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Surprise! (1935)

Approved | | Short, Comedy, Musical | 27 July 1935 (USA)
The Duncan Sisters (Rosie and Vivian) and their college dorm mates sing a song to their alma mater while packing up to leave college at the end of school. The sisters make a special point ... See full synopsis »


Roy Mack


Cyrus Wood (story)


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Cast overview:
Vivian Duncan ... Vivian / 'Eva' (as Duncan Sisters)
Rosetta Duncan ... Rosie / 'Topsy' (as Duncan Sisters)
Clarence Nordstrom Clarence Nordstrom ... Joe
Gerald Oliver Smith Gerald Oliver Smith
Jay Seiler Jay Seiler ... Eccentric Dancer
Dot Kay & Em Dot Kay & Em ... Vocal Trio
Wen Talbert Wen Talbert ... Chorale Leader


The Duncan Sisters (Rosie and Vivian) and their college dorm mates sing a song to their alma mater while packing up to leave college at the end of school. The sisters make a special point of packing up a couple of costumes--a Gypsy dress and a Toreador outfit--from one of their stage productions. The sisters then sing an ode to their old southern plantation home, which blends into their arrival at the mansion. They discover that a surprise costume party is being held in honor of their return, with most people dressed up in 1800s attire. The sisters decide to surprise the others by dressing up in their own costumes, and affecting the characters of a bullfighter and a Gypsy, each with her own song. A number of songs follow, including a rubber-legged, athletic dance by Jay Seiler and a production number imagining what it would be like if the Volga River ran through the South. The sisters end the short by doing one of their Eva (Vivian) and Topsy (Rosie) vaudeville routines.

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Plot Keywords:

broadway brevity | See All (1) »


Short | Comedy | Musical



Did You Know?


Final film appearance for the Duncan Sisters. See more »


Goodbye, Alma Mater
Written by Cliff Hess
Sung at the beginning of the picture
See more »

User Reviews

Surprise Indeed!
22 April 2008 | by HarlowMGMSee all my reviews

SURPRISE (1935) is a rare treat from the archives of Turner Classic Movies that will air once in a blue moon on the channel. This 21- minute "Broadway Brevity" produced by Warner Bros. stars the legendary Duncan Sisters. Rosetta and Vivian Duncan were as big as any stars in the world of Vaudeville during the 1910's, 1920's, and 1930's but their film appearances were quite rare, generally limited to brief appearances in short subjects. This 1935 short stars the sisters in a sweet little musical that vividly shows the charm that made the girls so beloved to live audiences.

There isn't much of a plot: Vivian and Rosetta play entertainers in the modern day 1930's who go "back home" when their gig is up, the Old South. Make that the REALLY Old South, where life does not seem to have changed much since the pre-Civil War 19th century. The girls on the road to home (in a carriage no less) stumble upon a surprise welcome home party for them going on at the old homestead, a fine old southern mansion. What happens from that point on is basically nonstop musical numbers, mostly from the sisters.

The movie also recreates the Duncan Sisters' most legendary vaudeville characters, Topsy and Eva, the children from Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, played for comedy. Alas, Rosetta as Topsy is in offensive black face as was typical for these minstrel type programs still going on in the 1930's. The latter-day distaste for this is somewhat undercut by the lack of malice in her characterization and no attempt at a mush mouth malapropism stereotype, "Topsy" is eccentric but hers is a standard "adult mincing a child" voice. Indeed, watching Rosetta Duncan one realizes how much Fanny Brice's Baby Snooks owes to this famous characterization, it's basically the same character minus black makeup.

Topsy is quite funny with her sass and her downright 21st century cynicism. "I hate everybody," she says. "In fact I wish there was more people in the world so I could hate them, too!" Topsy loathes school and her teacher who "don't know nothing - she's always asking' me questions!"

The highlight is the hearing the lovely harmony singing of the sisters, natural and sweet and far more appealing than the often nasal vocals of some of the musical stars of the era. Rosetta was 40 when this short was made, Vivian 37 but they each look at least a decade younger. Rosetta is clearly the main talent here with an excellent voice and a pioneering comic style but Vivian holds her own and is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful, as gorgeous as any blonde starlet fifteen years her junior.

This short was one of the last hurrahs for the sisters although they still worked on the stage for many years to come. Rosetta was killed in a car crash in 1959 and Vivian passed away in 1987 during the MTV generation, a million years away from the golden era of Vaudeville.

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Release Date:

27 July 1935 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Broadway Brevities (1934-1935 season) #30: Surprise! See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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