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Bob Gordon is staging a new Broadway Show, but he is short of money. He gets an offer of money by the young widow Lilian, if she can dance in his new show. Bert Keeler, a paper man, gets this information and is writing about this in his column in an slight unfriendly way. Gordon's old class mate Irene Forster, a tap dancer from Albany also tries to get the leading role in this show, but Lilian insists in getting this part herself. So Irene Forster, Bert Keeler and Gordon's secretary Kitty start a little game to get Irene the leading role. Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <email@example.com>
Broadway MELODY OF 1936 (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1935), directed by Roy Del Ruth, from an original story by Moss Hart, with choreography by Dave Gould and Albertina Rasch, marked the new beginning in the cycle of MGM musicals that would be carried through the 1950s. Minus Technicolor thus far, which would become the standard by the mid 1940s, this production has more song and dance, lavish sets and a bright score than in previous years. Capitalizing on the enormous Academy Award winning success of THE Broadway MELODY (1929), this new edition plays more on the current trend of sassy comedy highlighted by new songs by resident composers Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, along with a lineup of new faces featuring Eleanor Powell, Buddy and Vilma Ebsen, Frances Langford, Harry Stockwell and Nick Long Jr. Of the newcomers appearing in the specialty acts, it's Eleanor Powell who would become the overnight "lucky star," in her MGM debut. Not only does she tap dance her way to fame, she does an imitation of Katharine Hepburn from a scene in MORNING GLORY (RKO, 1933) to acting the role of the fictitious French actress, Mademoiselle LaBelle Arlette. The story also takes time for an assortment of snoring sounds, compliments of Mr. Hornblow (Robert Wildhack). He would repeat this gimmick again in Broadway MELODY OF 1938 (1937), changing from snores to sneezes. Broadway MELODY OF 1936 starts off like a vaudeville show combined with comedy, skit and songs interacted in the storyline, but by the second half, becomes cliché musical show preparations.
Starting off like an intended sequel to the 1929 edition, the plot deals with Bert Keeler (Jack Benny), a columnist only reporting on who's going to have a baby, is advised by his managing editor (Paul Harvey) that, in order to boost up circulation, he must go out and report something of real interest. With his assistant, "Snoop" (Sid Silvers), Keeler improves himself by becoming a real gossip columnist. He starts off by writing about Park Avenue widow Lillian Brent (June Knight, an Ann Sothern look-alike), who's investing $60,000 on Broadway producer Robert Gordon's (Robert Taylor) latest show, "Broadway Rhythm" Brent's reasons aren't honorable because she's only using Gordon to break into show business. The circulating news on Gordon and Brent in the tabloids has the angry Gordon rushing his way through the World Tribune (on three separate occasions), followed by a gust of wind blowing away stacks of papers, into Keeler's office and giving him a good sock on the nose. This doesn't discourage Keeler, for that with each sock makes him the most read and talked about gossip columnist in the business, thus, earning a big paycheck raise from his editor. Later, Irene Foster (Eleanor Powell) of Albany, comes to New York look up Gordon. Formerly high school sweethearts, she believes he could give her a break in one of his shows. She is soon discouraged when Gordon insists she return home and forget about her ambition for that Broadway isn't a place for a nice girl like her. With the help of Kitty Corbett (Una Merkel), Gordon's secretary, she arranges for Irene in masquerading as a fictitious French star, originally created by Keeler, to boost up circulation, to audition for the show.
Featured in the musical program are: "The Broadway Melody" (sung by Harry Stockwell); "You Are My Lucky Star" (sung by Frances Langford); "I Gotta Feelin' You're Foolin'" (sung by June Knight and Robert Taylor, danced by Knight and Nick Long Jr.); "Sing Before Breakfast" (sung by Buddy and Vilma Ebsen/ danced by Eleanor Powell); "I Gotta Feelin' You're Foolin'" (sung by Frances Langford); "You Are My Lucky Star" (sung by Eleanor Powell); "All I Do Is Dream of You" (unknown French vocalist on record); "On a Sunday Afternoon" (sung and danced by The Ebsens); "Broadway Rhythm" (sung by Frances Langford/ danced by Eleanor Powell); and "You Are My Lucky Star" (sung by cast).
Of the production numbers, "I Gotta Feelin' You're Foolin'" won the Academy Award as best dance direction. While this particular number plays like a scene within a scene in a Broadway show, it's actually part of the plot. This would be the only time Robert Taylor would sing on screen. Nick Long Jr., a hoofer who physically resembles Fred Astaire, dances like Gene Kelly. "Sing Before Breakfast" has the Ebsen's singing and dancing on the rooftop of their apartment, with Powell going into her dance face front towards the camera while the Ebsens watch her from behind. "You Are My Lucky Star" is seen through the mind of Powell as she daydreams herself as the leading performer in a show to a full theater of patrons. Of the hit tunes, only "On a Sunday Afternoon" failed to catch on.
In the finished product, it's evident that Eleanor Powell would become the star of tomorrow, considering several extreme close ups of her throughout. Considering she was not an accomplished singer as she was a dancer, MGM prepared Frances Langford as her backup in the vocalizing department. As for Jack Benny doing his Walter Winchell impersonation, it would be a few short years before achieving fame as the stingy Jack Benny audiences got to all know and love. Una Merkel and Sid Silvers (who has one hilarious scene disguised as Mademoiselle Arlette) make an unlikely pair who add to several humorous scenes. In 1936, Powell, Merkel, Buddy Ebsen, Langford and Silvers would be reunited once more in another tune feast titled BORN TO DANCE. In spite of its pros and cons, Broadway MELODY OF 1936 (which was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture of 1935), is a very lively musical-comedy 1930s style worth viewing. This Eleanor Powell showcase, presented occasionally on Turner Classic Movies, is also available on video cassette and DVD. (***1/2)
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