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I agree that the film is in many ways a mess, but what grand songs! Some of the last songs George Gershwin composed (a few actually finished by Vernon Duke). Especially lovely is Kenny Baker slinging hamburgers in a diner, singing "Love Walked In," and later "Love Is Here To Stay." It is also a very early example of a Technicolor film. So although often quite dumb, this film has its moments of fine entertainment.
I would sorely miss not having this Technicolor record of what the old
Goldwyn studios and the Santa Monica beach looked like in their heyday.
Plus a wonderful cultural record of Jepson's singing (if only Goldwyn
had gotten Pinza doing a scene from "Don Giovanni" as well), Zorina's
dancing, Balanchine's choreography, and two of Gershwin's finest songs
(despite some viewer's comment that "Love Walked In" is insipid, it has
always been my personal favorite).
Add to this wonderful sets and costumes, masterfully photographed by Toland (in one of his few efforts in color), and you have a movie that while being a failure as a work of art, is immensely worth seeing as a record of the times.
That said, I wish Kenny Baker had been as good a singer and as personable on screen as Dick Powell, that the dippy story had been jettisoned in favor of a better one (how could Ben Hecht have been a party to this?), and, despite the fact that they were cultural icons (of a sort), that the Ritz Brothers screen time had been in another movie. (Yes, I know there are those who think they're the best thing in the movie, but some people like Martin and Lewis, too).
Probably the only reason for remembering The Goldwyn Follies is that
it's the movie George Gershwin was working on when he died at 38 of a
brain tumor. In truth, the movie is a mish- mash, although a
good-natured one, involving comedy bits, musical numbers and what
Goldwyn considered "class." The best thing about the film are two
George and Ira Gershwin songs that are as fresh and wise today as when
they were written, "Our Love Is Here to Stay" and "Love Walked In." The
story line is as thin as a thread, designed to keep the numbers coming
and to provide some fun at Hollywood's expense. Ben Hecht is credited
with the screenplay. He artfully places some banderillas that probably
puckered the skin of several types of Hollywood denizens, from
producers to divas to sycophants to...you get the idea.
Hollywood producer Oliver Merlin (Adolphe Menjou) has convinced himself he needs someone to tell him honestly about the new movie he's working on, someone who will represent the big audience out there. On a location shoot he meets a young woman who fits the bill. She's Hazel Dawes (Andrea Leeds), gentle, sincere and honest. "I'm a producer of movies," he tells her. "I get my wagonloads of poets and dramatists, but I can't buy common sense. I cannot buy humanity!" "Well, I don't know why, Mr. Merlin. There's an awful lot of it," Hazel says. Merlin looks at her impatiently. "Yes, I know," he says, "but the moment I buy it, it turns into something else, usually genius, and it isn't worth a dime. Now, if you could stay just as simple as you are, you'd be invaluable to me. I'll put you on my staff. I'll give you a title, 'Miss Humanity.' Don't rush, you can finish your ice cream soda." Merlin brings her to Hollywood and consults her on everything from script changes to plot developments. Of course, she also meets a young man, Danny Beecher (Kenny Baker), who has a great tenor and a way with flipping hamburgers. Merlin makes changes in his movie. There's love, a brief misunderstanding quickly resolved and then a happy ending.
All this is just a clothes line to hang the comedy and musical numbers on. This is a review movie and Goldwyn gives us a lot to watch, including his idea of culture. This has usually meant excerpts from opera, over-produced and sung straight ahead. Here, we get a bit of an aria from Traviata. We also get a genuinely stunning water-nymph ballet danced by Vera Zorina, choreographed by George Balanchine and with music by Vernon Duke. But we also get the Ritz Brothers, frenetic, anarchic and, above all else, loud. They were big stuff in the Thirties. I think nowadays they'd be an acquired taste. Bobby Clark, a great burlesque, vaudeville and stage star, shows up as a casting director, all leers and cigars. Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy make several appearances. I've always been intrigued at how Bergen could maintain such a sharply split personality between himself and his wooden pal. Bergen may be bland but McCarthy really is funny, especially when looking at tall showgirls. Phil Clark, a comic big in vaudeville and radio, shows up in a recurring gag and finally faces off with McCarthy. There's even Alan Ladd in a brief bit as one of several awful singers auditioning for a part in Merlin's movie. Kenny Baker, who was a singer much like a young Dick Powell but without the cockiness, does full justice to the two great Gershwin songs.
The Goldwyn Follies sprawls all over the place, still I like it. First, because it provides a look at some stars we've nearly forgotten, people like Edgar Bergen, Vera Zorina, Phil Baker and Bobby Clark. Even the Ritz Brothers. These were people who knew their stuff. They were professionals and it comes through. Second, those Gershwin songs. They are so good they lift the movie whenever Baker sings them. For me, they create a bittersweet feeling. George Gershwin was at the height of his powers when he wrote them. What on earth could he have created if he'd lived? So here's to George and Ira...
The more I read the papers, the less I comprehend. / The world and all it's capers and how it all will end.
Nothing seems to be lasting, but that isn't our affair. / We've got something permanent, / I mean in the way we care.
It's very clear, our love is here to stay. / Not for a year, but ever and a day.
The radio and the telephone / And the movies that we know, / May just be passing fancies and in time may go.
But, oh my dear, our love is here to stay. / Together we're going a long, long way.
In time the Rockies may crumble, / Gibraltar may tumble, they're only made of clay. / But our love is here to stay.
Some reviewers hated this movie and, admittedly, it is relatively
plot-free, but it's such a time capsule of movies, acts, and music of
the period that I love it. If you ignore the script and realize you're
listening to some FABULOUS Gershwin songs and that you're seeing The
Ritz Brothers, Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy and others, it can be
pretty great. Unlike the some others, I love the Ritz Brothers'
specialty about the cats. Some people just don't appreciate silly.
Later on, they get bogged down in the plotlessness, but WOW!! . . the
kitty cat number is hilarious!!!!!!!! "Where is the gosh, darn
cat?????" Some people just don't appreciate silly. Lighten up, people!!
Face it, the movie studios of the day used to trot out all their stars for these Cast of Several movies. Take it for what it is. It was never meant to be "Gone With the Wind". It's more along the lines of "Hollywood Party" (1934) . . Enjoy!!
I won't be as harsh as the other writer, but this movie is pretty much a mess. It almost looks like a showcase for "up-and-coming" actors, anchored by Adolphe Monjou. I don't know why Andrea Leeds disappeared, she's no better or worse than anyone else from the era, and very pretty besides. Reminded me of Donna Reed. Kenny Baker is doing a great Dick Powell, only a few years too late. His type of part was becoming obsolete. He is very good here and 9 years later in "The Harvey Girls". But musical numbers come out of nowhere, and suddenly you hear Helen Jepson and Charles Cullman from the Metropolitan Opera, and see Vera Zorina the ballerina (quite funny in her comedy scenes). I never got the appeal of the Ritz Brothers. It's nice (and rare) to see Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Bergen's timing is impeccable, and Charlie, is, well, Charlie. I sort of see why they were successful on radio. Monjou is on autopilot, but he can't do much else in this creaky vehicle. Ignore the plot, watch the individual scenes. Pretty to look at, but don't think too much.
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)
A sweet romance, good character actors, vivid Technicolor, a little behind-the-scenes work at a major studio, and great songs make this a pleasant way to spend two hours. It's also interesting historically because it marks the transition between the end (for only a few decades, thankfully) of tap and the beginning of ballet in film musicals.
Mostly dreadful and overlong this "Follies" attempt patches together a
lame plot with a variety of acts.
Adolphe Menjou is fine as the movie producer who hires Andrea Leeds to give him the "human touch" in his films. He falls for her but she's in love with a hamburger slinger (Kenny Baker) she tricks Menjou into hiring for his new film. Throw into this stew Vera Zorina as a temperamental ballet star and you have the framework for this film.
Edgar Bergen (and dummy) provide some humor, especially in a funny bit with radio star Phil Baker. Helen Jepson sings a few numbers (she's no Jeanette MacDonald), Bobby Clark plays the harried casting director, Ella Logan (trying to be Martha Raye) is the chaperone, Nydia Westman is the friend, Frank Shields (tennis pro and grandfather to Brooke) is the assistant director to Jerome Cowan. The Ritz Brothers (dreadful as usual) have one funny bit and stink in the rest of their appearance. Alan Ladd has a bit as an auditioning singer.
I'll admit that the Ritz Brothers are an acquired taste, but aside from the extremely cute Andrea Leeds, they're the best thing in the picture!
One thing you can say about Sam Goldwyn's ventures into musicals. He
could either hit them out of the park ("Whoopee", "Palmy Days", "The
Kid From Spain", etc.), he could miss completely ("One Heavenly
Night"), or he could come up with a film that really is a bit of a mess
but enjoyable for the classic film lover. The problem here seems to be
that the film is trying to imitate to some degree the Warner Busby
Berkeley films of 1933, the problem being that it is five years later.
You'd think that of all people Goldwyn would have gotten that, since
Busby Berkeley was directing his dance numbers in his Eddie Cantor
films before Warner Bros. got a hold of him. Kenny Baker is obviously
trying to stand in for Dick Powell, and he's good enough, it's just
that musicals were transitioning to a different phase by 1938, the year
this film was released. Thus the backstage banter between chorus girls
doesn't come off very well after the code. The Ritz Bros. are obviously
trying to stand in for the Marx Bros. and they do have a funny routine
about a cat, but in the end they do get a bit tiresome. The film does
have the dashing Adolphe Menjou, and he improves just about every film
he's in including this one. The Technicolor is gorgeous and the
Gershwin music is wonderful.
However, the modern viewer has one strategic advantage over the viewer that saw this in the first-run. We're not trapped in the perspective of a 1938 movie-goer so we can enjoy the film for what it is - some great musical numbers with a little good comedy and a lot of silliness.
One thing I don't get. This film first appeared on DVD as part of the giant Hollywood Musicals Collection late in 2008. One of the other films making its debut on DVD was the long awaited "Whoopee" starring Eddie Cantor. Why did this film get an individual pressed release rather than "Whoopee"? Was MGM allergic to money or something? Fortunately Warner Archives came to the rescue and procured the rights to almost everything Goldwyn and did release "Whoopee", although it was burned not pressed.
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