All Talking, All Singing

Last month I reviewed some film sound-tracks of the mid 50’s which was an easy task as I grew up familiar with them from seeing them in the cinema and playing many of the original recordings at home. This month is a different kettle of fish as I must first claim that with very few exceptions all of these recordings are well before my time. But to borrow a popular expression of the late 30’s and early 40’s when most of these tracks were recorded, they are all ‘super duper’.

STARS OF THE SILVER SCREEN 1929-1930. RCA LSA 3074

Here are 16 tracks which serve as a fine example of what screen music was like in those early days of the talkies. The big surprise to me in this LP is the excellent singing voice of Gloria Swanson on the track ‘Love, your magic spell is everywhere’. I see from the line notes that she had vocal training and more’s the pity that she only sang in one film during her entire career. Sophie Tucker’s rich singing voice in ‘He’s a good man to have around’ also came as a surprise, as I’d grown used to her older ‘talking’ voice over the years. The original versions of ‘My mothers eyes’ by George Jessell and ‘Louise’ by Maurice Chevalier are also included. Bebe Daniels displays her fine voice on ‘You’re always in my arms’ and Dolores Del Rio is pretty terrible singing ‘Ramona’. The original ‘Boop a doop girl’ Helen Kane sings ‘He’s so unusual’ and comedienne Fanny Brice is in fine voice with ‘Cooking breakfast for the one I love’. There are two fine male voices in John Boles ‘It happened in Monterey’ and Dennis King ‘Nichavo Nichavo’. Yes 16 items that will be new to most folk and very reasonably priced at £1.69.

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD RCA LSA 3085

Sixteen tracks, many of them available for the first time ever, and most of them interesting from a film fan’s point of view. Ginger Rogers opens the show with ‘I used to be colour blind’ from the film ‘Carefree’. Never renowned for her singing, I found her in pretty good voice on this track. La Dietrich follows with her famous ‘Lola’ sung in German – it’s a trifle antiquated now but the tune as always is very catchy. Allan Jones (father of Jack in case anyone doesn’t know) does a fine job on ‘Alone’. Next comes a surprise with Joan Crawford making a rare visit to the recording studios. It is easy to spot her distinctive voice, and whilst she lacks a true singer’s intonation it is still a pretty good attempt. Eleanor Powell ‘the screen’s foremost tap dancer’ is next featured both singing and tap dancing, and Fred MacMurray follows in a 1930 recording which holds up well … Dorothy Lamour’s distinctive voice on ‘Paradise’ serves as a reminder of her many musical film appearances. The first side is completed by Deanna Durbin in what was probably her finest musical moment on screen singing ‘When April sings’ from the film ‘Spring Parade’.

Side Two takes us to the fifties with Fred Astaire repeating his fine ‘Something’s gotta give’ followed by Marilyn Monroe singing ‘I’m gonna file my claim’ (a rather dull song this one). James Cagney does his George M. Cohan imitation on ‘Mary’s a grand old name’. I can never hear his voice without recalling all the many and varied impersonations of him I’ve had to watch over the years. I’ve always been a Betty Hutton fan and her track of ‘It’s oh so quiet’ comes as a surprise as I’ve not heard it before. She gives it the full Hutton treatment which is fine for me, but possibly not for others. Bob Hope has often recorded some fine songs and Gershwin’s ‘That certain feeling’ is certainly up to par from him. Ann Southern is a surprise name next, singing ‘The saga of Jenny’ from a TV version of ‘Lady in the dark’ she did some years back — no singer she … There follows Harpo Marx’ delightful version of ‘Stardust’ played on the harp (well, naturally). To close the record, Mickey Rooney singing one of his own compositions ‘I couldn’t be more in love’. The disc carries some very comprehensive line notes about both the singers, their careers, and their particular songs, as well as good photographs of each artist. I certainly recommend this one at only £1.69.

THE BAND WAGON RCA LSA 3082 (£1.69)

The dictionary has its own definition of the word ‘Elegance’ but for my money I’ll always connect the word with Fred Astaire. Both his singing and dancing sum up the word for me and these recordings made way back in 1931 have the same charm that I found when watching him on a recent TV show from America. His sister Adele appears on one or two songs with him in this cast album of the original show and many of these lovely melodies by Arthur Schwarz were sadly dropped when MGM filmed it back in the 50’s. On the reverse side Astaire does a few of the songs he introduced plus some others not associated with him. In case you wondered just who sang ‘Night and day’ here is the answer. The majority of tunes on this side will be unknown to you, but if you dig Astaire you’ll soon get to know them as I have done.

FANNY BRICE & HELEN MORGAN RCA LSA 3076 (£1.69)

These two famous ladies have both had film biographies made of their lives. Barbra Streisand of course, scored a tremendous success in her first film, ‘FUNNY GIRL’ portraying Brice, and some years before Ann Blyth surprised everyone with a pretty fair performance as Helen Morgan in the film ‘Both ends of the candle’ (the singing voice for that one being dubbed by Gogi Grant). I enjoyed Brice’s singing of straight songs and comedy very much but can’t say I cared much for Helen Morgan although I’ll grant you the lady must have had something as she was a very big star in her day. If you are curious and unsure I suggest you listen to one track by each of them in the earlier mentioned ‘Hooray for Hollywood’ before deciding.

Tap, Tap, Here Comes Nostalgia

DAMES AT SEA at the Hampstead Theatre Club, Swiss Cottage, NW3. With nostalgia a key word in entertainment these days it is not surprising that someone had the bright idea of reviving DAMES AT SEA. This delightful parody of all those Busby Berkeley musicals of the 1930’s enjoyed a moderate success in London’s West End 3 years ago, and now it’s returned in a shortened version to the Hampstead Theatre Club, showing nightly at 11 pm, until early January.

This backstage musical has for its heroine a naive platinum blonde tap dancer who comes to a Broadway Theatre on the morning she arrives from out of town. She gets a job in the chorus line of a show due to open that night, and is immediately befriended by a tough wisecracking chorine. Our heroine falls in love with a young song writing sailor who momentarily gets involved with the star of the show being produced. The demolition squad arrive to pull down the theatre and somebody suggests that they open the show instead on board the sailor’s battleship. The star falls ill and the heroine goes on in her place that night, and of course, is an overnight success.

That’s the plot in a capsule, but there’s so much more. Firstly, the songs – many of them quite charming, and they rightly remind one of ‘Shuffle off to Buffalo’, ‘We’re In The Money’ and others of that era. Then there is the dancing – in those days no musical was complete without at least one tap dancing routine, and here there are several. How refreshing it is to hear again the clicking of tap shoes, reminding one of a bygone age. Gillian Gregory has done a fine job in arranging the choreography.

The intimate atmosphere of this theatre is admirably suited to this small show which features only 6 performers. Nicholas Bennett, Freddie Eldrett and Richard Owens are the male leads, and they all make their marks with their songs and dancing. As the dumb heroine who makes good, Debbie Bowen is very funny and in her song ‘Raining In My Heart’, is particularly touching. Barbara Young as her friend reminds one of both Joan Blondell and Ginger Rogers and uses her knowledge of revue work to good effect in her witty dialogue and in her singing of ‘Good Times Are Here To Stay’.

There remains Pip Hinton as the temperamental star of the show. I first saw her in INTIMACY AT 8.30 when she was an ingenue in support of the stars of that show, and even then she made her presence felt in every appearance. She has a great sense of humour and a bewitching smile and it delighted me to see her in a role that allows full scope for her fine singing voice and comedy playing.

Paul Ciani has ably directed this grand little show and a year’s membership is very reasonable, and as all seats are only 70p for the late night show I urge you to consider going along to enjoy the fun.

Long Title, Short Play

THE EFFECT OF GAMMA RAYS ON MAN-IN-THE-MOON MARIGOLDS at Hampstead Theatre Club, Swiss Cottage, NW3.

This is a strange play which unfortunately fails to live up to the promise of its early scenes. The character of Beatrice, an eccentric woman bringing up two teenage daughters and forced to look after an elderly invalid in order to earn money, is very reminiscent of the mother in Tennessee William’s play “The Glass Menagerie”. Similarly, her youngest daughter reminds one of the heroine in that same play. The mother, with her overwhelming burden of responsibility in life is never far away from a nervous breakdown, and her almost non-reaction to her daughter’s sudden success at college is understandable.

In the difficult role of the mother, all nerve ends and near hysteria, Sheila Hancock gives the finest performance of her career. Yvonne Antrobus is extremely moving as the shy and studious daughter, and her awkward stance and forlorn face are entirely in keeping with the role. In perfect contrast is Pamela Moiseiwitsch as her chatty epileptic sister.

Very little occurs on stage ana yet I felt throughout that any moment something special was about to occur. But in spite of its lengthy title the play ended within 2 hours (including a 15 minute interval) and I felt slightly cheated. I feel that I shall have to read the text of this play at a future date as in spite of its shortcomings it left an impression with me.