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When Jack and Jerry are not playing professional baseball with the Blue Sox, they are packing them in on the Vaudeville circuit. Jack is engaged to Mary, but a gold digger named Daisy has worked her way into his confidence. When Mary sees Jack and Daisy together, she leaves Jack and Jack marries Daisy the next day. When Daisy decides that she wants into the Vaudeville act, she has Jack dump both Jerry and his baseball contract. But Jack soon finds that - no act - means no money - means no Daisy. Written by
Tony Fontana <email@example.com>
THEY LEARNED ABOUT WOMEN (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1930), directed by Jack Conway and Sam Wood, is another assortment of early sound musicals released during the 1929-30 season, one of many to feature either Broadway actors or vaudeville entertainers. Still capitalizing on the earlier success of its first Academy Award winning musical, "The Broadway Melody" (1929) starring Charles King and Bessie Love, THEY LEARNED ABOUT WOMEN could have become another King and Love union, as did CHASING RAINBOWS (1930), but instead, the studio paired Love with the vaudeville team of Joe Schenck (1891-1930), who somewhat resembles Charles King by the way, and Gus Van (1886-1968), in what turned out to be their one and only feature length musical following their few Vitaphone musical shorts released earlier (1928-29).
Not quite the one about students in an all boys high school attending sex education class (which wouldn't be the norm until the 1970s), THEY LEARNED ABOUT WOMEN is a story about two devoted pals, Jack Glennon (Joe Schenck) and Jerry Burke (Gus Van), vaudeville partners and baseball players ("baseball is their racket") for the Blue Sox. The story opens with Glennon and Burke on a train en route to Florida for spring training after completing their vaudeville tour. The plot development shows Jack's weakness for boozing, and Jerry a kind-hearted guy who looks after his partner of fifteen years. Jerry's engaged to Mary Collins (Bessie Love), whom he plans to marry at the end of the baseball season, yet, after falling victim to a girl he met on the train, Daisy Gebhardt (Mary Doran), a gold digger traveling with the Melody Blondes troupe, Jack strikes out with both Jerry and Mary, and begins to learn about women, especially the one responsible for breaking up his act and friends.
With new tunes by Jack Yellen and Milton Ager, the motion picture soundtrack includes: "He's That Kind of a Pal" (sung by Schenck and Van); "Ain't you, Baby?" (sung by Van); "When You Were Sweet Sixteen" (by Jack Thornton/ sung by Tom Dugan and Benny Rubin); "I'd Love a Man of My Own" (sung by Bessie Love); "Does Your Baby Love?" (Schenck and Van); "There Will Never Be Another Mary," "Ten Sweet Mammas" (sung by Gus Van, baseball players in locker room and showers); "Daugherty is the Name," "I'm an Old-Fashioned Guy" (Schenck and Van); "Harlem Madness" (Schenck and Van, sung/ danced by Nina Mae McKinney and ensemble); "He's That Kind of a Pal" and "There Will Never Be Another Mary."
Being a motion picture showcase for Schenck and Van (as they were billed), the dual steps aside for "Harlem Madness," the only production number in the entire movie, and one that the true highlights thanks to the vibrant McKinney, co-star of King Vidor's HALLELUJAH (1929), and the energetic dancing ensemble. Interesting that McKinney didn't receive any screen credit listed as a specialty dancer in the opening cast. And who was that little girl doing the tap dancing solo? Another time Schenck and Van step aside is for the comedy routines of Benny Rubin (Sam Goldberg) and Tom Dugan (Tim O'Connor), baseball players and vaudeville comics. Their jokes are bad, but one can gather the worse the jokes, the funnier the routine.
As technology in early talkies begin to improve by this point such as camera close-ups on dancing feet and camera zoom-ins. "Harlem Madness" does incorporate occasional close up shots on dancing principles as well as capturing audience reactions seated in the theater. There are some long pauses on subject matter when changing from one reel to another before next scene proceeds. Others seen in the cast include: J.C. Nugent (Mr. Strafford, owner of the baseball team); Eddie Gribbon (Brennan, the umpire); Francis X. Bushman Jr. ("Home-Run" Haskins); and Graham McCracken (Himself/the Baseball Commentator).
THEY LEARNED ABOUT WOMEN is typical melody and tears material quite common in early musicals that started it all with Al Jolson's THE JAZZ SINGER (Warner Brothers, 1927). The story it represents can be classified as a forerunner to MGM's Technicolor musical, TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME (1949) starring Frank Sinatra, Esther Williams and Gene Kelly. Though some sources claim the Sinatra-Kelly collaboration to be a remake to the earlier Schenck-Van film, it's actually not. The only similarity is its mixture of vaudeville routines and baseball games incorporated into the plot. Nothing more.
For the only feature on-screen partnership of Schenck and Van, it's fortunate the motion picture has survived intact (95 minutes), considering how many films from this period have disappeared and gone forever. For being a filmed record of their work, it's a wonder whether or not they might have continue in other films had it not been for Schenck's untimely death. Possibly NO considering how THEY LEARNED ABOUT WOMEN reportedly didn't hit any home runs at the box-office, with no critique reviews published in several major New York City newspapers.
Other vaudeville headliners as The Duncan Sisters (Rosetta and Vivian) had their very own MGM musical, IT'S A GREAT LIFE (1929) that came and went as did this Schenck and Van musical, becoming virtually forgotten through the passage of time. In 1988, THEY LEARNED ABOUT WOMEN was rediscovered when broadcast in the then new cable television station of Turner Network Television (TNT) before becoming a regular member of Turner Classic Movies since 1994. Because it's still a rare treat of a movie, especially when Schenck and Van are concerned, THEY LEARNED ABOUT WOMEN still remains a worthy rediscovery for historians interested in learning about early sound musicals such as this one. (**)
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