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"Broadway Gondolier" (Warner Brothers, 1935), directed by Lloyd Bacon, is a musical set in a radio station that could easily be a rehash to the studio's previous effort of "Twenty Million Sweethearts" (1934), starring Dick Powell and Ginger Rogers with a few new twists and turns this time around. Powell plays Richard Purcell (affectionally called Dick by his friends), a Bronx taxi cab driver with a good singing voice. After picking up Hayward (George Barbier) and Gilmore (Hobart Cavanaugh), a couple of theater critics just leaving the opera, they hear Dick singing and encourage him to pursue a career and to stop wasting his time driving cabs. Dick is also encouraged by Professor Eduardo DiVinci (Adolphe Menjou), his music teacher and closest friend. He decides to try his luck landing an audition at a radio station. After a couple of misfortunes, he is given a break by Alice Hughes (Joan Blondell), a no-nonsense secretary who finally cracks a smile, and arranges an appointment for him to audition for Mr. Richards (Grant Mitchell), the station manager, and Mrs. Flagenheim (Louise Fazenda), a romantic widow and sponsor of Flagenheim Cheese. Because Dick is unable to arrive on time for his audition, DiVinci offers to take his place. This gesture loses Dick his opportunity to sell himself. Dick is later offered a second chance appearing on a kiddie program where he sings children's songs and making animal noises. Doing this proves too much for him, causing him to insult his listeners over a live microphone before walking out, causing the red lights at the switch board to flair up. Since the radio station has no real talented singer, Mrs. Flagenheim suggests finding undiscovered talent overseas. She chooses to go to Venice, Italy with Miss Hughes assisting her. Dick learns about the talent search and stows away on the same ship bound for Italy as Alice and Flagenheim. While in Venice, Dick is reunited with DiVinci, who earlier returned to his native homeland. He not only teaches Dick the Italian language, but convinces him to grow a mustache and become a singing gondolier. By coincidence, of course, Dick, now known as Ricardo Purcelli, is discovered by Mrs. Flagenheim, who takes him back with her to New York City as her latest discovery, with Alice, at the risk of her job, keeping Purcell's disguise a secret.
The supporting cast consists of William Gargan as Cliff Stanley, Alice's jealous fiancé; Joseph Sawyer as Red, a cab driver; Bob Murphy as the singing policeman of classical music; James Burke as "Uncle Andy," the kiddie show host; and familiar stock company faces of Mary Treen, George Chandler and Paul Porcasi in smaller roles.
"Broadway Gondolier" is just another excuse of exercising Dick Powell's vocal chords and exploiting the movie with a handful of lively Harry Warren and Al Dubin tunes. The soundtrack includes: "Sweet and Low" (sung by the Canova family, one of them being the famous Judy); "Flagenheim Cheese" (sung by Sam Ash); "Outside of You" (sung by Dick Powell); Guiseppi Verdi's RIGOLETTO (sung by Adolphe Menjou); "The Pig and the Cow" (sung by Joan Blondell and Powell); "The Lonely Gondolier is Singing" (sung in Italian by Powell); "The Rose in Her Hair" (sung by Powell/ gondoliers and Italian citizens); "Flagenheim Cheese" (sung by Sam Ash); "Outside of You" (instrumental, conducted by Ted Fio Rito and his orchestra/sung by band members); "The Rose in Her Hair" (sung by Powell); "Lulu's Back in Town" (sung by Powell and The Mills Brothers); "You Could Be Kissed" (sung by Powell, band members/ reprized by the trick voice antics of Candy Candido); "The Lonely Gondolier is Singing" (Powell); "Flagenheim Cheese" (Sam Ash); "Outside of You" (Powell); "Flagenheim Cheese" (reprise by Powell, Blondell and Ash). There are also Italian lyrics to "Il Gondoliere" and "Rosa D'Amour."
Of the handful of songs, many pleasing to the ear, "The Rose in Her Hair" is the best while "Lulu's Back in Town" is the most memorable. "Lulu" could have easily been a production number with Blondell in the title role and Powell the lead singer, but "Broadway Gondolier" consists of no dance numbers, only vocalists singing into a microphone. This is one way of saving the studio the added expense of a lavish scale production number or two.
As for the plot, it lacks logic, especially when Powell's character is discovered as an Italian-born gondolier in Venice, speaking NO English whatsoever, but able to sing his songs in English. Then when he returns to New York in the guise of an Italian, he supports no Italian accent, even when singing over the radio. One can gather that the listeners in the story, along with its viewing audience, overlooking this, just sitting back and listen to Powell sing, sing, sing.
"Broadway Gondolier" occasionally strains for laughs, with much of the comedy handled by Louise Fazenda in a role that could have been enacted by Alice Brady. Interestingly, both Fazenda and Brady, who really weren't that old, were usually type-cast as middle-aged matrons. As for Adolphe Menjou, he's makes a convincing Italian with dialect intact, never stepping out of character. At 98 minutes, "Broadway Gondolier" has that overlong feel at times. Overall, it's an acceptable radio musical satire with Powell at his prime.
Out of circulation on the local TV markets since the 1970s or 80s, "Broadway Gondolier" can still be seen and enjoyed whenever shown on Turner Classic Movies. (***)
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