24 November 2007

Present and Unaccounted For

While we'll never know what was being said or heard when the wonderful snapshot to the left was taken, let's see if we can't replicate a bit of their vibrant good cheer for this entry --- a small assortment of items originally slated for the last post ("Crystal Girl") but dropped owing to the length of the feature story.

Before straying too far off from the topic of the previous entry --- that of the lost 1929 First National film "Paris" --- now is as good a time as any to mention Irene Bordoni's other 1929 film appearance, in the Warner Brothers revue "Show of Shows" and the topic of missing or deleted footage from this mammoth production.

A much earlier post from November of 2006 ("Neither Here Nor There, But...") detailed a bit of footage missing from surviving prints of "Show of Shows" in the form of a spoken introduction to the Georges Carpentier, Alice White and Patsy Ruth Miller sequence, but what else is absent from the print commonly seen today?

I've long been puzzled by the inclusion of the melody "Believe Me" in the film's lengthy finale sequence and the fact that this tune was featured as the companion piece on Irene Bordoni's 1929 Columbia 78rpm recording of the languid ballad she performs in the film, "One Hour of Love," a sequence that effectively stops the film not only cold, but quite dead. Was this the best Warners could come up with to feature their vivacious (and highly paid!) performer? As it turns out, it would seem we're only seeing half of her contribution to "Show of Shows" -- and what's missing is a trademark Bordoni eye-rolling and mildly suggestive performance of --- that's right, the tune "Believe Me."

A number of period newspaper publicity placements for "Show of Shows" allude to the fact that Bordoni performed not one but two "typically Parisian" numbers, and at least one studio provided "review" of the film provided to local newspapers tells us outright that "Miss Bordoni appears with ten pianists and ten ladies dressed as Bordoni," which gives us some suggestion as to how "Believe Me" was presented.

While very badly reproduced, we can see Bordoni (clad in the same gown we see in her performance of "One Hour of Love") and her pianist, Eddie Ward --- and while difficult, one can see the forms of those aforementioned ten chorus girls (wearing identical gowns and Bordoni-style wigs) along with the murky outlines of the ten pianists too.

It's easy to visualize the sequence (likely originally in Technicolor) as a sparkling and sly mood-lifter after the meandering "One Hour of Love," and the sequence's original inclusion neatly explains why "Believe Me" is reprised during the film's finale. What isn't so easy to figure out is if this sequence is missing from current prints owing to the elements being too far gone for printing when the highly imperfect current black and white print was prepared, or if the sequence was snipped out following initial runs in key cities before it was farmed out across the United States. For all we know, the sequence may well exist in a as yet undiscovered print --- as well as in audio Vitaphone disc elements for the film that haven't been fully evaluated for content.

The clever and unusual ad for "Show of Shows" at left from a February 1930 run in Oelwein, Iowa presents another puzzler --- and one not as easily figured out as Bordoni's case.

Midway down the column, there's mention of a feature spot for comedian Lupino Lane titled "Spring Is Here," which it can be supposed had nothing to do with the studio's forthcoming screen version of the Rodgers & Hart production. A scan of period reviews, advertisements and publicity placements all turn up blanks on this one --- leaving only this intriguing mention as a hint that yet another decidedly interesting segment might be absent from the gargantuan --- equally despised and admired --- 1929 screen revue.

The tune "Believe Me" turns up --- with much the same orchestration utilized in the finale of "Show of Shows" in the 1929 Technicolor two-reeler "Hello Baby!" which starred Ann Pennington (also curiously absent from "Show of Shows") --- but whether there's any connection or not is something best left for someone with far better cinema detective skills than I.

That said, here's Miss Pennington's vibrato vocal of "Believe Me" from the aforementioned 1929 short subject (which, remarkably, survives in its original hues!)

"Believe Me" (1929) - Ann Pennington and Chorus

Another 1929 all-Technicolor First National film, "Sally," which starred Marilyn Miller and Joe E. Brown is still with us today --- and also seems to have a bit of mystery about it in the form of the song depicted at right in sheet music issued for the film.

"After Business Hours (That Certain Bizness Begins)" doesn't turn up in the film's elaborate incidental background score (at least not that I could ascertain) and yet appears to have been filmed and dropped from prints at some point. Indeed, the only logical spot in the film for the number to have appeared would have been in the first reel --- at the Times Square Child's restaurant where Miller's character is first seen, working the dinner shift.

As a curiosity item, here's a transcription of the melody lifted from the sheet music, along with a sampling of the lyrics.

"Every morning, just at ten, all the busy business men,
are so busy with their stocks and bonds.
Now and then they make a sale, while dictating lots of mail, to a lot of stenographic blonds."

"But in the evening, when they need relaxation,
dictation turns to syncopation!
After business hours, that certain bizness begins."

"It's like the sunshine after the showers,
and you're on needles and pins.
Why even Mister Babbitt, who has a conscience,
gets the whoopee habit and wants his nonsense,
That certain bizness begins!"

"After Business Hours" - Transcription

Maurice Chevalier's beaming smile seems as justified today as it did in 1929 when "The Love Parade" first glowed, drifted and scampered across talking picture screens, for it has been announced that Criterion will be releasing this equally technically impressive and charming title in February of 2007 --- along with three other 1930-1932 Lubitsch musicals, "Monte Carlo," "The Smiling Lieutenant" and "One Hour With You." No word as yet as to any supplementary material or extra features, but as with any Criterion product, it's a fairly safe bet that they'll go that extra mile which some other DVD companies always seem to inexplicably just fall short of doing.

Let's face it, a DVD release of a silent or early sound film is invariably a "one chance to get it right" kind of event, and when a release is lacking either in presentation or technical elements, we're stuck with it --- superb, good, bad or indifferent.

Jeanette McDonald doesn't look to be especially refreshed so much as --- well, just downright odd in the window card at left, but the following medley of tunes from "Monte Carlo" performed by the New Mayfair Orchestra in 1930 gets it just right:

Medley from "Monte Carlo" (1930)

Buried deep within an earlier post comes this two part medley from "The Love Parade," recorded on the British "Broadcast" label --- well worth reviving here:

"The Love Parade" (1929) - Part 1
and Part 2

And, to round out this miniature Lubitsch 78rpm tribute, here's Jeanette MacDonald singing the title tune from 1932's "One Hour With You."

"One Hour With You" (1932)

It's easy to get lost in the far away make-believe world of early musicals, where pastel hues radiate prettily and every line of dialogue seems a music cue. Therefore, it's important, especially for so rabid a student of the genre as I, to step back and away from the evidence left behind every now and again, and try to view these films and the time in which they were created not as an early sound film buff --- but as a the jaded, skeptical resident of 2007 that the great majority of us are. Sometimes, artifacts of the period accomplish that task for us.

The ad for Warners all-Technicolor "On With the Show" (the title exclamation mark comes and goes) at right for an early August 1929 screening in Charleston, West Virginia seems a treat for the eye --- what with all the hyperbole about Technicolor and the lively graphics --- but scan down to the bottom and we're not so much swept along as deposited with a thud: "Special Midnight Show For Colored People Only."

Depressing? Very. Wrong? Certainly. But, such was the world at one time. What, I wonder, was this midnight audience's reaction to Ethel Waters chumming it up with Louise Fazenda? Somehow, it makes Waters' intentional bump into Fazenda's posterior with her prop laundry basket just prior to her performance of "Am I Blue?" seem not only right, but well justified --- and how that audience must have loved it!

Early musicals are often cited for being hopelessly static --- and while this tends to be (I believe) a sweeping exaggeration based purely on the slim number of titles readily available for evaluation for so many years, the statement holds true for much of "On With the Show" --- only it's not as noticeable perhaps owing to the all the movement crossing the frame, or moving towards and away from it. Indeed, there are few more visually busy early musicals than "On With the Show" that can be brought to mind. Oddly, Ethel Waters' rendition of "Am I Blue?" (and later, "Birmingham Bertha") suffer not one bit for even if the camera were swirling about her, she'd hold us stock still in her gaze --- right where she wants us, and right we find ourselves upon every viewing. It's a riveting moment in early musical film history.

"Am I Blue?" (1929) Ethel Waters

"Am I Blue?" (1929) Nat Shilkret & Orchestra

To wind up this comparatively brief post --- before offering an exit gallery of images of the period --- a selection of audio, that includes requests from readers as well as items that didn't make it into earlier entries. (Many thanks to readers who have submitted audio --- your submissions will surely, in time, be given proper presentation in these pages!)

From what must seem like almost a mascot film for these pages by now, here is Winnie Lightner's beautifully acerbic spin on love and marriage from "Gold Diggers of Broadway," plus a cinema organ & vocal rendition of an old standby...

"And Still They Fall in Love" (1929) Winnie Lightner

"Tip Toe thru the Tulips" (1929) C.A. Parmentier

Two 1929 78rpm sides from "Show of Shows" by Dick Robertson and Orchestra. "Lady Luck" is the winner here, I believe.

"Lady Luck" and "Singing in the Bathtub"

From "Lord Byron of Broadway" (MGM-1929) we have The Revelers step up to the microphone for a cheery rendition of:

"The Woman in the Shoe" (1930) The Revelers

While offered elsewhere in these pages as an instrumental version, the theme song for the 1929 Harold J. Murray and Norma Terris Fox film "Married in Hollywood" gains immensely with the addition of vocalized lyrics --- and while a bit watery in the sonic department, if you're as fond of the melody as I am, you'll enjoy this 78rpm version by Larry Holton's Boston Society Orchestra all the more.

"Dance Away the Night" (1929)

Useless trivia: "Dance Away the Night" can be heard as part of the scoring for the 1934 Paramount Popeye cartoon "The Dance Contest." Odd, if nothing else!

By the by, no matter if your interest is in musical films, animation or just vintage cinema in general --- Warner Home Video's 4 disc "Popeye the Sailor: 1933-1938" is a stunning example of restoration and presentation that no reader of these pages should be without. (That, and "The Jazz Singer," of course!) I know, I know but... hey! Quit throwin' them tomatoes!

Until Next Time!

Mr. John Barrymore
"Show of Shows" (WB-1929)

"Dangerous Nan McGrew" (Paramount - 1930)

Promotional Item
"Gold Diggers of Broadway" (WB - 1929)

"High Voltage" (Pathe-1929)
The blurb says it all...

Small town cinema with big city attitude:
The magnificent Ironwood (Michigan) 1929

Wonderful home-grown ad graphics
Oakland, California - 1929

"The Fourth Clown"
Hal Roach Studios - 1929

"Not Quite Decent" (Fox-1929)
A Lost Film

"Our Dancing Daughters" (MGM-1928)

Herald - "On With the Show" (WB-1929)

"Thunderbolt" (Paramount-1929)
"Thunderbolt will go through an iron wall to see her..."

Post-Thanksgiving Toy Ad
27 November 1929
(A distant day when we actually manufactured toys
for our children in our own country!)


22 November 2007

"Crystal Girl"

"A moonbeam, a June beam - a rare Tiffany gem!

A flower, a bower, a new rose on the stem!"

So go the lyrics for the elaborate "Crystal Girl" production number depicted left, which served to kick off a series of Technicolor musical revue sequences in the now lost 1929 First National motion picture "Paris."

Directed by Clarence Badger, and starring stage legends Irene Bordoni and Jack Buchanan, "Paris" is one of a maddening clutch of missing (the term "lost" seems unduly gloomy and hopeless) musical films of 1929 and 1930 that would, were they still with us, serve to document a number of stellar stage performers of the 1920's at their peak --- before age, shifting public tastes, drastically changing musical forms and motion picture production codes would alter these personalities forever --- leaving us instead with later film work that, in most cases, barely hints at the qualities that so captivated audiences.

Fannie Brice, Ted Lewis, Sophie Tucker --- and, in this instance, Irene Bordoni, can all be seen today in later film work, but none of which has that beautiful immediacy --- that spark --- that captures these souls just as the twenties would fade out and the decade-long party was declared over, done with and which by the mid-30's would seem so distant as to appear a waking dream.

"Paris," which would serve as the screen debut for the films three leads --- Bordoni, Buchanan and Louise Closser Hale --- isn't a sought after or yearned for title in the way that, say, Brice and Tucker's "My Man" or "Honky Tonk" is --- and this is puzzling, for while "Paris" transfers the 1928 stage production and two of its stars to the screen virtually intact, the Brice and Tucker films were manufactured to create some sort of screen character in which the performers could utilize their special talents. "Paris," on the other hand, is pure and, it would seem, undiluted direct-from-the-bottle Bordoni, who merely stepped from the stage to the screen with nary a hiccup, dragging her hit Broadway success with her. Certainly, I'd rather all three films were available for evaluation --- but if I had to make the awful and impossible decision of choosing one to be discovered in a Glasgow cinema basement or an Arizona cave, it would be "Paris" --- if just for these reasons.

The stage production of "Paris" enjoyed a 195 performance run between October of 1928 and March of 1929 at New York City's Music Box Theater, with composers and lyricists Cole Porter, E. Ray Goetz, Walter Kollo, Louis Alter, Bud Green, Harry Warren, Roy Turk and Fred E. Ahlert providing the musical elements. (The fact that Porter's "Let's Do It - Let's Fall in Love" was the shows break out hit likely accounts for the fact that the production is generally --- but mistakenly --- thought of as a Cole Porter solo flight.)

By the time the stage run closed, film rights for "Paris" had been secured --- as well as cast members Irene Bordoni and Louise Closser Hale --- the former who was signed by Warners for $10,000 a week ("for three weeks") for work in both "Paris" and their forthcoming revue "Show of Shows."

While the stage version of "Paris" could be described as an intimate three-act musical comedy set entirely in a Paris hotel, the vision for the film version was to expand outward. The hotel setting was preserved for the production's book portion --- but Bordoni's revue performer character would be depicted in her element, neatly providing ready-made flash, color and spectacle for the film's Technicolor sequences.

Three of the stage production melodies would be retained (including Porter's "Don't Look at Me That Way") but, regrettably, the hit "Let's Do It" was dropped in one of those frequent head-scratch inducing decisions that dot many of the early sound film stage to screen transitions.

In full production by late summer of 1929, the Warner/First National publicity mill begins to churn, and we join newspaper readers, many of whom are getting their first glimpse of Irene Bordoni and --- for all, news of this forthcoming Vitaphone "rainbow of melody" due out just in time for the 1929 holiday season.

"Irene Bordoni, international singing comedienne, who will soon make her screen debut in the talkie version of her own stage play, 'Paris,' was born on the island of Corsica in Ajaccio, the same town where Napoleon first saw the light of day. Her great grandmother was the sister of Millet, the artist."

"When she was a youngster of 13, she disobeyed her mother and instead of coming directly home from school without loitering, she pranced into the Theater Varieties, in Paris, and asked the manager for a job. Thanks to her piquant beauty she landed one immediately in the chorus -- with a salary of what was equivalent in our money to 50 cents a week."

"One day during rehearsals, a quiet dignified little gentleman sat in the back row of the theater. He sent for the little Bordoni and asked her how she liked her work. She was radiant with enthusiasm which turned into excitement and surprise when he told her that she was far too pretty and talented to remain in the chorus long. He soon found a speaking role for her and she progressed rapidly. The quiet and discerning gentleman who discovered Irene Bordoni was George Halevy, the noted French writer."

"Before long, the name of Irene Bordoni twinkled brightly in electric lights in the various capitols of Europe. She had learned to sing prettily and she had the happy faculty of selecting musical numbers which were destined to be outstanding hits. Broadway producers were beginning to offer tempting contracts that called for English songs. In a short time she was not only able to speak English creditably, but what is infinitely more difficult, could sing English songs with as much charm and gusto as she did the French."

"In America she scored an instantaneous success in "Miss Information" a (1915) revue featuring Elsie Janis. Following this she was besieged with offers and she appeared in a number of successful American revues with Raymond Hitchcock, Sam Bernard, Alice Delysia and other stage notables. Her popularity grew and she became the star of her own company, appearing usually in an American version of a spicy French farce in which she sang songs both in English and French. Among her successes are "Little Miss Bluebeard," "Naughty Cinderella" and most recently, "Paris.'"

First National's ten reel, part-Technicolor screen version of "Paris" premiered in early November of 1929 and can be seen being booked into theaters as late as July of 1930, casting some doubt on the oft-repeated comfortable and easier to digest mantra that the film, like so many of these early musicals, were mild but quick hits in big cities and complete and utter flops in small towns across the country --- opening and closing within days, virtually run out of town by irate citizens.

Utilizing a rather worn but serviceable set of Vitaphone discs for the European export version of "Paris," along with printed scenarios and dialogue scripts, we can --- with some difficulty and a good deal of imagination --- "see" and hear the film today in an admittedly imperfect manner, but likely the only one we'll ever have.

In Excerpt 1, following the opening title theme, we are introduced to the stalwart Massachusetts icon of virtue, Mrs. Cora Sabbot (Louise Closser Hale) --- president of the Woman's Purity League, which is closing its weekly meeting in her New England homestead. Also in attendance is her son Andrew (Jason Robards) and his intended, Brenda Kaley (Margaret Fielding.) The members of the Purity League are reciting the group's motto: "Fighting for good with all our price, and may there be naught for us to hide --- and may peace and purity with us abide."

Mrs. Sabbot informs the League that her son Andrew is about to leave for Paris to study Architecture, and waves aside warnings from club members that Paris is a "very wicked city" by assuming a regal stance and reassuring the club (as well as herself) that "I'm sure my son will never forget that he is a Sabbot!" Fade-out.

"Paris" - Excerpt 1

Fade-in. In Excerpt 2, two months have passed and the location is now a plush hotel in the city of Paris, where hurried last minute preparations are underway to furnish a suite of rooms in a style befitting New England Purity because --- you guessed it --- Mother Sabbot is about to arrive to visit her son, and Andrew has some news to break that requires the appropriate setting. We are introduced to Harriet (Zasu Pitts) maid and confidante of the Parisian revue performer Vivienne Rolland (Irene Bordoni) as she tells Andrew "If anybody had told me two months ago, that Miss Vivienne would ever consent to marry a man like you -- and promise to give up the stage -- why, I'd have said they were crazy!" Andrew is equally skeptical of his good fortune when Harriet reminds him that "Miss Vivienne said she wouldn't consent to marry you unless your mother consented."

Andrew argues, "But she must, Harriet! She must! Don't you understand, that's why we are doing this, to please mother. We've got to make this place look as much like her Newton Center home as possible --- so now hurry up or we won't be ready to receive her when she arrives tonight."

"Paris - Excerpt 2"

Mother Sabbot arrives at the hotel, much the worse for her steamship and rail journey ("I'd be all right if the ocean would only calm down!" "Oh, that train, I don't believe it ran on the rail more than two-thirds of the way!") --- and with, much to Andrew's surprise, Brenda Kaley in tow.

Adding to Cora Sabbot's discomfiture is the monocle Andrew now sports ("This is the thing in Paris") and news of his alliance with Vivienne Rolland. Andrew offers some champagne or brandy as a reviver but Mrs. Sabbot recoils: "Judas! I suspicioned that you have been tempted to wallow in champagne and brandy! No! Liquor has ever passed my lips. No matter what I suffer, I will never make myself unconscious with alcohol!" And, as for Andrew being romantically linked to a French actress, "Since the first Sabbot stepped off the Mayflower onto Plymouth Rock, there has never been a disgrace in the family! You can't act this way without being ashamed in your heart -- Sabbots don't do such things! Oh Andrew, it is a complete degeneration of your moral fibre!"

Andrew weakly attempts to defend his actions --- and Vivienne too: "I adore Vivienne and I want to marry her. If you'd only get used to the idea it would be much more pleasant all around." Cora Sabbot will have none of it. "Get used to the idea of a Sabbot bringing home a french actress? singer? dancer? A what-not who doesn't speak our language?" Andrew counters, "Vivienne speaks English. How do you think I got to know her so well?" Mrs. Sabbot knowingly muses, "I've always understood the French could do a great deal with gestures."

"Oh mother, how can you form an opinion of Vivienne before you have seen her?"

"When I do see her, I'll tell her what I've told you: That I will not consent to this idiotic marriage!"

In Excerpt 3, reel two opens --- and Guy Pennell (Jack Buchanan) who is Vivienne Rolland's revue co-star, enters her hotel suite to await her arrival. Seating himself at her piano he sings one of the numbers from their revue, "The Land of Going To Be," and is soon joined by Vivienne who catches the melody from outside the rooms, takes it up and concludes the song with him at the piano.

"Paris" - Excerpt 3

We learn, without much surprise, that Guy has his own romantic intentions towards Vivienne and does his best to persuade Vivienne from leaving Paris and the show --- as well as him, but for Vivienne the path of duty is clear: "I don't want to take him away from his home, his family. He loves Paris, yes -- for a little vacation, but to live happy he must be at home in Newton Center. He is one hundred percent 'Must-you-choose-its'."

Guy departs, and in Excerpt 4, we hear a fragment of a telephone conversation between Andrew and Vivienne in which the pair exchange lovebird pleasantries and Vivienne is informed that the time has come to meet Mother. A frenzy of activity follows --- Vivienne must change into what she deems a suitably puritanical outfit -- while the actress barks commands at someone (who, it isn't clear --- save for the fact that his knowledge of French is nil) and is then comforted by her maid Harriet, who advises her "Now, now, don't get yourself all of a twitter. She will think all the more of you for keeping her waiting." A knock at the door! "Harriet. They have come. Please say that I will be very quick --- if I don't die!"

"Paris" - Excerpt 4

The meeting of Vivienne Rolland and Cora Sabbot is underlined by the fact that Mrs. Sabbot is still suffering the effects of her ocean and rail journey, and still refuses brandy. "But of course she doesn't like brandy," offers Vivienne, "I mean, she's a good American that respects the law."

Mrs. Sabbot pulls herself up. "I don't need Congress to say what's good for me and what isn't it!"

"Of course, you were surprised that Dede (Vivienne's pet name for Andrew) wants to marry with me?"

"Surprised is a mild word."

"Ah, but love is the biggest surprise of all. Yes, my life is very different from the life of you. But I have nothing to be ashamed for - nothing that can make Dede shame of you."

"Well, personally, I should be slightly ashamed to appear in public in a pound of spangles, two strings of pearls and a feather tail."

"Oh me, I don't like that costume either! First the manager want only the pearl and the feather, no spangle at all!"

Cora Sabbot faints dead away, and when she is revived, she finds herself in the company of Guy Pennell too --- who slyly plots to charm Mrs. Sabbot out of her shell and thereby warm her to the notion of her son's marriage --- even if it means losing Vivienne for himself.

Mrs. Sabbot is convinced to take a bit of nourishment --- tea, rich cakes --- but when Guy's order arrives --- raw oysters and sardine sandwiches, the poor woman faints away again the trio panics in an effort to revive her --- first with ammonia, then with a burning feather held under the nose, and finally by virtually force feeding her a massive dose of brandy. The old girl instantly springs back to life.

"Ah! You see? She is pretty already!" observes Vivienne. "Oh, I'm so glad that you are well again!," offers Andrew. And, as Guy slides an arm around her shoulders, "You did give us a fright. You see? In the future, always apply to good old Doctor Pennel!" The woman, clearly besotted with the dashing young actor, smiles radiantly, reaches for the brandy --- and three sets of hands scramble to bring it to her. End of Reel Three!

The first half of the fourth reel of "Paris" enacts what was commonly cited some of the film's most memorable non-musical elements, that of the transformation of Cora Sabbot --- with the aid of "medicine brandy" -- from a monstrous Puritan to that of a flirtatious coquette, a plot device which would be reworked and utilized with equal success in the 1934 Warners musical "Dames." Upon learning that the "medicine" was provided by Guy Pennell, Cora becomes even more a firm believer in modern scientific wonders: "If I had known what a splendid medicine brandy was, I would have taken it long ago. It's growing quite warm, isn't it?"

Mrs. Sabbot is invited to attend that evening's performance of Vivienne and Guy's revue, and the invitation is extended to Brenda Kaley as well. Mrs. Sabbot demurs, "Oh, I don't know... Brenda is so very young." Replies Guy, "If she is as young as you look this minute, she must have come to France in a go-cart." Purrs Mrs. Sabbot, "I'm afraid you're a very bad young man."

Fretting over her plain togs in the company of Parisian theater-goers, Vivienne and Harriet outfit her in a glittering cocktail gown with jacket ("But where is the cocktail that goes along with it?" asks Mrs. Sabbot hopefully) and she is soon poured into a taxi and whisked to the theater.

In Excerpt 5, the second half of the reel switches to Technicolor for the opening number of the revue, "Crystal Girl."

Excerpt 5

"Crystal girl - you are brighter than a pearl,
shedding light upon the world - like an iridescent pearl!
A moonbeam - a June beam - a rare Tiffany gem,
a flower - a bower - a new rose on the stem!
Crystal girl - setting every heart a-whirl,
winding like a silken curl - all around the world!
Forever and ever we pray that you may shine,
Crystal girl - you are so divine!"

In Excerpts 6 and 7, the Technicolor revue sequence continues with Vivienne Rolland's performance of "Don't Look at Me That Way," and one of Guy Pennell's two solo turns --- this one being "Miss Wonderful," a tune written especially for the film which enjoyed moderate success and which would be utilized in a number of other 1929 and 1930 Warner and First National films either as incidental background scoring or as a specialty number as in the famous 1930 one-reeler "Bubbles." Irene Bordoni and Jack Buchanan, Ladies and Gents...

"Paris" - Excerpt 6 and Excerpt 7

"Paris" reverts to monochrome hues for the dialogue sequence that follows, in which we learn that Cora Sabbot is a woman transformed -- due largely to the company of Guy Pennell and constant dosing of medicinal brandy. Motoring about Paris during the day --- nightclubbing the evenings away. Andrew, Vivienne, Brenda and Harriet are all equally dumbfounded by the change.

"I think she's gone out of her mind, Miss Rolland," says Harriet. "It was broad daylight before she got in last night. And her eyes! They were so wild! And her face was so red! And, she had been out alone -- with Mr. Pennell!"

"Well? Was it not better to be out all night with an actor than in with him?'

"And now she is talking of renting a flat so she can have more freedom. A flat over Harry's American bar!"

When we next see Cora Sabbot in the company of Guy Pennell, the pair are merrily imbibing spirits and -- much to Andrew's horror --- shooting dice on the hotel room floor while discussing Cora's racetrack winnings of 20,000 francs on a horse named Hot Lips. Guy Pennell waggishly recites: "There once was a lady called Sabbot. Whatever she'd want she would grab it. Everything you would think - from a man to a drink - a most reprehensible habit."

Vivienne takes Guy aside and lets him have it: "Oh Guy, what you do to Madame Sabbot? What you do? Listen, this business has got to stop. You have helped to make her human all right, but she is human enough now! You are finished with her -- completely. So now where you are concerned, it is over!"

Guy plays his ace. "Now look here, I've grown rather fond of Cora. Haven't you noticed it?" A disbelieving Vivienne asks, "You expect me to believe that you are in love with Madame Sabbot?" "Well, you want to marry her son and go to Newton Center, don't you?" counters Guy.

Incredibly, Guy and Cora announce their engagement --- infuriating, horrifying and nauseating Andrew -- and he turns on Vivienne, precisely as Guy anticipated he would:

"You'll never set foot inside that rotten theater again. You're through with the stage right now, and all its low associations. You'll never sing love duets with that despicable clown again. You're the future Mrs. Andrew Brayle Sabbot. That's what's more important."

Vivienne Rolland has her spotlight speech: "I am an actress, yes. My family was not very rich, not very grand, but they were decent people. We are not Mayflowers. But my mother and aunts and grandmother and great-grandmother --- they were nice women. NOT VAMPIRES. You say I must draw a line, well --- I have. And it is at Cora where I draw it." The scene ends with Andrew being tossed out of Vivienne's room -- and Vivienne slumping into her chair in tears.

Arriving at Excerpt 8, we're now at the bottom half of the seventh reel of "Paris," and the film returns to the Technicolor hued theater, for a duet between Vivienne and Guy of the song "Somebody Mighty Like You," sung here in French.

"Paris" - Excerpt 8

In Excerpt 9, which directly follows "Somebody Mighty Like You," we're presented with the film's title tune, "Paris" --- which is sprightly and memorable enough to transcribe here, as the lyrics are rather difficult to ascertain (and partially in French) in the surviving disc audio:

Chorus: "Oh Mademoiselle, Mademoiselle, Pour quoi?
You never go away - never go away, Pour quoi?
Vivienne: "I like the way you Mademoiselle me, completely, so sweetly"
Chorus: "We know what you want, know what you want to say!"
There's no other town, no other town so gay!"
Vivienne: "There is no one can even compel me - to stray from-
away from..."

All: "Paris, Oh where do they run to
when they want fun - to Paris, Paree!
Paris, they go for for the wine in, women and wine in Paris, Paree!
How how those beauties 'Qu'est que c'est' you -
How those cuties 'ooh-la-la-la' you -
Paris, where never a baby gives you a 'maybe' in
beautiful gay Paree!"

"Paris" - Excerpt 9

Excerpt 10 offers Irene Bordoni's rendition of "I Wonder What Is Really On His Mind?," while in Excerpt 11, we have another solo turn for Jack Buchanan in the form of "I'm a Little Positive Looking For A Negative," --- an eccentric toss away piece of song and dance, we'll tag this one as to be generous.

"Paris - Except 10 and Excerpt 11

A stinging exchange between Vivienne and Guy as the latter exits: "It's a good thing you are leaving the stage to marry Cora Sabbot, you were awful tonight." "Is that so? I thought you were more wonderful than ever. Well, I must make my table reservations. I have a supper engagement. Bye-Bye!"

In Excerpt 12, Vivienne Rolland performs an original medley written for the film in which she laments the fact that Paris has become so Americanized, and that even an old chestnut of a French melody ("My Souvenir") is now being performed with a Yankee air about it. She then points out Al Jolson's influence too, and in one of the film's brightest musical moments, sings "It All Depends On You" (from 1928's "The Singing Fool") in French as Al Jolson would --- replete with a "Mammy!" tossed in for good effect. Whether or not a black-face effect was utilized is mercifully unknown -- but, oh!

"Paris" - Excerpt 12

The Technicolor revue concluding segment opens with a chorus reprise of "Crystal Girl" and "Miss Wonderful," and then Bordoni returns for a vocal reprise of "The Land of Going to Be," which segues into "My Lover" (which ends with a remarkably effective and difficult vocal note by Bordoni) before morphing into a final reprise of "Paris" which wraps up the glittering finale with the entire ensemble massed upon the gigantic First National soundstage.

"Paris" - Excerpt 13

Vivienne returns to her room to find a massive arrangement of white roses from Guy, but when she learns that they are intended for Cora --- well, she decides to find out once and for all to whom his true affections are based. She instructs Harriet, "Go and get me some of those smoke pots that we use in the banquet scene --- you know!" "Smoke pots? What do you want with smoke pots?," asks an incredulous Harriet. "Oh, never mind but go and get them and be careful that nobody sees you. Go on!"

Harriet fetches the pots. "Good, now we will see who Mr. Guy thinks of first. Cora or me!"

The action here is unclear, but it would appear that after alighting the smoke pots in the wings and dressing room, panic ensues and instead of being rescued by Guy, Vivienne is scooped up by a fireman instead and brought outside, --- while Guy, clad only in his underwear and a top-hat, "rescues" a chorus girl in an enormous hat and another fireman is seen rescuing a girl wearing nothing "but a cake of soap." Some of the film's original dialogue survives in this sequence.

"Paris" - Excerpt 14

Andrew and Brenda arrive at the theater amidst the crowds that gathered to witness the non-fire, and it is clear that his attentions have now been firmly switched to the Newton Center local --- helped along by his sudden intolerance of all things French and un-puritanical, including Vivienne. Clearly, Guy's scheme has worked --- precisely as planned, save for one last key element, which unfolds as we listen to Excerpt 15 --- and read some of the dialogue originally contained within the film's closing scene --- set in Vivienne's hotel room, where Guy stands behind a dressing screen awaiting delivery of clothing, with a comfortably drunk Cora Sabbot in attendance as well.

"Vivienne, I wonder what Andrew will think of all this?" asks Guy. Replies Vivienne, "What he thinks makes no never mind. I have broken my engagement."

"Am I to understand you are jilting my future step son?"

Pipes up Cora Sabbot, "It seems as if you are losing everything at once. First Andrew -- and now I'm taking Guy away from you."

"Oh don't worry," responds Vivienne, "clowns are easy to find." The hurtful words, the events of the evening, and the thought of Guy marrying Cora finally get to Vivienne -- and she collapses in a faint.

It's now we learn the startling truth about Guy's plot!

Cora: "Poor child, she has been under such a terrible strain."

Guy: "Cora, what can I do? I simply can't tell Vivienne the truth -- that we framed this up merely to make her jealous. It's gone too far!"

Cora: "Guy, I know Vivienne loves you, and you've got to make her see that you love her. Kidnap her - hit her on the head - Anything to bring her to her senses."

A French accent voice from the sofa: "Ah, don't worry --- I never lost them. Ah, you have given yourselves away very nicely, my friends."

Vivienne and Guy embrace --- Cora beams happily, and the pair pull the not-so-monstrous woman to them as the film concludes, the end titles rise up --- and the exit music follows.

"Paris" - Excerpt 15 and Except 16 (Exit Music)

Yes, I know what you're thinking. The New York Times wasn't entirely satisfied with what they termed a "wobbly ending" either, but the review was largely positive save for an example of the public's slowly rising impatience with extended musical sequences that halted the plot --- sometimes for the length of an entire reel:

"As it so often happens the producers have outdone themselves in color and costumes to lend to the picture the cachet sumptuous or lavish. This, however, is responsible for halting the narrative, and one is only reminded that it still exists by periodical close-ups of Mrs. Cora Sabot. True, there are songs from Miss Bordoni during these colorful outbursts, for which the technicolor process is responsible, and they are well rendered, but even while Miss Bordoni is performing in these stage passages, one begins to wonder what has happened to some of the other characters and also what Cora Sabot is going to do next. It is quite obvious that these colored portions are stealing laughs from the show and, taking everything into consideration, one prefers the merriment to the pastel shades, at least as they are introduced in the raiment or a regiment of dancing girls and exotic scenery."

Time magazine found the whole affair to their liking, with their only annoyance being focused upon the below-par Technicolor print their reviewer had the misfortune to see --- a common problem that plagued the early musical output due to the Technicolor lab's inability to maintain quality while rushing to fill print orders.

"Irene Bordoni has given about 400 performances of 'Paris' on the stage. Since the director of a picture can retake parts he does not like, Paris as a talking film may be as good as the best performance of the 400. The sound device records satisfactorily one of the few female voices which can render U. S. songs with a French accent and remain bearable. The middle-aged stage comedienne Louise Closser Hale even makes funny the cinema role of a Newton Centre, Mass., matron who loses her inhibitions after one drink of cognac. In spite of occasional blurred color sequences, Paris is about as effective as the photograph of a musical comedy can be. Best shot: Zasu Pitts as a maid."

Although impossible to judge by ravaged sound discs and not so much as a surviving frame of footage, "Paris" apparently looked and sounded quite good --- with any of the imperfections that may have existed in "On With the Show!" and "The Gold Diggers of Broadway" having been largely eliminated. Studio generated publicity was anything but modest: "The summit of achievement in natural color photography is to be seen at the _____ Theater, when Irene Bordoni stars in 'Paris,' a First National picture adapted from her phenomenally successful stage play of last year."

"The Technicolor process has taken the motion picture world by storm within the last few months. Some of the most spectacular scenes of 'Paris' have been made by this process. They are dazzling; they are gorgeous; and they are superlatively beautiful. Thus, the screen has taken another long step forward in its task of holding the mirror up to Nature. For here at least is Nature in her own varied hues, faithfully reproduced and even intensified as a background for sparkling comedy and moving drama."

The 1929 film musical "Paris" certainly didn't serve as a mirror held up to Nature --- but as a mirror reflecting popular taste and modes of melody, comedy, dancing, fashion, stage presentation, choreography and even morality --- it was likely the one of the brightest and truest reflected visions of a decade that was about to exhale, collapse and wither away forever. Films like "Paris," and others of the day are more --- oh, so much more than mere movie musicals. They can educate and entertain equally --- and on a myriad of levels, no matter what your preference or area of study. Often scorned and sneered at as much as they are revered and praised, they are --- in the end, captured images and sounds of us as a people. Those titles that are lost, missing or merely mislaid are deserving of lamentation and attention as much as any precious historical document --- maybe even more so.

"I have a Land of Going to Be,
a castle in the air...
In the corner of my secret garden,
where each hope is a flower so fair.
And there, some day, I'm going to see...
my dreams at last come true.
But until then in my Land of Going to Be,
I'll be waiting, just waiting for you!"

And so, we wait. And hope.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Bonus Jazzy Audio Excerpt!
Incidental Scoring Fragment - "Miss Wonderful"

"All Star Radio Revue"
December 25th, 1926

26 May 1926

4 November 1929

12 March 1929

The First All-Technicolor Musical Film

A Chesterfield, Pennsylvania Theater Manager
informs prospective audiences that
"Paris" is "60 per cent Natural Color"
27 March 1930

The Crystal Girl herself, Irene Bordoni
Chicago railway station - 1929


07 November 2007

"Dancing the Devil Away"

Terrors, both real and imagined, hold sway in this entry, so pull up your collar --- steady your trembling hand as you reach for a flickering candle --- and let us furtively amble down the darkened hallways of other days.

"See and Hear Spook Music!" was one of numerous print lures used to publicize the 1928 Warner Bros. film "The Terror," which holds the honor of being the first sound horror film with dialogue --- and the sad distinction of also being a lost (and much sought after) film as well.

From prepared press releases distributed to newspapers at the time of the film's release, and from scattered local reviews, we can gain an impression of the lost film with some sense of immediacy:

"In 'The Terror,' mystery thriller at the __________ this week, the opening titles are announced by a masked man in formal dress with the admonition that no one is to leave the theater until the picture is finished. This warning was totally unnecessary because after 'The Terror' began, the fans could do little but grip their seats."

"Black shrouded death hovers throughout the picture while the audience shudders and shivers. Flickering lights, ghostly shadows, strange murders, knives flashing in dark places, shrieks and screams, guns blazing out of darkness, dead bodies falling, appalling situations, a treasure hunt sheeted with deadly angers --- and, throughout, spine chilling touches of human comedy!"

"There are no subtitles. The characters introduce themselves, and the plot is carried along through voice and action throughout the play --- and successfully too, for in 'The Terror' the realization is brought home as to the possibilities of the Vitaphone. There is none of that delay or slowing up of the action, for which there was criticism of the talking pictures when first introduced."

"In this picture, thrills run rampant. Peculiar happenings like screwing men's heads to their bodies and holding spiritualistic seances in the dark, are but a few of the highlights of horror." "The story is set in an old house called Monkhall, which is being used for 'rest cures' for the insane, and which is infested with toads, the harbingers of death --- and tells the story of a maniacal murderer, a Mr. O'Shea, who has eluded police and whose crimes are always marked by devilish ingenuity and characterized by mutilation and horrible violence. An old doctor, played by Alec B. Francis, is the proprietor of the place, and by some mysterious influence he is compelled to stay there with his daughter, played by May McEvoy. Then, one character after another is introduced into the scene, while leaving the impression that each is more weird in 'get up' than the one immediately preceding."

"As with all mystery stories, the tale is made up of a succession of queer happenings. Edward Everett Horton in the hero's role is fine in such situations and through the constant use of the Vitaphone, his portrayal is colored more effectively than it would be in the silent drama."

"As an example of the added effectiveness obtainable through the Vitaphone, director Roy Del Ruth cites the weird effect secured through a hidden pipe organ whose uncanny interruptions of scenes is one of the many factors injecting a creepy feeling into the play. In the silent drama, the weird effect of the organ's playing would be put over only by the registration of the physical reaction of the player's fingers upon the keys and by written titles. In this Vitaphone production the weird melodies of the organ break into the tense dialogue of the actors, thus setting them on the quest of the cause of the mysterious music and make everybody in the audience eager to tiptoe after."

"Other scenes, such as the sound of a falling body in the darkness indicating that violence has been done, the sudden slamming of a door with no one near to slam it, mysterious rapping, shots, and shrieks, all become dynamic through the Vitaphone." "The fine recording of the Vitaphone cannot escape mention, and it must be said that 'The Terror' gains much through continuous use of it. However, the audience is altogether much too absorbed in the idiotic laughter of John Miljan and other blood-curdling events to notice such details as that. The thrills persist even to the finish. As the final scene fades, one can still hear John Miljan's voice ringing out that the man in the seat next to you may be 'The Terror!'"

The 1929 First National film "The House of Horror" would be director Benjamin Christensen's final entry in his trilogy of spook house films made for the studio between late 1928 and mid-1929, being preceded by "Haunted House" and "Seven Footprints to Satan." Of the three films, only "Seven Footprints" is known to have survived intact, albeit disconnected from its Vitaphone discs.

Of the three films, this final entry appears to have most fully utilized the Vitaphone process in terms of being peppered with dialogue sequences. "Spooks Speak Spooky" sagely observed some print ads, while others played up the film's comic and fantasy elements:
"It's a hair raiser! Vitaphone takes you right inside this spook-packed house - into the eerie cellar - up into the ghostly garret - you'll hear noises that will send your heart right into your mouth! You'll see things that will scare the laughs out of you!"

In "The House of Horror," Chester Conklin and spinster sister Louise Fazenda are summoned from the general store they own in Ohio by a "mystery man" (William Mong) to visit their miserly reclusive Uncle Abner (Emile Chautard) in New York City, at his dilapidated old sprawling mansion, filled to the rafters with the product of a lifetime of antique collecting.

Upon arriving, Conklin and Fazenda are found to be just two of six people also summoned to the home by the mysterious figure --- and with cast assembled, the story (concerning a missing diamond) and parade of visual and aural horrors ensues.

Unlike the previous two old dark house films, the First National publicity machine barely sputtered this time around and the film fared poorly at the box office too, although not unexpectedly at a time when the by-now familiar trappings were up against far more spectacular and innovative films offering music and Technicolor.

A rather forlorn newspaper publicity placement from August of 1929 opts not to profile the director, cast, plot or even the Vitaphone: "Hollywood dealers in antiques probably sighed with relief when 'The House of Horror' was completed on the First National lot, and the big vans began delivering the hundreds of rare pieces of art and furniture that had been rented for use in that picture."
"The story of this new mystery thriller which features Chester Conklin and Louise Fazenda, is laid in an old New York antiques shop belonging to a miserly collector, and as a consequence a number of great rooms had to be filled to overflowing with antiques. No studio property room, even one so well equipped as that as First National, could supply such a demand, so the antique shops of Hollywood were raided and rented, in some cases almost completely, and the stocks moved to the big stages."

No grasping about for publicity hooks was needed a short two years later when Universal's "Frankenstein" reached the screen, although it's fascinating to explore the ways in which the film was promoted to audiences that, while no stranger to horror cinema, had still never encountered something quite like this offering.

From the start, Karloff's lumbering monster was an object of pity in ads, described as possessing "every sensation known to man except the love of a woman, and he lived in misery and died in shame. A fiend or a fabled monster --- or a soulless wretch with a mechanical brain?"

The clever ad at left thinly disguised itself as a feature story, perhaps causing a few bleary eyed morning news readers to spit-take their morning coffee before catching on to the gentle ruse by the end of the second paragraph.

One constant in most print ads was a re-working of the spoken announcement that begins the film, and then as now, any warning that suggests the consumer might not be suitably fit for the product is surefire bait.

"A Friendly Warning: If you have a weak heart and cannot stand excitement or gruesomeness, we advise you NOT to see this production. On the contrary, if you like an unusual thrill, you will find it in 'Frankenstein.'"

Likewise, if you're seeking a superb blog overview of all things Frankenstein... and one that's beautifully written and as carefully constructed as the hapless title creature itself, by all means hasten to "Frankensteinia," scribed by Pierre Fournier. It's one you'll bookmark.

Precisely how to market Fox's 1930 science-fiction musical-comedy melodrama puzzled many heads both at studio and local distribution levels, and more often than not the film's very "neither fish nor fowl" nature was found to be the best hook of all.

"It is described as a radically different type of motion picture. It has plenty of mystery, but it is not a mystery like that of 'The Bat.' It is pack with thrills, but not like those in 'The Big Trail.' It is not a back stage story. It is not an underworld drama. It is not a musical comedy although it has both music and comedy. Well, what is it?"

"To tell you too much about it would rob you of half the pleasure of seeing it, so you'll have to 'Just Imagine' for yourself. When the Fox studios started to make it there was deep secrecy. Gradually, the news leaked out as to the nature of this new undertaking. The wise ones shook their heads. 'Just Imagine' will never click with audiences was their verdict. 'It's too different' was the consensus." "When the picture opened in Los Angeles, great crowds who had heard about this new idea in movies thronged the theater. Its success in Los Angeles has been repeated in cities elsewhere the length and breadth of the country. 'Just Imagine' has become a hot for two reasons: Its novelty and its comedy."
A jolting bit of prophecy was provided by Robbin Coons in his syndicated "Hollywood Sights and Sounds" column:

"New Yorkers of fifty years hence may draw down from the dusty shelves where forgotten movies rest, a quaint roll of celluloid dated 1930 and labeled 'Just Imagine,' and gather en masse to ascertain what prophetic powers, if any, were possessed by a certain trio of showmen of our day, the Messrs. DeSylva, Brown and Henderson. Should this transpire, that future audience will see on a screen a musical comedy conception, by 1930 prophets, of what their life, customs and dress would be."

I imagine it would please Messrs. DeSylva, Brown and Henderson that 'Just Imagine' has been making the rounds long before the studio that produced it ever thought of reluctantly tossing it on their cable schedule once in a great while, and that the film's post-1930 appeal --- while not always precisely anchored to the film's intended virtues --- guaranteed that the film would survive not only mishandling and maltreatment, but survive to entertain exactly the audience cited in the columnist's vision.

Here, Abe Lyman's California Orchestra offers 78rpm renditions of two melodies from the film, skillfully arranged for dancing --- be it in your gleaming airship or three room flat. "An Old Fashioned Girl" served as the title theme in addition to being vocalized by John Garrick, while "Never Swat A Fly" remains one of the film's high spots --- performed by Marjorie White and Frank Albertson.

"An Old Fashioned Girl" (1930)

"Never Swat a Fly" (1930)

On the same day, February 16th of 1928, that newspaper readers were learning of the death of Broadway star and vaudevillian Eddie Foy (see previous post, "A Ghost That Walked" for details) another widely syndicated story doubtless caught the attention of readers, for it seemed just the sort of juicy Hollywood scandal story that held as much lurid promise then as it would today:

"Film Writer Found Dead! Girl Quizzed! Hollywood Scenarist Dies in Apartment After Taking Actress to Show and Dinner --- She Summons Physician. Doctor Refuses Certificate - Demands Autopsy!"

The unfortunate young corpse was that of Reginald ("Reggie") Morris, reportedly 34 but apparently a young looking 42 --- and while news reports only cited his current employment at Fox and his recent screenplay "A Girl In Every Port," his career was a long and varied one --- with some forty odd film appearances beginning in a string of Raymond Griffith comedies in 1917 (he'd form a long and close bond with Griffith, and would supply the story for Griffith's 1926 hit "Hands Up!) and working in numerous one and two-reelers and ultimately features for many studios of the day, including Christie, FBO and Triangle.

By the 1920's Morris had graduated to director as well as screenwriter, and he helmed a number of comedic short subjects for FBO with coy titles, such as "The Beloved Rouge," "Peter's Pan," "She Troupes to Conquer" and "The Chin He Loved to Lift."

While Reginald Morris is a barely remembered today, the "Girl Quizzed!" figure in the story is a fondly recalled girl indeed, especially among Laurel & Hardy's legion of fans --- although she herself would suffer an untimely and needless death just three years after Morris.

If you've seen actress Linda Loredo at all, then you probably did just as I --- as a supporting player in the 1931 Laurel & Hardy two-reeler "Come Clean," in which the boys gallantly rescue a mean-spirited would-be suicide victim (the always grand Mae Busch here as "Hollywood Kate") who returns their favor by disrupting their comparatively blissful domestic life and enraging their easily inflamed wives --- Gertrude Astor and the aforementioned Loredo.

Although Linda Loredo had appeared in the a 1927 Jack Hoxie serial titled "Heroes of the Wild" and a 1928 Columbia film "After the Storm," a Hobart Bosworth vehicle described as a "happy combination of the virile action of the sea and the vehement love of youth," she wouldn't find her unique niche in Hollywood until the advent of the talkies, which allowed her to utilize her bilingual Spanish-English abilities in the foreign language release versions of a number of early sound Hal Roach short subjects which starred Charley Chase, Harry Langdon and Laurel & Hardy.

After completing work in the Spanish language version of "Chickens Come Home," (in which I find her actually more effective as the suspicious wife enacted by Thelma Todd in the domestic version --- nobody could glower with more hellfire and damnation than Loredo!) the dark and lovely petite actress was given the role of Mrs. Laurel in "Come Clean" --- which would mark her final screen appearance.

Shortly before her first film for the Roach Studio would be released (late 1929's "Great Gobs," a Charley Chase comedy)
both Linda and her sister Maria were either at loose ends or the clients of an over-zealous and wildly imaginative publicity agent, for they both loomed large in a widely syndicated newspaper feature story that explored the supposed psychic connection between identical twins.

According to the fanciful piece (in which someone inadvertently swapped Linda and Maria's names beneath their pictures) the young girls of Mexican heritage are, we're told, "twin Arabian girls," and furthermore that...
"Superstitious minded folk of their own race came to believe the pair were endowed with some strange power which enabled them to read each other's thoughts" and that the girls were so "perfectly matched" a pair that "Linda and Maria were so attuned that often one seemed to know the thoughts that were passing through the mind of the other twin."

This, despite the fact that Linda's name appeared in newspapers just a few months earlier in connection with far more sobering details than matched Arabian Twins --- the death of actor, screenwriter and director, Reginald Morris.

According to newspaper accounts of February 1928, when officers arrived at the Morris apartment, "they found the writer lying on the floor beside his bed, clad in pajamas."

"Miss Linda Loredo, screen actress, had summoned Dr. J. Krahulik and said that the writer had been suffering from acute indigestion. Miss Loredo was in the apartment, police say, and was crying when police entered. She said Morris had been suddenly seized with severe pains and expressed the belief that he was suffering from indigestion, an ailment to which he was subject." "The actress told police that she and the writer had attended a theater earlier in the evening and had gone to a restaurant before going to the latter's apartment. She said that Morris had eaten a ham and egg sandwich, pickles, olives, and had drunk several glasses of milk. Dr. Krahulik, who knew Morris, refused to sign a death certificate until after an autopsy had been performed."
As it turned out, and so often does --- even though newspaper follow-ups for this type of story were as notoriously absent then as they are now when no scandal or mystery seems forthcoming --- Reginald Morris was simply the innocent victim of a fatal heart attack. Or was he?

Mused one Hollywood columnist at the time, "Is there a cinematic jinx? I don't know, but since fox released 'The Play Girl,' (a 1928 Madge Bellamy film for which Morris had supplied situations) these mishaps have occurred: Reginald Morris, gag man, died of acute indigestion. Tom Rafferty, electrician, tumbled from a loft perch and was instantly killed on the set. Rudolph Berquist, cameraman, was fatally injured while en route to location. Madge Bellamy, star, married Logan Metcalf and separated in less than 100 hours." As for Miss Loredo, could it have been a cinematic jinx by proxy --- or merely falling victim to that ever moving finger of death which silently glides past each and every one of us with each passing day?

We pause while you peruse other-worldly matters such as this, and offer up a bit of soothing music to calm any jangled nerves that may be present.

The theme song for the otherwise silent United Artists film "Ramona," a mid-1928 starring vehicle for actress Dolores Del Rio has long since outlived the film it once accompanied, and even managed to survive a decade or so of syrupy lounge-music renditions to stand as a sweetly simple melody with equally pretty lyrics.

Two renditions, a stark but effective presentation by Ruth Etting --- and the other, a wistfully vocalized offering by Gene Austin, accompanied by Nat Shilkret & the Victor Orchestra.

"Ramona" (1928) Ruth Etting

"Ramona" (1928) Gene Austin

To follow up on a previous blog entry in which the 1929 Paramount part-Technicolor production "Redskin" was discussed --- and with which various 78rpm recordings of the film's theme song were offered, I had lamented the fact that the commercial recording of the theme song by vocalist Helen Clark (who was also called upon to warble the tune on the film's synchronized music and effects score --- part of which accompanies the film's recent DVD release) couldn't be found in time to accompany the piece. Courtesy of George Moore, friend to these pages and its author, we now correct that omission.

Here then is Helen Clark (pictured left) and her commercial recording of the theme song for "Redskin," which is happily just as rich and vibrant as her contribution to the film soundtrack. The somewhat dodgy sonics are regrettable, but this is one of those cases where something is infinitely more tuneful than nothing.

"Redskin" (1929) Helen Clark

"Sometimes I'm Happy" (1927) Charles King & Louise Groody

And, to accompany that same post's mention of the 1930 RKO musical "Hit the Deck," here's an offering from that title's 1927 stage incarnation --- the lovely tune "Sometimes I'm Happy," performed two of the show's Broadway cast members, Louise Groody and Charles King. Yes, the same Charles King who'd find himself torn between Anita Page and Bessie Love on the talking picture screen in just a couple of years.

No matter how clever we think ourselves to be in hauling the 1930 Warner Bros. (once) All-Technicolor film "Golden Dawn" across the coals whenever the decidedly surreal film is mentioned, the fact remains that 1930 audiences and critics were similarly rolling their eyes too when the film first bowed. A review from a local Oakland, California newspaper:

"'Golden Dawn' is a formula story of life in the jungles with the handsome white warrior falling head over heels in love with the beautiful fair-skinned tom-tom belle. It turns out that she is a white girl who has been raised native by an evil woman. This is not a particularly new idea in the theater, and Warner Brothers make no special attempt to inject novelty. Their bid for fame is on the strength of the cast and the melodies, with an occasional dip into the hootchie-kootchie, disguised as religious dances. 'Golden Dawn' is a pleasant but uneventful picture. Its grief is never very poignant -- its melodrama never very exciting -- and its romance quite passive. Yet withal, it passes the time affably, contains some picturesque scenery and Miss Segal photographs better than she has on her previous screen visits."

Of course, the film can only be seen at a serious disadvantage today (hold the wisecracks please!) owing to the fact that the title exists only without its original Technicolor hues, and in scanning period reviews and publicity placements it was the color element that seems to have captured the fancy of viewers --- serving almost as a visual diversion from the film's flaws and weaknesses. Much was made of the unusual lighting effects employed in the film --- odd tints that played across the faces of the performers as reflected light from the settings in which the various scenes were enacted, an element that's not even hinted at in surviving prints, it should be noted. True, even with prismatic effects intact its doubtful "Golden Dawn" would be elevated to a much higher plateau than the one on which it resides, but gosh --- wouldn't I love the chance to be proven wrong!

Two melodies from "Golden Dawn" when it played upon Broadway's Hammerstein Theater stage for 184 performances between November 1927 and May 1928, performed by Mike Markel & His Society Orchestra --- recorded in December of 1927.

"Dawn" (1927) and "We Two" (1927)

Arriving on screens in February of 1930 after entering production in late 1929, Metro's "Lord Byron of Broadway" is, I believe, is as oddly fascinating a film as it is generally overlooked and underrated. Based up a novel by Nell Shipman (which MGM purchased the rights to in January of 1929) it's really the only early musical in which the lead character is not only an anti-hero, but a thoroughly deplorable one at that --- using and abusing people around him with chilling ease throughout the film, and utterly unconvincing when his supposed redemption arrives moments before the film's fade-out.

With a cast largely composed of Broadway exiles (some theaters simply advertised the film as having "An Eastern Cast") chief among them Charles Kaley as the title figure and Ethelind Terry (star of Broadway's "Rio Rita") its not difficult to see why the film fared poorly outside of key cities, despite the care and expense lavished upon the film --- which, for all it's shortcomings is a beautiful and polished object to behold --- a film I've long considered to be among the best photographed and recorded of all the early screen musicals.

Charles Kaley. Where did he come from? Where did he go? Why did he, as reported in Louella Parson's syndicated column, win the plum role out of "sixty, count 'em - sixty" other actors who were tested? We learn of Kaley's background via a personality profile by Hollywood columnist Robbin Coons ---

"The talking screen's newest recruit from the ranks of phonograph recording artists is Charles Kaley, with a face like a collar ad and a likeable personality in spite of that. Kaley, who used to play around movie lots when he was with Abe Lyman's orchestra here a few years back, never thought of going into the movies, although his handsome face might have made him a leading man as good as any the silent screen had known. For some reason or other, the movies did not interest him, and he went on, living his own musical life."

"When the screen found its voice, however, that was a different matter. Not that he was then a veteran of the stage, or a finished actor, for his whole legit experience was obtained as a singing juvenile in Earl Carroll's Vanities, except that for the past two and a half years he has been a master of ceremonies in Chicago theaters." (Ed- At Chicago's Granada theater.) "Kaley, vacationing here this summer, was invited to take screen tests, and as a result received several talkie offers, but he was still under contract in Chicago. Still, the talkies appealed to him -- five shows a day, day in and day out, back in Chicago, constituted a grind of which he was getting tired. So, eventually he settled the matter by buying his Chicago contract. It cost him $15,000 -- but he says it was worth it."

We pause here, at Kaley's entry into talking pictures, to explore a bit of the performer's early recorded work.

Before signing with Abe Lyman's California Ambassador Hotel Orchestra in 1923, Kaley was vocalist for Joe Kaysor's Orchestra --- house band at the Crystal Palace Ballroom in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

Charles Kaley emerges on phonograph records in 1923 and would record with Lyman, Ben Selvin and others --- as well as being a featured solo vocalist, between that year and 1928. A selection of Charles Kaley's work from this period:

"No No, Nora!" (1923) with Abe Lyman

"Mary Lou" (1926) with Abe Lyman

"After I Say I'm Sorry" (1926) with Abe Lyman

"Blue Skies" (1927) with the Knickerbockers

"Dancing the Devil Away" (1927) with Don Voorhees

For at least one reviewer of "Lord Byron of Broadway" in Charleston, West Virginia, the film seems to have proven frustrating --- having all the necessary ingredients for a truly fine screen musical, but woefully lacking in the story department:

"A cast composed mostly of stage stars presents entertainment at the Capitol theater this week that is rather worthwhile. 'Lord Byron of Broadway' presents a new star in the person of Charles Kaley. The picture includes most of the features that producers evidently deem essential in present day talkies: catchy tunes, elaborate choruses and views of the dressing rooms backstage. The plot concerns a song writer who gets most of his ideas for tunes from others while he capitalizes upon their emotional impressions by employing them in his songs." "The tunes are as good as any being turned out by the movie studios today. The chorus scenes are elaborate and novel in certain respects. The singing is good. The story? Better see the picture yourself to determine that."

In what can't help but be seen as a case of life imitating art, Kaley's personal life before, during and after his bid at screen stardom reads like an early draft of the film.

We learn that Kaley had at least two wives before entering talkies, one being Alfelda Kaley (left) who cheerfully told anyone who'd listen in December of 1930 of the beating she received at the hands of a businessman following her divorce from Kaley.

Three years earlier, Kaley was married to minor Broadway actress Hannah Williams, but their marriage was annulled. Interestingly, Williams rebounded from this disappointment in top form, marrying bandleader/composer Roger Wolfe Kahn (son of the renowned Otto Kahn) in February of 1931 before skipping out on him (and his family's vast fortune) to marry boxer Jack Dempsey in 1933!

Kaley would be romantically linked with "Lord Byron" co-star Gwen Lee before and during the filming, but with his exit from Hollywood, Kaley formed his own orchestra and after a brief stint on the radio in the early 1930's, he retreated to Reno, Nevada --- where he'd more or less make his home for the rest of his life, first as a featured vocalist for other bands and then as bandleader of his own in that town's various entertainment venues --- including an extended stint with Sammy Cohen and His 14-Piece Orchestra at Reno's "El Patio Ballroom." Cohen, billed as "Movieland's Musical Maniac" at the El Patio, had appeared in small roles in numerous silent and sound films, most notably "What Price Glory" in 1926 as "Private Lipinksy."

Wisely or not, Kaley can be seen in December of 1936 as the new groom of Leah Sewell after being wed in Las Vegas, with the bride bringing along a bit of history of her own after having been a central figure in a "wife-swapping" case during her marriage (her third) to a Beverly Hills millionaire two years earlier. Kaley knew his onions, it would seem.

But, so did his new wife --- and one month later, newspapers announce that Kaley would partake in a second annulment when he wife admitted they had separated. "Business connections which I have here are the main reason," explained Leah Sewell, "I have property holdings here and I am the head of a large oil company left by my father. I cannot leave. There is nothing sensational about our separation. We remain very good friends and I hope we always shall."

Despite the marriage being annulled in April of 1937, Kaley wouldn't budge. Understandably. Remarkably, he staged what the press accurately described as a "sit down strike" in the pair's palatial home. Kaley is quoted as saying:

"I sat down after we had a squabble to regain that certain something which we both had felt when we eloped to Las Vegas. I meant to prove her charge that she was a 'kissless bride' was wrong. If she had showed up I'd have kissed her, even while I was sitting down. But she checked out."

All that is probably best left to personal interpretation of the event, but it was all to no avail. Sewell moved on, and Kaley returned to the happy hunting grounds of Reno.

Charles Kaley fades from view in the press at this point (he does rate fleeting mention as musically supporting the Andrews Sisters during personal appearances of the singing trio in San Francisco of June 1941) but rematerializes in December of 1948 in the double-take inducing piece at the left from a Reno newspaper, which is meant to be waggish but which can't help but paint a picture of an older Kaley as a somewhat pathetic figure indeed --- entertaining at Reno's "Villa Sierra" club, and making use of time between sets to gulp whiskey and canvas the patrons for possible life insurance sales.

Remarkably, the notation at the bottom of the column reveals it to be a paid advertisement for the Villa Sierra club, but the mind boggles at what possible inducement the piece was thought to contain to entice new patrons!

Whiskey and life insurance sales doesn't appear to have done any harm to the seemingly indestructible Kaley, for he not only flourished in Reno --- but also married and fathered a son. Our last glimpse of Kaley is in January of 1956 --- where his band (still billed as "Charles Kaley & His Orchestra") was packing them in at Reno's Riverside Nightclub.

Mr. & Mrs. Kaley can be seen as Reno registered voters for the next few years, but Kaley would pass on in Santa Clara, California in September of 1965. In retrospect, "Lord Byron of Broadway" was but a minor footnote in Kaley's eventful life, but --- in retrospect, MGM did indeed make the perfect choice in selecting Kaley out of sixty other candidates to enact the title role of the much maligned early musical.

Two selections from "Lord Byron of Broadway," as captured on commercial 78rpm discs in 1930:

"Should I?" (1930) Arden & Ohman Orchestra

"The Woman in the Shoe" (1930) The Hotel Pennsylvania Orchestra

To conclude this post, we have another example of an early musical receiving the serial treatment in nationwide newspapers --- this time around the subject being "The Desert Song," in which the film's entire scenario was neatly and thoroughly detailed in three wordy installments. To the left is the first entry --- with the final one offered a bit further down in the exit hallway of this entry.

"The Desert Song" (1927) Nat Shilkret & Orchestra

"One Alone" (1926) Don Voorhees & His Orchestra

Lastly, to usher readers out of the main auditorium that is these pages, Leo Reisman and his Orchestra go to town on an exceptionally fine rendition of:

"'Cause I Feel Low Down" (1928)

Until Next Time!

Publicity and Ad for "The Cat Creeps"
(Universal - 1930)

Lobby card for the Spanish Language
version of Dracula (Universal-1931)

Poster Art for "The Gorilla"
(First National - 1927)

Dancer, Joyzelle, in "Just Imagine"
(Fox - 1930)
Three years earlier, a somewhat less embellished figure
as the hootch dancer in the Vitaphone short "The Night Court"

Linda Loredo as Mrs. Hardy, rides the
whirlwind of destruction arising from the installation
of a new radio in the Spanish language version
of "Hog Wild" (MGM-Roach 1930)

From souvenir program of "The Terror"

"The Desert Song"
Newspaper Serialization
June 1929

Cedar Rapids, Iowa - March of 1928