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Jean de Limur
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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 »
Now, listen, boyfriend, you have a nice line of chatter but how do I know you care for me in a big way?
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I love this film. I've commented before but just saw it again and have a few more "insights." It seems I like it better with each viewing. Along with The Broadway Melody and 42nd Street, one of the great early musicals--films that set the style and standard for decades to come. Yes there is debate as to the singing and dancing of Joan Crawford and Marion Davies, but there are great moments from Marie Dressler, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Buster Keaton, John Gilbert (I'm Utsnay about Ouyay), Norma Shearer, Cliff Edwards, the swell Brox Sisters, Conrad Nagel, Charles King, Polly Moran, Bessie Love, William Haines, Anita Page, the snappy June Purcell, Lionel Barrymore, Gus Edwards, a sly Jack Benny, and a slap-happy Ann Dvorak. Who could resist.
Oddities for a talkie include silent bits by Keaton and Laurel (Hardy does all the talking, and some schtick from Karl Dane and George K. Arthur (neither destined for talkie success) during a Benny violin solo. To carry forth the "revue" concept the film is introduced over a live orchestra pit and the intermission sees the musicians taking their seats to reprise the early tunes--Crawford's "Gotta Feelin' for You" chief among them. As noted in other comments, some acts are introed; some are not.
Considering all were singing live (no lip syncing here) the musical numbers are not bad at all. The recording (still primitive) hurts a little. Charles King comes off best as a straight singer, and the great Cliff Edwards (as Ukelele Ike) is a treat as the comic singer. Edwards does a straight intro to Singin' in the Rain as well as his signature falsetto scat. Joan Crawford, who sang in a bunch of early talkies, has a decent if unpolished voice, and her dancing was par for the course for 1929: lively but a little clunky. Remember, movie musicals were new and hadn't really developed a cinematic choreography. Marion Davies' number is the weakest in the film, which is too bad because she was a delightful performer, but singing and dancing weren't her high points. Marie Dressler cannot hit a false note. No matter how badly she mugs and hams it up, she is great. This film also shows hints of what Bessie Love might have done during the 30s with better handling by MGM. And ditto Polly Moran, who was diminished to playing Dressler's foil in a series of early comedies.
The Jack Benny we remember from his 1950s TV show is exactly the same 25 year earlier. All his mannerisms are in place as is his superb timing. Several parts of the film are very badly edited and sometimes hurt the timing or punchlines of comic bits. William Haines, nearly choking on a licorice button he rips from Benny's jacket, is handsome and gracious in a cameo.And Conrad Nagel reveals a not-bad singing voice as he serenades a ravishing Anita Page.
The Singin' in the Rain number rates highest. From the art deco set of Cedric Gibbons to the terrific singing of Cliff Edwards and the Brox Sisters, this number is a true classic. The dancing is simple but effective, the rain effects are OK as is the reflecting "pool." The reprise by the Brox Sisters (all 3 wrapped in 1 raincoat) is wonderful--as is the comic reprise by Dressler, Love, and Moran. Note the arm motions made by the Brox Sisters; they are same as used by Jean Hagen in the 1952 Singin in the Rain.
I love this film.
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