There’s Gold In Them Thar Hills

GOLDEN AGE OF THE HOLLYWOOD MUSICALUAG 29421 – Price £2.50.

Can you imagine the excitement in the cinema industry when SOUND was first invented? Many productions awaiting release were hauled back and had sections of dialogue added, and soon the silent films were a thing of the past. With the advent of sound, Hollywood soon began a rush of musical pictures to fully utilise this new invention. Each of the studios had their own ideas about the musicals they produced, but the first really big success story began in March 1933 when Warners released 42nd STREET.

A few years earlier when Eddie Cantor moved from the Broadway stage to Hollywood to make some musicals for Sam Goldwyn, he persuaded a young dance director, Busby Berkeley to go with him. He made four films with Cantor before being signed by the Warner studio to assist on the dancing sequences of 42nd STREET. The rest is screen history. So successful was this first back-stage musical that Berkeley then continued as dance director on a further 3 successes with the studio before being assigned solo directing chore on GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935.

Through the years his brilliant, inventive ideas have graced many good musical sequences in films, but to this day it is the initial Warner Bros set of musicals that are remembered best by film buffs all over the world.

Good news therefore, that United Artists have now compiled an excellent package containing 8 of these sound track recordings. Having seen all these films several times over the years, I realise that these are shortened versions, as in the films themselves each number ran about half as long again. To anyone not fortunate enough to have seen even a brief clipping on TV from any of these beautifully staged productions, it is hard to describe the workmanship that went into them, and the end result was always a delight to the eye.

With the exception of ‘By A Waterfall’ all the songs featured were written by composer Harry Warren and lyricist A1 Dubin. Both went on through the years giving the public other long remembered songs such as ‘You’ll Never Know’ and ‘On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe’ among others.

DICK POWELL at the time was known only as a singer, and what one would describe as a juvenile lead. He later had a second career in the 40’s in crime films. Here he can be found singing ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, ‘The Shadow Waltz’ and ‘By A Waterfall’. RUBY KEELER who’s frantic tap dancing has remained a source of laughter to many was equally famous as the leading lady of many of these films as she was as the wife of Al Jolson. After many years of retirement she returned to Broadway with big success in NO, NO, NANETTE once more under the direction of Berkeley. She sings the title song ‘42nd Street’ here, as well as joining Powell in two of his songs. JAMES CAGNEY, famous for his tough guy portrayals began his career in Vaudeville and this record proves a souvenir of his first appearance in a musical, singing ‘Shanghai Lil’.

Pert and cuddly JOAN BLONDELL still makes the odd screen appearance, and in those days was mostly featured as the friend of the heroine, getting the best laugh lines and helping out now and again in the song department. On this record she sings ‘My Forgotten Man’ which was a dramatically staged production number inspired by the depression years. WINFRED SHAW, here singing ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ (which won an Oscar for Best song of that year), made other screen musicals, none of them well known, but she did get the chance to introduce two other long time favourites during her career, namely ‘Too Marvellous For Words’ and ‘The Lady In Red’.

I think the 8 songs featured here would be enjoyable whether you know them beforehand or not. There is an added introduction and conclusion by another of the screen’s tough guys, George Raft, and United Artists are to be congratulated on the attractive stand-up display the sleeve forms into, as well as their comprehensive line notes and many attractive pictures from these productions.

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