"When Erastus Plays His Old Kazoo" (1927)
The artists here are the Savoy Orpheans, and you won't likely find a more merry, bright and tight orchestration of this infectiously gleeful tune than this one. Just try keeping still during this one!
Interestingly, a 1929 newspaper item concerning the (then) new trend of talkie stars appearing on phonograph records, and mentions that Bessie Love would be stepping before the microphone for a disc of vocalizing and ukulele strumming --- but alas, I can find no listing suggesting any such recording was released. Perhaps one of the many 78rpm experts to visit these pages can offer further information?
Some three years earlier, in October of 1926, the multi-talented Bessie Love was called upon by Photoplay magazine to demonstrate the surprisingly complicated steps and moves that constituted a new dance that was then sweeping the globe, serving as, really, a cultural "release-valve" for the incredible energy that had been steadily building since the close of the Great War.
"The Charleston is one of those things that, like a striking slang phrase, seems to come from nowhere, yet is instantly everywhere. It just came naturally, like time or space, no beginning and, apparently, no end."
The dance would flare up and burn hotly --- with a myriad of variations --- for a scant two or three years before being relegated to quaint novelty status. Despite that, it lives on still today --- as much an all encompassing cliche representing an entire decade as "The Twist" and "The Hustle" would define, via dance, later periods. This, of course, before popular culture was inexplicably purged of the ability to originate anything new!
Bessie sagely advises prospective hot steppers, "Don't try to do the dance fast at first. If you do, you'll get into difficulties."
Indeed, with such exotic-sounding step interpolations as "The Turkish," "Picking Cherries," and especially "Falling Down Stairs," you may prefer --- as I do --- to examine Miss Love's dexterity (and that of Anna Q. Nilsson, Shirley Mason and Ann Pennington in the accompanying images) while listening to a late 1925 recording of the immortal tune by the Savoy Orpheans, who have lingered long enough to perform:
"Charleston" (1925) - The Savoy Orpheans
Then too, as this isn't a topic I'm ever likely to visit again, you really ought to hear Paul Whiteman's 1925 rendition, which threatens to self-combust with each listening. Oh yes --- it's mighty hot to begin with, and then made even more so with the addition of a delightfully lunatic nonsense vocalization that says nothing --- and yet, somehow, says it all.
"Charleston" (1925) Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra
Not unlike dance steps that spring up and fall from favor with the arrival and departure of seasons or with shifts in the collective mood, so it was with popular authors of the day. Print ads for RKO's "Dance Hall" (1929) boldly called attention to the fact that this was "Vina Delmar's Big Whoopee Show," and while that name (and entire phrase) might prompt eyes to narrow and brows to arch today, audiences of 1930 knew the name well --- and, more importantly from a marketing standpoint, knew what the branding signified.
We however, will benefit from a glimpse at an early 1928 publicity placement:
"Vina Delmar is her name. She is 23. Her first novel, 'Bad Girl,' has been made the April Book-of-the-Month by the Literary Guild of America. Thus, before it reached the bookstands, Miss Delmar's story was assured some 40,000 readers, with a $10,000.00 advance."
"'It's just a matter of keeping your eyes open and working hard, so far as I can see,' Miss Delmar, a New Yorker, will tell you. 'I spent three years and a half working on the book. I wrote it about people I know because I lived among them and saw them daily.'"
"'I started at 17 by trying to go on the stage, and I was terrible. I still was interested in the theater and got a job in a Bronx film house. After awhile they made me manager.'"
"'I came to know, first hand, the girls who go to Coney Island, who pack the medium-sized movie theaters and write fan mail, who chew gum, work for a living, put on lipstick in crowded subways, and try to live on $1.60 a day. Some of them are tough and some of them are not. I grew up with these people, and when I decided to write, I wrote about them. It seems to me that if you're going to write, that's what you have to do. Don't wander into strange lands, but write.'"
"Miss Delmar is married, has a baby and lives in a modest New York city flat. She is short of stature, with penciled eyebrows, carmine lips, straight bobbed hair of lacquer black -- in brief."
Alternating between full-length novels and short story collections with titles like "Bad Girl," "Loose Ladies," and "Kept Women," it's no surprise that her work exasperated critics, outraged moralists and delighted the public for whom they were written for --- and about.
So much so, that O.O. McIntyre's syndicated column, "New York Day By Day" (and why hasn't anyone thought to collect up and publish these incredibly rich and invaluable reflections on New York City life?) it was reported in November of 1929 that:
"Inwood, which is the uptown Dyckman Street section (of Manhattan) glorified in Vina Delmar's 'Kept Women,' evidently does not resent the chiffon chimera of the ladies in love with love which the novel created."
"A drug store heralds the Vina Delmar Sundae, and a little gown shop is called The Vina Delmar. Inwood, it might be added, is chiefly a community of self-respecting people with a neighborly flair, and is not hard boiled."
Despite some highly uncomplimentary reviews of her books, including attempts to outright ban sales in some areas of the country (yes, Boston too) the author flourished and Hollywood soon came calling. At first, Delmar bravely announced her intention to remain firmly put in New York City and sell her handiwork by the piece rather than by the yard. The author held out until January of 1930 when, likely spooked by the odd economic gyrations rippling outward from Wall Street and the vision of a sun kissed substantial check rising above the Western horizon, she and her little family took up residence in Hollywood for a few months. As we look in on her in March of 1930:
"She hasn't met a single motion picture star nor a Hollywood chatter-writer, and she doesn't care if she never does. She is here with her husband and baby to write an original screen story, and when she is through she expects to hurry back to New York without any material for a novel about the screen colony."
"Mrs. Delmar says she writes about the things she knows about -- and she doesn't want to know about Hollywood. 'It's not a fertile field for a novelist,' she said. One of her stories already has been made into a movie ("Dance Hall"-RKO-1929) and she insists she hates it. 'I doubt I will ever write a novel that can be used for a successful motion picture,' she said."
As noted, RKO would produce "Dance Hall" in late 1929, as Warner Bros. & First National would do with Alice White's "Playing Around" in 1930 and "A Soldier's Plaything" in 1931, while Fox's Vina Delmar offering that year was "Bad Girl."
An anonymous June of 1929 review of Delmar's then newly published "Loose Ladies" makes for a bit of fascinating reading from a 2007 vantage point, proving that "slash and dash" commentary (in this case positively dripping with resentment and vitriol) isn't necessarily as modern a trend as we might fear. One can very nearly change the names and dates and it might almost be called into service as a review for any number of recent popular low-brow novels:
"Vina Delmar is doubtlessly a mighty fine girl. Her 'Bad Girl' made her a rich one too, but she is a boob and 'Loose ladies' proves my statement."
"That extremely popular volume, the Bank Book, stampeded our little Vina into the ranks of the Grab-It-Quick after 'Bad Girl' was chosen by The Literary Guild and the dollars started to roll in with that sweet, melodious sound. Vina took a vacation. After spending in less than a year more money than she had ever seen in some twenty odd trips around the sun, she pushed her much labeled traveling bags into a closet, seized a ream of paper and pounded out 'Loose Ladies.' A considerable portion had already been written but the time was too short to even allow a polishing of the material."
"And her second novel is just like that. The book will sell. The reputation that was built upon her first book and the very efficient advertising department maintained by Harcourt-Brace will take care of that. But the cheap trash, the trite phrases, and the inane thoughts expressed in her new collection of eleven short stories, will injure Mrs. Delmar artistically fare more than she will benefit financially. Her third book is probably now being written. My humble advice is that she will write it, revise the first draft, rewrite the entire book, tear up the 300 pages and write it the fourth time."
(In time, Delmar would contribute her talents to screenplays for such notable films as "Make Way For Tomorrow," "Sadie McKee," and "The Awful Truth.")
This overhead production shot from Metro's 1930 screen version of "Good News" will doubtless please the eye (and yes, you can play "Spot Ann Dvorak" if you choose.)
After years of being largely bypassed in favor of Hollywood product of later vintage and surefire return upon the investment, the DVD format at last seems to be --- if not precisely setting out the "Welcome" mat then at least tentatively leaving the front door unlatched --- for films of the early sound era. Good News of the very best sort for readers of these pages!
First and foremost, there's Warner Home Video's 80th Anniversary 3-Disc Edition of "The Jazz Singer," which will sport so many dazzling accompanying features that to rattle them off is pointless when you can read all about it for yourself via this Adobe .pdf press release.
I do want to call special attention however, to the fact that the commentary for the feature (which promises to look and sound utterly spectacular) will be handled by none other than Ron Hutchinson, friend and founder of The Vitaphone Project, who will be joined by the infinitely exuberant and talented Vince Giordano. This happy combination will doubtless result in precisely the sort of commentary the landmark production not only deserves, but is owed. It would have been all too easy to sign on someone who'd provide an apologetic history of racism in American film who cares nary a whit for Jolson nor early sound films (and knows even less about either) --- but instead, the high and proper road was taken --- a fact we should embrace and celebrate.
With a scheduled release date of October 16th, the simple fact is that sales of this release --- not glowing reviews or Netflix rentals --- will determine whether or not additional early sound titles are viewed as viable DVD product. Therefore, your purchase does indeed count --- now more than ever!
I long wondered how the packaging for the film would be handled, since most of the original advertising conceptions can't easily be envisioned gracing store shelves today. So, unless a change occurs, this is what the DVD package will look like.
In what I deem an ingeniously subtle decision, the indelible trademark Jolson pose still adorns this new incarnation of his film, but all possibly troublesome details are quietly relegated to the shadows --- a move which strikes me as appropriate as it is wise.
Indeed, a couple of the supplementary inclusions are somewhat inexplicable (a Van & Schenck Metrotone short that already accompanies the DVD release of "The Broadway Melody") and exclusion of a recently restored Technicolor fragment from "On With the Show!" is simply sad, but let's hope that Jolson's exclamation of "You ain't heard nothing yet" rings as true today as it did in 1927. Your purchase may very well guarantee it does! (Amazon is now taking pre-orders.)
Also headed to DVD, with scheduled release date of September 4th, are three very interesting early sound United Artists titles being issued by Kino Video: "Alibi" (1929,) "Be Yourself" and "The Lottery Bride" (both 1930.)
While the running times listed for the latter two films are cause for some concern (if accurate then both titles originate from trimmed source material --- moderately for "Be Yourself" and hugely for "The Lottery Bride") it may well be that the remarkable "Alibi" that alone stands out as the worthwhile release of the trio.
Sadly, there's little indication at this time that "The Lottery Bride" arriving on DVD will resemble the print reviewed here in Lowell, Massachusetts on December 20th of 1930:
"'The Lottery Bride' makes no pretensions to be other than two hours of all-around entertainment, and one of the most tuneful operettas that come to the talking picture screen. It is a modern story and has a half dozen songs that are admirably suited to the holiday season, among them 'You're An Angel,' 'I'll Follow the Trail,' 'Brother Love,' 'High and Low,' and 'My Northern Light.' Jeannette MacDonald never sang in better voice, and both John Garrick and Robert Chisholm are heard in rousing numbers. Contributing the comedy with more than his usual excellence is Joe E. Brown, who with the able assistance of Zasu Pitts and Harry Gribbon keep the fun rolling merrily along. Thrilling adventure and a rescue expedition all play their part to bring the picture to a satisfactory climax. The finale, in Technicolor, is exceptionally beautiful."
A highly detailed and even more highly spirited description of "The Lottery Bride's" use of Technicolor can be found in a 1930 United Artists press release:
"The most outstanding Technicolor sequence in the history of motion pictures was filmed at the United Artists studio in Hollywood, under the direction of Paul L. Stein for Arthur Hammerstein's spectacular musical drama, 'The Lottery Bride.'"
"The colorful scenes, set to music by Rudolf Friml, foremost living composer of light opera, represents the vision of three men who are lost in the Arctic ice fields after a dirigible crash and are resigning themselves to an icy death. John Garrick, leading man, sings a love song and the ice fields dissolve into scenes of his native Oslo, where he sees himself being wedded to Jeanette MacDonald, leading lady, while beautiful little girls strew flowers in their path and the peasants turn out in colorful holiday attire."
"Then, Robert Chisholm, who portrays Garrick's brother, joins in the singing and the vision changes to their earlier life -- a great ice carnival, a great army of skaters populating the ice, ski jumpers leaping from the heavens and disappearing over the horizon. Joseph Macaulay, who portrays an Italian aviator, sings of his native Rome. An extravagant vision of the city fills the sky; there is the music of the three day Lenten carnival, the music of holy weeks and scenes of processions, nuns and neophytes of many lands in their multi-colored robes -- the music of Easter and the procession merging into one that vanishes over a distant hill."
"The magnificence of these blurring, dissolving, intermingling scenes required the work of a staff of experts. The settings were designed by William Cameron Menzies, the Technicolor camera work was in charge of Karl Freund, famous German cameraman."
"Be Yourself," which has been discussed in earlier entries within these pages, exists in numerous versions of varying length, and widely variable picture and sound quality. A visually stunning film, it can only be hoped that the source material utilized for DVD release allows the film to live up to its potential. As with "The Lottery Bride," should the DVD release be lacking in length, quality or prismatic hues, it'd be nice if liner notes --- at the very least --- explained that for whatever reason, the offered version should is not representative of what audiences originally saw and heard.
A musical interlude seems right about now, wouldn't you say? Sadly, 78rpm recordings of "My Northern Light" and "High and Low" aren't at hand, but we do have the Piccadilly Players with us for a go at the theme song from "Alibi":
"I've Never Seen A Smile Like Yours" (1929) - The Piccadilly Players
And, from "Be Yourself," links to recordings of two selections which appeared in earlier posts, but which may have eluded newer readers:
"Cooking Breakfast For the One I Love" (1930) Fannie Brice
"Kicking A Hole in the Sky" (1930) Billy Barton & His Orchestra
All three films, "Alibi," "The Lottery Bride," and "Be Yourself," are available for pre-order from Amazon as of this writing. While the end product may fall short of hopes (if not expectations) all three are warmly welcomed additions to the growing ranks of early sound popular cinema on DVD, and as with "The Jazz Singer," your support will result in more to come.
From Chester Bahn's (Dramatic Critic of New York's Syracuse Herald) review of Fox's synchronized 1928 film, "Fazil":
"He kissed her in a Venetian gondola while the boatman lustily sang 'Neapolitan Nights.' He kissed her in a Parisian boudoir. He kissed under the surface in a French bathing pool. He kissed her while they sped down the Rue-de-la-Something-or-Other in a fleet cab. He kissed her while they skimmed the surface of the harbor in a racing motor. He kissed her in an Arabian harem. And, finally, he kissed her in death 'neath the desert's tropic stars and, having kissed her, fell dead at her side."
"Which makes I believe, 'Fazil' the champion osculatory cinema of the year, if not of all time. Incidentally, it should guarantee the Empire Theater's liberal feminine patronage for the duration of the engagement."
"Whether this is saying much or little I do not know, but 'Fazil' impressed me as the best so-called 'sheik-picture' since the late lamented Valentino's hey day."
"Neapolitan Nights" (1928) The Mid-Pacific Hawaiians
Although the jury is out on just how much (or little) of Fox's 1929 campus set musical comedy "Words and Music" exists today, we've recently learned that at least a portion of the original soundtrack has emerged --- in the form of a Vitaphone-type sound disc --- in much the same way an audio fragment of "Fox Movietone Follies" (1929) valiantly but weakly attempts to represent what was once a grand eye-full of the early film musical genre.
Supposedly built around musical numbers filmed for "Movietone Follies" featuring Lois Moran that were snipped to bring the film's length down, I hope to soon offer the aforementioned soundtrack fragment, which features the performance of "Too Wonderful For Words," but in the meantime we have two 78rpm renditions of melodies from the film:
"Too Wonderful For Words" (which seems a tune far more akin to 1934 than 1929) is performed by Victor's All Star Orchestra, while "Steppin' Along" is deftly played and vocalized by Carl Fenton's New Yorkers. If indeed the notion that these selections were excised from "Fox Movietone Follies," then the decision may well have been based on more purely than the number of reels!
Department of Corrections:
An earlier post ("Eyes Front - Ears Wide Open - And Listen!," - 26 June 2007) focused upon Madge Bellamy's 1928 Fox feature "Mother Knows Best," and mentioned an earlier Bellamy effort, "Ankles Preferred," as being a lost film.
William M. Drew, author of "Speaking of Silents: First Ladies of the Screen," and "D.W. Griffith's Intolerance: Its Genesis and Its Vision," and reader of these pages, gently points outs the happy but ultimately frustrating fact that:
"For over three decades, the Museum of Modern Art has had a print (of 'Ankles Preferred') with Czech titles that they obtained from the archive in Prague. Unfortunately, as with the vast majority of silent films, there has been no effort and no willingness to make this film available to the public outside the archive. Other (Madge Bellamy) Fox silents in the MOMA collection include the 1928 comedy 'Soft Living,' and her 1926 Jazz-Age drama, 'Sandy' -- films which are likewise unavailable to the general public. The Czech archive also has a copy of 'Summer Bachelors' (1926)... but so far, none of the archives have even bothered to acquire a copy of the film."
I thank Mr. Drew for taking the time to write, as he neatly expresses the popular and long-standing view among what I believe would be the bulk of vintage film historians and mere enthusiasts that archives --- particularly those funded by the public, would ideally operate as any other library system in the world in respect to public access, instead of like a combination of Fort Knox and a prohibition-era speakeasy where knowing a certain someone is required before entry can even be considered. These are, after all, our films --- our heritage --- our history. No, nobody expects to be able to waltz out with a 35mm print tucked under their arm like a prehistoric Netflix rental, but somewhere there has to be a middle ground between this impossible scenario and the convoluted system in place that, intentionally or not, keeps the vast majority of archive films out of sight and kept from public view.
I suppose I can easily forgive Kino Video a few missing moments from "Be Yourself" in light of their spectacular and continuing effort to release films we'd otherwise have little chance to see.
Their releases of "Applause" and "The Man Who Laughs" (among others!) are awe-inspiring products and two titles I find myself viewing time and again for enjoyment and entertainment of the purest sort.
Once heard, the lilting theme song from "The Man Who Laughs" (1928) lingers on for days if not weeks, and via the contribution of reader Joe Busam, we have an elusive 78rpm rendition of said theme song, "When Love Comes Stealing," to enjoy and sigh along with. Recorded on the Perfect label in January of 1928 by Bert Dolan's Berkshire Serenaders (with a vocal by LeRoy Montesanto,) it's a lovely thing, this...
"When Love Comes Stealing" (1928)
In a similar vein, albeit of slightly later vintage, I was delighted to hear (again, via the generosity of Joe Busam) a full length rendition of a melody interpolated into the framework of Universal's 1932 "The Mummy" that is bound to bring many a happy memory to those of us who either first encountered the film on late-night television or 8mm home-movie versions of the film. There's instant recall of a vacant-eyed, spectacularly gowned actress Zita Johann drifting across a Cairo dance-floor --- powerless but to answer a strange whispered call from the distant past. (A feeling not entirely unfamiliar to myself or my readers, I suspect!)
"Beautiful Love" (1931) Arden & Ohman's Orchestra
Lastly, to close this post in as cheerful a mode as it began; we've the delightfully bizarre and gleefully insane image to the right. The sort of moment that could only originate in one place and at one time in its history: Coney Island.
After decades of neglect and blight, the sleeping giant, in which are embedded untold millions of echoes of reverberating laughter and joy, is stirring anew.
Slowly to be awakened in a new form which promises to embrace its past instead of shunning it, we await this waking dream eagerly --- and cautiously. In viewing the little video and audio experiment offered below, I wonder if you'll be struck as I was by the fact that the amusements being so enjoyed by the turn-of-the-last-century public was utterly free of restraints, belts, harnesses, locking devices, height restrictions, warnings and all but insurance-waivers that make a trip to the modern amusement park feel physically more like a trip to a physical therapy clinic.
Our amusement park experience today --- which more and more relies upon motion simulator "experiences" and "re-creations" --- is a far cry from the feast for the senses (all the senses) depicted in these scenes, and damned be the occasional skinned knee or bruise --- the loss is an inconsolable one.
Let's leave all that aside for a moment in this Summer of 2007 --- and instead try to sense the brilliant sun reflecting off the clean surf, off the whitewashed woodwork and plaster, and off the faces and forms of all of those we see here in their day, in their world --- in their pleasures.
Detailed view of portion of area seen in YouTube video
Detailed view of portion of area seen in YouTube video
If it's good, it must be bad
28 March 1926
28 March 1926
Charleston: Dance of Death
19 August 1925
19 August 1925
Everybody's Doing It
8 March 1930
4 September 1927
Brilliant Art for 1927 - Unsuitable for 2007
The Eternal Pose that Inspired the Now Shunned Poster
Big, Bold, and Clearly Out of the Running
The Eternal Pose that Inspired the Now Shunned Poster
Big, Bold, and Clearly Out of the Running
Vitaphone & Movietone, All Pals Together
23 November 1928
23 November 1928
Fun for All
12 December 1930
12 December 1930
Huron, South Dakota
31 August 1929
31 August 1929