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Radio Parade of 1935 (1934)
Often strained, but with genuine high points
The story line is simple: A new program director of the NBG radio network (clearly a parody of the staid BBC) wants to update the programs with new talent. The stuffy powers-that-be are determined to keep dignity and tradition.
Musicals are always hard to rate. In this case, the silly Three Stooges type story line and humor is really glue to hold the production numbers together. The movie is, in fact, a genuine variety show - and some of the acts are quite good. Several routines mimic Busby Berkeley. Others are pure vaudeville.
I'd have to say the high point is the color segment with Alberta Hunter (an African-American who made recordings with Fats Waller). In addition to Alberta's stirring singing, the backup dancers stand on over-sized African drums, to give a surrealistic, dream-like effect. Unfortunately, this was evidently Alberta's only movie.
Another high point for me is the novelty act by Stanelli, a brief segment in which the maestro plays tuned auto horns. But then, I'm a fan of Spike Jones.
As for the comedy bits, I think the funniest moment is the "exercise" program, in which an overweight "coach" leans back in his overstuffed chair, counting out "1-2-1-2..." into the microphone, and pumping a billows in rhythm to simulate his vigorous breathing.
Surely this film is more nostalgic to British audiences than to us Yanks. I'm led to believe the performers were all theater and music hall favorites in their day.
Egyptian Melodies (1931)
Not so obvious jokes
Some of the funniest "bits" are things I missed the first viewing: As the mummy cases open ominously, the spider strikes an Al Jolson pose, and cries "Mummy!" Also note that as the mummies turn around in their dance routine, they have button flaps on their wrappings, like old-fashioned long underwear. I wonder what else I may have missed? Maybe I should go run it again...
The Old Mill (1937)
Humor - Pathos - Suspense - Beauty - it's all here in this 8 minute gem! This is one I can watch again and again and again and enjoy every minute of it. A nice foreshadow of great things to come: Fantasia, Bambi, etc.
Rip Tease (1942)
What killed vaudeville? This one helped!
Like the science fiction classic (?) "Plan 9 From Outer Space," this 3-minute short is so awful, it's fascinating!
"Soundies" were low-budget musical shorts made during WWII for use on coin-operated viewing machines called Pan-O-Rams. (Television had yet to become commonplace.) Vaudeville had been dying since the decade before, but there were plenty of struggling and retired acts still around to hire for a project like this. This short features an acrobatic trio performing a ballet type dance, with a good dose of French "Apache Dance" thrown in. The two male dancers sling the female partner back and forth, with all three performers losing parts of their break-away costumes as they go. At the conclusion, she is in her underwear and the men are in typical comic polka-dot boxer shorts and tuxedo jackets. Even with today's relaxed standards, this one is still embarrassing to watch!
Yes, I know it was intended to be funny. But you're left shaking your head at the bad taste rather than laughing. Still, as a bit of kitsch history, you won't find another like it!
Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy (1942)
Very early Musical Depreciation
"Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy" was not intended for theatrical release, but as a "Soundie" for a coin-operated Pan-O-Ram. Spike Jones and his City Slickers made four Soundies, each based on one of their early records. These low-budget novelties were filmed just before RCA released Spike's million-seller, "Der Fuehrer's Face;" the band was still unknown at the time.
One fan of these early Spike Jones novelty songs was Walter Lantz, who used "Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy," and "I'm The Greatest Man In Siam" as the basis of two of his Swing Symphonies. Two of the City Slickers from this short, Del Porter and King Jackson, provided vocals for two other Lantz cartoons, "Apple Andy" and "Cow Cow Boogie."
The short itself is performed to a pre-recorded track, and is a rather crude production. But the band itself is in top form, making this short great fun.
Be My King (1928)
1929 is awfully late to make silent slapstick comedies. Sound was capturing people's attention. However, sight gags is what Lupino Lane did. Lupino was absolutely mind-blowing as a rubbery stunt comic. While this film is hilarious, I've knocked off a couple points, voting it an 8: The character has rather shallow personality or pathos. While laugh-provoking for his stunts, he's no Keaton or Chaplin. It's also unfortunate that the racial material (the cannibals are whites in blackface) is truly embarrassing today. But as a very entertaining period piece, I consider it one of my favorites.
The Music Box (1932)
Nobody was ever funnier than Laurel and Hardy. And this comedy won them their only Academy Award. Sorry, but I find the endless repetition of the boys carrying the piano up the stairs only to see it rolling back down (as we knew it would) is tedious. Billy Gilbert's tirade at the end is a welcome shot-in-the-arm, but not enough to save this film from being routine.
Fox and the Rabbit (1935)
Walter Lantz shows potential in 1935.
A charming children's fable with musical narration compares with what the other studios were producing at the time (Disney's "Silly Symphonies," or Warner's and Fleisher's color stories). The animation is impressive, the characters convincing, the story wholesome and sentimental. It makes one wonder why the studio didn't keep up in popularity. I guess Woody Woodpecker and Andy Panda simply weren't as endearing as Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, or Betty Boop.
Fun With The Classics
Seems to combine the Fleisher Brothers ("A Car-tune Portrait"), Walt Disney ("The Band Concert"), Milt Britton (whose comedy band destroyed all instruments by the end of their concert), and, of course, Spike Jones. It's interesting to note that Spike used the gag of the dwarf playing the bass fiddle from the inside (!) AFTER this 1947 cartoon was made. After a while you lose track of who might be copying who, and just enjoy the good fun. The advantage of musical cartoons (and Lantz made many!) is that they hold up well after repeated viewing.
A Car-Tune Portrait (1937)
Maestro Lion conducts the other cartoon animals in The Hungarian Rhapsody, with Spike-Jones-meets-Fantasia results. Predates "Fantasia" (1940), Disney's similar "Symphony Hour" (1942), and even Spike Jones first recordings (1941).