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New York city in the 1920s: a singer struggles to keep her boyfriend from trouble. When she makes it to Ziegfeld, he heads for five years in jail. Lots of Faye and Jolson singing. The story is so close to the true story of Fanny Brice and Nicky Arnstein (Jules W. Arndt Stein) that he sued the studio in a case that was quickly settled out of court in his favor. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE (20th Century-Fox, 1939), directed by Gregory Ratoff, a nostalgic musical, is a worthy follow-up to Fox's previous success, ALEXANDER'S RANGTIME BAND (1938), both starring the up-and-coming Tyrone Power and Alice Faye, making their third and final screen appearance together (their initial being IN OLD CHICAGO in 1937). While this production belongs to Alice Faye and Tyrone Power in that order, it's Al Jolson, assuming third billing in a secondary role, who comes off best. His fine acting and song delivery remain the film's major asset, which makes one wish he were given more to do. ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE is also the most musical of all the Jolson, as well as Faye films.
In a story that opens circa 1919, Ted Cotter (Al Jolson) and Rose Sargent (Alice Faye) partners who specialize in singing, struggling to achieve success, are both working separately, he in a burlesque house singing while passing out theater programs, and she at amateur nights singing for nickels and dimes tossed to her. Disappointed, Rose breaks away from theater life to a Long Island resort accompanied by her friend, Peggy (Joyce Compton). While there she encounters Barton DeWitt Clinton (Tyrone Power), a handsome war veteran who happens to be a petty thief. A smooth operator, Clinton immediately wins Rose's affections. After his latest theft involving an expensive stolen necklace backfires, and under the watchful eye of Detective Mike (Charles C. Wilson), Clinton quickly leaves without any notice to Rose. In the meantime, Harry Long (William Frawley), a booking agent, has arranged for Ted to appear in a tryout. Thanks to the unintentional interruptions by the intoxicated loud-mouth patron (Hobart Cavanaugh) sitting up in the box, the act proves favorable and hired to boost up attendance. successful. As for Rose, she's singing in a basement speakeasies until she she once again encounters Clinton who saves her from a police raid. This time the two become inseparable and eventually marry, much to the dismay of Ted, who sees through Clinton for what he really is, but agrees to remain neutral for Rosie's sake. After Rose achieves her long delayed success in the Ziegfeld Follies, her personal life turns to heartache as Clinton, in desperate need of money, gets himself deeper and deeper in debt, leading to arrest and prison term.
With a handful of old-time Broadway songs from the 1920s era, Alice Faye sings them in her usual manner, although several of them, including "My Man," are reportedly long associated with the legendary Fanny Brice. As for Al Jolson, he reprises many of his most celebrated hits in his traditional black-face manner. He is one for the memory book of legendary bygone entertainers. The musical program includes: "Pretty Baby" (sung by Al Jolson); "I'm Sorry I Made You Cry" (sung by Alice Faye); "Ja-Da" and "Vamp" (both sung by Faye); "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody" and "Toot-Toot Tootsie, Goodbye" (both sung by Jolson); "I'm Just Wild About Harry" (Alice Faye); "California, Here I Come" (Al Jolson); "I Never Knew Heaven Could Speak" and "Rose of Washington Square" (both sung by Faye); "Mammy" (Al Jolson); "My Man" and "My Man" (reprise, both sung by Faye). While the majority of the tunes are mainly sung by the principal players, with the camera giving them full focus, only the title tune is given the full production number treatment running nearly ten minutes.
Also seen in the cast are: Moroni Olson playing Buck Russell; E.E. Clive, Louis Prima, Ben Weldon, Harry Hayden, Charles Lane and John Hamilton.
According to an well documented, "HIDDEN Hollywood: FROM THE VAULTS OF 20th CENTURY-FOX" narrated by Joan Collins, which premiered on American Movie Classics in 1997, ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE was originally planned as a two hour presentation, but was then cut to 86 minutes. Included in this documentary are numerous outtakes, featuring Jolson's rendition of "April Showers" and "Avalon," and Alice Faye's version to the film's theme song, "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows." Another added bonus was the guest appearances of the comedy team of Weber and Fields doing a stage act, as observed in the audience by Jolson and William Frawley. It's also been noted somewhere that actress Winifred Harris appeared as Broadway legend Lillian Russell (a role Alice Faye would portray in 1940), whose scenes were also cut. The documentary does explain as to why certain scenes didn't make it to the final print. As with other 20th Century-Fox musicals attempting to recapture the days of old Broadway, ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE is historically inaccurate in the hairstyle and fashion department being 1939 modern. Although the opening titles credit this movie to be entirely fiction, there's no doubt that it's suggested on the career of Fanny Brice.
In spite of these shortcomings, ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE, as a musical, is entertaining as well as involving in plot. As mentioned before, Al Jolson nearly steals the limelight from his leading players. Sadly, this would mark an end of a era for this legendary singer whose legacy remains with THE JAZZ SINGER (Warner Brothers, 1927),Hollywood's "first talkie," while Power and Faye would continue their fame and fortune for the duration of their careers.
ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE, distributed to home video in the 1990s, unseen on cable TV since it's American Movie Classic days, made its Turner Classic Movies premiere May 5, 2013. The home video edition contains "April Showers" and "Avalon" outtakes, along with its theatrical trailer. Of her musicals, ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE has become one of the most remembered and admired of all her movies. (***)
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