Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Premio Dardos Award

My blog just got an award!
I send my sincere thank you to Jacqueline at Another Old Movie Blog for giving it to me. 

No award is complete without a speech so first of all I want to thank Raquelle at Out Of The Past for making me start blogging in English, without her there would be no award and I had probably continued blogging in total darkness and oblivion for the rest of my days. Thanks! 
Then I want to thank all my kind subscribers and blogging friends. We are a swell bunch aren't we! Thank you all!

Here follows the obligatory stuff:

"The Dardos Award is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web."

And the rules:
"1) Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.
2) Pass the award to another five blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgement, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they have been selected for this award."

Now it's my turn to pass the award on to some of my favorites:
And the winners are:

Raquelle at Out Of The Past - For her ability to inspire and tantalize.
Ginger at Asleep In New York - For her organic writing.
Carrie at Classic Montgomery - For honoring one of the greatest actors of all time.
Jonathan at The Invisible Edge - For one of the most hilarious blogs out there.
Will at A Suitable Wardrobe - For his steady eye on timeless style.

You are all worth it! 

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Broadway (1929)

The Swedish poster for Broadway (1929)

Opening May 27, 1929, Universal's Broadway was one of the very first all talking musicals. It was produced mainly during the last months of 1928 and then put on hold until Show Boat was well into release. It was adapted from a two year run, successful Broadway play by the same name, written by George Abbott, Phillip Dunning and Jed Harris. The film stars Glenn Tryon, Evelyn Brent, Paul Porcasi, Robert Ellis, Merna Kennedy and Thomas E. Jackson repeating his stage role as the detective.

Universal and Carl Laemmle paid $225,000 for the film rights, and when it was decided to revise the planned silent picture into a talkie Universal had to pay an extra fee of $25,000 for dialogue rights. This initial cost was one reason it became one of the most expensive films Universal had ever made, ending up at close to $1000,000. The contracts permitted Universal to make both a silent version and a talkie version. This was quite common practice during the first half of 1929 as many talkies were made in both formats. The studios normally took this decision as a security if the talkie fad was to cling off. Well, It' didn't.

The three major 1929 movies from Universal. 
Publicity from Photoplay October '29.

Broadway tells the story of underworld criminals dwelling at the Paradise Club. In between musical numbers there are crimes and intrigues involving showgirls and special investigators. Passion, strange business and love affairs are all part of the mix. There are two parallel plots - one involving a hoofer (Glenn Tryon) and his romance with one of the chorus girls (Merna Kennedy), and the other a crime story involving management and bootlegging that relies on feelings of guilt and paranoia to bring the guilty party to heel. Honorable mention goes to Evelyn Brent who is brilliant as the moll.

The director appointed to the project was a Hungarian born bacteriologist, Pàl Fejös, who prior to Broadway had made the much praised part-talkie Lonesome. Fejös trademark was the use of unusual and often stunning visuals. Broadway was no exception. For this production Fejös and his cameraman Hal Mohr constructed a giant crane at a cost of over $50,000. The crane resembled those normally found on a fire engine and could move in all directions at a fantastic speed, scrutinizing every corner of the giant set. The crane was also used to a great extent promoting the picture. However, the crane-shots had to be shot silent with the sound added later making these scenes stick out a great deal from the rest of the movie which is quite static.

Pictures like this of the giant crane appeared in all major film 
magazines in the spring of 1929. This photo is taken from 
the May issue of Photoplay.

Broadway was considered lost or at least incomplete for over 70 years when a complete silent version of the film was discovered in a film library in Fejös' home country Hungary. Unfortunately the silent version has much of the musical numbers cut but includes the Technicolor finale missing from the incomplete archival talkie print that surfaced at the Library Of Congress. The talkie version clocks in at some 20 minutes more than the silent version. Combining the available sources could possibly result in a complete talkie print as the complete soundtrack survives. 

I have managed to get my hands on the Hungarian silent print and the soundtrack separately. With help of a little computer magic I then tried to synchronize a few scenes for your viewing pleasure. It wasn't the simplest thing to do, and no, the sync is far from perfect. Apparently there were quite severe sync problems in the original movie as well, many of the musical numbers were dubbed with mixed results. Both the picture elements and soundtrack are in quite bad shape but it gives you a hint of what Broadway once looked like. All songs are written by Con Conrad, Sidney D. Mitchell and Archie Gottler. Here we go:

We start with the opening sequence, including the Hungarian credits.
The music for the opening scene is Ferde Grofe's seldom heard 
Metropolis - A Fantasy In Blue (1928). 

We move on to the first musical number which as you will notice is severly cut in the silent version.

Glenn Tryon and Merna Kennedy in Sing A Little Lovesong, a lovely little number.

The most impressive clip, the Technicolor finale, all talking, all singing, all dancing as it should be.

Pál Fejös' Hollywood career ended as suddenly as it had begun. After Broadway he was involved in the production of The King Of Jazz, or rather his crane was, as he didn't get credit for his work. Many scenes in The King Of Jazz bears his trademarks and there's no doubt he must have directed some of the numbers.
Fejös wanted to direct All Is Quiet On The Western Front in 1930 but was turned down in favor for Lewis Milestone. After this deception Fejös returned to Hungary for a while. He also directed films in Austria, Denmark and Sweden before embarking on a documentary filmmaking trip to the Far East, China, and Japan, where he made Black Horizons and A Handful of Rice, among others, most of them for the Swedish company Svensk Filmindustri. In 1941 he joined the Swedish Wenner-Gren Foundation in New York. He spent the rest of his life directing anthropological research. He left us in 1963, aged 66.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sunnyside Up (1929)

The Swedish poster to Sunnyside Up (1929)

Raquelle of Out Of The Past got some early talkies in the mail the other day and asked me to write something about Sunnyside Up, a very good choice when it comes to early musicals. Enjoy!

In December 1928, Fox had bought considerable interest in the Brown-DeSylva-Henderson firm by paying them $150.000 in advance for the "book, score and lyrics" to a musical motion picture. They already had a string of successful tunes like Sonny Boy, one of the biggest hits of 1928, written for Warner's part talkie The Singing Fool, one of the most successful films of the 1920's. In 1929 they became superstars of Tin Pan Alley with four simultaneously running revues on Broadway. With all that in the bag, the three gentlemen headed west for Hollywood concentrating on writing musical comedies, Sunnyside Up was their first.

The movie had its premiere in October and the general release was on December 29th 1929. Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell had starred as a romantic couple in three silent films, so it must have seemed a "natural" pairing when Fox cast them in Sunnyside Up, their first all talkie musical film. An oddity perhaps but neither of the two had any particular singing or dancing abilities. There were even rumors that they couldn't talk at all. The director David Butler had made nine films prior to Sunnyside Up and was still considered a newcomer. He later did films like The Little Colonel and Calamity Jane.

The story opens with a great crane shot of a lower East Side block, showing the people going about their everyday lives prior to the upcoming 4th of july celebration. Janet Gaynor plays Molly, a working girl who lives a happy simple life. Charles Farrell plays Jack Cromwell, a handsome well known Long Island millionaire who accidently drives into Molly's neighborhood one evening, ending up losing control of his car to avoid hitting a child. He doesn't know, of course, that secretly, Molly has worshipped him from afar after cutting his photo out of the newspaper. Fate brings the two polar opposites together, they click, but for different reasons.
The supporting cast is very well chosen, El Brendel plays the good hearted Swedish grocer, Marjorie White is perfect as Gaynors spunky room mate, and Frank Richardson, the only real singer among the principal players as White's songwriting boyfriend.

Sunnyside Up is subtitled "an original musical comedy", and that’s exactly what it is. This is no run of the mill backstage story in the Broadway Melody tradition, neither is it a reworking of a successful Broadway show as Rio Rita, but a contemporary love story set in the summer where two unlikely dreamers of different backgrounds meet and make sweet music together. Maybe that’s why it works so well.

The first song in the picture became an instant smash. I’m A Dreamer (Aren’t We All) sung by Janet Gaynor to her own autoharp accompaniment. The original script called for a full orchestra but it didn’t work with Gaynor’s weak voice. The final result couldn’t have been much better than Gaynor’s heartbreakingly minimalistic approach.

Sunnyside Up once contained one big color sequence shot in the brand new Multicolor process. Multicolor was, like Technicolor at the time a subtractive two color process but with a difference in the use of blue and red instead of green and red. Multicolor sometimes gave better results than Technicolor. In most cases the Multicolor hues are more realistic and less fluffy-tuff pastel compared to Technicolor. However, all color prints are lost since long. Luckily the movie is still with us, unfortunately in a particularly murky black and white print scanned for Television in the 50's.

The color sequence contained three musical numbers of which one has become a total classic. Turn On The Heat, one of the best production numbers made before Busby Berkeley made art of the whole genre. Sharon Lynn and a wild chorus transform the arctic cold set, complete with igloos into a burning mayhem in what must be one of the raciest musical numbers ever caught on film. Freud would surely have had a lot to say about it.

Sunnyside Up became one of the most successful movies of 1930 and grossed $3,5 million, a fantastic profit at this time. Gaynor and Farrell were teamed for a second musical, High Society Blues, but it was not even close to a success. Janet Gaynor then let Fox know she wouldn't sing any more and that she refused to be cast in more musicals, she got her will.

Friday, January 9, 2009

June Clyde - Sweetheart of the early talkies

June Clyde can be seen in quite a few movies around 1930. She did mostly supporting roles, characters with names like Polly, Bonnie, Tess or even Toddy. Names normally used for the peppy younger sister in the family. The older sister was always more serious and didn't have a singing voice. I guess June Clyde can be safely put in the ingenue drawer without hesitation.

Unfortunately there's not much information on June Clyde anywhere to be found. She was born as June Tetrazini in S:t Joseph, Missouri in 1909, made her debut as Baby Tetrazini in vaudeville at age seven. In 1929 she was contracted by RKO providing great legs, a pretty face, singing and spunky dancing to some of their earliest talkies. The press people at RKO called her "The Luckiest Girl In Hollywood", mostly because of those famous legs of hers.

The earliest moving images to be found of June singing and dancing is as an uncredited speakeasy singer in her second movie, the crime drama Side Street opening in September 1929. June's only appearence in it is performing Take A Look At Her Now, written by Oscar Levant and Sidney Clare. The reason this clip is quite well known today is because George Raft makes one of his rare appearences as a dancer in it. Who said tough guys don't dance?

June moved on to bigger parts and close to top billing two months later in the hot musical Tanned Legs. Much have been said about this summer resort imbroglio, but in my opinion it captures the essence of 1929 really well. Despite some obvious technichal flaws it still is quite unique as it is one of the very few surviving pictures featuring Ann Pennington (who deserves a separate post). Tanned Legs is also one of only three movies in which we get to see Broadway legend Allen Kearns. Let's have a look at some of June Clydes musical contributions in Tanned Legs. She gets the first number "Come In The Water - The Water Is Fine, also written by Oscar Levant and Sidney Clare.

In the title number Tanned Legs, June and Ann Pennington does this perky duet filled with pep and great legs. Look for the big microphone at 0:26 - 0:28, dropping down twice in the upper left corner of the picture, a very early use of an overhead microphone hanging from a boom.

The next movie June did was Hit The Deck, a part color musical starring Jack Oakie.
Unfortunately it's totally lost. The only known surviving element from it is a small portion of the soundtrack. As it is impossible to even imagine what Hit The Deck was like we move straight on to The Cuckoos, opening in May 1930. The Cuckoos is a great Wheeler & Woolsey comedy that was their return to the screen after the success with Rio Rita discussed earlier. June Clyde has a quite important supporting role and gets to do two really sweet songs together with her love interest, the quite wooden but handsome Hugh Trevor. The first number, All Alone Monday is written by Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar.

The second and bigger number is Wherever You Are written by Cliff Friend and Charles Tobias. June and Hugh Trevor again, swooning and planning a secret engagement. "Gee! That's a swell idea!"

At the dawn of the thirties June Clyde met director Thornton Freeland who's claim for fame lies firmly in directing Flying Down To Rio in 1933. They married and moved to England in 1934 and June continued to work on both stage and screen in England.
Here's an example of Junes European work, taken from the British movie Dance Band released in 1935. The movie tells the story of a band contest where the leader of one band, Buddy Rogers, also a US import, falls in love with his competition, the leader of an all girl orchestra. June of course plays this all girl band leader. I suspect June's character and the all girl band was modelled after Ina Ray Hutton & Her Melodears as there is a striking resemblence in both moves (wiggle) and attitude. Buddy and June also get to do a great number together, as double pianists in love. Lovey Dovey, written by Arthur Young.

According to the sparse information I have found, June Clyde and Thornton Freeland stayed married for life. They moved back to the US and settled down in Florida. They both left us in 1987.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Wheeler & Woolsey - A great comedy team

Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey was the first comedy team more or less made for the talkies. They met on Broadway, in the 1927 Ziegfeld production of Rio Rita. After 494 performances the successful stage show was to be filmed by Radio Pictures (RKO), a studio formed in 1929, the same year as the movie was released.
Rio Rita was RKO’s third picture but their first major production, a production so grandiose their whole existence was at stake. Rio Rita consisted of fifteen massive reels of talkie extravaganza, the last five reels in glorious Technicolor. Luckily the film version became an even bigger hit than the Broadway show. Had Rio Rita been a flop there simply wouldn’t have been any RKO in the thirties, it was that important. Wheeler and Woolsey were the only players from the Broadway show that made it to the screen. One could say that the movie version of Rio Rita was conceived around their characters since quite a lot had been changed and adapted for the screen, their part was more or less left intact.

The Swedish poster to Rio Rita

Wheeler and Woolsey had somewhat similar upbringings. Both came out of profound poverty, were technically orphaned and forced to work very early. Both had also a history in vaudeville dating back to around 1915. Bert Wheeler was born in New Jersey 1895 and had done Chaplinesque numbers together with his wife in the eastern parts of the US. Robert Woolsey was born in California in 1889, started out as a promising jockey but this career ended when a horse fell and young Woolsey broke his leg. Eventually both Wheeler and Woolsey ended up on Broadway, Ziegfeld and Rio Rita.
Rio Rita was a huge success and Wheeler and Woolsey became big stars almost instantly. If the stage version made them famous, it was the movie version that made them real stars. They came to do 21 films for RKO between 1929 and 1937. In most of them they were supported by their perennial leading lady and co-star, the beautiful, petite and ever perky Dorothy Lee, who appeared in 13 of their features, almost making her a part of the team. The athletic Dorothy Lee was born in California in 1911 as Marjorie Millsap and started out as a successful LaCrosse player before singing with Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians. Dorothy Lee was one of the first actresses contracted by RKO and starred together with Morton Downey in the first RKO movie Syncopation (1929).

Dorothy Lee and Robert Woolsey in Half Shot At Sunrise (1930)

Wheeler and Woolsey were among the few comedy teams that did not combine the straight man with a funny man. Like Laurel and Hardy, Wheeler and Woolsey developed individual comic characters that provided an excellent contrast and were likable as well as amusing.  Wheeler played the traditional romantic lover, a sweet, naïve, almost childlike character, constantly eating either bananas, oranges, apples or other edibles dreaming of his Dolly. Woolsey on the other hand, the mastermind of the team, always with a cigar, horn-rimmed glasses and a penchant for loud clothes. Wheeler's feminine counterpart, often and best played by Dorothy Lee, combines the innocence of the ingenue with the roguishness of the flapper, creating a perfect match for Bert's personality.  Woolsey's feminine partners are often worldly-wise and boldly flirtatious, complementing his characterization. Today Robert Woolsey is often mistaken for George Burns who later used some of Woolsey’s trademarks including the cigar and glasses, and even some of the loud vests.

Here's a risqué little clip from Hips Hips Hooray (1934) where Wheeler and Woolsey tries out a new kind of lipstick, one with a flavor.

Wheeler and Woolsey are often compared to other comedy teams of the thirties, particularly Laurel and Hardy and The Marx Brothers, comparisons that are easy to make but essentially the three teams are very different. The general idea of The Marx Brothers is anarchy and their assaults upon a completely and hopelessly sane and rational society. The comedy of Laurel and Hardy is based on their failure, due to their incompetence, to adjust to a regulated world which they aspire to join.
But with Wheeler and Woolsey, the basis of their world of comedy lays in the belief that the whole world is a crazy place where anything can happen and where every institution is essentially insane. The result is that the comic view of their films emphasizes the absurdities of the institutions with which we live and take for granted as normal. Lawyers, divorce suits, the prison system, the military, big business, all are targets for satire in the Wheeler and Woolsey comedies. The music, song and dance always play a greater part in the Wheeler and Woolsey movies as well.

The team dissolved in 1938 with the premature death of Robert Woolsey. Neither Bert Wheeler nor Dorothy Lee had much success after Woolsey's passing. Bert Wheeler did appear on television now and then throughout the 50's and finally left us in 1968. Dorothy Lee retired from show business in the early 40's but stayed with us until 1999.

Let's enjoy some selected clips.

One of the most moving scenes in Rio Rita (1929) is this little number written for the movie version. Sweetheart We Need Each Other, written by Harry Tierney and Joseph McCarthy, performed by Bert Wheeler and Dorothy Lee.

Weeler and Woolsey figthing over Dorothy Lee in Dixiana (1930). We also get a wonderful romantic duet, My One Ambition Is You written by Harry Tierney and Anne Caldwell.

Also from Dixiana (1930), Here's Robert Woolsey on his own trying to impress the ladies, eventually ending up in song and dance, but also a glimpse of Bert Wheeler in drag. A Lady Loved A Soldier written by Harry Tierney and Anne Caldwell.

This totally insane number is taken from Hips Hips Hooray (1934). Keep On Doing What You're Doing, written by Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar performed by Bert Wheeler, Dorothy Lee, Robert Woolsey and Thelma Todd. This song was actually intended for inclusion in the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup (1933) but ended up here instead. Swell!

2009 marks the 80th anniversary of the screen debut of Wheeler and Woolsey. Let's hope this means we will get loads of their movies on DVD this year.

Robert Woolsey's great grandson Robert Woolsey is continuing the family tradition and has a comedy site: Bob And

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