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The Vagabond Lover was an early all-talkie film (1929) that starred the
current singing rage, Rudy Vallee. He plays the leader of a small-town
band determined to make the big time. The band travels to Long Island
to crash the home of noted band leader, Ted Grant. Of course, snoopy
society matron (Marie Dressler) mistakes them for the all-star band and
invites them to play at her musicale. In her rivalry with fellow matron
(Nella Walker), Dressler will not stop at anything to "one up" her. The
band plays well, and Vallee instantly falls for Dressler's niece, Sally
Blane. OK plot, but the main setback is Vallee: he's a lousy actor, his
singing seems thin, and he has a strong lisp. But Dressler makes up for
it, stealing the film from the novice actor. By today's standards, she
overacts, but she's so funny and lively, it's hard to find fault. Blane
is pretty but no great actress. Malcolm Waite plays the real Ted Grant,
Charles Sellon is the local cop, Edward Nugent and Danny O'Shea are
band members, and Gladden James, once a silent-screen star (The Social
Secretary with Norma Talmadge in 1916) plays one of the reporters.
The title song is sung over the opening credits. "I'm Nobody's Sweetheart Now," "I Love You, Believe Me, I Love You," "Georgie Porgie," "If You Were the Only Girl in the World, and I Were the Only Boy," "A Little Kiss Each Morning, A Little Kiss Each Night," "Sweetheart, We Need Each Other," and "I'll Be Reminded of You" are the songs. A couple are well remembered. "Sweetheart, We Need Each Other" was also a featured song in 1929's smash hit, Rio Rita, sung by Bert Wheeler and Dorothy Lee (and in a better rendition).
This is Dressler's talkie debut in a feature. The same year, she starred with Polly Moran in a talkie short, Dangerous Females and appeared in the all-star Hollywood Revue of 1929. After having been a star on early films (Tillie's Punctured Romance, etc.) Dressler was on the comeback trail in 1928 (The Patsy with Marion Davies). Talkies cemented her return to stardom, and Dressler would be a top box office star within a year. Everything she appeared in was a hit (Anna Christie, Let Us Be Gay, etc.) and she resumed top billing in star roles, winning an Oscar for Min and Bill.
Blane would have a so-so career, eclipsed by her sister, Loretta Young. Vallee would re-surface in the 40s in comedies like The Palm Beach Story and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. Handsome Edward Nugent would linger for another decade but never made much of a splash. And Nella Walker would have a long career playing society ladies.
This film is certainly worth watching but is a disappointment. Vallee does NOT use his famed megaphone (it might have helped), nor does he sing his hit version on "The Stein Song" (from the University of Maine). Vallee attended both the University of Maine and Yale.
THE VAGABOND LOVER (RKO Radio, 1929), directed by Marshall Neilan, is
an appropriate title to one of the most popular vocalists of the time,
Rudy Vallee (1901- 1986). As with many singers making a screen debut,
Vallee's performance is somewhat stiff, reciting his lines as if he
were reading from cue cards, but satisfactory with his vocalizing.
Unlike future crooners as Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra, Vallee's screen
career in leading roles were limited but acting overall improved
through the passage of time. By the 1940s, however, Vallee started a
new chapter in his career playing stuffy millionaires starting with
Preston Sturges' comedic masterpiece, THE PALM BEACH STORY (Paramount,
1942) starring Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea. As for THE VAGABOND
LOVER, this is where the Rudy Vallee of motion picture screen began.
"Every small town has its small town band with big town ideas," is its opening title before introducing Rudy Bronson (Rudy Vallee), the lead vocalist and organizer of a college senior band who's been studying on developing his own orchestra by Ted Grant's mail order guide. Feeling Grant to be a remarkable man and speaking of him as he if were an old friend to his band members, Rudy heads over to Grant's Long Island home with his band for an audition. As Ted Grant (Malcolm Waite) prepares on leaving town for a vacation with his associates, Rudy, initially thrown out of Grant's home by the butler, intends not giving up enters Grant's home through an open window with his band members behind him. By the time Rudy gets his band organized, Grant who has already gone, ends up orchestrating his band to an empty house. Having been spotted by Ethel Whitehall (Marie Dressler), a wealthy matron, and her niece, Jean (Sally Blane), for entering through the window, the next door neighbors notify Officer George T. Tuttle (Charles Sellon) to investigate housebreaking. Confronting the "burglars," members of the band cover up by telling Tuttle, Mrs. Whitehall and Jean that Rudy IS Ted Grant and that they accidentally locked themselves out of the house. With one thing leading to another, Mrs. Whitehall soon engages "Ted Grant's Orchestra" to perform at a charity benefit for orphans. Rudy becomes successful, but feels guilty about his false pretense. At the advise of his band, Rudy remains silent, going on with his masquerade, even with the possibility of being exposed as a fraud and losing Jean, whom he's very much interested.
During its brief 65 minutes, THE VAGABOND LOVER manages to squeeze in a handful of popular tunes, old and new, including "I'm Just a Vagabond Lover" (voiceover sung by Vallee during opening credits); "I'm Nobody's Sweetheart Now" (sung by band); "I Love You, Believe Me, I Love You," "Georgie Porgie" (sung by orphans); "If You Were the Only Girl in the World, and I Were the Only Boy," "A Little Kiss Each Morning, A Little Kiss Each Night," Instrumental dancing to "I'm Just a Vagabond Lover" and "Sweetheart, We Need Each Other," "I Love You, Believe Me, I Love You" (reprise by Vallee) and "I'll Be Reminded of You."
Unlike some 1929 releases consisting of faded photography and distorted sound, the production values of THE VAGABOND LOVER are quite good. What may hurt the value of this movie today is the wooden acting of Rudy Vallee. Considering this to be his first screen appearance, with sound techniques still relatively new, this could be overlooked. Another bonus is the plot not focusing heavily on melodramatics with tearful solutions, but an overly familiar but an amusing mistaken identity plot that makes this antique more palatable. For anyone unfamiliar with the Rudy Vallee method, his singing singing style stir up chuckles with contemporary viewers, particularly watching his facial close- up with makeup on lips and eye-lids while singing with his eyes closed and mouth wide open.
THE VAGABOND LOVER is redeemed somewhat by Marie Dressler (1869-1934) in the early stages of her sound career. Unlike the lovable characters she performed so well later on at MGM, she presents herself here more like a Margaret Dumont (of the Marx Brothers fame) type than anything else, but she's still Marie. Watching THE VAGABOND LOVER comes as a blessing as to something new, considering how the Dressler legend lies more on the frequent revival to the excellent sophisticated comedy-drama, DINNER AT EIGHT (MGM, 1933). To see more of Dressler and other films (such as her Academy Award winning performance in MIN AND BILL in 1930) is to learn more about her gifted talent of long ago.
The performance of Sally Blane (sister to actress Loretta Young) has her mostly sitting back and listening with awe to Rudy's singing. ("When you sing like that, I wish you'd go on forever."). Charles Sellon, whose Officer Tuttle could have easily been played by Ned Sparks, adds a little spark as the crusty old policeman who suspects Rudy as a phony. Rounding out the cast of reliables are Nella Walker (Mrs. Todhunter); Norman Peck ("Swiftie"); Edward J. Nugent ("Sport"); and Rudy Vallee's Connecticut Yankees.
This rarely shown item was first introduced to public television in its weekly film series, SPROCKETS (1982). After that series expired, THE VAGABOND LOVER was later shown on American Movie Classics, and then on Turner Classic Movies. Formerly distributed on video cassette, it's availability can be found on DVD.
THE VAGABOND LOVER, an Rudy Vallee song-feast at best, is of sole interest for those interested in early talkies. According to legend, the screenplay used in THE VAGABOND LOVER is based on Rudy Vallee's own career. Did he actually climb through an open window to success? We'll never know. (**)
Let's face it, as a movie, this is not persuasive. The principles of
enunciating for the stage simply overwhelm the intimate sonics that
even this incredibly early talkie were capable of producing. Almost
immediately, subsequent movie directors understood the difference
between stage and screen and made the corrections. Still, it's hard to
believe that some of these scenes could not have been re-shot with more
natural acting, once they saw the rushes. (I'm thinking they simply
didn't think the delivery of lines would be that important in talkies.
"Hey, they're talking! Ain't that enough?")
The music is another matter. Yes, this is not jazz as the revisionist historians would have us understand it (i.e., a largely black phenomenon, with only the most perceptive whites getting it). But it's a mere 30 years from the Gay 90s (that's 1890's) song revolution, and the tug of the sentimental ditty still reached out to 1929 the way early rock still has its effect on rock in the new millennium. Don't judge it harshly. Music like this was an important bridge to the wider American public's tolerance, then acceptance, and finally love of what we now think of as a more pure form of jazz.
Marie Dressler, born 5 years after the end of the Civil War, turns in a stunning performance. All the faces she makes while pushing away the maid's efforts to use smelling salts on her -- pure virtuosity, all done in the blink of an eye. But she can't save the movie entirely. All those shots of wooden Rudy and his entourage -- I've seen more life in the Petrified Forest.
Rudy Vallee's first feature film and his first starring role is badly hurt
by many of the acting problems: both he and his co-star Sally Blane seem to
be mouthing their lines and fail to pick up on their cues, and Malcolm Waite
flubs some lines which were not reshot. I was conscious of the bad acting
throughout. However, the old pros, Marie Dressler, Charles Sellon and Nella
Walker do fine, with Dressler a standout. She seems to have an ability to
contort her face into any position, and with her expressive eyes is a joy to
The plentiful music is mostly enjoyable with Vallee singing most of the songs, which include the popular ballads "I'm Just a Vagabond Lover," "You're Nobody's Sweetheart Now," and "If You Were the Only Girl in the World." I particularly liked a quartet of cute 5-to-7-year-old orphans singing "Georgie Porgie Pudding and Pie." So the film is a mixed bag, but Rudy Vallee fans will surely enjoy it.
The Vagabond Lover is a historic film as it was the first to showcase a
current popular radio star as its lead. In 1929 Rudy Vallee was the
number radio crooner in the country and as such brought a built in
audience to the theaters. That he hadn't quite got down the technique
of acting period, let alone film acting was incidental for this film
with its very slight plot.
Rudy and his band The Connecticut Yankees play a second tier orchestra looking for a break. Rudy persuades them to break into the home of a noted leader and idol and audition even after he was rebuffed. When they're caught by the local constable Charles Sellon, they pretend the famous orchestra leader and his group and have to continue the deception right up to playing in a charity event organized by society grande dame Marie Dressler and her daughter Sally Blane. Of course it all works out in the end.
The film didn't launch Vallee as a movie idol, his his ascetic personality just didn't work for a leading man. This film was done for RKO and later Warner Brothers tried twice to make a leading man of him with Sweet Music and Golddiggers in Paris and failed.
The songs were taken from what Vallee had made popular on his radio program and they included such hits as A Little Kiss Each Morning and the title song. This was probably wise because I'm sure the producers knew this man was not an actor, yet. It would take Preston Sturges who cast Vallee in several of his films to make use of his unique personality and style in great series of character roles. After that curiously enough Vallee rarely sang in films, but still continued as a radio performer. By this time it was the Forties and people like Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and Dick Haymes were crowding Vallee and earlier singers for public attention including Vallee's chief rival Bing Crosby.
If you like Rudy Vallee's singing as I do, by all means catch The Vagabond Lover, but realize you will not see the Rudy Vallee you might remember from later work.
This film is for those who are interested in early talkies, and early
talkie musicals in particular. If you are not in that group, then skip
The plot has Rudy Bronson (Valee) and his band going to Long Island to attempt to audition for Ted Grant, who has loaned his name to a musical correspondence course that Bronson took and according to a newspaper clipping is looking for new talent. Promptly thrown out by the butler, the band members decide to break into Grant's home through the garden entrance, set up their instruments, and play for Grant anyway. However, Grant has already left to go back to New York. A series of misunderstandings has Bronson mistaken for the famous Grant by a neighbor, Mrs. Ethel Bertha Whitehall (Marie Dressler). A series of musical performances and comic misunderstandings later, and Mrs. Whitehall's niece has fallen for Bronson, with everyone still thinking he is Ted Grant. However will he get out of this dilemma?
The musical performances are quite good and include several big hits of that time including the title song which Valee also performs in "Glorifying the American Girl" which also came out in 1929. There is also a dancing performance by a group of chorus girls that involves some interesting formations that are photographed from a top view several years before Busby Berkeley made this sort of thing an art form. Rudy Valee and the other players leave much to be desired in the acting department, leaving plenty of room for Marie Dressler to steal the show as the comic society matron.
On Long Island, crooner Rudy Vallee and His Connecticut Yankees are
mistaken for a more famous band, by neighboring socialite Marie
Dressler (as Mrs. Whitehall). The ruse, which started innocently, goes
too far, and threatens Mr. Vallee's budding relationship with Ms.
Dressler's niece, Sally Blane (as Jean Whitehall). It all works out
while Vallee sings several songs, including "I'm Just a Vagabond Lover"
and "A Little Kiss Each Morning (A Little Kiss Each Night)".
"The Vagabond Lover" does not capture the Vallee hysteria, unfortunately. It is his first feature length film. The songs are stylistically representative, but dull; "Honey" had already appeared in a "short", and the film was completed too early for "The Stein Song" to be included. Ms. Blane (Loretta Young's sister) is very pretty; but, the most beautiful woman in the film is most definitely Dressler. It is her first feature length sound film. Later, Vallee would become a surprisingly effective (considering this performance) character actor.
**** The Vagabond Lover (1929) Marshall Neilan ~ Rudy Vallee, Sally Blane, Marie Dressler
"The Vagabond Lover" could be considered the perfect example of the early-talkie. The acting by Mr. Vallee is rather non-exsistant, but his singing and the music is quite pleasant, and the performance by the great Marie Dressler as "Auntie" makes up for the rest. The photography is very representative of the early sound era, with the actors grouped around a hidden mike with hordes of people in the frame. The sound itself is remarkably good, maybe the best remaining example of early sound recording. There is one chorus number which has a brief overhead shot of the type that Busby Berkely would make famous a year later in "Whoopee!". The film is a brief 65 minutes in length, and it is a rather modest black-and-white production, but it remains a telling window into the 1920s, with it's fashions, music and such. This was also one of the most profitable films of the year for the fledgling Radio Pictures, a new company set up that year to take advantage of the RCA Photophone system. The DVD has a rather dry commentary prolouge by a UCLA film specialist which appears to be taped in his apartment. Rather poorly edited, this feature is easy to skip on the DVD, once you have seen it once. Other players featured in this include Loretta Young's sister, Sally Blane, Eddie Nugent and especially Nella Walker, as Marie Dressler's rival for social prominence. The story, by James Ashmore Creelman, was purportedly based on Mr. Vallee's own carrer.
After about a year on my Netflix wait list when this was previously listed as "long wait", I finally got this in the mail. Among the extras was a PSA about pollution with children (don't ask), Ch. 1 of a Zorro serial, and a talking piece with Rudy Vallee's widow. When clicking on the movie proper, it was introed by a Michael Young, a representative of a film school. The picture itself was a pretty good print for the most part. Knowing this was an early talkie, I found much of the dialogue to seem stilted as performed but when the Marie Dressler character was making faces near the end, I was highly amused by that part. Vallee himself wasn't much of an actor, at least not here, but his singing was quite smoothly compelling, even in today's terms though of course, his kind of music is not in vogue right now. Sally Blane, Loretta Young's sister, is quite a luminous presence, if nothing else. Overall, I liked The Vagabond Lover especially since it happened to be quite brief (65 minutes) compared to some of today's short features when the least running time would maybe just be 90 minutes.
Most folks watching "The Vagabond Lover" today would probably dislike
it or at best tolerate it. However, given the context for the film, it
is a pretty good film. That's because the early talking pictures had
horrible sound--just horrible. Much of the action was stuck around
hidden microphones--and the films seemed stiff and unnatural.
Additionally, the sound quality was just awful in many of the film (the
best example "Coquette"--the film that earned Mary Pickford an Oscar).
However, "The Vagabond Lover" is less stagy and stiff and the sound
quality is marvelous for such an early film. I am sure some of this is
due to the restoration of the film by Roan. Regardless, it's a rare DVD
because I didn't need captions in order to understand what the folks
were saying--which is good, as it came with none.
This film is the first full-length film for Rudy Vallee, though he made two shorts (where he and his band just performed in front of a camera) earlier in 1929. Because he was brand-new to film (as well as to music, as he'd only been a nation-wide sensation for about a year), I can cut him some slack here. While he became an excellent supporting actor in such films as "Palm Beach Story" and "Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer", here in "The Vagabond Lover" he really is pretty stiff and bland. But, so were almost ALL singers in 1929! Flat, stilted acting was pretty common in the day and more naturalistic performances were still to come in the 1930s. The same can be said for the dance numbers--pretty crummy when seen today, but for 1929, not bad at all.
The story finds Vallee and his band (The Connecticut Yankees) out of work--and no one will hire them. They know they are good but just getting someone to LISTEN to them is the problem. So, they concoct a stupid plan--to break into the home of a famous musician, Ted Grant, and perform for him!! This insanely irrational plan really goes unexpectedly poorly when the neighbor (Marie Dressler) sees them break in and calls the police. One of the band members comes up with an even more insane solution--to tell the cops and the neighbor that Vallee IS Ted Grant. They do believe them but this creates another problem with this goofy society lady (Dressler) insists that they MUST perform at a local benefit. They cannot say no and it's not at all surprising that Grant learns that SOMEONE is using his name! What will come of all this as well as Vallee's budding romance with the dippy society matron's daughter (Sally Blane)?
Despite Vallee's stiffness, the weakest part of the film, for me, was actually Dressler. While some of the reviewers really liked her (and some thought she was the best thing in the film), I thought her acting was about as subtle as a stripper at a Baptist picnic! Her later wonderful acting (like she did in "Dinner at Eight") was not apparent. Here she was far, far from subtle and dialing back her goofy performance a bit would have helped. Now I have said a lot about the shortcomings of the film, but there are also some nice things apart from the great sound. The plot, though heavily used in later years, works well and some of the band members were really relaxed on film. Plus, the film IS fun. So, while compared to a 1935 or 1940 film it's very weak, for 1929, it's actually quite nice and worth seeing if you, like me, adore old films.
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