22 October 2007

"Sweeping the Clouds Away"

The first anniversary of this blog arrives on October 24th, and I couldn't let the occasion pass without prefacing this entry with a few personal thoughts and observations.

First and foremost, is my gratitude to you --- the reader. Your support and encouragement speaks volumes for the topics discussed here, proving what I always felt from the first --- that the films and personalities of the early sound motion picture era could be, and are, as much a topic of interest as the silent era that preceded it and the "Golden Era" of Hollywood that would follow it.

Although the number of visitors to these pages is a source of immense satisfaction, I can't say as I'm wholly surprised that --- as of this writing --- over 40,000 individuals have found their way here either to be informed or entertained, or to discover a chapter in film history that had been largely relegated to the shadows and odd corners in decades past.

It's a credit to the artists and creative minds behind the material in these pages that I've noted visitors from just about every country on earth --- and have been contacted by students, archivists, researchers, private collectors, and surviving relatives of numerous long deceased and sadly forgotten entertainers who have had fragments of their career revived, examined and celebrated here. No matter the purpose of their writing, the one constant element is their surprise and gratitude in finding information they couldn't find elsewhere --- the small human facts that bridge the insurmountable distance between the past and present. Invariably, I close my replies with "Thank you for taking the time to write." In this instance, thank you for taking the time to read.

Perhaps some day the information gathered here will find its way to a publisher's desk and be given the chance to survive far longer and reach further than this tentative electronic medium allows. Then too, someone may decide to pull the plug on this venture tomorrow. Whatever the case, it's my pleasure to aid these distant voices, names and titles in doing what they were created to do --- and still yearn to do --- to entertain.

The DVD release of Al Jolson's "The Jazz Singer," the sales ranking of which is doubtless dropping the jaws of studio heads (and doubtless prompting inquiries of "why haven't we thought of releasing this stuff before?") may well serve to spearhead future DVD release of material that didn't previously seem to warrant attention. As always, money talks --- and if there's money to be made, well... you know how it goes.

There's little additional praise I can add to the uniformly glowing reviews (discounting the inane opinion piece disguised as a review published in the increasingly impotent "Entertainment Weekly") the 3-disc DVD package has received, except to make a special point of applauding the efforts of George Feltenstein of Warner Home Video, without whom the project likely never would have developed and evolved into the loving tribute to the birth of the sound film that it is.

Although most copies of the DVD package (including my own) contain two maddening but ultimately small errors in the form of one reel of "The Jazz Singer" being out-of-sync with the accompanying Vitaphone audio (some may argue ruining one of film film's most exhilarating and memorable sequences --- Jolson's first return home to visit his parents) and one of the surviving Technicolor reels from Warner Bros.' 1929 "Gold Diggers of Broadway" (which contained the "Tip Toe thru the Tulips" number) being swapped for a pretty but leaden ballet sequence from MGM's 1930 "The Rogue Song," I urge all outraged parties to consider what we felt our chances were of seeing any of this material, so beautifully presented, a mere ten years ago. In all, these errors (unusual for Warner Home Video and likely to be remedied by the company) are the merest of speed-bumps on a monumental first step forward toward re-introduction of this vintage material.

From "The Romance of Al Jolson," a syndicated feature story that appeared in newspapers in November of 1927:

"After his first hardships in New York, Jolson got what he has described as a precarious foothold in vaudeville of the smallest time. "

"'I recall how I came to black up vividly,' said Jolson recently. 'While I was unable to employ a regular dresser, I had an old Southern Negro with me occasionally. One night, this old semi-dresser of mine said to me while I was playing in a little theater in Brooklyn, 'Boss, if your skin be black, they always laugh.' It was a good idea and I thought I would try it. I got some burnt cork and blacked up and rehearsed before the old man. When I got through, he gave me a chuckle and said, 'Mister Jolson, you just as funny as me.' I had some friends even in those days, and some of them got me a chance in the spot on the Colonial bill in New York. I had a tryout and they put me on.'"

"Jolson in black face was an overnight hit, and from the November days of 1910 he was uniformly successful."

"Uniformly successful" also aptly describes "The Jazz Singer" itself. Indeed, one can find the film nearly in continual release across the States from it's 1927 arrival well into the mid-1930's, in advertisements heralding "By Audience Request" or serving as the centerpiece in anniversary celebrations for theaters marking the passage of years since their installation of talking picture equipment.

Here's Jolson in pure, undiluted and gimmick-free form, performing "Avalon," from the 1920 stage production "Sinbad." Utterly unique. The supreme vocalist of another day --- one we can't re-visit and one we can only attempt to understand.

"Avalon" (1920)

Only Jolson would have the audacity to swipe the hit song from the 1930 Technicolor musical "Hold Everything!" (a lost film) and make it all his own --- and, more to the point, only Jolson would have succeeded so wildly as he did --- and does.

"When the Little Red Roses Get the Blues for You" (1930)

"Blue River" was a 1927 tune that lent itself to a myriad of interpretations --- from the soulful, to the gleeful, to the realm of the washboard and banjo. Al Jolson's rendition is a little bit of all and a lot of the Jolson bravura that required the melody --- no matter what it's nature, to adapt to him --- rather than the other way around.

"Blue River" (1927) Al Jolson

A few additional renditions of the same melody are offered here as well, each a gem in its own right. The plaintive bittersweet spin by Sophie Tucker, the richly orchestrated thumping dance arrangement by Jean Goldkette & His Orchestra, and the always spot-on and damn near perfect vocal group, The Revelers.

"Blue River" (1927) Sophie Tucker

"Blue River" (1927) Jean Goldkette & His Orchestra

"Blue River" (1927) The Revelers

The Revelers (seen here circa early 1926) --- who, we're told in a syndicated news item from May of 1930, "literally revel in work."

"The quartet, organized in 1918 as 'The Shannon Four,' have since masqueraded under more than a dozen titles, have appeared on 16 commercial radio programs, and at one time appeared on national radio networks for four hours a week while its members also did solo work on other radio programs."

"Today, these four men and the accompanist may be heard as the Palmolive Revelers and the Raleigh Rovers, while as soloists the individual members are appearing from time to time on the Atwater Kent, General Motors, Mobil Oil, Victor RCA and other programs."

"Three of the four singers have remained together from the start and only once has the accompanist been changed. The members of the original Shannon Four came to New York more than 12 years ago, each seeking a musical education and a career. They were introduced to one another when the Victor company organized them into a quartet to make popular recordings."

"Irish songs were very popular then and hence the name of the Shannon Four was adopted. The group then included Charles Hart (first tenor,) Lewis James (second tenor,) Elliott Shaw (baritone,) and Wilfred Glenn (bass.) For more than six years they continued to make recordings without appearing before a visible audience, and the technique required in the recording studios helped them considerably when they appeared for the first time on the air in an improvised Westinghouse studio at Newark nearly nine years ago."

"Even in the sunny days of the phonograph, their popularity was so great that numerous offers made it necessary for them to change their name frequently. In addition to the name of the Shannon Four, they were also the Victor Revelers, the Singing Sophomores and the Brunswick Merrymakers. Then, on the radio, you may have heard them as the Blue Ribbon Quartet, the Reading Revelers, Imperial Imps, Pennsylvania Keystoners, Everready Revelers, Landay Revelers, Wrigley Quartet, Dodge Quartet and the Seiberling Singers."

"About five years ago, Charles Hart left the quartet to do individual work and Franklyn Baur took his place as first tenor. Ed Smalle joined the group as accompanist and arranger. Baur stayed with the quartet less than a year, and James Melton, a southern youngster with a rich melodious voice, took his place, while two years later, Frank Black, accomplished pianist, composer and arranger, joined the group. Hence, the Revelers now are Melton, James, Shaw, Glenn and Black."

"Not until four summers ago did the Revelers see an audience professionally. Until then, all their work had been confined to recording and broadcasting. A British theatrical manager induced them to appear in concert in Great Britain, and they sang several times before the Prince of Wales and Princess Mary. They went back to London the next year, and the following year visited Paris and Berlin. A similar trip was made last year, and the quartet is as popular abroad as in this country."

From a 1930 press release for the currently quite lost RKO part-Technicolor musical film "Hit the Deck":

"Bigger and better - to borrow an ancient and often abused movie slogan - briefly describes Radio Pictures' version of the popular stage success 'Hit the Deck.'"

"Although the musical comedy established box office records throughout the United States, the stage offering could only suggest the immense scope, color and narrative value of 'Hit the Deck' in its present celluloid form."

"The 'Hallelujah' song is an example of what is meant. It was a solo on the stage. In Radio Pictures' interpretation it becomes a lengthy sequence - a Negro spiritualist meeting which involved 100 vocalist, dancers and players, and introduces to film fans the colorful Marguerita Padula, a singer whose voice has a startling range of four octaves! This same parallel may be expected in other comparisons of the old and new 'Hit the Deck.'"

"More than a million dollars and three months time were spent in making the film. Elaborate sets which required an army of workmen many weeks to build, a chorus of 189 trained dancers and a unit stock company of 300 selected players - were on constant call. Three sets were built at an approximate cost of $200,000 involving 300 men working in three shifts for five weeks. This included an exact replica of the forward deck of the U.S.S. West Virginia. The deck was completely equipped with cabins, bridge, gangways, a revolving gun turret, and four new model 14-inch naval guns."

"The guns were designed to support the weight of 30 chorus girls - 15 on each - and had a revolving angle of 90 degrees, and an elevation of 25 degrees. The battleship sequence and several of the coffee shop sequences were photographed in Technicolor." No prints --- Technicolor or monochrome --- are known to have survived for "Hit the Deck," making it yet another one of those tantalizing "what if?" or "if only!" films that pock mark film study of the 1928-1930 period.

While existing photos indicate a production of a somewhat more modest scale than the one described by RKO publicists, the reality of "Hit the Deck" is still undeniably impressive, and one longs for a glimpse of those (somewhat) mammoth sets framing the music which has long since outlived the stage show and film which initially introduced it. With such music, and such visual magnificence, even the oftentimes overwhelming presence of Jack Oakie would be more than forgiven, and welcomed.

Two selections from "Hit the Deck." Nat Shilkret leads the Victor Orchestra in "Hallelujah," (sadly sans four-octave singer Marguerita Padula) and the chirpy "Sometimes I'm Happy," is handled by Roger Wolfe Kahn & His Orchestra with Franklyn Baur providing the vocal here too. Interestingly, these two selections were paired on the same 78rpm disc, providing a mighty powerful musical wallop for a half buck!

"Hallelujah" (1927) and "Sometimes I'm Happy" (1927)

(Technicolor Sequence)
LONG SHOT - Chorus of Paramount Publix boys:
"Trumpeter, what is the call you play?
Trumpeter, is it the Reveille?
Call them east, call them west,
Call them loud and clear!
From the least to the best,
Everyone is here, so let's go - get together,
And let's show spirit and let nobody queer it!
We admit it's a bit of a crusade,
When a revue's made...
Try to be somewhat different.
New tunes, sentimental and blue tunes,
Bright stars that are not overnight stars,
And a crowd who'll be proud,
If new friends they have made,
When you've seen

So begins the remarkable pre-title opening sequence of the 1930 musical revue "Paramount on Parade," one of the most elusive all the surviving early all-star screen revues --- that despite the fact it has been largely restored (carefully cobbled together from extant picture and sound elements) but with the frustrating status of a "screening by appointment only" archive gem. To be sure, "Paramount on Parade" can be viewed in any number of smeary bootleg Beta-to VHS-to DVD dubs which can be readily found on internet auction sites (and in eye-straining pixilated clips on YouTube) but even these stem from miserable, highly mangled, murk and blur source prints that once played regularly on Public Television and early cable venues. Here then, an original highly detailed dialogue script serves dual roles as a curiosity and reference tool, allowing us a glimpse of the content of "Paramount on Parade" as it originally appeared to audiences in early 1930. (Note: The length of "reels," as listed in the dialogue script, appears to vary from just over five to ten-or-so minutes.)

Following the title cards (also originally in Technicolor, which explains the odd looking ill-suited replacement main titles on most surviving prints that lift music from the final reel as accompanying audio) the multi-hued format continues in a lengthy but breathless visual montage of jump-cut close-ups suggesting all the elements of the production being put together: Brocades - Hands cutting cloth - Woman at sewing machine - Hands pinning a costume on a girl - A page of sheet music - A violinist - A cornetist - Piano keyboard - Drums - A trombonist - A violnist - Legs of dancing girls - Feet of dancing girls - Choreographer David Bennett - A tapestry curtain.

Then, as the camera trucks back and forth, in and out, and captures the dancers from overhead, a dance number ensues with the lyrics:

"Backbone! They say they're the backbone!
That's so, but without us there's no show.
With our kicks and our tricks, we'll prove it to you,
We're the legs of this revue!"

At this point, the scene switches to the footage which opens the truncated version of the film, the entrance of Leon Errol, Jack Oakie and Skeets Gallagher, who serve as Masters of Ceremony for the revue. It would appear that this footage was also originally in Technicolor, as it comprises the last quarter of the film's first reel.

The second reel of "Paramount on Parade" consists of the Lillian Roth & Buddy Rogers number "Anytime's the Time to Fall in Love," and the third reel is that of the film detective parody featuring Jack Oakie, Clive Brook, William Powell, Eugene Pallette, and Warner Oland.

Reel Four begins with a bit of comedic dialogue between Skeets Gallagher and dialect comedian Harry Green, and concludes with the Maurice Chevalier & Evelyn Brent modern spin on the French Apache dance.

Reel Five opens in monochrome for a brief scene of Maurice Chevalier welcoming vocalist Nino Martini at an ocean liner gangplank, before fading out and into a Technicolor sequence in which Martin sings "Torno Sorrento" ("Come Back to Sorrento") as a gondolier guiding a boat containing David Newell and an unbilled young lady. Newell also figures in the next sequence in the reel, a comedic hospital sketch (with Leon Errol, Jean Arthur, and Phillips Holmes) which serves to introduce Jack Oakie and Zelma O'Neill in "I'm in Training For You."

The film's sixth reel opens with the concluding half of "I'm In Training For You," before morphing into the Technicolor "Carmen" parody, which opens with a chorus from the Bizet opera featuring Kay Francis as the title figure --- who is first seen framed in the arms of her dancing partner. Following this straight rendition, a mysterious toreador enters --- cape held over his face, followed by a chorus of similarly costumed males.

"Who is he?" murmurs the crowd as they gather about the cloaked figure. "Yes, who are you?" asks Carmen/Francis as she slinks over to the toreador. The cloak drops: "Huh? What a question!" bleats Harry Green --- and the disappointment on Kay Francis' regal visage can only be imagined as Harry Green sings "I'm Isador, the Toreador!" So concludes reel six.

Reel seven consists entirely of Ruth Chatterton's "My Marine," (with Fredric March) while the film's eighth reel is split between Chevalier's "All I Want Is Just One Girl" park sketch and Mitzi Green's reprise of the tune in impersonations of Chavalier and Charles Mack of "The Two Black Crows."

The ninth reel of "Paramount on Parade" is divided between Helen Kane's "Boop-oop-a-doop" classroom sequence (also featuring Mitzi Green) and Dennis King's Technicolor rendition of "Nichavo," which opens in a highly melodramatic vein with a costumed King at the gallows, attended by a hangman -- standing before a bloodthirsty crowd: "People of Paris! Shall I not speak before I die? Death is a little thing, for love is eternal. I have been given a greater thing than life, and I am content to hang!"

The camera cuts to the unexpected sight of Skeets Gallagher climbing over the courtyard fence: "Hey! Hey! Wait a minute, will you? You can't hang Dennis King now!" "Oh, hello, Skeets! What are you doing here?" asks King. Gallagher replies, "I've got some good news for you. I'm going to have you sing for the Paramount revue." Film Director Ludwig Berger ("The Vagabond King," "Playboy of Paris") enters the scene as Gallagher continues: "Dr. Berger, you can't hang Denny now! Will you have the Dolly Twins take the rope of his neck, and make it snappy please!"

"Skeets, You can't talk to my director like that, old man," protests Dennis King, and Berger adds "What's the idea of interfering? Now, I've been trying to hang this man for eight weeks, and just as I'm about to see him swing and get rid of him, you come and interrupt? Why?"

Gallagher responds, "Ludwig, I agree with you, but this is for - he must sing for the Paramount Revue. You understand?" The attending crowd murmurs angrily. "I think I'm losing!" exclaims Gallagher. Dennis King steps in, "Gentlemen, gentlemen! One moment please. Now, apparently I am the object of this little argument, hmm? And, inasmuch as I am going to die anyhow, surely it doesn't matter if I sing before or after my death. Anyhow, nichavo!"

"Pray, nay, what is this nichavo?" asks Gallagher. "Ah, you see what a clever star I have?," beams Berger, "He now speaks Russian! What does it mean, Denny?" Dennis King laughs, and responds "Well, nichavo is a Russian word! In English it means 'nothing matters,' or 'what the......" Berger and King cut off the expletive by calling out "Orchestra! Please!," and the remainder of the reel presents King's vocal rendition of "Nichavo" in Technicolor close-up.

The tenth reel of "Paramount on Parade" consists of a bit of amateur magic by Skeets Gallagher which serves as intro for Abe Lyman's Orchestra and Nancy Carroll's "Dancing to Save Your Sole," and the first half of the 11th reel begins in monochrome --- setting the scene for the second Technicolor half, "Let Us Drink to the Girl of My Dreams."

The prismatic sequence opens with a view of Gary Cooper, Richard Alrlen, James Hall, David Newell and Phillips Holmes in a richly furnished Plantation house study --- as seen through an ornate picture frame --- clad in hunting garb, and about to propose toasts. Arlen toasts to Lady Luck, and Hall to Sporting Pluck --- but Cooper gently protests such toasts: "You all seem to favor sport and chance, but I prefer a toast to sweet romance. Say there, Tom, Dick and Jim, fill your glasses to the brim! Let us drink to the girl of our dreams!"

The trio continues the melody as they exit the study and enter the grand foyer of the mansion, positioning themselves to gaze upwards at a curving staircase, down which glide Fay Wray, Mary Brian and Jean Arthur. Brian picks up the melody: "Say there, strong flaming youth, won't you tell us all the truth, are we really the girls of your dreams?" Wray continues, "Do you find your mistake in the morn when you awake, are we really the girls of your dreams?" Mary Brian pairs with Gary Cooper, Fay Wray with Richard Arlen, and that leaves Jean Arthur to ask "If you say what you mean, and you mean what you say, to convince us there's always a way, so it seems," as she pairs with James Hall.

A series of close-ups of the three couples in loving poses fill the screen, as Mary Brian again asks "Would you care if we knew, all the rest you've told that to? Are we really the girls of your dreams?" Convincing seems beside-the-point, as the three couples dance to an orchestral reprise of the melody before the girls slowly retreat up the stairway and the boys return to the study where they resume the poses they held when the scene began --- and the camera pulls back to reveal the trio again returned to the confines of a picture frame.

The final solo star-turn place on the program, in the film's 12th reel, belongs to Clara Bow whose contribution to the revue was filmed well after everything else had been shot, owing to what the press described as a bout of illness. The reel concludes with the first portion of a clever comedic sketch called "Impulses," in which we see guests assembled at a cocktail party (which includes George Bancroft, Kay Francis, Jane Keithley, and William Austin) engaging in the polite and dull sort of banter one still encounters at these affairs --- where forced enthusiasm and revelry is the order of the day.

As reel 13 begins, Bancroft addresses the audience: "Now of course, I don't know how you feel about it, but my impulse was not to conduct myself as I did. There's an idea. Now, if everybody there had followed impulses, I imagine the party would have been somewhat different." And, as you can surmise if you've not seen this sketch, indeed it is!

The second half of "Paramount On Parade"'s 13th and final reel --- originally in Technicolor, belongs to Maurice Chevalier and "Sweeping the Clouds Away."

A recent casual and decidedly non-scientific poll conducted in these pages revealed that "Paramount on Parade" is the one restored but unavailable early musical film which readers would most like to see on DVD, no matter how imperfect the existing UCLA restoration is. It is hoped that someone, somewhere, in position to make such things happen, is listening.

"Paramount on Parade" Medley (1930)
"All I Want is Just One Girl" (1930) - Gus Arnheim & His Orchestra
"Anytime's the Time to Fall in Love" (1930) - Casa Loma Orchestra
"Sweeping the Clouds Away" (1930) - Maurice Chevalier

At the same time that the 1928 F.B.O. production "Coney Island" was in general release around the country (and more on this lost film below,) a tragic and no-less melodramatic real-life event at New York City's famed amusement park were being reported via wire services in August of that year.

In the midst of a blistering and lengthy heat-wave, with temperatures along the Eastern seaboard wavering between 90 and 102 degrees, a reported 800 to 900,000 people were seeking the modicum of relief available at the seaside resort on Saturday, the 4th of August --- packing the beaches, boardwalks, bathing pavilions and amusement venues.

Late in the afternoon as the crowd reached a peak, for many arrived late with the expectation of making a night of it, unexpectedly, the sky began to darken --- a hot wind was whipped up, and within moments a tremendous electrical storm was underway, sending down pouring rain and hail in torrential sheets of precipitation. Acting almost as one --- and all with one thought --- the masses of people all made a mad dash for either temporary shelter wherever it could be found or for the subway entrances that serviced the long stretch of sea and sand from Coney Island, to Brighton Beach, to Rockaway Beach. The combination of sea-water, lightning, rain slicked surfaces and hundreds of thousands of people crowded into small areas would prove fatal for a variety of reasons --- collectively and individually.

As reported via the Associated Press: "Mrs. Edna Connors, 37, of Coney Island, was wading at Coney when the storm broke. Bystanders said there was a vivid lightning flash which seemed to play about the woman's head. She fell without a cry and was carried to a pavilion. A physician said the bolt apparently has struck her full in the face and she had died instantly."

"A throng that police estimated between 800,000 and 900,000 fled in a milling mob for shelter as rain and hail began to fall. Among the jostling crowd that headed for the elevated railway platform at Brighton Beach, near Coney Island, were Gertrude Neldenberg, 16, and her mother. The two were near the edge of the platform when the girl fell, or was pushed to the tracks and rolled against the third rail. Men held back the frantic mother while a train dispatcher shut off the power. The girl was dead when a physician arrived."

"At Rockaway Beach, the high wind and pounding hail ripped a light wire from its pole. Patrolman Arthur Fash, 52, picked up the loose end to carry it out of a busy boulevard and the heavy voltage passed thru his body. He died before an ambulance came. Lightning struck a three-story frame house at Coney Island, but six families escaped injury."

From press material for the 1928 film "Coney Island":

"No expense has been spared to make 'Coney Island' the finest amusement park story ever to have been filmed, FBO Studio officials claim. The picture has been directed by that veteran of the megaphone, Ralph Ince, and stars Lois Wilson and Lucilla Mendez. "

"Those who have journeyed to New York and seen 'Coney Island' will recognize many of the famous old landmarks oath international resort. Ince traveled 3,000 miles to get actual pictures of the midsummer crowds. One of the largest and fastest riding devices known in this country, 'The Giant Dipper,' known to thousands, was taken over to two days and nights that the proper atmosphere might be obtained and a truthful picture be presented to the people who have not had the opportunity of seeing the great playground."

"During the filming of the fight scenes, everyone but actual actors and employees of the studio were banned from the ride. For two whole days and nights, cameras ground their monotonous chants, flaming arc lights flickered, assistant directors, actors and employees scurried about that the work might be accomplished and the resort visitors might resume their rides."

Improbable though the plot line of "Coney Island" reads, it doubtless afforded views of the park that would elevate the status of this lost film to that of an invaluable record of all that is gone and sorely missed from the famous stretch of sand and surf:

"Tammany Burke, young owner of a giant roller coaster, is fighting heavy odds against a syndicate led by financial baron Hughey Cooper. Assisted by his sweetheart, Joan, and her father, Jingles Wellman, formerly a clown, Burke prepares for a sabotage of his machine by syndicate hirelings. In the midst of a great battle, the riot squad arrives to arrest the troublemakers, and Burke and his sweetheart are left in happy possession of their roller coaster."

It's interesting to note that today, when so many audience members are irked by movie trailers that seem to take special pains to reveal key plot points and neatly encapsulate every scene and line of dialogue that might possibly leave something to enjoy in seeing the film proper, that "Coney Island" --- like countless other films of the period --- were frequently publicized by having virtually their entire scenario serialized in newspapers over the space of several days (usually a week, sometimes even more) leaving little to the imagination of the prospective ticket-buyer other than perhaps the final reel of the film --- if even that! An example of the serialization of FBO's 1928 "Coney Island" can be viewed at right.

One Vitaphone film which received the Serialization-as-Publicity treatment was also perhaps the most unlikely candidate for such treatment --- the 1929 musical revue "Show of Shows."

Playwright, free-lance screenwriter and press agent Willard Keefe was called upon to create some sort of workable newspaper serialization for "Show of Shows," and in a rather remarkable but needless flight of fancy, Keefe fabricated a fictional story and set of characters which he then had interact with the creative and artistic personnel of the revue, frequently placing his characters on the set of the various production numbers contained in the revue, as they were being filmed and engaging in conversation with the revue's performers. The result is oftentimes as delightful as it is surreal (Chester Morris and a fictional character inspect the standing set for the "Celestial Fantasy" number) and disorienting. Naturally, I thought this concept unusual enough to warrant inclusion of all entries I could locate --- out of what seems to have originally been twelve or thirteen. They can be found at the conclusion of this entry should you care to browse one or few or all.

To accompany your journey into this alternate reality, a magnificent orchestral medley from "Show of Shows" is offered here, during which the spirited and clever arrangement utilizes nearly all of the film's melodies --- including two which appear to have never been commercially recorded for the 78rpm home market: "Singing in the Bathtub," "The Only Song I Know," "Your Love Is All I Crave," "Lady Luck," and "One Hour of Love."

Medley - "Show of Shows" (1929)

Paramount's 1929 part-Technicolor "Redskin," (advertised as "Mostly Color" in some plain speaking newspapers) is a joy to behold in its new DVD incarnation, as an inclusion in the hefty "Treasures III" American Film Archive set. If there's one sour note in the film's otherwise pristine presentation, it would be that only three reels of the nine reel feature are offered with the original synchronized music and effects track --- the remaining discs deemed lost in the printed and on-screen liner notes.

If the online database for audio holdings at The Vitaphone Project website is accurate, it would appear that four additional reels could have been married to their original soundtrack. Serviceable though the carefully arranged new piano score is for "Redskin," it strikes me as being dramatically at odds with the lush visuals and late-1920's setting --- a time at which a lone piano accompaniment would seem as much a product of a much earlier day as a 1912 Biograph split-reel offering.

Heard on the synchronized soundtrack of "Redskin" is vocalist Helen Clark (pictured left,) at the time a Victor recording artist but whose career stretched back to the early 1900's.

To conclude this entry, we can listen to Helen Clark circa 1911 warbling the title tune from the stage production of "So Long Letty," which would reach the talking picture screen one year after "Redskin," and two renditions of the theme song for the 1929 "mostly in color" Richard Dix photoplay --- one by Ben Selivin & His Orchestra (with vocal by Mildred Hunt) and the other by Bert Lown's band, with the familiar Irving Kaufman warbling the lyrics.

"So Long Letty" (1911) Helen Clark
"Redskin" (1929) Vocal by Mildred Hunt
"Redskin" (1929) Vocal by Irving Kaufman

Until Next Time!

Vitaphone Anniversary
Kingston, New York 1928

Vitaphone Anniversary & Easter Week
Mason City, Iowa - 1929

Clearly the Safe Choice for Theaters - 1928

How Much Sound is Too Much Sound?
August, 1928

Stock Graphic for Halloween Theater Celebration
New Castle, Pennsylvania - 1930

"Paramount on Parade" Retail Tie-in
June 1930

"Redskin" (1929) - Sheet Music Graphic

"Show of Shows" Fanciful Serialization
Late 1929 - Installment 1

(Warners' Publicity Dept. Misidentifies Alice White in photo!)

Installment 2

Installment 3

Installment 5

Installment 6

Installment 7

Installment 10

Installment 11

"From Shakespeare to Jazz"
Ad for "Show of Shows"
Fresno, California - February 1930

Doubtless lured by "The Romance of Al Jolson"
News Oddity - April 1927

"Must you sing of days gone by?

Must you always sigh?
Tell me why your song is sad --
Never glad --
Do you hold the memory of a vanished dream?"
Lyrics - "Blue River" (1927)


Anonymous said...

Congradulations on your first year...! I've spent the last few months catching up after discovering your blog. Thank you for all of the wonderful info, music & pictures.

Keep up the Great work..!

D. Wham

Joe Thompson said...

Jeff: Happy anniversary. I've gotten many hours of enjoyment out of your blog.

Joe Thompson ;0)

Anonymous said...

A great year of reading!

That ad for "Hit the Deck" features the first proof I've seen that theatres did indeed broadcast "Amos 'n Andy" at 7:00.

As for the "Jazz Singer" extras: do you have any idea who the fellow is announcing the movie on "The Jazz Singer"'s original trailer? It seems strange that Warners would use a guy who sounds like a Martian who just learned English. It doesn't help that he mistakes Louis Silvers for Irving Berlin -- after already identifying him in the previous clip!

Jeff Cohen said...

Thanks all for the handshake!

East Side: An upcoming post will look at the incredibly elaborate promotion the 1930 Amos 'n Andy film CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK received. The HIT THE DECK ad mentioning the A&A radio show might be the first of its kind in these pages, but I've seen countless similar examples. Still looking for one that announces the A&A radio show will interrupt screenings of Moran & Mack's WHY BRING THAT UP?! :)

Haven't gotten all the way thru the JAZZ SINGER DVD set yet and haven't seen the trailer, but that would be actor John Miljan, quite a "name" WB star at the time who you'd likely best recognize as the egotistical director "Frank Beulow" in 1930's SHOW GIRL IN HOLLYWOOD. Miljan also figures in TENDERLOIN, INNOCENTS OF PARIS, THE DESERT SONG and THE TERROR --- among many, many others. If he does err in his narration, he's to be forgiven. Wouldn't you be excited too? ;)


Unknown said...

Congratulations on the blog's first Birthday! You have given me hours of pleasure in both your subjects & your style, as well as more information than my little brain can hold. :-)
Thank You!
Love & Peace, Clarence Jones

Anonymous said...

One of the oddities of ca. 1930 films is the bang-bang-bang appearence of Al "Rubber Legs" Norman in "Dancing to Save Your Soul" in PoP, as well as "Happy Feet" in KoJ and a segment in "Good News." The routines seem pretty similar, but it's interesting to contrast the animation Norman has in PoP and KoJ versus Good News, where he comes off a little bland.

One of the chorines, by the way, dances a hell of a lot better than Nancy Carroll (who does give a game effort), the one seen immediately to her left as she's dancing.

Curiously, sheet music for Paramount on Parade doesn't turn up all that often, especially as compared to "Show of Shows" or even "King of Jazz." "Sweeping the Clouds Away," at that, seems to be the most common, even though the cover implies quite a few songs got the sheet music treatment. I wonder why.

Anonymous said...

To Jeff Cohen,
Thank you for bringing the early sound years out of obscurity. It was a truly facinating era - Broadway and Vaudeville were migrating to Hollywood. The early talkies captured that transition.
Best, turrin51@aol.com, NYC.

William Ferry said...

Hi Jeff,
Happy Anniversary! Thanks so much for sharing all this wonderful esoterica over the past year. As your "partner in crime" over at alt.movies.silent, we've commiserated over the scarcity of these early talkie gems. I like to think this blog has had something to do with THE JAZZ SINGER's triumphant DVD appearance. Thanks also for featuring PARAMOUNT ON PARADE, one of my favorite all-star revues. I was inspired to watch my old blurry AMC tape last night! All the best to you!

Jeff Cohen said...

Turin51: Thanks for those wonderful words! I aim to continue drawing back the curtain on those obscure dark corners of early sound film, so keep reading!

William: Wow! I wouldn't remotely ponder the idea that this blog had anything to do with the landmark DVD release of "The Jazz Singer," but if I've managed to boost public interest and awareness in early sound film then my efforts have indeed been rewarded. :)

Last time I saw "Paramount on Parade" (also via an AMC tape capture) Clara Bow's eyes came perilously close to blurring into blurry faint specks of shadow as she moved. Clearly, the film is due --- long overdue --- for a return to the land of the living in a groomed and rejuvinated form.

Let's hope!

Thanks again to all for writing!


hardiansyah said...

nice post..