed as a Cossack. He does the Cossack dance while (pretending) to play the trumpet.
Astaire, dressed as a Cossack, does the Cossack dance while playing the trumpet. (Comet Over Hollywood/ Screencap by Jessica Pickens)
-The finale includes Astaire directing a band while tap dancing and eventually while tap dancing and playing the trumpet. Far-fetched but fairly entertaining.
Astaire leaps while directing Artie Shaws band and tap dancing in the finale of “Second Chorus.” (Comet Over Hollywood/Screen cap by Jessica Pickens)
This is a fairly enjoyable film but one of Fred Astaire’s more forgettable movies. However, I would rank it better than the Astaire and Joan Fontaine musical, “A Damsel In Distress.”
Also, for a Fred Astaire musical, he had far fewer musical numbers than usual and the film seemed more like a vehicle to highlight Artie Shaw and his band.
The thing that bugged me the most were how badly Meredith and Astaire faked playing the trumpet. Bad form, puffing of cheeks, one hand playing. I guess that comes from being in the band for several years.
Also, though Astaire and Meredith are good actors, I would say Paulette Goddard acted circles around them both and was the best part of the movie.
This is December’s edition of Comet Over Hollywood’s classic film references in music videos.
Going with the Christmas season, is the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” played by Kenny G in 1997.
Though I’m not a Kenny G fan, I have to admit this is a very heartwarming video.
It stars classic film star Burgess Meredith, who’s career ranged from “Idiot’s Delight” (1939) to his role of the Penguin in the 1960s Batman TV show.
Meredith appears to be a projectionist at a movie theater who is sad, lonely and missing his family at Christmas.
He reminisces on past Christmases by watching clips of classic holiday films such as “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944), “Miracle on 34th Street (1947), “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), “Little Women” (1949), “A Christmas Carol” (1938) and “Bells of St. Mary’s” (1945).
Meredith was 90 when this video was filmed. He died that same year of melanoma and Alzheimer’s disease, making this video a little more heartbreaking than it already is.