50-Movie Classic Musicals, Disc 2

I hope this is the most problematic disc in the set. Every movie on this disc poses one problem or another, at least as part of a set of so-called musicals. Read on. You’ll see what I mean.

Dixiana, 1930, b&w (with color finale, but not on the disc), Luther Reed (dir.), Bebe Daniels, Everett Marshall, Bert Wheeler, Robert Woolsey, Joseph Cawthorn, Bill Robinson. 1:40 [1:25]

Woman who sings and does other acts in a circus performing in New Orleans meets up with a wealthy high-society fellow right around Mardi Gras. They get engaged. Circus friends show up at a high-society gathering and embarrass her, so she runs away. Sound a little bit like Sunny? (Check out Disc 1.) It’s not.

What it is, is a complete mess—that might have been redeemed by the 15 minutes missing from this transfer, presumably the 2-strip Technicolor finale that includes a three-minute tap dance sequence by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. That finale might also resolve the plot—but it’s just not here. What is here includes a long Wheeler & Woolsey comedy routine that’s apparently just about the only film of them (and which suggests that tastes in comedy have changed a lot in 75 years!), some other musical numbers of indifferent quality, and a plot that might have been moderately interesting if it hadn’t simply disappeared. A shame. Very generously (there’s some good comic interplay within the movie itself, and some decent music), $0.75. [Strikeout: See first comment]

Palooka, 1934, b&w, Benjamin Stoloff (dir.), Jimmy Durante, Lupe Velez, Stuart Erwin, William Cagney, Robert Armstrong, Thelma Todd. 1:26.

On one hand, it’s a decent comedy based on the comic strip, with Joe Palooka as a sort of accidental boxer (son of a boxing champ who abandoned the family for the high life) and Jimmy Durante as his manager. On the other, it’s simply not a musical: There are two, count them, two songs total. They’re interesting pieces in their own way: One is an odd song-and-dance number by Lupe Velez, wearing an outfit that’s clearly “pre-code Hollywood”; the other Durante’s signature tune. A good cast—and I would have sworn that was a young James Cagney as the champ Palooka (Erwin) defeats and is later defeated by, until I read the credits: It’s his lookalike brother. $1 on its own merits, but it’s not a musical.

Glorifying the American Girl, 1929, b&w (and color, but not on the disc), John W. Harkrider & Millard Webb (dir.), Mary Eaton, Dan Healy, Kaye Renard, Edward Crandall, Eddie Cantor, Helen Morgan, Rudy Vallee, Noah Beery, Irving Berlin, Billie Burke, Texas Guinan, Otto Kahn, Ring Lardner, Jimmy Walker, Johnny Weissmuller, Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.. 1:27. [1:34!]

With Dixiana, I didn’t notice the “Technicolor” claims in opening credits, so I was mostly disappointed by the lapsed plot and fact that Bill Robinson didn’t show up as a dancer (albeit claimed on the sleeve). This time, I did notice the claim, so I was disappointed: If there’s any color anywhere in this flick, I couldn’t detect it. There’s plenty of music and comedy, of course: Much of the picture is a Ziegfeld review, including a Cantor comedy routine and songs by Helen Morgan and Rudy Vallee (sax strapped over his shoulder but never touched during the song). The rest of those stars? Mostly cameos, on their way into the theater. The plot, such as it is, lacks resolution, but it’s not all that important anyway. Not great, not bad. $0.75.

Check and Double Check, 1930, b&w, Melville W. Brown (dir.), Freeman F. Gosden, Charles J. Correll, Irene Rich, Duke Ellington and the Cotton Club Orchestra. 1:17.

The most difficult of the four, for reasons that folks knowledgeable with entertainment history may have spotted already. Here’s my advice, if you happen to have access to this disc:

Go to the second scene, to about minute 27 overall. Most of the next 11 minutes are performances by Duke Ellington and orchestra, including a full-length big-band jazz number nicely filmed and one of Ellington’s first (and few) filmed performances. That segment makes the picture worth watching. Consider skipping the rest.

Otherwise, well, there’s a huge problem here in the persons of Gosden, Correll, and another actor, and it’s a problem that makes an otherwise poorly-plotted degrading race comedy into something even less watchable. Ever hear of Amos ‘n’ Andy? If you ever saw the TV series, they were dumb and played as stereotypes, but they were good hearted and the cast was all black. Here, though, the originators and radio stars played the roles—and Gosden and Correll are both white, playing in full minstrel-show blackface. The only semi-redeeming thing I can say about this is that, according to Wikipedia, the two were offered the chance for a sequel and turned it down—and Gosden later called the movie “just about the worst movie ever.” Here’s an appalling factoid if you believe Wikipedia (I see no reason not to): Although the critics and Gosden and Correll hated the movie, it was RKO’s biggest-grossing film until King Kong in 1933. Oh yes: The soundtrack’s noisy, but not too bad during the Duke Ellington sequence. I’d give this a flat zero except for Ellington, which earns it a big $0.25.

2 Responses to “50-Movie Classic Musicals, Disc 2”

  1. andrea Says:

    Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey were no Marx Brothers, Ritz Brothers, or even Abbott & Costello, but they were big movie draws in their day and did several together:

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0923774/bio

  2. walt Says:

    I based that comment on the sleeve blurb (and maybe IMDB comments at Dixiana?). Thanks for the correction, which I’ve made in the post itself. Who knows? Maybe they had a better routine as part of the missing finale.


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