|Index||6 reviews in total|
Here's a swing musical with a 65 year old woman as the main character! There are some excellent big band numbers courtesy of Bob Crosby and his Bobcats or Bobalinks (as HE says anyway) and the usual excellent RKO production qualities. Dear Aunt Malvina writes a college fight song which ends up on the radio hit parade in a different tempo with added 1941 style bop and shuffle. It is generally a lovely film If I can say that without sounding twee, because it ultimately has a lot to say about a good and talented woman too long in conservative isolation (and corralled by her drone niece) who really enjoys freeing up her music and her self. Grannies who saw this on first release would have been inspired to do the same! The two main numbers are strong and the first one has a dynamite 60 secs of aerial jitterbug. The main showpiece is the hit parade link "Big Noise From Winnetka" which is really as much a novelty song as the "fight song from Newton High" that Mulvina writes. The film is about the fleeting fame that novelty songs allow and the crash that comes if one is not aware. The scene where Malvina has the curtain dropped on her is especially fascinating as it appears to be filmed on one of either Keith or Orpheum's old theaters (that were wired for sound, dearie) in the amalgamation that came in forming R-K-O with the Radio Corp in 1928 to create this monopoly entertainment giant. Lets Make Music indeed. Malvina did and so did Bob; and if you have the chance to enjoy this gimmick musical you will smile as I did and marvel at the generosity of spirit this simple but honest musical allows. Charming...with groove and swing!
The plot was a bit tedious and unbelievable, but there was one musical
number that made watching this movie worthwhile. The song "The Big Noise
from Winnetka" was a big hit at the time it was recorded by Bob Crosby and
to see it performed by him and orchestra was a big treat. Ray Bauduc was
the drummer and Bob Haggart was on bass (both were co-composers of the song
along with Crosby) and it winds up as sort of a duet with Bauduc and
Haggart. The multi-talented Haggart whistles the tune between his teeth and
fingers the bass violin while Bauduc uses his drumstick on the bass violin
to make the music. A very enjoyable piece to listen to and watch, and it
will surely be appreciated by lovers of the big band era, swing or
I was a bit confused at the credits calling Crosby's quartet of singers "The Bobcats" while Crosby himself always refers to them as "The Bobalinks." I wonder what that was all about.
Nathaniel West, author of Day of the Locust and Miss Loneleyhearts,
also wrote for the movies. At first blush, a movie featuring Bob Crosby
(Bing's brother) and his popular jazz orchestra, would seem unlikely.
But this film is no embarrassment for the screenwriter, as the script is surprisingly subtle, and not full of the usual loud, bad comedy (see any Kay Kaiser film) that you see in movies that feature big bands. Instead, this is the tale of an old maid schoolteacher -- approaching 60 -- who knows painfully well she is boring her students, but is just not ready to hang up th towel. At the advice of her beautiful (but not really very kind) niece, she writes a fight song for her school, which, through a series of old movie devices, becomes a novelty hit for Bob Crosby & His Orchestra. The movie takes on the topic -- how will the schoolmarm deal with the success of her tune, and how will she handle things when the tune falls out of favor? The ending, while sentimental, fits the material.
Bob Crosby plays Bob Crosby, bandleader, just fine. He's no worse than Bing in his early movies. The music, while OK, does not real justice to the Bob Crosby orchestra. The three featured tunes are production numbers, with changes in tone, tempo, and emphasis, that do not feature much of the dixieland-tinged swing that made this band different than all of the others of the 30s-40s. (Big Noise from Winnetka -- the second big number -- was originally a novelty number jammed by the bass player and the drummer for two-and-a half minutes. In the movie, we have a little bit of the drum/bass byplay, full orchestra, the pretty girl trio singing a chorus, Bob Crosby singing a chorus.) If you want to get an idea of how this band sounded on most of its records, catch some of the non-featured songs being played by the band during the night-club scene.
I stumbled upon this little gem of a movie just as I was about to go to bed late one night. Already a fan of old black and white films I decided to tape it and watch the next day however, my attention was suddenly caught by the very handsome Bob Crosby,which made me even more curious as I didn't even know that Bing had a brother. So, I ditched the tape and sat there for the duration of the film....and I was not disappointed at all. I was completely captivated by this charming little movie with its unusual storyline and great personable characters but mostly for its fantastic music. I was already an old devotee of jazz, swing and big band music but had forgotten how addictive it is. So of course, not only was I now smitten with the cute and adorable Bob Crosby but I fell in love with big band music all over again. This film is not to be dismissed lightly, it has something for everyone in it and is a lovely feel good movie that puts a smile on your face just by the music numbers alone. Personally, I couldn't stop tapping my feet when the band started to play and was itching to get up and dance. Wishing I had taped the movie after all so that I could watch it again and again.
And I don't mean that in a bad way. This slowly-paced story is just the
right kind of entertainment to watch as you're going to bed--or on one
of those days you choose no to GET out of bed. This was long before
every older person in movies had to be either cantankerous or full of
spunk. Elisabeth Risdon's ready-to-retire teacher is that rarity of
movie characters--one who actually is allowed to act her age. (For an
even better film with just such a performance, check out Dame May Witty
in "The Lady Vanishes".) The plot concerns a music teacher who writes a
corny song for her school, only to have it somehow fall into the hands
of a musician who makes a hit novelty recording out of it. What happens
to her after that is best left for the viewer to discover, but suffice
to say, it is rather amusing, but not all that exciting in the long
run. There's some potential romance with the main character's stuffy
daughter, but mostly the film hinges on Risdon, and it's nice to see
her in a lead role after years of almost anonymous character acting.
I found this movie just flipping channels and enjoyed it. I would recommend it to anyone curious about checking it out for light--very light--entertainment. (And if you're reading this, that's probably you.)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For years, I pinpointed veteran actress Elisabeth Risdon to the role of
Aunt Della she played in the RKO "Mexican Spitfire" series. As the
disapproving wife of Leon Errol in that screwball group of movies, she
was always doing what she could to discredit the title character (Lupe
Velez) in the eyes of her nephew. She was featured in dozens of movies
from the silent movie era (as a lead) through the 50's, playing
characters both nasty and nice, and this is perhaps her most memorable
role. As a small town High School music teacher, she finds that her
music appreciation class roster has been dwindling due to changing
tastes in music. The kids of the swing era aren't interested in the
classics, and she doesn't seem to understand why. When her principal
asks her to write a High School fight song to promote school spirit,
she has no idea that the song will be picked up by none other than Bob
Crosby and his Bobcats as a novelty number. They come to see her but
find disapproval from her over-protective niece (Jean Rogers). When
Rison gets her check, she takes her niece for a trip to New York, and
goes to see Crosby's show where she ends up on the radio. But as fast
as she becomes famous, the faster her song becomes like the
Macarena---popular today, despised tomorrow. Her attempts to write a
new song fall flat, and while performing her fight song one more time,
she falls ill. In the meantime, Rogers and Crosby have warmed up to
each other, and Crosby takes matters into his hands, making her second
song, "Central Park", another surprise hit. Risdon returns home to her
job to an appreciative class of students, who have come to respect her
for all she had tried to teach them.
Most everybody remembers their High School fight song (if they still have them!), and as hard as they try to get it out of their heads, it will pop up on moments of sentimentality over a past that can't be recaptured. In the case of this High School fight song, I can understand it being popular in one community, but getting the attention of a national audience, let alone a popular swing band, is silly. Risdon, however, is so likable in the role, that she will win your heart the moment she steps on a New York nightclub stage to sing. You both admire her and feel sorry for her, especially in the scene where the audience starts to walk out on her. She is both sweet and feisty, standing up for her desire to contribute to the world of music. Crosby, who was talented but didn't have the long-lasting success of his more famous brother, appeared in several films as himself, most notably this one and a 1951 RKO musical called "Two Tickets to Broadway", where his spoof of his relationship with Bing was the focus of a very funny novelty number. He's likable, laid back and talented, but I doubt he could play any role but himself. Rogers is an adequate young heroine, but it's Risdon who wins the acting honors here. W.C. Fields said never play opposite children or animals, but he forgot sweet old ladies with a touch of vinegar in them.
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