New York city in the 1920s: a singer struggles to keep her boyfriend from trouble. When she makes it to Ziegfeld, he heads for five years in jail. Lots of Faye and Jolson singing. The story is so close to the true story of Fanny Brice and Nicky Arnstein (Jules W. Arndt Stein) that he sued the studio in a case that was quickly settled out of court in his favor. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The history of the cinema is filled with great movies; but more than that, there are special `moments,' from the great and even the not-so-great films that thanks to the magic of the movies have been preserved for all time, and now thanks to video and DVD are readily accessible for the viewing pleasure of audiences in living rooms everywhere. These movies are treasures to be cherished and savored, because they're not simply entertainment, but time capsules in which history has in some cases been inadvertently gathered and stored for posterity. And one of the jewels in this vast treasure chest that is the cinema is `Rose of Washington Square,' a 1939 picture from 20th Century Fox, filmed in glorious B&W, directed by Gregory Ratoff and starring Tyrone Power, Alice Faye and Al Jolson.
Power is Bart Clinton, a charismatic petty thief and con man whose charm and good looks keeps him one step ahead of the law as he moves from one scam to another. He's not such a bad guy, but more like a salesman without a product who utilizes his natural abilities to put a buck in his pocket. Faye is Rose Sargent, a struggling vaudeville singer, teamed up with Ted Cotter (Jolson), who together have hopes and dreams of making it to the big time. But worlds collide when Bart and Rose meet and fall in love. Ted sees Bart for what he is, but his advice to Rose falls on deaf ears, blinded as she is by her unconditional love for a man who stands in the way of not only her success as an artist, but her happiness, as well. And in the grandest tradition of Hollywood, their story plays out amid the excitement of that most famous of all avenues of aspirations, Broadway, and that town of towns, New York.
It's a good story, but with a plot that's far from unique, which in the grand scheme of things doesn't make any difference. This is solid and involving entertainment that affords the viewer the opportunity of seeing three bona fide stars together, and all doing what they do best. And just seeing them together on the screen is a moment all it's own; Power, Faye and Jolson, captured forever and immortalized through the magic of the motion picture. And at the time, who knew? To Darryl F. Zanuck this was no doubt just another picture that hopefully would produce a profitable bottom line for the studio. Did any of them have any idea what this would mean to audiences sixty years later, or what kind of legacy they were creating for future generations?
One of the best looking actors ever to grace the silver screen, Tyrone Power had a dominating presence and commanded attention in any role he played, from light, romantic fare like `Thin Ice,' to bringing the anti-hero, `Jesse James,' to life or the swashbuckling title character in `The Mark of Zorro.' He could play a heel like Bart Clinton and make him believable, or a guy soul searching for something better, as he did in `The Razor's Edge.' And if there's any doubt as to how good an actor Power was, one only has to look as far as his performance in `Nightmare Alley' to realize that he was so much more than just another pretty face. He was the man women wanted and the one other men envied because he seemed to have it all. He did; and it showed in every character he ever created for the screen.
Power, however, did not corner the market on talent and charisma in this film, but was matched every step of the way by his absolutely beguiling co-star, Alice Faye. Beautiful and gifted, Faye could sing and interpret a song in a way that was nothing less than transporting. Her vocal expressions and the emotion that dances in her eyes and plays across her face while she sings created a number of those special moments in a number of films. In this one, when she sings the heart-felt `My Man' while an incognito Power (Bart's on the lam at this point) sits huddled in the audience at the back of the auditorium, it'll grab you by the throat and send chills down your spine. And that is truly one of those memorable `Moments' that have made movies such an everlasting part of our lives and culture. When Faye turns those eyes of hers, fraught with emotion, to the camera as she sings, it's mesmerizing-- a moment that will hold you transfixed and sweep you away to another time and another place.
Which is exactly what happens when Al Jolson takes the spotlight as Ted Cotter. Jolson was perhaps the entertainer of his time, a man who entertained millions from the footlights of the most famous stages around the world. And what a treasure it is to have even part of his act preserved here on film. Some of the songs he made famous, like `Rock-a-bye-Your-Baby With A Dixie Melody,' and the one that became his trademark, `Mammy,' are seamlessly integrated into this story. Although this kind of entertainment may not be readily embraced by younger viewers-- those raised on hard rock and grunge, for example-- there is a magic in Jolson and his songs that defines an era, and with his unique voice and magnetic personality, it is riveting to watch him now in this film.
The supporting cast includes William Frawley (Harry), Joyce Compton (Peggy), Hobart Cavanaugh (Whitey), Louis Prima (Bandleader), Horace McMahon (Irving) and Moroni Olsen (Buck). It may not be the greatest musical-- or movie-- ever made, but nevertheless, `Rose of Washington Square' is a treasure, for all the reasons discussed here and more. It's a film that will be enjoyed and appreciated on any number of different levels by anyone who watches it; pure entertainment, with a particular magic all it's own. This one's a keeper. It's the magic of the movies. I rate this one 9/10.
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