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.


Anonymous said...

This was one of the key early musical discoveries for me when I first saw it on an obscure TV channel in the mid-1980s. I then later saw it at NYC's Film Forum, and was delighted to see the antics of Marjorie White connect with the audience. I could go on forever about White, but suffice to say I'm glad most of her films survive--the "Picking Daisies" number in this film is a wonderful showcase for her.

Raquel Stecher said...

I'm the first to post a comment. Yay!

I need to commission you to do more posts. This is excellent. I'm excited to watch my copy of Sunnyside Up now.

That "Turn on the Heat" number sure is hot. And it made it on to '50s television? Were a lot of early talkies stripped of color to be put on tv? That's such a shame.

"fluffy-tuff pastel" - best way to describe that ever. That's what I would call that Norma Shearer/John Gilbert scene in Hollywood Revue of 1929!

Raquel Stecher said...

Auw man! King of Jazz beat me to it again.

Anonymous said...

Hey, we early musical people are a competitive bunch!

Anonymous said...

Woops, the "anonymous" was posted by none other than...King of Jazz.

Caitlin said...

Wow, plenty of heat there already. How sad that the color version was lost. It must have been... well, colorful, in every sense of the word.

Louie said...

Excellent! This was the very first El Brendel film I saw and I was hooked after it was over.

I have also been working on a posting for "Sunny Side Up" but everytime I'm ready to go, some new info pops up.

el rojo said...

Who is the actor who plays the guy who doesn't want to smile but eventually does? I have seen him in something else but can't think what, perhaps Footlight Parade?

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