Musical Monday: Show Girl in Hollywood (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.

This week’s musical:
Show Girl in Hollywood (1930) – Musical #573

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Mervyn LeRoy

Starring:
Alice White, John Miljan, Jack Mulhall, Blanche Sweet, Ford Sterling, Virginia Sale, Herman Bing

Plot:
Dixie Dugan (White) is in a failed Broadway show, “Rainbow Girl.” She meets director John Buelow (Miljan) who gives the illusion that he is high powered in Hollywood and convinces her to leave New York to pursue a Hollywood career. Unsurprisingly when Dixie gets to Hollywood, she is now welcomed with open arms. Dixie befriends a “has been” actress Donna Harris (Sweet), who tries to warn her and show her the ropes. Dixie’s boyfriend (Mulhall) who wrote the failed Broadway show is invited to Hollywood to make “Rainbow Girl” into a film. Dixie is cast, but stardom goes to her head.

Trivia:
-The finale reel was filmed in Technicolor but this print no longer survives.
-Belle Mann dubbed Alice White
-Based on Joseph Patrick McEvoy’s 1929 novel, Hollywood Girl
-This film follows Show Girl (1928) where Alice White plays Dixie Dugan. It is followed by “Dixie Dugan” (1943) where Lois Andrews plays the role of Miss Dugan.
-A French version was made (Le masque d’Hollywood (1930)) starring Suzy Vernon, Geymond Vital, Rolla Norman

Highlights:
-Showing how films are made and giving a behind the scenes feel
-Cameo appearances by Al Jolson, Ruby Keeler, Noah Beery, Noah Beery, Jr.; Walter Pidgeon, and Loretta Young

Notable Songs:
-“There’s a Tear for Every Smile in Hollywood” performed by Blanche Sweet
-“I’ve Got My Eye on You” performed by Alice White, dubbed by Belle Mann
-“Hang On to a Rainbow” performed by Alice White, dubbed by Belle Mann

My review:
A few weeks ago, I reviewed Alice White’s first talkie, “Broadway Babies,” which I thought was only mediocre. “Show Girl in Hollywood” is perhaps slightly better but still rather bland and clumsy.

I also still don’t feel endeared to Alice White. She’s cute and spunky but she just isn’t a great actor. Probably the best performance in the film comes from Blanche Sweet, who I wasn’t familiar with prior, but her film career began in 1909. Sweet’s character tells Alice White that Hollywood no longer wants you after age 30 and not to take success for granted. Unfortunately, life seems to imitate art here, as Sweet only made one more film in 1930. Sweet retired in 1935 when she got married and would not make another film or TV appearance until 1958, the same year her husband passed away.

Blanche Sweet in “Show Girl in Hollywood”

“Miss Sweet plays her part so well that she puts Miss White in the shade,” wrote New York Times film critic Mordaunt Hall in his May 5, 1930, review.

Rather than the actors and main characters, the setting is the most interesting aspect of this film is the “behind the scenes” feel of Hollywood. It’s one of those Hollywood films about Hollywood, which are usually fun. We see film being edited, the light crew, the cameras rolling, giving the audience a feeling that they are being let into how Hollywood works. Dixie even ignores the red filming light, walks onto a sound stage, to see a gangster film being shot. Two men are struggling and it looks like one is about to go out a window, then Dixie walks up and appears in the window the man is about to fall out, ruining the shot. This showed audiences how films were made.

We end with a Graumann’s premiere with cameos from actors like Loretta Young and Al Jolson with actress and wife Ruby Keeler all giving glowing remarks about the fictional film, “Rainbow Girl. These cameos are the most exciting part of the film. I hadn’t read ahead about the film so the cameos were a surprise and a treat.

During the premiere, we see the film’s big finale and the camera pans back as if we are watching it on the screen with the rest of the audience. If only the film had ended with that, showing that Dixie Dugan was triumphant, having her own film be the actual film’s ending. But no, Alice White and Jack Mulhall go up on stage (introduced by Walter Pidgeon) to sheepishly tell the audience that it will be a little until the make another film, because they are getting married. It’s painful to watch and I just thought “no one in the audience cares and neither do I.”

If you enjoy (what the kids today call) a “meta” film, take a look at this one. The behind-the-scenes film is interesting, but the actual story and lead actors are not.

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Let’s talk about a little pet peeve of mine…

Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) surrounded by Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford), Betsy Booth (Judy Garland) and Cynthia Potter (Lana Turner).

How I define a classic movie fan and my pet peeve of the old movie ‘posers’ . I know I am a little fanatical and old movies are my life, but if you are going to claim to like old movies you have to know your stuff.

Another thing that drives me crazy is what consumers and manufacturers consider when it comes to classic movie merchandise (not including books, there is an abundance of wonderful film books). Everywhere you go, you see mugs, purses, T-shirts, magnets, etc with four people on them 1.) Marilyn Monroe 2.) Audrey Hepburn 3.) James Dean 4.) John Wayne. Then I go to Los Angeles with high hopes of Doris Day and Esther Williams merchandise, but I was quickly dismayed. In Hollywood, the movie mecca of the world, they still carried the same crap that they sell in Greenville, South Carolina. (Don’t get me wrong, I like Dean, Wayne and Hepburn but I want some variety.)

In my conversations with supposed old movie fans, there are typical answers that people give me that drive me up the wall. Here is a list which separates the men from the boys when it comes to classic films:

1.) When I ask which old movies they like they say they love all Audrey Hepburn films, which for many only includes Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Sabrina (1954) and Roman Holiday (1953). When I continue to question they basically say that the only old movies they have seen are Audrey Hepburn’s. This does not qualify you as an old movie fanatic, but possibly an Audrey fanatic.

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s: A picture that hangs in almost every sorority girl’s dorm room.

2.) Some people say they are old movie fans and proceed to list classic movies that they have seen, but are the very typical classics that EVERYONE has seen like Casablanca (1942) , Gone With the Wind (1939), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and The Searchers (1956). These are all lovely movies, but they are certainly not the ONLY old movies out there.

3.) When you like the remake better than the original. I don’t care what you say, saying You’ve Got Mail (1998) is way better than Shop Around the Corner (1940) is practically blasphemous! Ernst Lubitsch (director of Shop Around the Corner) was one of the best, most celebrated and most sought after directors in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Lubitsch has 74 director credits to his name. Whoever Nora Ephron is (director of You’ve Got Mail) is basically a nobody. She has directed all of 8 films and is not nearly the caliber that Lubitsch was or ever will be. I also don’t particularly care for the 1949 remake of Shop Around the Corner, titled In the Good Old Summertime starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson. Even if it does have Van Johnson in it, the love me life, it is rather weak and features some really stupid songs like “I Don’t Care” which seems to last for ten minutes. I say this to show that it is not because I dislike Meg Ryan or Tom Hanks, I am showing that I don’t like any remake, Van Johnson or no Van Johnson.

James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in Shop Around the Corner.

And don’t even get me started on The Women (2008) Eva Mendes as Crystal!? Robert Osborne even scoffed at the 2008 remake while he was introducing the 1939 version on Turner Classic Movies this month. How anyone can think that Meg Ryan, Annette Benning and Eva Mendes could ever be half the actresses that Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell and Joan Crawford were is laughable. The Women (1939) was also remade in 1956 as The Opposite Sex with one of my favorite actresses, June Allyson, but it stunk as well. The whole charm of The Women (1939) is that it is an all female cast, no men to be found, and shows the cattiness and hypocrisy of women who claim they are friends. The Opposite Sex had men in it, and the 2008 version of The Women celebrated women’s friendship and togetherness. What? Again, I wanted to note that I disliked the 1956 version to show that it was not just recent remakes that I was prejudiced against, it is all remakes.

Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell in  The Women (1939)

June Allyson, Joan Collins, Dolores Grey, Ann Sheridan, Ann Miller, Joan Blondell in “The Opposite Sex” (1956), which also includes men in the film

Meg Ryan and Annette Bening in 2008 version of The Women

Other remakes that are sub par: Father of the Bride (1991)-Steve Martin reprising a Spencer Tracy role, are you kidding? Cheaper By The Dozen (2003)-another Steve Martin movie that had nothing to with the original movie which was about a real life family living in the early 1900’s. You put the Gilbreth’s to shame.

4.) I understand people might not know who Kay Francis and Constance Bennett are…but if you don’t know very well-known, identifiable and easy actors like Bette Davis, Clark Gable or Cary Grant (oh yes, I know people who don’t know who they are) then you have some studying to do before you come back and tell me that you like old movies.

5.) Orson Welles once was quoted as saying, “Keep Ted Turner and his damn crayolas away from my movies.” Welles was perfectly correct. Watch any Shirley Temple movie or possibly A Miracle on 34th Street (1947) or It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) on an old VHS tape or AMC and see the muddy colorization of these films. Colorization looks like crap. People have grey teeth and outfits are colored with terrible hosiptals greens and Barbie pinks. It completely takes the charm away from the movie when Shirley has grey teeth when she is singing “An Old Straw Hat” in Rebecca of Sunnybrooke Farms (1938). People complain until they are purple about being forced to watch a black and white movie, I’m sorry for your misfortune.

 

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) as it was shot

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) colorized

It takes a lot more work and artistic lighting and direction to shoot a black and white movie. Any self respecting old movie fan would know that. Even from taking a simple film photography class in college, I realized that taking black and white pictures were alot more difficult depending on what time of day it was and how much light was available. It was very frustrating.

Here is a list I have created of what a fan of the Golden Era should or would know.
Things a true classic movie fan should know:
1.) That TCM (Turner Classic Movies) is better than AMC (American Movie Classics).
2.) The significance of the year 1939.
3.) Basic actors like Cary Grant, Claudette Colbert, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.
4.) Recognizable supporting and character actors like Keenan Wynn, William Frawley and Charles Coburn.
5.) The dawn of talkies.
6.) What talkies did to silent film actors.
7.) Who Rudolph Valentino is.
8.) Directors like John Ford, William Wyler, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock and George Cukor.
9.) What the Arthur Freed Unit was at MGM
10.) Which studio the quote “More stars than there are in the heavens” refers to.

I write this blog not trying to convert you over to a classic movie fan. I don’t care if you like them or not, I am just saying that the things I have listed are fairly basic and are known by not just film historians, Robert Osborne or myself. So next time you tell me you like old movies and I say, “What kind?” please never ever say “I like movies from the 1980’s and 1990’s.” or “Well, I only just like Breakfast at Tiffany’s” because you will have gotten my hopes up for nothing.

Thank you.

 

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