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GARDEN OF THE MOON (Warner Brothers/ First National Pictures, 1938),
directed by Busby Berkeley, might have some distinctions of being a
science fiction fantasy from the 1950s about some landscaper taking up
residence in outer space. As the title indicates, it's the name of a
high class nightclub located at the Royal Hotel in Los Angeles,
California. With the name of Busby Berkeley credited as its director,
this is a musical, and a musical without its Number One vocalist Dick
Powell in the lead. Sources have it that Powell turned down this role,
and was substituted by an unknown by the name of John Payne, which
rhymes with John Wayne, but the same John Payne whose career peaked in
the 1940s while at 20th Century-Fox, where his best known work happens
to be MIRACLE ON 34th STREET (1947) starring Maureen O'Hara and Edmund
The story for GARDEN OF THE MOON is lively, tuneful, simple but very predictable. It centers mainly upon John Quinn (Pat O'Brien), the ruthless proprietor of the famous bistro. After losing the engagement of Rudy Vallee and his Connecticut Yankees in a bus accident, Quinn hires Don Vicente (John Payne), an unknown band-leader under the recommendation of his publicity agent, Toni Blake (Margaret Lindsay). While Vicente plays wherever engagements are available, he readily accepts his assignment working for Quinn, but is not happy with only a two week engagement. Determined to make good in spite of everything, Vicente goes against Quinn's orders, causing Quinn to do whatever possible to discourage him. Vicente, on the other hand, is usually one up on Quinn, clashes leading to schemes and tricks upon one another(some backfiring), with Toni acting as referee.
With music and lyrics by Harry Warren, Al Dubin and Johnny Mercer, the motion picture soundtrack is as follows: "Garden of the Moon" (sung by Mabel Todd, but never in its entirety); "Love Is Where You Find It" (sung by John Payne and Johnnie Davis); "The Lady on the Two-Cent Stamp" (sung by John Payne and band); "Confidentially" (first sung by Mabel Todd, but after much difficulty in trying to vocalize, since Payne does not use girl singers in his band, she is drowned out by the loud playing, causing her to walk out and Payne to take over); "Love Is Where You Find It" (reprise by Payne); "The Girl Friend of the Whirling Dervish" (sung by John Payne and band); and "Confidentially" (sung by John Payne and cast).
Other members of the cast include: Melville Cooper, Isabel Jeans, Richard Purcell, Larry Williams, Granville Bates, Edward McWade, Curt Bois (as the fired pickpocketing waiter posing as the famed Maharajah); and Edgar Edwards (Chauncey, the Ape Man). Penny Singleton, best known for her leading role in the popular "Blondie" film series (Columbia, 1938-1950) appearing briefly as Miss Calder, Quinn's brunette secretary, with horn-rim glasses. Special billing in the opening and closing cast credits goes to newspaper columnist Jimmie Fidler appearing as himself. This became his one and only screen appearance. Now there's one for the "Who's Who in Journalism."
Unlike WONDER BAR (1934), Busby Berkeley's earlier musical set entirely in a night club, GARDEN OF THE MOON has no lavish scale production numbers, no smiling chorines nor overhead camera shots. It consists mainly of tunes vocalized by John Payne and his oddity of characters in the band. Berkeley keeps his camera moving though, focusing on each individual band member consisting of Jerry Colonna, Ray Mayer, and Joe Venuti and his Swing Cats. "The Lady on the Two-Cent Stamp," is tuneful, and at times the score sounds a lot like the earlier Warren and Dubin song, "You Gotta Know How to Dance," introduced in COLLEEN (Warners, 1936) starring Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler. This number, along with "The Girl Friend of the Whirling Dervish," are both played strictly for laughs, with the latter having Colonna (the one with the big rolling eyes, mustache and loud yell), as the "Girl Friend" with a veil concealing "her" face and with his visible big round eyes rolling around in all directions, but not simultaneously, as the band members sing and clown it up.
As mentioned before, GARDEN OF THE MOON is predictable, but predictable in the sense of Pat O'Brien's character, a fast-talking promoter, which he's many times before, in this instance, self-centered, ruthless, but quite deceitful. The running gag here is having him breaking his "mother's" watch in anger only to gain sympathy so he could get what he wants from others. One pleasant surprise is finding Margaret Lindsay in a musical film. Lindsay's pleasant personality and dark-haired features simply add some simplicity of the story. Aside from this being her only musical for Warners, GARDEN OF THE MOON goes on record as Busby Berkeley's final musical for the studio before moving his assignments to MGM.
Virtually forgotten, and nowhere near as good as ALEXANDER'S RAGTIME BAND (20th Century-Fox), another musical about a leader (Tyrone Power) of the band, GARDEN OF THE MOON, like many Berkeley musicals, predates some future musical genres, in this case, that of the "big band". GARDEN OF THE MOON doesn't present the score in the "big band" manner, nor legends like Benny Goodman, for example, (though he previously appeared in Berkeley's Hollywood HOTEL in 1937), but a movie musical style that would become popular in the 1940s.
GARDEN OF THE MOON, at 94 minutes, has never been distributed on video cassette. It does turn up occasionally on Turner Classic Movies. Occasionally bright and breezy, sometimes silly but often amusing, the movie itself, with some slow spots during its last half hour, is no masterpiece but passable screen entertainment, especially for curiosity seekers of obscure 1930s cinema such as this one. (***)
GARDEN is one of those forgotten "B" undercard films that has found new life on TCM. Pat O'Brien and a very young John Payne cross swords as a prickly nightclub manager and a struggling band leader, respectively. The plot is incidental, and involves Payne and his band traveling from NYC to play in O'Brien's popular L.A. club, only to find they are being swindled by O'Brien. The story is not to be taken seriously, and the film largely exists for a lot of big band era music, with some swing numbers thrown n, although no black players appear that I recall. Payne looks and sounds great, and is ably supported by a marvelous actress, completely forgotten today, named Margaret Lindsay and of course the cantankerous, fast-talking O'Brien. Pop-eyed, nonsense-spouting Jerry Colona is along for the ride. The novelty number, "Girlfriend of the Whirling Dervish," better known today thanks to a Looney Tunes cartoon, made its debut here.
This film is a pip and I'll tell you why- the presence of Johnny 'Scat' Davis.He was always the PERFECT musical sidekick in so many of the lightweight musical/ comedies of the late 30s and lights up the screen w/ his sincere energy and wholesome smile. JUST recently I've wanted to know more about him, and this is one of his best! Pat O'Brien is great and funny in a real 'rat you love to hate' kinda way. I can't look at pretty Margaret Lindsey without expecting to see Frankenstein's monster lumbering around the scene. This is a great little warm and fuzzy Busby Berkeley film. Perfect on a rainy afternoon. Caught it on TCM. John Payne is passable as the band leader, though he's not the best singer, if that's his voice. Definitely worth seeing!
The Garden of the Moon is the name of a nightclub in Los Angeles and it
is obviously meant to represent the Cocoanut Grove Night Club which was
located in the Ambassador Hotel. It was THE premier nightspot in
Tinseltown and only the best acts appeared there.
The Ambassador Hotel also entered history for a tragic reason, it was there that Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968. Some twenty years after that the Ambassador was torn down and the old Cocoanut Grove was razed. It hadn't been operating for some years before that.
But in this film it's the Garden of the Moon and it's run by the fast talking, imperious Pat O'Brien. The only time O'Brien ever slowed down the tempo of his dialog was to play priests in Angels With Dirty Faces and The Fighting 69th while he was with Warner Brothers. But Pat was always entertaining.
O'Brien was most often teamed with James Cagney, but also he did several films with Dick Powell usually as a manager, agent, mentor, etc. for Powell who would sing. Powell was getting tired of doing musicals and the role of the band-leader/crooner in this film was so obviously written for him.
A newcomer named John Payne got a break here playing the Powell part. He gets a telegram from O'Brien signing him for an appearance at the Garden of the Moon and he and the band race across the country and then find out it's only for two weeks. For the rest of the film O'Brien and Payne are at each other's throats and Payne is helped by nightclub publicist Margaret Lindsay who works for O'Brien, but has fallen big time for Payne.
Songs here are by Harry Warren and Al Dubin and the director is Busby Berkeley. Like Dick Powell, they were coming to the end of their Warner Brothers contracts. Berkeley didn't break any new ground and no hit songs emerged from the score, but the three of them did their jobs in their usual professional style.
Curiously enough John Payne right after this was signed by 20th Century Fox to be a musical Tyrone Power who he resembled. And also Payne's career followed a similar path to Dick Powell's in that eventually he eschewed musicals for dramatic parts and did them as well as Powell did.
It's minor league Busby Berkeley, but even in the minor leagues it's still good entertainment.
This little known musical comedy, very minor league in every
department, gave JOHN PAYNE the kind of break that led to a seven-year
contract at Fox after they saw him as the brash band leader/singer in
this modest programmer.
The band sequences are directed with a certain flair and flourish, thanks to director Busby Berkeley, despite the fact that this time there's no fancy choreography for him to work into the routines. And among the musicians is comic JERRY COLONNA, better known later on as Bob Hope's favorite comic foil.
But PAT O'BRIEN is the star and he overacts his blustery, fast-talking nightclub manager, chewing on a cigar, in the fashion that most Warner comedies of the period thought was stylish. He plays it in broad, farcical style but gets a little overbearing for my taste, while Payne seems almost low-key by comparison. MARGARET LINDSAY is the pretty lady serving as Payne's romantic interest and is more animated than usual.
It's not a bad little musical, but most of the songs are high forgettable items except for the "Whirling Dervish" number and serve only to give the story more bounce than it normally would have.
Passes the time pleasantly enough, but is nothing anyone should go out of their way to see. At least JOHN PAYNE's fans get a glimpse of why he got signed to a Fox contract.
CURT BOIS adds an amusing touch as a phony Maharahjah whom MELVILLE COOPER realizes is a waiter who had trouble with champagne corks and used to pinch a pocket or two in his old job as a waiter. Amusing fluff.
Trivia note: JIMMY FIDLER, famous Hollywood columnist of the period, makes a brisk appearance in a supporting role and isn't bad at all.
I believe Busby Berkeley is underrated as a comedy director. Everyone
knows Berkeley for his larger-than-life, kaleidoscopic, troop-formation
choreography, but the man directed several movies without such
spectacles and I often find myself surprised at the nuggets of real
comedy that pop up in films like STAGE STRUCK (1936) and GARDEN OF THE
Pat O'Brien gives a terrific comedic performance as the ruthless and manipulative club manager. Some of his line deliveries are just perfect. I'm not always a Pat O'Brien fan, and his character in this film isn't the nicest guy, but he's great to watch in this role.
The comedy is greatly assisted by Granville Bates and Edward McWade as the penny-pinching hotel owners, the McGillicuddys. Their roles are relatively minor, but they are a hoot. ("When not in use, turn off the juice.")
Margaret Lindsay's character has a little more personality than some of the cardboard love interests she'd played earlier in the decade. She wears her hair a little differently, too (I guess it's the changing fashions), but she's still lovely.
Young John Payne plays a struggling bandleader who buts heads with O'Brien. Personally I found Payne's character to be a little abrasive, and I wondered what Berkeley veteran Dick Powell might've done in the role. Johnnie "Scat" Davis does his thing as Payne's sidekick/bandmate and the unforgettable, pop-eyed, mustachioed Jerry Colonna adds eccentric charm as a wacky band member.
There are some songs, and they're pleasant enough (written by Harry Warren, Al Dubin, and Johnny Mercer). Hijinks ensue as O'Brien clashes with Payne, with Lindsay caught in the middle. There are some great bits and some fine character actors (add Melville Cooper to the list), but this is still a minor film. I didn't care too much for Payne and the music didn't blow me away. O'Brien holds the movie together. It's enjoyable enough and rather obscure. Check it out if it comes on TCM.
I didn't care for the music, which looked as if it were going to be a
dominant component of this movie. I stuck with it a little, though, and
I'm really glad: Pat O'Brien is very funny as a variation on Oscar
Jaffe from "Twentieth Century." He's demanding and devious. When
crossed, he faux-accidentally breaks a watch he tearfully says was
given him by his late mother. Toward the end of the movie, thought we
already know it is a ruse, he does this and his secretary -- Penny
Singleton in mousy costuming -- says his mother is on the phone. And
she wants a tip on the next race at Saratoga.
John Payne as the bandleader is OK. The rest of the cast is OK. Jimmie Fiddler plays himself, in a sizable role and that's a nice touch.
The writing is the star here, though. And it is a great role for O'Brien.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
1938's "Garden of the Moon" is a night club a pretend night club in L.A. In the confines of this swanky club, most of the movie is set. Mind you, I don't know how the proprietors manage to keep the doors open since the club is way, way mismanaged by super ego Pat O'Brien. Fortunately, dictatorial Pat has an able assistant who can run interference in the person of super-lovely Margaret Lindsay, and best of all, he can deal himself some lucky publicity breaks from none other than radio's number one entertainment commentator, Jimmie Fidler, here making a rare cinema appearance. In fact, Fidler's presence alone makes this movie a must-see. On the other hand, I'm not a fan of Jerry Colonna, but at least he makes no secret of the fact that Jerry's greatest fan is himself. Fortunately, despite strenuous efforts, he doesn't get on my nerves too much in this one, though director Busby Berkeley does give him plenty of leeway. Next to Jimmie Fidler, the movie's greatest asset is John Payne who capitalizes on the good work he did in "Hat's Off" (1936). Incidentally, if you're looking for great Busby Berkeley production numbers, look elsewhere. There are no elaborate routines, classy camera-work or attenuated chorus lines (or in fact any chorus cuties at all) in this "Garden of the Moon". But there is Pat and Payne, pace, laughs, music and merriment. Available on an excellent Warner Archive DVD.
What distinguishes "Garden of the Moon" more than anything else is its
nonstop script. Like the changeable weather in Hawaii, if you don't
like one scene, wait a few seconds and something entirely different
will come along. This is a romantic big-band musical that wants to be a
Marx Brothers movie. The pace is hectic throughout.
The title refers to a posh nightclub in Hollywood that is run by John Quinn (Pat O'Brien), one of the most unlikeable characters in films. He treats everyone with contempt and likes nothing more than to take advantage of everybody he deals with. His publicity agent/booker is Toni Blake (Margaret Lindsay), a swell kid and a go-getter. On short notice, she books an unknown band--Don Vincente and His Orchestra. She falls for Don and, thereafter, has a conflict of interest.
The musical numbers are boisterous and campy. The songs come from Harry Warren, Al Dubin and Johnny Mercer. Some of them are clever and fun.
The cast is a real collection of talent and they chew the scenery just the way the director, Busby Berkeley, asked them to. Jerry Colonna, for one, may over do it with his googly eyes and double-talk.
I can't say this is a good film, but Berkeley certainly fills every frame with content.
Whether or not you like this film may depend a lot on whether or not
you love musicals...as well as the singing voice of John Payne.
Unfortunately, I am not a huge fan of musicals and I distinctly did not
enjoy Payne's singing. And, on top of that, the character played by Pat
O'Brien is very familiar--though meaner than the sort of guy O'Brien
often played. A bit less singing and a bit less meanness and I might
have enjoyed this more.
This film, directed by Busby Berkeley, begins with Rudy Valle's bus being run off the road and several members of the band (none of which you ever see) are injured. As a result, they are not able to play for the opening of O'Brien's nightclub, The Garden of the Moon. No other big-name act is available Margaret Lindsey convinces O'Brien to take his chance on an unknown band led by John Payne. The band is thrilled but soon after they arrive, O'Brien begins treating them like garbage. This could have been done well, but they frankly made O'Brien a total jerk. As a result, later in the film when the film makers wanted you to like and connect with him, you couldn't. The rest of the film consists of on-again/off-again fights between Payne and O'Brien and Lindsey's attempts to get them to patch things up--though I was hoping Payne would just slug him! The film consists of a lot of ordinary music and some forced comedy. There was a terrible ordinariness about the film and while there isn't a lot to hate, the film was only mildly diverting and nothing more. Frankly, everyone in the film did better work than this!
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