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Movie producer chooses a simple girl to be "Miss Humanity" and to critically evalute his movies from the point of view of the ordinary person. Hit song: "Love Walked In." Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
THE GOLDWYN FOLLIES (United Artists, 1938), directed by George Marshall, produced by Samuel Goldwyn, who doesn't appear, is a lavish scale musical revue with a slight plot focused on Oliver Merlin (Adolphe Menjou) a prominent movie producer. While attending a sneak preview of his latest movie, "The Happy Tango" he finds audiences laughing at leading lady Olga Sanava's (Vera Zorina) death scene. On location for his upcoming production, Merlin overhears Hazel Dawes (Andrea Leeds), a simple country girl, watching a rehearsal, telling her friend Ada (Nydia Westman) how movies really need to be more true to life. Because of her honesty about film-making, Merlin takes her back with him to Hollywood, hires her as technical adviser, "Miss Humanity," where she is to watch "The Forgotten Dance," an upcoming production, and offer opinions on what should or should not be done. While incognito with Glory (Ella Logan) acting as her chaperon, she meets Danny Beecher (Kenny Baker), a hamburger flipper in a lunch wagon, with a pleasing singing voice. Hazel succeeds in launching his movie career playing a singing gondolier. After Merlin, who plans on marrying Hazel upon completion of "The Forgotten Dance," discovers her love for Danny, he intends on taking him taken out of the movie unless Hazel agrees on becoming his wife.
On the musical program: "Romeo and Juliet Ballet" (performed by Vera Zorina/American Ballet Company); "Here Pussy Pussy" (by Ray Golden and Sid Kuller, sung by Ritz Brothers); "Love Walked In," "Love Walked In" (by George and Ira Gershwin, both sung by Kenny Baker); La Travita Arias: "Libiam Nei Lieti Calici" (sung by Charles Kullmann and Helen Jepson)/ "Sempre Libra" (Jepson and Kullmann); "Love Walked In" (sung by Baker and Andrea Leeds, singing dubbed by Virginia Verrill); "I Was Doing All Right" (sung by Ella Logan); "Love Is Here to Stay" (Kenny Baker); "La Serenata" (Helen Jepson); "Spring Again" (by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin, sung by Kenny Baker); Water Nymph Ballet (performed by the American Ballet, Vera Zorina); "Serenade to a Fish" (The Ritz Brothers); "Spring Again" (Kenny Baker); "I Love to Rhyme" (sung by Phil Baker, Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen); and "Love Walked In" (finale with entire cast).
In spite of Menjou heading the cast (even with his misspelled first name reading Adolph), it's Andrea Leeds who carries the film. With such a fine assortment of talent, lavish Technicolor, with the final score composed by the legendary George Gershwin, this Goldwyn production reportedly flopped, understandably, yet a failure that could have been avoided. A "Ziegfeld Follies" Goldwyn style, his attempt to please the masses with comedy, opera, ballet choreographed by George Ballachine, upscale music and lavish production numbers, doesn't always work. At nearly two hours, the final result is a mixed bag, ranging from entertaining to extremely dull. On my initial viewing of this musical hodgepodge on broadcast television (WPIX, Channel 11, in New York City) back in the 1970s, it was one of the few classic films that had me changing channels or turning off the TV at midway point. With the first 20 minutes being close to perfect entertainment, what drew me away were the ballet numbers; and Kenny Baker's tenor-izing singing. Granted, "Love Walked In" is a wonderful song, but quite corny when sung in the lunch wagon and/ or at the public beach. Sadly, Baker, simply fails to register well on screen. The highlights enjoyed, however, were the ventriloquist act of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy; The Ritz Brothers' running from the studio guards only to return in studio guard uniforms, followed by their wacky audition in Merlin's casting office singing "Here Pussy, Pussy, Pussy" climaxed by an abundance of running kitty kats. This scene is reminiscent to the Yacht Club Boys' audition act for Warren William in STAGE STRUCK (Warner Brothers, 1936), but the Ritz rendition comes off hilariously better, at least in one's humble opinion. Their comedy antics are a matter of taste, yet this is one of the few times these three zanies were in rare form. Their subsequent two comedy acts, however, don't come off as well. Although not an opera buff, "La Traviata" performed by Metropolitan Opera Star Helen Jepson is well done. Bobby Clark, formerly part of the Clark and McCullough team, as a casting director, along with Phil Harris, do provide some amusing moments. For star gazers, try to locate Jerome Cowan playing a movie director and future movie tough guy, Alan Ladd, as one of the audition singers!!!
Although my personal feelings remain basically the same, I'm a bit more tolerable towards THE GOLDWYN FOLLIES than I once was. In spite of its pros and cons, it did enjoy frequent revivals during the cable channel years, first on American Movie Classics (1993-94), and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: January 1, 2006). It's also available on video and DVD.
Did Sam Goldwyn have his very own "Miss Humanity" before preparing for this one? Hard to say, yet THE GOLDWYN FOLLIES being a Goldwyn folly, had no serious damage done to his reputation as one of the finest Hollywood Moguls of his time, especially with great film hits into his future before retiring in 1959. (***1/2)
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