This post has already been posted on my Swedish blog, but as the subject is recycling, let's recycle!
1929-30 were magical years in the world of musical movies. MGM started off with Broadway Melody, the first all talking, all singing, all dancing movie musical in February 1929.
1929 was the first ”all talking” year, silent pictures were still made but were doomed to extinction before the year came to a close. I guess one can blame the sudden death of the silents much on the musicals, they were at least implicated.
Naturally there was a backlash to this rapid change. About a year later, in the summer of 1930 the moviegoers had become totally fed up with dancing and singing. The ”all signing” fad had simply worn off. Almost no musical movies made a profit during the second half of 1930. Most of them were giant flops and the studios were losing money at an alarming pace. Still, their production schedules were filled with musicals. They had musicals in post production, musicals ready for distribution, composers working on new musicals. The market was flooded and the moviegoers growing disappointment over decreasing quality suddenly hit like a hammer. Another reason was of course the depression that slowly rolled in like bad weather.
The change came really fast and the studios were totally unprepared for this sudden turn in taste. Operation rescue set in. The movies that were ready for distribution were sent back to the cutting room to have much of their musical numbers removed.
This is one of the reasons why we have quite a few really short and pointless comedies” from this period, the music had simply been cut out. However, some of the cut numbers were turned into short subjects or saved for recycling in other productions several years later.
Here is a representative number from Children Of Pleasure, one of MGM’s spring musicals 1930, one of few musicals that left the studio unaltered this spring. The plot is typical and really simple. Lawrence Gray plays an upcoming songwriter who falls for a high brow society girl who is just playing around. He doesn't realize that his girl-Friday is the one he really loves until it is almost too late. Although he is dazzled by high society, he overhears the society girl's admission of just fooling in time to avoid marriage.
One of the numbers in the movie deserves a closer look. The song Dust, written by Fred Fisher and Andy Rice, performed by hefty contra-alto May Boley and the MGM chorus with Ann Dvorak very visible in the front.
The strangest thing with this number is that it was recycled four years later and used in the Colortone short Roast-Beef & Movies with Ted Healy and The Three Stooges, this time in color!
It wasn’t uncommon procedure to recycle numbers or use the same production number in several movies even if they hadn’t been cut in the first place. For promotional purposes short subjects sometimes also contained numbers that also were included in full length features.
The production numbers were the pop videos of this time. The most puzzling thing about the Dust number is that Children Of Pleasure didn’t include any color sequences. So why was Dust shot in color in 1930 but not used until later? I suspect that MGM at some point had planned to release Children Of Pleasure with color sequences but that something went wrong during the shooting. Normally when working with Technicolor cameras on a tight schedule a black and white safety version of the number was shot alongside, just in case.
I’m quite sure they had to use the safety footage for Children Of Pleasure. As the color version does not use the same takes or angles. I guess the first half of the number contained some major flaws which made it impossible to include it in the finished picture in 1930. For some reason the color reels were saved. Someone found that the undamaged second half of the number could be used in another context. Why not a Colortone short. Case closed?
The color version of Dust is often mistaken for ”The Hades Ballet”, one of the numbers from the abandoned The March Of Time. This is not the case. The real ”Hades Ballet” can be found in the Colortone short The Devil’s Cabaret from 1931 and is a completely different thing.
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