Gems of M-G-M (1930)
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** (out of 4)
This short from MGM isn't what one would consider a "good" movie but I think film buffs will want to check it out. Benny Rubin first comes out playing an embarrassing Russian Jew with some rather unfunny remarks, which will probably insult some. Then he introduces Marion Harris who does a couple musical numbers. Rubin then comes back out, this time in blackface, and yikes is the performance bad. He then introduces The Brox Sisters who perform two music numbers. GEMS OF M-G-M certainly doesn't contain any gems but it's worth viewing for a couple reasons. One is Harris who does a nice job with a couple of her numbers and some might remember her name for a variety of reasons that can be found online. The second reason to watch the film is due to Rubin, not because he's good but because he's just so strange. Watching blackface acts today is a lot different than if we were in a theater back in 1930. This type of comedy no longer works today and usually when viewed today it's just for a shock value. The shock value is here but I found Rubin to be incredible boring and bland with his jokes. The dancing wasn't too bad but he's certainly a long way from Jolson.
But pay attention to the two featured performers: Marion Harris, who was fired by her recording company for wanting to sing Handy's "St. Louis Blues," is generally acclaimed as the first white woman to sing black blues back in the '20's. Here, she sings a radically alternate version of the Richard Whiting-Neil Moret standard "She's Funny That Way." She sings a dark, very bleak version called "I'm Funny That Way." I can't tell whether Whiting wrote the lyrics, and I can't find the song on any lyrics/song sheet collection on the Net. Still, this now forgotten singer conjures up images of other torch singers of that era -- Helen Morgan and Ruth Etting, for example. She does not come across as second rate by any standard.
Then, there's a couple of songs by the Brox Sisters. Three girls who predated the close harmony of the Boswell Sisters, the Perkins Sisters, the Andrews Sisters, the McGuire Sisters, etc. The song that stands out is "Just You, Just Me" which Woody Allen found good enough to include in his film "Everyone Says I Love You" (1996). Nice to hear how that song might have played way back when. It's still very easy on the ears.
Really, this film short, as shown on TCM, is very much worth watching. Not just for historical purposes, but for the delight of hearing two interpretations of songs that have now become standards.