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You've Got That Something In Your Voice So Right For Selling Cheese
While Dick Powell was at Warner Brothers, he would be hat in hand to Jack Warner pleading for him to occasionally be cast in something serious. Of course Warner heard that wonderful tenor and saw nothing else in Powell. And certainly when he wrapped those vocal cords around songs like what Harry Warren and Al Dubin wrote for Broadway Gondolier neither could anyone else.
Life does certainly imitate art. The following year the Kraft Cheese Company was in fact looking for a singer to host a rather daring hour long radio variety show, an hour show on radio was quite an innovation back in the day. Unlike Broadway Gondolier the sponsor didn't go to Italy for a crooner. They and NBC found him doing a show for Woodbury Soap, so Bing Crosby got to do in real life what Powell did in the film, host a show selling cheese, as Bob Hope remarked in The Road to Utopia.
Powell himself was not exactly unknown to radio audiences. He appeared on the Hollywood Hotel program, named after one of his other films in Louella Parsons dished out the latest Hollywood gossip. Of course her Hearst connection and his due to the fact he did two films with Marion Davies made Louella and Dick a natural radio team.
In many ways Broadway Gondolier is a continuation of Goldiggers of 1935 which also starred Powell and had Adolphe Menjou with foreign accent. You could never get away with the performance Menjou gave in Broadway Gondolier with that outrageous Italian accent and characterization. The Italian Anti-Defamation League would be picketing the film. But just like in Goldiggers of 1935, Menjou's hammy performance is enjoyable, especially when he tries to fool radio executive Grant Mitchell and sponsor Louise Fazenda, owner of Flagenheimer's Odorless Cheese, and tries to sing like Powell.
Joan Blondell is Mitchell's girl Friday and Fazenda's keeper in the film who falls big time for the cabdriver, would be crooner Powell. Of course she's got another guy knocking on her romantic door, William Gargan who stars on the network as futuristic space hero Buck Gordon. And Fazenda after Powell pretends to be Italian starts getting designs on him. The look in her eye would be grounds enough for a suit for sexual harassment.
Powell recorded for Brunswick records the four songs he sang that Harry Warren and Al Dubin wrote for the film, Outside of You, Lonely Gondolier, The Rose in Her Hair and Lulu's Back in Town. The last two enjoyed some enduring popularity and Powell sang Lulu solo and in a nice scat version with the Mills Brothers.
After some hilarious errors when cabdriver Powell and his voice teacher Menjou try to get him a radio audition, they get the idea to go over to Italy where Fazenda is vacationing and have her 'discover' him in Venice. They bill him as the Italian Gondolier and of course they have to keep up the masquerade.
Anyone who's seen a few films like this knows exactly how it will end. Warner Brothers and Hollywood in general did a grand job in packaging a lot of wonderful nonsense like this as grand escapist entertainment from the Depression.
Even after over 70 years Broadway Gondolier is still wonderfully entertaining. Should not be missed the next time TCM runs it.
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