Crooner Harry Raymond and best friend James Tierney are working for a musical promoter when they meet Dolores Fenton who is trying to make ends meet by selling one of her songs. Raymond collaborates with Miss Fenton on her music but gets fired overzealoulsy selling it to his boss. Raymond and Tierney, along with their girlfriends, work in vaudeville until they are separated by a Broadway offer for Raymond and girlfriend Dolores. Success comes to the crooning Raymond in New York. He starts hobnobbing with high society, drinking heavily, and forgetting his old friends. It's a formula for a big fall. Written by
Gary Jackson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"Puttin' on the Ritz" (United Artists, 1930), directed by Edward Sloman, marks the movie debut of then popular night club entertainer Harry Richman (1895-1972). He plays Harry Raymond, a song promoter working at Wagner Music Publishers. After he meets Dolores Fenton (Joan Bennett), the two team up and rise to fame with their signature number, "With You." With the passing of time, Harry opens his own night club and becomes the singing sensation. Success eventually goes to Harry's head, causing him to shun his old friends in favor of being in with the society swells, causing Dolores to walk out on him for being so conceited. During a drunken frenzy at a party, Henry drinks some bad liquor which causes his blindness. The society crowd bid him farewell while his closest friend, Jimmy (James Gleason), sticks by him. However, as a favor to Harry, Jimmy is sworn not to tell Dolores of his unfortunate circumstance. What happens before the final fadeout will be up to the viewer to find out.
Musical drama with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin include such tunes, mostly sung by Richman, as: "I'll Get By" (by Roy Turk and Fred Ahlert); "With You," "I'll Get By" (reprise); "Singing a Vagabond Song" (by Sam Messenheimer and Val Burton); "With You" (reprise); "Puttin' on the Ritz," "There's Danger in Your Eye, Cherie" (by Harry Richman and Jack Meskill); "Puttin' on the Ritz" (reprise); "Singing a Vagabond Song" (reprise); "Alice in Wonderland" (performed by Joan Bennett, sung by unknown and unseen vocalist); and "With You" (reprise/finale).
Although the opening credits list production number "Alice in Wonderland" to be presented in Technicolor, it exists today only in black and white. Originally released in theaters at 88 minutes, current TV prints, which can be seen occasionally on American Movie Classics, run 69 minutes, which explains not only why the story plays so fast, but the sudden appearance of Goldie Devere (Lilyan Tashman) with the three central characters (Richman, Bennett and Gleason) after they are seen leaving Wagner Publishers as a threesome and entering a theater in the rain as a foursome in the very next scene. Tashman's character in the plot development phase and some other dialogue scenes are possibly part of the now missing 20 minutes of footage. But as what I can figure out, Goldie is Dolores's roommate who later becomes Jimmy's partner and wife.
Early talkie musical with lavish sets is occasionally entertaining, somewhat better than some of Hollywood's other primitive musicals at the time, but it really comes to life during the musical interludes. The production number, "Puttin' on the Ritz" plays loud and fast, but the choreography, compliments of Maurice L. Kusell, is really no threat to Busby Berkeley. Harry Richman, whose movie career was all too brief, is an adequate singer with a style all his own, but sometimes gives the impression to be too full of himself, and while Joan Bennett isn't a great singer, this cute blonde manages to get by as long as she has Harry.
Also in the supporting cast are Aileen Pringle, Purnell B. Pratt and Richard Tucker. "Puttin' on the Ritz" is worth a look mainly for those curious about the movie in itself or those who are entertained in watching primitive "talkie" musicals decades before lavish Technicolor and stereophonic sound set in. One final note: Listen to the lyrics to the title song, and compare it with the lyrics sung by Fred Astaire 16 years later in "Blue Skies" (Paramount, 1946). Same score but different wording. (***)
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