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Conrad Nagel, representing the Hollywood movie community, and Jack Benny, representing the Broadway stage community, act as the interlocutors of a musical comedy revue. A plethora of chorus boys and girls are featured front and center in some of the song and dance numbers, and provide back-up to some other acts. But the revue primarily is a vehicle to highlight a cavalcade of Hollywood movie and Broadway stage stars. One early running gag has both Nagel and Benny playing straight man to Cliff Edwards, who just wants a nice introduction to his act. Edwards would return later to be featured along with the Brox Sisters in one of the highlights of the second act, a production number around the song "Singin' in Rain", complete with rain soaked stage. A reprise of the song with the entire cast acts as the revue's finale. Written by
Lon Chaney had just signed a new three picture a year deal with MGM when he was asked to do a cameo in the all-star film. Chaney agreed if it would count as one of his three contracted pictures and he would be paid his regular fee for the bit. As his salary would have eaten up most of the film's budget, the part was played by Gus Edwards with a mask and costume from "London after Midnight." Chaney was not happy that his name was exploited with the song, "Lon Chaney Will Get You if You Don't Watch Out." When he died in 1930, the sequence was deleted from existing prints out of respect but was later restored. See more »
After Cliff Edwards' opening number, one of the chorus girls in the background is chatting away with the girl next to her, when a sudden cut appears, and the same girl is now stone still (apparently the director told her in between to stop talking, and pay attention). See more »
The, uh, little number you just heard called "Singin' in the Rain" is an optimistic song and was, of course, written by an optimist. In fact, all of the lyrics like "There's a Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder" and "Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella" and so forth were all written by this same man who finally became so discouraged that he killed himself. Hm.
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I watched the tape I had made on 4/18/02 again today and read over some of the comments that have been made on this old curio and I felt the need to add a few more observations of my own.
- Firstly, I enjoy watching old films. I see them not as competitors with current entertainment but as portholes into the past. I see the past as a series of presents and the present as living history that we are privileged to witness. Old films allow us to `look' at past era, such as 1929, up close. Each era contains its classics, such as this same year's `All Quiet on the Western Front', that are so good that they are timeless. But most of what was created was material such as Hollywood Review of 1929, designed to provide entertainment for the masses, to the tastes of the age. These people were not making this film to entertain us but rather to entertain the audiences of 1929. They must have done a good job, as this was a big hit. There is plenty of material being produced today that will look just as silly to future generations. Some of it looks pretty silly right now.
- Keep in mind that while the cinema was three decades old at this time, sound recording was an infant. Not only do we hear the `clump clump clump of the dancer's feet but the limitations imposed on the camera by the new technology had stripped a generation of innovations from the medium and what we have is a very flat rendering of a stage review. In time, Hollywood would rediscover how to make films- essentially they filmed much of them in silence and added what sounds they wished us to hear afterwards. We could hear the tap of Fred Astaire's shoes but the clump of the dancer's feet would be muted. The songs would be dubbed in under controlled conditions in a studio. The same presentation would have been done a lot better just a few years later. But this is the best that could be done in 1929.
- In the wake of the development of sound, Hollywood rushed out movies that exploited the new technology as fast as they could, (this one was put together in 28 days), just as a lot of films today use computer generated monsters, armies, cliffs, etc., just to show off what they can do. We have to remember what a miracle watching movies stars talk must have seemed like at the time. Whenever a technical process becomes a drawing card in itself, other aspects of the movies are going to suffer- just as today we see many movies designed simply to show off computer technology that neglect to create human characters we can relate to or tell a coherent plot. I'm not sure I wouldn't rather see `Hollywood Revue of 1929' again than to see `Van Helsing' again. I wonder what the cast of the first would have thought of the second. They might have liked their product a little better.
- It was decided that the best way to exploit the new medium was to produce musicals. Talking was fine but people wanted to hear music, as well. And singing and dancing filled the bill. But the people who had become silent movie stars were not necessarily talented musical performers. Joan Crawford was a chorus girl but that's a long way from being a lead singer or dancer. Imagine modern Hollywood putting on a show like this- with Tom Cruise playing comic foil to some Saturday Night Live types and Julia Roberts dancing and singing. Would it come out any better?
It's best not to be too critical and just look through the crystal ball of the TV at the year nineteen hundred and twenty nine, up close and personal.
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