Dedicated to the Study and Appreciation
of the Movies and Personalities of the Golden Age of Hollywood
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Songs in the Light, Part 3
Those early musicals Richard Barrios deals with in A Song in the Dark, and the Vitaphone shorts that preceded them, were the ground on which vaudeville and talking pictures first met, and I think that's the main reason I find them so fascinating. Here was vaudeville, in the full vigor of what seemed the prime of life, little suspecting that before another decade was out it would go the way of traveling medicine shows. And here are talking pictures, flexing their muscles and, haltingly, finding their legs.
It wasn't all vaudeville in those early talkies, of course. The careers of silent stars Bessie Love and Bebe Daniels were beginning to flag in the late '20s, and both made huge comebacks in (respectively) The Broadway Melody and Rio Rita (Love even snagged an Oscar nomination). Rio Rita survives in a slightly edited reissue version; it's a bit of a relic, with Daniels's performance probably the best thing about it.
Neither woman's stardom lasted long into the 1930s. Daniels is best remembered today as the leading lady whose broken ankle gives Ruby Keeler her big chance in 42nd Street. Love, after a popular (and still creditable) run in light musicals of the day, kept plugging away in smaller roles for decades; her last was in The Hunger (1983) with David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve.
These ruminations on early musicals, prompted by a happy rereading of A Song in the Dark, have run on longer than I expected. I think I'll wind up with an illustration of the unexpected, if sometimes modest, pleasures to be found in those half-forgotten songfests. This one is from Love in the Rough (1930), a musical version of the Vincent Lawrence play Spring Fever that -- like the play and movie of Follow Thru -- exploited the vogue for golf in the wake of Bobby Jones's phenomenal career. Robert Montgomery (who proved a pretty good song-and-dance man) plays a shipping clerk whose prowess at golf earns him an entree to his boss's country club, where the upper crust snobs take him for one of their own. He and heiress Dorothy Jordan fall in love at first sight, and she sings "I'm Doing That Thing," one of the sprightly songs by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields. Jordan is a delight; even her slight speech impediment is endearing.
Jordan's movie career was cut short more happily than Marjorie White's. She was cast opposite Fred Astaire in Flying Down to Rio, but dropped out to marry producer-director Merian C. Cooper, leaving Ginger Rogers to take over for her. Jordan came out of retirement years later to play John Wayne's doomed sister-in-law in The Searchers. But here are both she and the Hollywood musical in the bloom of youth (with a special dance insert from Earl "Snake Hips" Tucker). Enjoy:
Posted by Jim Lane at 11:37 AM
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