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Fuller Mellish Jr.
Julie Cavendish comes from a family of great Broadway actors. Her mother Fanny staunchly continues acting. Her boisterous brother Tony is fleeing a breach of promise suit in Hollywood. Her daughter Gwen must decide between going on stage, or settling down in a conventional marriage. Julie is just thinking that it would be nice to retire and get married, when who should turn up but her old beau, Gilmore Marshal, the platinum magnate from South America.Written by
THEY'RE "AT HOME" TO YOU! Their escapades made headlines but their private lives and loves are now revealed to you! America's darlings as they are with the spotlights off! (Print Ad-The Guardian, ((Montreal, PQ)) 20 February 1931)
"The Royal Family of Broadway" (Paramount, 1930), directed by Cyril Gardner and George Cukor, is a screen adaptation based on the popular 1927 play "The Royal Family" by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. Like so many films from the early talking period with similar titles as "The Gold Diggers of Broadway" (Warners, 1929), "The Shannons of Broadway" (Universal, 1929) or "Lord Byron of Broadway" (MGM, 1930), this extended title is not a musical nor of British royalty of the American stage, but a comedy-drama about an theatrical acting family often classified as one thinly disguised version of the Barrymore (Ethel and John). Though not essentially a biography of any of the Barrymores, it's a fictional narrative of the three generations of the Cavendish acting family of Broadway and how their family tradition has been disrupting their personal lives.
The story begins as Julia Cavendish (Ina Claire), star of ROMERO AND JULIET, leaves the theater at the end of another performance, returning home with her mother, Fanny (Henrietta Crosman), in their limousine driving down Broadway bound for home. Along the way, Fanny notices the movie marque bearing her son's name, Anthony Cavendish, starring in "MAN AGAINST THE GODS," in what she describes as "All talking, all color, ALL terrible." As the narrative progresses through its plot and character development, where it is rumored that Julia plans to retire from the theater and have her daughter, Gwen (Mary Brian) take her place, Julia, having acted most of her life, feels she would be restless away from the theater and her actor friends. Later that evening, she receives a telephone call from Gilbert Marshall (Frank Conroy), a millionaire bachelor and old friend arriving from South America, hoping he could interest her in leaving the theater and become his wife. Gwen, however, wants to break family tradition by marrying Perry Stewart (Charles Starrett), a young businessman, but finds herself pitted against family tradition and true love. As for Anthony (Fredric March), "The Great Lover" of the talking screen, having secretly arrived from Hollywood, also wants to give up acting for a trip to Europe. Situations occur when Fanny is unable to perform on stage, leading to the play for which she is appearing to either close or have a family member sacrifice his or her happiness to fulfill theater tradition of "the show must go on." Others appearing in the cast include: Arnold Korff (Oscar Wolff); Elsie Edmond (Della, the Maid); and Herschel Mayall (The Doctor).
As with most 1929/30 film releases being talky,stiff with some or no underscoring as well as occasional inter-titles in the silent film tradition, "The Royal Family of Broadway" is no exception, yet succeeds remarkably well through its camera treatment and style in some of its scenes. The most notable one in the entire production turns out to be where Fredric March's character shows no modesty or shame as he slowly disrobes one piece of clothing at a time while talking to his family and walking up the stairs at the same time. The camera captures every movement until his last peace of clothing is removed before entering the shower to wash up in front of both his sister and mother after following him to the bathroom resuming their discussions.
Though Ina Claire's name heads the cast and is the sole figure throughout its 82 minutes, it's Fredric March's performance in general that is singled out with his John Barrymore-type performance that was good enough to earn him an Academy Award nomination as Best Actor. March's character, first appearing 20 minutes into the story, disguised heavily in fur coat, hat and sunglasses, is quite eccentric to say the least, especially when using eye-brow gestures and speech mannerisms in the John Barrymore style. March's swashbuckling on the stairwell comes across more like March doing a Douglas Fairbanks than that of the great profile. Though March's role is secondary, he makes every moment count in his favor. Henrietta Crosman, who gives more of an middle-aged Ethel Barrymore performance than the youthful blonde Ina Claire, also stands-out in her talkie film debut. Yet in spite of Claire's youthful presence, she plays a mother of a grown daughter (Mary Brian), something most actresses of her age and time-frame would refuse to do. It's also worth noting Charles Starrett, who would achieve fame years later as a cowboy actor in matinée westerns, in one of his earliest movie roles, along with Frank Conroy giving a sincere performance as a businessman who loves Julia but not sure whether or not he can ever have her as part of his life to share in South America.
Though March did appear in the stage version to "The Royal Family" and years later in the television 1958 retelling opposite Claudette Colbert and Helen Hayes, the 1930 screen adaptation should be of historical significance as one of many Broadway plays, whether it be musical or not, recaptured on the motion picture screen. Other than rare television revivals, notably on public television's WNET, Channel 13, in New York City during the early 1980s, "The Royal Family of Broadway" did become one of several movie titles selected as part of its film preservation society on American Movie Classics cable channel in 1993. After its final broadcast in 1994, "The Royal Family of Broadway" has become and remains very much now an underrated gem from the early age of talkies. (***1/2)
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