On a warm September evening in 1934, popular crooner Russ Columbo stopped by his best friend's house to tell him how WAKE UP AND DREAM, his first starring role for Universal, was going. His buddy, Lansing Brown, lit a match too close to an antique dueling pistol he was fooling around with and shot Russ in the eye, killing him. The film, released the following month, was very similar to Fox's BOTTOMS UP, another B-list musical made the same year: Penniless promoter Charlie Sullivan (smooth-talking Roger Pryor) teams up with singing pals Paul Scotti (Columbo) and Toby Brown (June Knight) to stay one step ahead of the law as they travel cross-country from NY to LA in search of fame and fortune. Only one succeeds, unfortunately, but there's still a happy ending for two out of three.
A bit more "polished" than the Fox musical, WAKE UP AND DREAM is also chocked full of forgettable songs (one of them, "Too Beautiful For Words", is reprised no less than three times) and Tinseltown stereotypes from the self-centered movie queen to the apoplectic stage manager proliferate as well. The by-now requisite love triangle between Columbo, Knight, and third wheel Pryor comes as no surprise but the undeniable charm -and voice- of Russ Columbo and a great supporting cast (Henry Armetta, Andy Devine, Catherine Doucet, Wini Shaw) make this a mildly amusing diversion despite its predictability.
Russ was better looking than his main rival, Paramount's Bing Crosby, and also had an easy way about him in front of the camera so who knows what might have happened if that fatal tragedy hadn't occurred. Universal had high hopes for Columbo and planned to star him in SHOW BOAT in a role that later went to Allan Jones. The opening studio logo of a plane circling the globe and the end credits proclaiming "A Good Cast Is Worth Repeating" made me feel like I just ran into an old friend.
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