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. (***)