If your only exposure to early musicals is that award-winning dud "The Broadway Melody", check out "Sunny Side Up" (or, for that matter, "The Love Parade"). You'll be pleasantly surprised.
Sunnyside Up (1929)
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If your only exposure to early musicals is that award-winning dud "The Broadway Melody", check out "Sunny Side Up" (or, for that matter, "The Love Parade"). You'll be pleasantly surprised.
Chapter One: "New York, July 4th, with 4 Million" The story opens with a view of residents from the lower East Side of Manhattan going about their every day lives prior to the upcoming block party. Living in the community are Eric Swenson (El Brendel), a grocery store owner; the youthful Molly Carr (Janet Gaynor) sharing her tenement apartment with her best friend, Bee Nichols (Marjorie White), whose boyfriend, Eddie Rafferty (Frank Richardson), is a songwriter. Molly is a dreamer who reads society columns about her dream man, millionaire Jack Cromwell. Chapter Two: "Southampton, Long Island, .July 4th with the "400" Jack Cromwell (Charles Farrell), the youthful son of society snobs, is hopelessly in love with the upper crust Jane Worth (Sharon Lynne), who refuses to marry in favor of remaining in circulation with the fun crowd. After seeing her walking off with another man, Jack drives off his estate in anger. Later that night Jack ends up on the lower East side where he loses control of his car to avoid hitting a child. In a bewildered state, Swenson offers the young man his apartment to rest for a while. As fate would have it, Jack turns up in Molly's apartment instead. After getting acquainted and watching her perform at the block party, Jack invites her and her friends to act as entertainers for their charity carnival. Chapter Three: Feeling she would be out of place, Mary agrees to appear as Jack's guests, posing as a society girl with Eric as butler, Bee the maid and Eddie as her chauffeur. All goes well until vicious rumors circulate about Molly, whose dreams are soon shattered by Jack's proposed decision.
With a bright score by Buddy DeSylva, Ray Henderson and Lew Brown (credited with their surnames only), the motion picture soundtrack is as follows: "I'm a Dreamer, Aren't We All?" (Sung by Janet Gaynor directly to the camera); "You'll Find the Time and I'll Find the Place" (sung by Sharon Lynn); "Pickin' Petals Off Daisies" (sung by Frank Richardson and Marjorie White); "Sunny Side Up" (Gaynor/ reprized by Richardson and White); "Turn on the Heat" (Sung by Sharon Lynn /Frank Richardson/ danced by chorus); "If I Had a Talking Picture of You" (sung by Farrell, Gaynor and children); "I'm a Dreamer, Aren't We All" (sung by Gaynor); "Anytime You're Necht of a Broad Moonlight" (sung by Marjorie White) and "If I Had a Talking Picture of You" (sung by Farrell and Gaynor).
Had SUNNYSIDE UP been a silent, there would be no doubt that "I'm a Dreamer" would have become its theme score. "Sunnyside Up" is a lively tune where Gaynor sings, shuffles and concludes with her jumping over a hat during the 4th of July festival. Being one of the hit tunes of the day, it was later vocalized for its closing to the 1973 comedy PAPER MOON (Paramount) starring Ryan and Tatum O'Neal. "Turn on the Heat" gets the production number treatment at the society party consisting of risqué lyrics and energetic dancing. As for the "Talking Picture" song, it's quite timely, considering its introduction during the advent of "talking pictures." With a considerable amount of movie extras filling out the crowd scenes, look for future child star Jackie Cooper as Jerry Maginnis as the little boy reciting a poem at the block party. The actor playing Joe Vitto, undertaker and master of ceremonies, is enacted by Joe Brown, whose name can sometimes be linked or confused with famed comedian Joe E. Brown. Marjorie White and Frank Richardson are agreeable as the secondary couple supplying fine comedy relief.
While many references label SUNNY SIDE UP with the running time of 81 minutes, it's surprising to find it's actually 122 minutes. In spite of its length, the movie moves briskly and surprisingly doesn't have that primitive appearance as most first talkies have prior to 1930.
Formerly available on video cassette in 1998 by Critic's Choice Video Masterpiece Collection, television revivals for SUNNY SIDE UP have been extremely rare. Aside from limited broadcasts at some local public broadcasting channels in the early 1990s, it became part of cable TV's American Movie Classic's annual film preservation festival that took place appropriately enough in July 1996, and finally Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: December 21, 2010). Regardless of its age and "corny" situations, SUNNYSIDE UP is still an entertaining antique. This, along with DELICIOUS (1931), another musical featuring Gaynor, Farrell and Brendel, should be an appropriate companion piece if ever considered as part of a double feature presentation on DVD. (***)
The film opens with a much admired, ambitious crane shot that explores a crowded tenement street, peering into open windows and back out to the cobblestones. Much of the action is stagey and a bit forced, but the spirit behind it is admirable and prefigures a more elaborate and technically slicker sequence in "42nd Street" a few years later. This opening panorama of a certain section of society is echoed later when the action shifts to a garden party at a Southampton Estate.
The sweet-natured story involves a poor working girl (Gaynor) who dreams of pairing with a wealthy high society gentleman (Charles Farrell) whose picture she spots in the newspaper in relation to a charity function. Since this is a movie from the late 1920s with DeSylva, Brown and Henderson songs, her Cinderella dream comes true, making it all the more appropriate that she sing the best song in the film, "I'm a Dreamer, Aren't We All" not once, not twice, but three times, and always to stunning effect despite her weak and wavery vocal chords. She also manages to pull off a dandy vaudeville dance number in a street fair scene. Her leading man, Farrell, fares less well, though he transmits innocence and sincerity as well as a clear and melodious song delivery. Marjorie White and Frank Richardson contribute great supporting energy as pals of Gaynor.
Other outstanding songs are "If I Had a Talking Picture of You" and "Turn on the Heat," the latter a playfully erotic concept wherein Eskimo women are so sexy that they melt their icy surroundings, transforming them into steaming, and eventually flaming, tropics. It is the only big production number in the film, the others being focused on one or two performers in medium close-up.
SUNNY SIDE UP defies all the expectations you have of early sound musicals...it's lively, well acted, funny and--get this--beautifully photographed. If you have only been exposed to pioneering musicals like THE Broadway MELODY, THE SINGING FOOL, and SHOW OF SHOWS, this will feel like it arrived from Mars. Time has been kind to Janet Gaynor, who had a marvelous range (see her in Murnau's SUNRISE) and was almost devoid of the usual affectations and Talkie mannerisms. She gives a beguiling performance here. And as an added bonus: one of the most insane of all pre-Code musical numbers.
The great reviews don't lie. See this!
It also was the talking debut of the Fox screen team of Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor. They do sound a bit arch for today's taste, but at this time nearly everyone on the screen sounded that way. There singing voices are pleasant, but nothing else. But the screen chemistry is unmistakable.
The plot is typical for a stage musical at the time involving a poor girl falling for a rich boy. Farrell is the society kid who almost runs down a kid in Gaynor's neighborhood in the city. She takes him and he gets the bright idea to bring her out to Southampton to make his prospective fiancé Sharon Lynn jealous. But it all works too well as Gaynor goes for Farrell big time.
The thin plot is just an excuse to hang several musical numbers at the society party in the Hamptons and at a block party in the city which was the case for stage films. As Sunnyside Up was written directly for the screen, they didn't have to rewrite it to disguise any stage origins. Although Gaynor and to a lesser degree Farrell do their numbers most of the singing and dancing is taken up by Sharon Lynn and friends of Gaynor, Marjorie White and Frank Richardson.
The two best known songs I'm A Dreamer Aren't We All and If I Had A Talking Picture Of You were a couple early records that Bing Crosby did with the Paul Whiteman band. They are probably the best known recordings from this score.
Sunnyside Up still retains a lot of the charm it had even if its overacted for today's audience taste.
Miss Gaynor plays Molly, a working girl who lives in a New York tenement, but always has her "sunny side up." She's a smiler. And she never smiles more prettily than when she sees a newspaper photo of her idol, handsome Long Island millionaire Jack Cromwell (Farrell). She tears his photo out of the paper and keeps it.
Fate brings these two polar opposites together, and they click, but for different reasons. Cromwell invites Molly to his estate to make his girlfriend jealous -- and she goes, properly chaperoned by her gal pal, Bea, and two male friends; but Molly goes because she has fallen for Jack and incorrectly believes he loves her too.
Of course the two get together at the end, after a lot of singing and dancing, and the usual romantic mixups are accounted for and straightened out.
There's a big-scale production number involved, in which dozens of girls, led by Sharon Lynn, dance and sing "Turn on the Heat." It opens with all the girls in an arctic setting, wearing heavy parkas and eskimo boots; but, as the weather heats up and their igloos melt, they shed their outer clothes and wind up in bathing suits, basking in a tropical paradise complete with palm trees and coconuts.
The music and story of "Sunny Side Up" were written by the formidable trio of Lew Brown, Buddy DeSylva, and Ray Henderson. Songs include the title tune, plus "I'm a Dreamer (Aren't we All?)", and the now standard "If I Had a Talking Picture of You."
Dan Navarro (email@example.com)
This movie depicts the poor as being energetic and happy with their lot - "I wonder what the poor are doing tonight" ponders Molly, which brings roars of laughter from her friends, who are sitting down to a "feast" of bread and beer. The rich are shown to be gossipy, two faced and mired in convention.
The film opens with a stunning crane shot that pans the camera over different families in the tenement where Molly (Janet Gaynor) and her peppy pal Bee (Marjorie White) live. Molly dreams of one day meeting her Prince Charming and she already has him picked out - he is high society guy, John Cromwell (Charles Farrell). She even sings a song to express her feelings - "I'm a Dreamer, Aren't We All" in a sweet, plaintive and wholly captivating voice, while accompanying herself on the zither. As she looks at the camera she makes you believe. Meanwhile the real Johnny is celebrating with his fiancée, Jane (Sharon Lyn) at Long Island - she sings "You Find the Time, I'll Find the Place". Jane is not going to let her marriage cramp her flirting style and John, despondent, wants to find an old fashioned girl. He drives off in a huff and after almost running down a small child, wanders forlornly into Molly's flat - who thinks all her dreams have come true.
The big event is the block party where the first song is a novelty number, "You've Got Me Pickin' Petals Off Daisies", sung by Bee and her boyfriend (a singer in the Al Jolson tradition, who is sometimes hard to take). Jackie Cooper has a bit part as a tenement kid trying to recite "The Village Blacksmith". Molly is the star attraction with the rousing "Sunny Side Up" - she does a little dance and gets everyone to join in. John thinks she is pretty swell too and wants Molly to come down to Long Island and sing in a charity show.
He passes Molly off as a visitor from Detroit society and initially the ruse works but a chance remark about "paying the rent" and word soon spreads that Molly is John's "kept" woman. The charity show starts off with the fabulous "Turn On the Heat" number. Sharon Lyn, dressed as a cute Eskimo, sings about "heating up poppa or poppa will freeze" and also about being his "little radiator". For 1929 it was really spectacular - the Northern lights flash, cuties come out of igloos, suggestively dancing so the igloos melt, their fur coats disappear, revealing scanty costumes and turning the North Pole into a volcanic island that blazes into fire, forcing the girls to jump into the water. Truly stupendous.
After that the love ballad "If I Had a Talking Picture of You", is a bit anti climatic, but Molly looks beautiful and it is also sung by a group of small children dressed as brides and grooms - one little groom even pepped it up with a boop, boop a doo chorus. The rest of the movie is filled with mistaken feelings as Molly flees back to the East Side after fearing she was made a fool of. This movie is full of magical moments ie when John is gazing at Molly's photo, which then comes to life and tells him that "You've Got Me Pickin' Petals Off Daisies"!!!
Highly, Highly Recommended.
Note, the film squeaks and creaks. Everyone seems to have been the victim of some high-pitched sound recording, though the studio may have wanted their stars to sound like juvenile tenors. Perhaps modern technology will some day restore everyone to some deeper tones. While sometimes tedious, this was all very new and original in 1929. The opening street sequence is excellent and a few of the songs are cute. Watch for Jackie Cooper as the boy who has to go to the bathroom. Gaynor and Farrell were a charming and popular pair, and even more so after "Sunnyside Up" was released.
****** Sunnyside Up (10/3/29) David Butler ~ Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, Marjorie White, Ed Brendel
Molly (Gaynor) and Bea (Marjorie White) live a meager but merry existence above a market in congested lower Manhattan. Out on the far reaches of Long Island in the Hamptons poor little rich boy Jack Cromwell broods over his flirtatious intended. At a party for well heeled swells he gets drunk and goes slumming and crashes his car in Molly's neighborhood. To get his fiancé jealous he moves Molly and her pals into a mansion next door. Secretly in love Jack, Molly reluctantly goes along with the ruse.
For an early sound work Sunnyside Up does a fine job of capturing large as well as small action with decent clarity. There's an excellently tracked and recorded scene establishing the lower east side melting pot and Gaynor's warbling of "I'm a Dreamer" live is an early highlight of the technology.
While Gaynor has a passable voice Farrell is reduced to being arm candy leaving the funny moments to Elf Brendel and Marjorie White's ball of energy Bea. The plot is improbable like most musicals but it's worth putting up with to hear a rendition or two of Sunnyside Up and If I Had a Talking Picture of You.
The important thing about this film is that it is a precursor to many other interesting works that emerged over the next twenty years. It has a number of production numbers that must have been inspired by Billy Rose's extravaganzas, and which foreshadow the "aquacades" that Rose produced during the 1930's, culminating in the spectacular shows of the 1939 world's fair. The water curtain used in the Southampton charity show is surely something that we will see later. I think that Fox and Busby Berkeley derived a certain amount of inspiration from this film in creating the psychedelic "The Gang's All Here!" during WWII.
In spite of what others may say, the most important number in the score is the title: "Sunny Side Up" which was a popular sing-along number in community gatherings through the mid- 1960's. As a former Cub Scout, I don't remember singing "If I Had A Talking Picture of You" or "I'm a Dreamer", but I still know all the words to "Sunny Side Up." The burden of the song was also an important depression-era anthem, and David Butler's opening sequence, with the poor children dancing under a fire-hydrant fountain, moving to a cop-umpired baseball game, to a bird's eye view of apartment life in New York City's tenements, is certainly a precursor to Hitchcock's exploration of a Greenwich Village neighborhood in "Rear Window."
It must have been exhilarating to be inventing cinema in Hollywood in the early sound era. Gaynor and Farrell couldn't last as a romantic couple, not with those reedy voices, but at the same time they earned an honest day's pay. Marjorie White and Frank Richardson gave a convincing portrait of vaudeville as it was in the 1920's, and the show's big production number, "Turn on the Heat," was worthy of late Busby Berkeley, with Eskimo women melting their igloos, shedding their parkas for bikinis, and generating heat enough to spawn palm trees and finally flame out of the very earth. El Brendel's appearance as a dialect comedian is also an artifact of early 20th century American humor, one that resounds through the 1950's.
With early appearances by Jackie Cooper (NOT Coogan!) and (I think) Shirley Temple in an appearance so short as to be almost subliminal--I'll have to watch a couple more times-- this film incorporates early cinema magic, a certain preservation of some vaudeville precursors (these persisted through television of them 1960's) and a lot of the future of cinema. It's definitely worth watching!
The film opens in what is supposed to be a tenement section of New York City on July 4, but as the camera pans from flat to flat, it seems more like a portrait of Norman Rockwell's America, just more densely populated. Molly (Janet Gaynor) and Bea (Marjorie White) share an apartment here, and Molly sees a newspaper picture of her dream man - wealthy Jack Cromwell (Charles Farrell). He's not her dream man because of the money, instead she likes his looks. Fate would have it that a car accident brings young Jack up her tenement stairway and into her apartment that very night - he was directed by neighborhood grocer Eric Swenson to Eric's apartment, but in his shaken up state after the accident Jack wanders into Molly's by mistake. Jack and Molly's first meeting isn't exactly the stuff of dreams. She is in her underwear with cold cream on her face, he's bleeding from a cut on his head from the accident. But no worry, things go uphill quickly from here.
After watching the neighborhood put on performances for the July 4 block party, Jack decides the whole gang should come to his family estate and help out with a show his mother is putting on for charity. However, Jack's mom is the type that can detect the musk of Mayflower or the lack thereof a mile away and they'll have to disguise everyone's identity in order for them to pass inspection and be able to perform. Add to that the complication that Jack already has a débutante girlfriend. Also add that good guy grocer Eric (El Brendel) wants his relationship with Molly to be more than that of just good friends.
Most early musicals or musical numbers from Fox were boring at worst and inane at best, but here they get it right. The songs and their delivery are memorable, interesting, and unique for the era. I highly recommend this as a feel good film and one of the truly good early talkie musicals.
Copyright 8 October 1929 by Fox Film Corporation. New York opening at the Gaiety: 3 October 1929. U.S. release: 13 December 1929. 13 reels. 133 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: Rich boy falls for poor girl.
NOTES: 100% talkie debuts for both Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. Possible movie debut of Marjorie White. (The other contender is "Happy Days". Which movie came first is a good question. Both were in production at the same time).
Although Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times accorded "Sunny Side Up" (sic) a rave review, the movie did not figure on his Top Ten of the year. However, he did place it in his Supplementary List.
COMMENT: At least I don't have to go to bat for Sunny Side Up. Everyone loves this movie. And rightly so! Indeed, some critics can't understand how a "dud" like "Broadway Melody" won awards right and left, and this gem was simply passed over. But that's Hollywood!
In "The Best Things In Life Are Free" a great deal of the plot hinges on DeSylva's solo career at Paramount, but the joint movie efforts of the trio are not so much as mentioned, even though this wonderful movie, for instance, incorporates some of their best songs into its charmer of a rich-boy-falls-for-poor-girl plot. Not only are the tunes rich in lyrics and melody, but many are produced on a lavish scale that would send Busby Berkeley green with envy.
It's hard to believe the movie runs 133 minutes. Whilst watching the story unfold, it seems more like eighty! Resourceful director David Butler sets the tone right from the opening credits with a sweepingly elaborate dolly shot that just takes my breath away. Other highlights range from the staggering "Turn on the Heat" production number to the small scale "I'm a Dreamer" which cute Janet Gaynor introduces in her two-room tenement apartment whilst accompanying herself on the zither.
Miss Gaynor is perfectly cast, managing the dress-and-poise transformation from East Side to Southampton with ease. Mr. Farrell plays the doesn't-know-what's-good-for-him youth with grace and conviction. Outstanding support is provided by Marjorie White, Frank Richardson and Sharon Lynn.
Production values are out of this world.
A talented actress in silent films SEVENTH HEAVEN (1927) and STREET ANGEL (1928), Janet Gaynor's affecting performances won her the first- ever Academy Award for Best Actress in 1929. In SUNNYSIDE UP we finally hear her light Minnie Mouse voice, which seems to fit her innocent, childlike screen persona. Gaynor doesn't have a particularly strong voice, but she sings her way through a handful of tunes, even showing off some dance moves.
Gaynor's romantic partner in both SEVENTH HEAVEN and STREET ANGEL, Charles Farrell, re-teams with her here, displaying a surprisingly high and nasal speaking voice.
I think it's important to keep in mind when this film was made. Sound was still a novelty in movies, and singing even more so. I don't know what the critics said at the time, but it's actually not a bad movie. There are the understandable audio problems, but the performances are all fine in this cute little love story.
A poor New York City girl (Gaynor) meets the man of her dreams, a wealthy Long Island heir (Farrell), amid a Fourth of July celebration. The heir invites the girl and her friends to spend a short vacation with him on Long Island, where he hopes to make his wandering fiancée jealous while everyone prepares for a big charity carnival. The heir needs the city girl to act like she's in love, but he doesn't realize that her feelings are genuine.
Janet Gaynor can't help but be adorable. Her comic relief roommate, Marjorie White, has personality. The title song (like several of the other original tunes) is a simple ditty, but it will get in your head. "Turn On the Heat" is a pretty good production number, with an arctic igloo stage set evolving into a tropical hotspot. The movie starts with what seems to be a single camera shot that moves around the New York tenement neighborhood, looking into apartment windows and introducing the community where Janet Gaynor and her friends live.
Child actor extraordinaire Jackie Cooper makes a brief but memorable appearance.
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Early Fox talkie has Janet Gaynor playing Molly, a poor girl who lives with her friends in a poor neighborhood but at least she's happy. Jack (Charles Farrell), on the other hand, is rich and lives in a mansion but extremely unhappy because his fiancé won't leave other men alone. Soon Jack and Molly meet and the two decide to make the fiancé jealous but you know what happens. SUNNYSIDE UP was the first full musical to be made for the screen and over the past decade or so it has gathered more and more fans. It's easy to see why the film has gathered some publicity over the years even though it still suffers from many of the problems countless early talkies had. I'll start off with the negative and one is the running time. Clocking in at over two hours the storyline was pretty familiar with 1929 so don't expect any surprises. For the majority of the running time you sit there guessing what's going to happen next and it always does happen. I certainly don't mind the film being unoriginal but it would have helped to at least threw us a few twists along the way. Another problem and one that will probably get me jumped is the fact that Gaynor and Farrell weren't very good singers. I was really shocked to learn that this film was a hit because when I first heard Gaynor's voice I really thought there was something wrong with the soundtrack. It's extremely high-pitched and I couldn't believe that it went over so well with crowds back in the day while other actors with better voices were tosses to the side. Outside of that both Gaylor and Farrell are very good in their fourth of twelve films together. I thought their chemistry was right on the mark and you can't help but be charmed by their silly flirting. Gaynor really is happy-go-lucky and that charm comes flying off the screen. Mary Forbes, Marjorie White, El Brendel and Peter Gawthorne play the supports. The musical numbers are quite large and you can tell that some of them probably had an influence on Busby Berkeley. The songs are rather hit and miss but "If I Had a Talking Picture of You" is certainly one of the highlights of the film. The main highlight is a brilliant opening sequence where the camera appears to film the entire sequence in one shot. We start off with kids playing on the street and then the camera spins around to capture a lot of other action. It goes into stores before rising to view in on people inside their apartments. The camera will then go in and out of rooms as we get to see the life of the poor and this entire sequence is without question the greatest thing I've seen from any of these early talkies. The cinematography was downright breathtaking and even more impressive is how they use the soundtrack during all of this. Considering how poor most of these films always sound it's just shocking to see the technology used here. Originally there were a couple Technicolor scenes but sadly they've been lost to time. SUNNYSIDE UP suffers from familiar territory as well as a long running time but there's enough here to make it worth viewing.
Did Fox restore this film or an independent lab? What happened to the original Fox "The End" title card? Also, Movietone was not mentioned in the opening credits--did Fox not list it the way Warner Brothers displayed Vitaphone on their talkies?
The plot, though seemingly incidental to the film, concerns rich-guy Farrell and his lousy relationship with a society débutante. However, when you see him meet Gaynor you know exactly where the film is going. There really isn't much more to it than this, as the singing and other gimmicks ARE the film! Now I am sure some who love their films would disagree, but I think this is a pretty bad film--even compared to other 1929 films. Now I love Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell films--just not this one. I read through the other reviews and apparently I am in the distinct minority about this film.
It's possibly the worst attempt at setting music and dance to film that I've ever seen. And on top of a clumsy script, it has EL BRENDEL for comic relief when the whole film is so bad it's hilarious to watch.
You have to have a truly tin ear for music to appreciate what Gaynor and Farrell do to the music. Indeed, their talking voices are so badly recorded that it's a wonder sound movies survived the talkies.
David Butler, the genial director of many a later musical film, fails to bring the musical interludes to life. Of course, part of the fault lies in the tinny soundtrack, but the songs are nothing memorable.
Farrell is a handsome young leading man here but obviously short on talent of any kind. He sounds as though he's reading a script for the first time--and incidentally, Gaynor too is pitifully inadequate both as a singer and an actress. No wonder this film has slipped into such obscurity.
The clichés are endless in the boy meets girl/boy loses girl sort of thing that goes on for an endless running time. The print shown on TCM had a soundtrack muffled by a noisy background obviously unrestored. At any rate, Gaynor sounds like Minnie Mouse most of the time and Farrell's high pitched voice gets no help from the early sound equipment.
Very poor film, worthwhile only as a laughable curiosity.