A grab-bag of singers and dancers featuring, at the time, New York-based performers such as Rae Sanuels, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, the four Mullen Sisters and the team of Evans & Mayer. ...
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A grab-bag of singers and dancers featuring, at the time, New York-based performers such as Rae Sanuels, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, the four Mullen Sisters and the team of Evans & Mayer. Dancers Pops & Louie (Albert Whitman and Louis Williams), later to be seen in Republic's "Hit Parade of 1943", are also along. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
Bill Robinson is great, though not up to his best standard.
I've only seen one clip from this movie, but fortunately that clip is most likely the single most interesting part of the entire film: Bill Robinson's turn. Apparently the entire movie is a filmed record of a New York theatrical benefit, which explains why Robinson's act (and presumably the other acts as well) is weakened by frequent cutaways to a nightclub audience.
I pride myself on my knowledge of obscure American vaudeville acts (and even more obscure British variety acts), but some of the turns on this bill are so obscure that even I've never heard of them. I was relieved to verify that the 'Edith Evans' listed here is NOT Dame Edith Evans, the classical actress!
I've never understood why Bill Robinson was nicknamed 'Bojangles'. He performed in single-plate tap shoes that gave crisp tones, unlike some of his contemporaries (such as the dance teams Buck & Bubbles and Stump & Stumpy) who performed in double-plate tap shoes that DID create jangly syncopated effects. The song 'Mister Bojangles' was inspired by Robinson's career, but is definitely NOT about him; fortunately, he never ended up like the broken-down hoofer in that song.
Throughout his long career, Bill Robinson's most popular routine was his stair dance, in which he tap-danced up a flight of steps and down the other side. Robinson had no 'official' version of this dance, varying the steps, tempo and music at his whim. The footage here is crude, and this is hardly the best Bill Robinson performance I've ever seen (performers seldom do their best work at benefits!), but ANY footage of Bill Robinson -- especially if it shows him dancing -- is worthy of attention.
Here he performs to a slow version of 'Swanee River', dressed in his usual natty brown suit, matching bowler and shoes. Robinson's steps seem less inspired and more lacklustre than usual (again, this is a benefit performance), and he executes only one step here that struck me as novel: standing on the lowermost step of his plywood staircase, he balances on his left leg while extending his right leg as far up the steps as it will stretch ... then he pulls it back down, his foot striking each step in turn as if they were giant xylophone keys.
Except for those annoying cutaways to the audience, most of this routine is filmed in long shot, keeping Robinson in profile so that the stairs are parallel to the camera's axis. But there are a couple of shots filmed from above, looking down over Robinson's shoulder. This is a very unwieldy angle, but it does give us an excellent view of Robinson's feet ... so I watched eagerly. As he reaches the bottom of the stairs, he does a peculiar pivot on his left foot, which performs heel taps while his right leg seems to box the points of the compass. This is the sort of step I would associate with John Bubbles of Buck & Bubbles. John Bubbles once noted that he refused to teach any of his steps to rival dancers, but he challenged them to copy his steps by watching his performances. Bill Robinson's dance steps were surely copied far more often than he ever copied from anyone else, so I can overlook this one 'tribute' to another dancer.
I shan't rate this movie, since I've only seen one portion of it. I wish I knew who Pops & Louie were.
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