Musical Monday: The Vagabond Lover (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 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
The Vagabond Lover” (1929)– Musical #356

vagabond2

 

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Marshall Neilan

Starring:
Rudy Vallee, Sally Blane, Marie Dressler, Nella Walker, Malcolm Waite, Charles Sellon, Alan Roscoe, The Connecticut Yankees band

Plot:
Saxophone player Rudy Bronson (Vallee) forms a jazz band. To get off the ground, he and his band go to the home of famous bandleader Ted Grant (Waite) for an audition. Grant isn’t interested and kicks them out of his home and then heads out of town. Grant’s neighbors Jean Whitehall (Blane) and her aunt Ethel Bertha Whitehall (Dressler) mistaken Rudy and his band for Ted Grant. Rudy and his band play along but find themselves in hot water when they’re presented at a society fundraiser as Ted Grant and his band.

Rudy Vallee and Sally Blane in "Vagabond Lover"

Rudy Vallee and Sally Blane in “Vagabond Lover”

Trivia:
-Rudy Vallee’s first feature film
-“Vagabond Lover” was briefly Vallee’s publicity nickname

Notable Songs:
-“Nobody’s Sweetheart” performed by Rudy Vallee and the Connecticut Yankees
-“If You Were the Only Girl in the World” performed by Rudy Vallee
-“A Little Kiss Each Morning (A Little Kiss Each Night)” performed by Rudy Vallee
-“I Love You, Believe Me, I Love You” performed by Rudy Vallee

My review:
“The Vagabond Lover” is both an early film with sound and also Rudy Vallee’s film. It’s interesting to see this early film to see how both musicals and Rudy Vallee acting improved.

It’s very obvious that studios are still trying to figure out hot to best use sound. While the story line is less muddled than films like “Broadway Melody of 1929,” the sound volumes are often muddy. Sometimes the music is louder than the singing or talking, and other times I feel like the actors are shouting to be picked up by the microphone.

Sally Blane and Marie Dressler in Vagabond Lover

Sally Blane and Marie Dressler in Vagabond Lover

In his first film, Rudy Vallee isn’t a very good actor. But he apparently improved his acting craft over the years because Vallee was a skilled comedic actor in the 1940s and 1950s.

“Vagabond Lover” is just over an hour-long. It’s not terrible, but rather lackluster. Marie Dressler is wasted in the film and doesn’t exercise her comedic talents. Sally Blane is lovely, but is merely window dressing in the movie.

Overall, it’s watchable but not one I would be pressed to revisit.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Advertisements

Musical Monday: Way Down South (1939)

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.

way-down-south-posterThis week’s musical:
Way Down South” (1939)– Musical #518

Studio:
RKO Pictures

Director:
Leslie Goodwins and Bernard Vorhaus

Starring:
Ralph Morgan, Bobby Breen, Clarence Muse, Alan Mowbray, Sally Blane, Edwin Maxwell, Steffi Duna, Matthew ‘Stymie’ Beard, Willie Best

Plot:
When plantation owner Timothy Reid, Sr. (Morgan) dies, his son Timothy, Jr. (Breen) inherits the plantations and all of the slaves. However, lawyer Martin Dill (Maxwell) is the executor of the will and begins selling the property and keeping the money for himself. When Timothy learns Dill plans on selling all of the slaves, who were never sold or beaten during the life of Reid, Timothy enlists help from friendly inn owners to prove Dill is corrupt.

Trivia:
-The film was written by Clarence Muse-who was in the film-and poet, writer and activist Langston Hughes. Several of the songs were also written by Muse and Hughes.
-This film is credited as the first mainstream film written by an African American, according to the book “EVERY STEP A STRUGGLE: Interviews with Seven Who Shaped the African-American Image in Movies” by Frank Manchel.
-Clarence Muse wrote a book called “Way Down South” and producer Sol Lesser wanted to use the title so he bought the book from Muse. The original 1932 book portrayed slaves in a dignified manner.
“He didn’t use any of the stuff on the inside. Then he paid me to do the ensemble, and I wrote the screenplay with Langston Hughes. It came out and we had a ball,” Muse said in an interview published in Manchel’s book.
-Victor Young was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring

Bobby Breen, Alan Mowbray and Sally Blane in

Bobby Breen, Alan Mowbray and Sally Blane in “Way Down South.”

Notable Songs:
-Good Ground written by Muse and Hughes, performed by the Hall Johnson Choir
-Louisiana written by Muse and Hughes, performed by Bobby Breen and Alan Mowbray
-Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel? performed by Muse and the Hall Johnson Choir
-Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child performed by Breen and the Hall Johnson Choir

My review:
If you have ever seen little known B-film “Way Down South,” you can say you have seen a film written by celebrated writer and activist Langston Hughes.

Clarence Muse dresses as Bobby Breen's aunt as he tries to help him escape. This is a publicity photo with Muse and Edwin Maxwell.

Clarence Muse dresses as Bobby Breen’s aunt as he tries to help him escape.

Made in the grand year of 1939, this hour long B-musical is nothing to write home about and is most interesting because of it’s screenwriters Hughes and Muse. One of the screenwriters, Clarence Muse, also was one of the leads in the film.

Langston Hughes was criticized for his involvement in this film, however.

Hughes did not defend any racial representations but noted that he tried to highlight morals. He got involved with the film so that he could pay for his mother’s cancer treatments and her funeral, as well as other debts. It also allowed him to buy his first new clothes in three years, according to Which Sin to Bear?: Authenticity and Compromise in Langston Hughes by David Chinitz.

This movie was my first introduction to singing child star Bobby Breen, who acted in films from 1936 to 1942. I wasn’t a huge fan of Breen’s acting or singing, but it was interesting to be introduced to another child actor of the golden era. Though Breen’s singing didn’t grab me, the performances from the Hal Johnson choir are beautiful.

Along with Muse, Alan Mowbray’s role as a New Orleans inn owner was one of the more interesting characters. We also see Loretta Young’s sister, Sally Blane, in a very brief role as Mowbray’s wife.

It’s always interesting to discover forgotten films from Hollywood’s most celebrated year but this one is simply worth seeing due to its two screenwriters.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Musical Monday: “Tanned Legs (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 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

tanned legsThis week’s musical:
“Tanned Legs” –Musical #496

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Marshall Neilan

Starring:
Arthur Lake, June Clyde, Sally Blane, Ann Pennington, Dorothy Revier, Nella Walker, Albert Gran, Allen Kearns, Edmund Burns
As themselves: Johnny Johnson’s Orchestra

Plot:
There is a lot of romantic trouble as the Reynolds family vacations at a seaside resort.
Peggy Reynolds (Clyde) is unhappy with her philandering parents (Nella Walker, Albert Gran) who are both carrying on with people closer to Peggy’s age than theirs. More romantic trouble occurs as Peggy’s sister Janet (Blane) is dating Clinton Darrow (Burns), who is only interested in the Reynold’s family money. Peggy is dating Bill (Lake), who constantly proposes and she refuses.
Peggy decides she needs to fix her family. But things get even more messy when Mr. Reynolds buys stock from his mistress, Mrs. Lyons-King (Reiver) and Clinton blackmails Janet over love letters. When Peggy tries to save her sister’s reputation by taking the letters from Clinton’s room, Janet thinks her sister is stealing her boyfriend and Bill thinks Peggy is cheating on him.
The musical portion of this film comes in as the actors rehearse for the resort’s charity show.

Trivia:
-Advertised as “All Dialogue!”
-Actress June Clyde’s first credited film role. The former vaudeville star was supposedly selected for the film because of her nice legs, according to “The First Hollywood Musicals” by Edwin M. Bradley.
-Actress Olive Borden was supposed to star in the movie but was replaced by June Clyde, according to “Olive Borden: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s Joy Girl” by Michelle Vogel.
-Pianist Oscar Levant, who later starred in several films such as “American in Paris” (1951), wrote several of the songs for this film.

Highlights:
-In the first minute, as the camera pan the beach, a man is dancing with a mermaid.

Notable Songs:
-“Come in the Water, the Water Is Fine” performed by June Clyde
-“You’re Responsibile” sung by Ann Pennington and Allen Kearns
-“Tanned Legs” sung by Ann Pennington

Allen Kearns and Ann Pennington in "Tanned Legs" (1929)

Allen Kearns and Ann Pennington in “Tanned Legs” (1929)

My Review:
Director Busby Berkeley is frequently credited as “saving the movie musical.” Berkley’s elaborate kaleidoscopic-like dance numbers set to tunes written by Al Dubin and Harry Warren graced movie screens in the early 1930s. Before that, movie musicals were frankly a mess and were quickly losing popularity.
Take “The Wedding of the Painted Doll” number from “Broadway Melody” (1929). A mess. Seriously. The number starts with two girls dancing and all of a sudden more and more and more dancers come on stage until there are maybe 40 dancers. The number of people isn’t unusual, except everyone is flailing and doing their own thing– from pirouettes across the stage to cartwheels to high kicks.
This wasn’t unusual before Berkeley figured out how to make musicals work with the dawn of sound.
“Tanned Legs” is not quite as bad when it comes to musical numbers, but you can certainly use it as a gauge of how movie musicals evolved into something much more sophisticated even three years later with “42nd Street” (1933).
In the first number called “Come in the Water, the Water Is Fine,” the camera man starts out about 50 to 100 feet away from the stage. I think it was supposed to be like a person watching from the distance, and then moving closer.
As the camera gets closer, June Clyde is just standing and singing and girls are doing odd (and sloppy) sumersaults behind her. They aren’t even together. They all lay down, lifting their legs in a sequence, but not together.
The plot is about as mediocre as the musical numbers but is rather charming in the “1920s flaming youth” sort of way.
For me, the biggest treat was seeing Sally Blane, sister to Loretta Young, and Ann Pennington in a film- it was actually the first time I had ever seen either actress perform.
If you are looking for terrific acting, fascinating musical numbers and catchy songs- this movie really isn’t for you. But you have to keep in mind that this talkie is very early in the dawn of sound period- so they were still learning.
If you are looking for a time capsule into film history, 1920s flappers and the evolution of movie musicals, this may be more for you.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com