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!)



Anonymous said...

Hello, Jeff,

Great stuff, as always. Just wanted to let you know that the clip listed as Tiptoe Through the Tulips is actually linked to Dance Away the Night (the same clip listed at the end of the page next to the sheet music for Married in Hollywood).

Jeff Cohen said...

Ben - Thanks for the heads up! Link glitch has been repaired. Much appreciate hearing from readers when anything doesn't look or sound right!

All my best,


Anonymous said...

Great post as usual. Just to clear up one point: the Lubitsch Musicals are from Criterion's lower-price Eclipse line of box sets. This means NO extras.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

Thanks for sharing this link - but unfortunately it seems to be down? Does anybody here at vitaphone.blogspot.com have a mirror or another source?


Anonymous said...

Nice work, Thanks