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Stories in Song (1928)

 -  Short | Music  -  July 1928 (USA)
5.7
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Ratings: 5.7/10 from 25 users  
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Veteran Broadway performer Adele Rowland sings four songs in this Vitaphone short.

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Cast

Cast overview:
Adele Rowland ...
Herself (singer)
Mildred Brown ...
Herself (pianist)
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Storyline

Veteran Broadway performer Adele Rowland sings four songs in this Vitaphone short.

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Genres:

Short | Music

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Release Date:

July 1928 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Adele Rowland: Stories in Song  »

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(Vitaphone)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Vitaphone production reel #2348 See more »

Soundtracks

Swanee Shore
(uncredited)
Written by Charles Bourne
Sung by Adele Rowland with Mildred Brown on piano
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User Reviews

 
Ten minutes of Vitaphone immortality, granted to an otherwise forgotten chanteuse
12 January 2008 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

Does anyone remember Adele Rowland? I think it's safe to say she would've been entirely forgotten, along with so many other stage entertainers of the 19th and early 20th century, had it not been for those enterprising folks at the Vitaphone Corporation. Starting with the first talkie shorts they produced in 1926 this company captured scores of performances by singers, dancers, instrumentalists, monologists, and novelty acts of every description, most of whom were vaudeville or "legit" stage professionals. Some were headliners, some were up-and-coming talent, some were (and remained) obscure, while others were longtime favorites already perhaps a shade past their prime. Based on what little information I can gather about her Adele Rowland belonged in this last category. She appeared in a number of Broadway musical comedies between 1904 and 1919 but made her last Broadway appearance in a revue called "The Spice of 1922" and then, presumably, continued singing in night clubs or touring in vaudeville. (Later in life she also acted in a few obscure Hollywood movies in character roles.) This ten-minute film, made when Ms. Rowland was a deceptively youthful-looking 45, captures a beguiling performance consisting of four songs which may well have been her standard act at the time.

As in many of the earliest Vitaphone shorts only a modest effort was made to create a visually appealing set: there's a grand piano at left where accompanist Mildred Brown pounds out the melodies, a curtain upstage between a couple of columns, and a chair on the right. That's about it for decor, so when Adele strides out from the wings she grabs our attention right away. She's stylishly dressed, wearing a white, satiny-looking belted aviator jacket that would still be fashionable today. Appropriately enough her opening number is an up-tempo tune about flying home, high over the hills, piloting her own plane—and bear in mind, this was just a year after Lindbergh's flight to Paris, when flying was still a thrilling novelty. Next, Adele doffs her jacket and launches into a comic novelty tune with a pseudo "Oriental" sound: the tale of Little Too-Shy, a Chinese girl who visits America, studies the seduction technique of American flappers, and goes back to China to become the Vamp of Shanghai. Rowland is quite sly and naughty here, but this otherwise funny, risqué song is marred for modern viewers by the use of an unfortunate slang term for Asians. Viewers of vintage films learn to expect that sort of language, common at the time; anyone uncomfortable with it may find it difficult to appreciate early talkies. Sometimes these terms were intended as slurs and are decidedly offensive, but the usage here strikes me as fairly benign. In any case, Rowland's comic delivery of the song is expert.

Adele hits her stride with the third song, a serious number about suspected adultery called 'There Must Be Somebody Else.' Here she assumes an angry, accusatory role, stabbing the air as she points at the imagined sweetheart who has betrayed her with another. It's a strong number, sung with intensity. After that, the final tune is a bit of an anticlimax—it's another one of those sentimental songs about going back to the Old South (and once more marred, to modern ears, by the use of an insensitive racial epithet), but our chanteuse belts it out with fervor. Then she bows to the silent applause of her invisible audience, the image fades out, and Adele's ten minutes are up.

The songs aren't the greatest, but I found Adele Rowland herself so appealing I checked her file at the Performing Arts Library in NYC to see what I could find out about her. There isn't much information there, just some yellowed clippings concerning Rowland's stage appearances during the 1910s and a few pictures. The photos date from the First World War and show her wearing the highly unflattering fashions of that time (boxy jackets, big hats, fur stoles, etc.). She certainly looks better in this Vitaphone short than she looked during her youthful heyday. There was one clipping of interest, however, an undated article from an unidentified newspaper, probably from the 1920s, possibly around the time this film was made. Under the headline ADELE ROWLAND NAMED IN SUIT BY MRS. TEARLE we read that the wife of actor Conway Tearle, accompanied by two detectives, made "an unexpected visit" to Adele's New York apartment where they confronted her with Mr. Tearle. Miss Rowland was subsequently named in Mrs. Tearle's suit for divorce against her husband. Meanwhile however, Adele's sister told the paper that on the evening in question Adele and Mr. Tearle were rehearsing a scene from a play. (Yeah, likely story.) Once his divorce went through Conway Tearle married Adele Rowland, and they remained together until his death in 1939.

No wonder Adele sang 'There Must Be Somebody Else' with such intensity—there WAS somebody else alright, and it was Adele herself!


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