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.

Awards and Nominations:
-Busby Berkeley was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Dance Direction. Hermes Pan won for “A Damsel In Distress

Carole Landis as an uncredited chorus girl dancing with Sterling Holloway in the finale of “Varsity Show”

Trivia:
-Priscilla Lane’s first film.
-Sisters Rosemary Lane and Priscilla Lane co-star in the movie. However, they do not play sisters and do not have many scenes together.
-The closing finale number was choreographed by Busby Berkeley
-Busby Berkeley apparently picked Carole Landis as one of the chorus girls for “Varsity Show,” according to Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley by Jeffrey Spivak
-Reissued in 1942 and was cut to 80 minutes. The edits were cut to the original film and the original cut film was discarded. At least four songs are missing from the Turner print because of this, according to Spivak’s book.

Highlights:
-Busby Berkeley choreographed finale
-Priscilla Lane singing
-Buck and Bubbles tap number

Notable Songs:
-“Old King Cole” performed by Johnnie Davis
-“We’re Working Our Way Through College” performed by Dick Powell
-“I’m Dependable” performed by Priscilla Lane and Fred Waring
-“On with the Dance” performed by Rosemary Lane and Buck and Bubbles

My review:
“Varsity Show” (1937) is a special subset of musicals that mainly were made in the 1930s: the collegiate musical where co-eds happily sing, rarely study and put on a wham bang finish of a show.

I wish college really was like “Varsity Show” and other collegiate musicals. A whole group of students (not just theater majors) putting on a musical production, singing from class to class, boys and girls serenading their love interests, and the school’s fate sits on the success of a successful musical show. Alas, my college experience was nothing like that, but maybe your’s was.

Fred Waring as a professor directing Dick Powell and Ted Healy, and students played by Priscilla Lane, Johnnie Davis, Sterling Holloway, Mabel Todd and Lee Dixon

The collegiate musicals weren’t just making higher education look glamorous and fun, it was showing the ideal youth: smart, fun and popular.

“Varsity Show” comes at the end of Dick Powell’s crooner films, which kicked off in 1933 as the show’s juvenile in “42nd Street” — he was in films prior to this but “42nd Street” sparked his fame. By the late 1930s, Powell’s musicals were slowing down and he eventually switched to film noir, dramas and westerns in the 1940s and 1950s (his last major musical was in 1944 with Meet the People). Don’t worry, 33-year-old Dick Powell isn’t a college student but an alumnus of the college who is trying to make it on Broadway. He comes back to help the students…and his career.

Sisters Priscilla and Rosemary Lane in “Varsity Show” (1937)

Sisters Priscilla and Rosemary Lane star in the film together and are as lovely as ever. But where they have scenes and lines together in films like the “Four Daughters” series, they don’t in this film. They don’t exchange lines with each other or sing duets. However, they are both charming and we get a rare opportunity to hear lovely Priscilla Lane sing.

The cast is rounded out with energetic and entertaining cast members that were seldom seen in films after the 1930s. Long-longed dancer Lee Dixon, who was only in nine films or shorts, is a likable young man. Johnnie Davis is an energetic, raspy-voiced jazz singer whose film career spanned from 1936 to 1944. Davis was even the voice of “Owl Jolson” in the cartoon “I Love to Singa.” And then there’s Mabel Todd, who generally plays “nerdy” young women who chase men. Bandleader Fred Waring also plays a professor in his only acting role. And then of course there’s Sterling Holloway, with his unforgettable voice and prescience.

While none of these players became large stars, each of them has a great deal of screen time. Dick Powell is the lead, but this is very much an ensemble piece. Even Powell’s love interest, Rosemary Lane, doesn’t have that much screen time.

Busby Berkeley didn’t direct this film, but he choreographed the closing number of the film. It’s not as impressive as his work in films like “Footlight Parade,” but it is still visually pleasing. The finale is an ode to collegiate life, including “Boola Boola” and other college fight songs, while the chorus forms the initials of the school.

“Varsity Show” is an entertaining and energetic little film. While it isn’t one of Warner Brothers’ best musicals of the 1930s, it’s still enjoyable.

Actors as students studying in “Varsity Show” (1937)

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Musical Monday: Gold Diggers of 1937 (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.

GoldDiggers1937001This week’s musical:
“Gold Diggers of 1937” (1936)– Musical #216

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Lloyd Bacon

Starring:
Dick Powell, Joan Blondell, Glenda Farrell, Victor Moore, Lee Dixon, Osgood Perkins, Rosalind Marquis, Irene Ware, Carole Landis (uncredited), Jane Wyman (uncredited)

Plot:
Sickly Broadway producer J.J. Hobart (Moore) is broke but doesn’t know it. His scheming assistants, who are responsible for the financial downfall, decide to take out a $1 million insurance policy on Hobart so they can collect when he dies. While they work to keep him unhealthy with the help of Genevieve Larkin (Farrell), insurance salesman Rosmer Peck (Powell) and his girl Norma Perry (Blondell) try to keep him healthy.

Trivia:
-Choreography by Busby Berkeley
-Carole Landis and Jane Wyman played uncredited chorus girls in the film
-The song “Hush Mah Mouth” was written for the film but not used.
-This film follows four “gold diggers” movies made from 1923 to 1936: The Gold Diggers (1923), Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929), Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935). One more movie follows this film, “Gold Diggers in Paris” (1938)

Dick Powell and Joan Blondell in "Gold Diggers of 1937"

Dick Powell and Joan Blondell in “Gold Diggers of 1937”

Highlights:
-The “All’s Fair in Love and War” number choreographed by Busby Berkeley

Notable Songs:
-“With Plenty of Money and You” performed by Dick Powell
-“Life Insurance Song” performed by Dick Powell
-“Speaking of the Weather” performed by Dick Powell and Joan Blondell
-“All’s Fair in Love and War” performed by Dick Powell, Joan Blondell, Lee Dixon, Rosalind Marquis

Dancers during the "All's Fair in Love and War" number in "Gold Diggers of 1937"

Dancers during the “All’s Fair in Love and War” number in “Gold Diggers of 1937”

My review:
“Gold Diggers of 1937” may not be as well known as it’s pre-code counterparts with “We’re in the Money” and “Lullaby of Broadway,” but I think it’s just as fun–if not more.

This was filmed during what we should call “The Dick Powell mustache years.” This movie is the start of the end of his crooning days, which ended officially in 1944 with Meet the People. However, Powell still sells a song as good as ever.

Glenda Farrell and Victor Moore in "Gold Diggers of 1937"

Glenda Farrell and Victor Moore in “Gold Diggers of 1937”

While Ruby Keeler and Ginger Rogers aren’t part of the gold digging teams, this film has an excellent cast. Glenda Farrell and Joan Blondell are wonderful, as always, and the lesser known Rosalind Marquis is also adorable.

While this film is fun and very witty, the best part of this musical are the songs. They are all so catchy and you’ll keep singing them for the rest of the day, especially “Plenty of Money and You.”

The “All’s Fair in Love and War” is a really fun musical number as well with a fun tune.

Catch this one. It will keep you smiling throughout the whole 100 minutes.

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Musical Monday: I Live for Love (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.

i live for loveThis week’s musical:
“I Love for Love” (1935)– Musical #547

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Busby Berkeley

Starring:
Dolores Del Rio, Everett Marshall, Guy Kibbee, Allen Jenkins, Berton Churchill, Hobart Cavanaugh, Don Alvarado

Plot:
Donna (Del Rio) is a diva of the stage and wants her lover Rico (Alvarado) as her leading man. To keep this from happening, the producers (Churchill, Cavanaugh) grab Roger Kerry (Marshall) off the street and say he has a contract. Donna and Roger butt heads, he’s replaced by Rico, and Donna’s play flops. While her fame flops, Roger rises as a huge radio star. The two eventually fall in love, and Roger wants both of them to leave their careers behind.

Trivia:
-This is the second and last film of the film’s leading man, Everett Marshall. Marshall was a Metropolitan Opera singer and preferred the stage.
-Originally titled “Romance in a Glass House, according to Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley by Jeffrey Spivak

Benton Churchill and Dolores Del Rio in "I Live for Love."

Benton Churchill and Dolores Del Rio in “I Live for Love.”

Highlights:
-Allen Jenkins dancing and singing to a ridiculous tune

Notable Songs:
-“Mine Alone” performed by Everett Marshall
-“I Live for Love” performed by Everett Marshall

My review:
“I Live for Love” is a fairly forgettable hour-long film.

Though this musical was directed by Busby Berkeley directed films, there are no Berkeley numbers—really no dance numbers in the film at all. The only musical numbers in the film are performed by opera singer, Everett Marshall.

Dolores Del Rio is always photographed beautifully and capable in her films, but t

Not familiar the name Everett Marshall? That’s not surprising. Marshall, a Metropolitan Opera and Broadway performer, was only in two films and this was his last film.

Though Marshall and Del Rio are the stars, character actors Allen Jenkins, Berton Churchill, Hobart Cavanaugh and Guy Kibbee are the real stars of the show. They carried the film and were the most memorable characters.

If you are a fan of Warner Brother’s fan or trying to see Busby Berkeley, I suggest seeing it. If not, don’t waste your time.

Dolores Del Rio and Everett Marshall in "I Live for Love."

Dolores Del Rio and Everett Marshall in “I Live for Love.”

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Classic Films in Music Videos: Aeroplane by Red Hot Chili Peppers

This is November’s edition of Comet Over Hollywood’s film references in music videos.

Director/choreographer Busby Berkeley was known for his elaborate nature and kaleidoscope-like musical numbers.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers used scenes from Esther Williams films such as "Million Dollar Mermaid" for inspiration in their music video "Aereoplane"

The Red Hot Chili Peppers used scenes from Esther Williams films such as “Million Dollar Mermaid” for inspiration in their music video “Aereoplane”

His work has been mimicked in movies such as “The Great Muppet Caper” to music videos such the the 1995 Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Aeroplane.”

The music video begins with girls in gold sequined body suits.

Esther Williams in her gold sequined costume for "Million Dollar Mermaid" (1952)

Esther Williams in her gold sequined costume for “Million Dollar Mermaid” (1952)

Berkeley directed swimming star Esther Williams in two films, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (1949) and the biographical film on Annette Kellerman, “Million Dollar Mermaid ” (1952.)

In “Million Dollar Mermaid,” Williams wears an aluminum crown and a gold swimsuit, made of 50,000 sequins. Williams said in her autobiography, “The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography” that it weighed her down like chain-mail.

When Williams dove into the water, the crown hit the water, she broke three vertebrae and was in a full body cast for six months, she wrote.

Also, in the Red Hot Chilli Peppers video, girls swing on trapezes- like in “Easy to Love” (1953) or “Million Dollar Mermaid” (1952). At another part in the video girls dive sideways into the pool, reminiscent of a scene from “Bathing Beauty” (1944).

Another example of a Busby Berkeley kaleidoscope-like shot can be scene at 2:51, which is similar to scene from “42nd Street” (1933). 

Thank you our friends over at Hollywood Revue for telling us the references in this video a few months ago!

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