'Radio Parade' has no plot at all: it's merely a series of music-hall turns. But this film is fascinating as an example of what a trip to a 1930s music hall must have been like. Some of the acts in 'Radio Parade' are delightful, while others are wretched: this too conveys the true flavour of music-hall entertainment in the days of the Moss Empire.
The title of this film reflects the fact that several of these artistes (particularly Jeanne De Casalis) were better known for their radio performances than for stage appearances. Indeed, De Casalis's turn in 'Radio Parade' fails to take advantage of the visual medium, and would have worked better as a radio monologue. Several of the other performers in this pick 'n' mix make much better use of the visual possibilities.
In the early '30s, De Casalis was quite popular on the British airwaves as Mrs Feather, a featherbrained character similar to Billie Burke, or Gracie Allen without George Burns's steadying influence. Here, Mrs Feather performs a monologue in the form of a 'phone conversation: an annoying conceit, as she often repeats what the (unheard) person at the other end of the line has said so that we'll understand her response.
Much more successful here is Florence Desmond, an attractive blonde comedienne whose radio speciality had already become a successful gramophone recording: 'Hollywood Party', in which Miss Desmond gave vocal impersonations of several Hollywood (and British) film stars. She repeats that skit here, with the movie camera demonstrating her ability to mimic the physical quirks of the actors as well as their vocal crotchets. Miss Desmond is much funnier than Miss De Casalis.
Reginald Gardiner supplies an imitation of wallpaper patterns. Mario Lorenzi is a harpist who plays ragtime and jazz: given his choice of instrument, the results are poor. Tex McLeod, a sort of second-team Will Rogers, performs lariat tricks while telling a few jokes. Judging from his accent, he's either a genuine Texan or a very good imitation. Presumably his cowboy routine was a bigger novelty in Britain than it would have been in American vaudeville. The sisters Doris and Elsie Waters are here in their popular radio roles of Gert and Daisy, the two working-class housewives with a penchant for cheeky gossip.
The two most unusual turns in 'Radio Parade' rejoice in the names Stanelli and Stainless Stephen. The single-named Stanelli is a thin crinkle-haired man who trundles onto the stage his 'Hornchestra'. (A more accurate name would have been 'Honkestra'.) This is an immense juggernaut contraption sprouting a quantity of klaxon horns, each tuned to a different pitch. Stanelli rapidly and loudly honks a melody which is far more coherent (and funnier) than anything provided by Mario Lorenzi's harp.
Stainless Stephen hailed from Sheffield, the centre of Britain's steel industry, and accordingly he kits himself out in a cozzy that looks suspiciously like fetish gear: a gleaming stainless-steel waistcoat, white bow tie and a bowler with a steel hatband. The stainless one's speciality consists of a monologue in which he speaks the punctuation marks: 'This is Stainless Stephen comma comedian question mark.' For a wow finish, his waistcoat buttons light up and his bow tie revolves! As seen here, Stainless Stephen had a slight physical resemblance to Ed Wynn. Off the stage, he worked full-time as a schoolteacher, and so he could only perform during school holidays.
It's precisely *because* several of the acts in 'Radio Parade' are ludicrous or inept that the entire film captures the flavour of pre-war music-hall so perfectly. 'Radio Parade' is a vital record of England's equivalent to American vaudeville, and I'll rate this movie 10 out of 10. Kindly leave the stage!
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