Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Musical Interlude #2

I've been neglecting the musically inclined part of my audience—brother Uncle Tom, Mister Muleboy, Who Am Us Anyway, among others—and to make it up to them, I present here what I consider to be the top musical number to appear in a movie in each of the first four Oscar seasons since Hollywood first introduced sound in 1927.

By the way, I'm not choosing songs based on what would have been eligible for an Oscar, which limit the award to songs written specifically for the movie, but am instead choosing the song I think had the biggest impact both culturally and artistically regardless of when it first debuted. Thus, even though "Toot Toot Tootsie" had been a hit for Al Jolson a couple of years before, its appearance in The Jazz Singer was a pivotal moment in the history of motion pictures. As co-star May McAvoy put it "In that moment just before 'Toot, Toot, Tootsie,' a miracle occurred. Moving pictures really came alive. To see the expressions on their faces, when Joley spoke to them ... you'd have thought they were listening to the voice of God."

1927-28: Al Jolson singing "Toot Toot Tootsie" from The Jazz Singer. Unfortunately, there are no clips on YouTube that include the "Wait a minute! You ain't seen nothing yet!" introduction. Well, actually that's not true. There are a couple that include it but the Warner Music Group has made a copyright claim and the sound has been eliminated from those clips. No doubt the sound will be eliminated from this one, too, in a few days. I have The Jazz Singer on videotape down in the basement if anybody wants to come over and watch it. Or you could track it down on DVD. That's what a responsible person would do.

"The Broadway Melody" from the Oscar-winning best picture of the same name. The Broadway Melody was the top box office movie of 1929 and also featured "You Were Meant For Me" and "Give My Regards To Broadway."

The song and dance man in top hat and tails is Charles King. Bessie Love is the one arguing with Eddie Kane (whose Francis Zanfield is an obvious nod to Florenz Ziegfeld) while personal favorite Anita Page looks on in horror. Never mind that everybody in this movie seems miscast as veteran stage performers—it's the songs I'm talking about.

1929-30: This one you've seen: Marlene Dietrich singing "Falling In Love Again" in The Blue Angel but here it is again, an encore presentation.

And finally, Eddie Cantor performing "Makin' Whoopee" in the 1930 hit musical Whoopee!

By the way, this clip isn't colorized—the movie was actually filmed in an early two-strip color process that had been showing up occasionally in theaters since 1922's The Toll Of The Sea. Movies had been hand tinted even before that. Sounds like another essay, doesn't it. Well, some day, maybe, if you're good.

And here's a bonus: Curtis Mosby's Blue Blowers and Nina Mae McKinney performing "Swanee Shuffle" from King Vidor's 1929 musical Hallelujah!


Mythical Monkey said...

By the way, just for my money, I don't really find early Hollywood musicals all that enjoyable in and of themselves, at least not until Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers arrived on the scene in 1933. The movies tended to be too static, too much just filmed Broadway performances, with poor sound quality. Some of that, of course, is attributable to the technical problems I've talked about in previous blog entries. But too much of it was a failure of imagination. I believe Rene Clair's Le Million and King Vidor's Hallelujah! prove that.

Busby Berkeley helped inject some life into the Hollywood musical with some unforgettable choreography in such movies as 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933 -- although even there, again strictly for my money, I think Busby tended to gild the lily and it's not as much fun as it should be. Kind of like a dessert that's so rich it winds up sitting in your belly like a lead weight.

Astaire and Rogers on the other hand are still as light and frothy and intoxicating as they were seventy-five years ago.

But that's just my opinion.

I'll discuss both Busby Berkeley and Astaire and Rogers at some length when I get to 1933 or so (assuming I live that long).

Flapper Flickers + Silent Stanzas said...

Bless you for posting some Nina Mae! She deserved so much more attention than she got.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Thanks Myth! They’re all great tunes, to be honest. What a treat!

Say can you decode the hepster talk in Broadway Melody at 1:33? I’m like, “and one more impenetrable insult from either one of you ladies and you’ll BOTH be holding an orange umbrella, whatever that means.”

But it sounds like they’re saying:

“One more cut from you and you’ll be holding a spear”

rejoined by

“And one more crack from you, bimbo, and you’ll be holding the lilly”

?? :-)

Mythical Monkey said...

I think your transcription is actually pretty close. I think the first woman says, "One more cut for you, dearie, and you'll be holding a spear."

And Bessie Love says, "And one more crack from you, bimbo, and you'll be holding a lily."

Which I think roughly translates as "If this show's director drops one more part of your dance routine, be-yotch, you'll be reduced to a nameless chorus girl part akin to the extra in a Shakespeare play who holds a spear at the back of the stage and says nothing."

"And one more unkind remark from you, dumb blonde tramp, and I will murderize ya and you'll wind up in a funeral home with a flower representing death clutched in your embalmed hand."

I think.

My all-time favorite for impenetrable slang is in The Maltese Falcon: "Sorry I got up on my hind legs, boys, but you fellas tryin' to rope me made me nervous. Miles gettin' bumped off upset me, and then you birds crackin' foxy."

Can't argue with that.

Mythical Monkey said...

Unless of course it's Brad Pitt in Snatch where he's supposed to be unintelligible ...

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Ah Myth, too cool, & it makes perfect sense now. Many thanks!