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.

The Good Old, Good Old Days

THE GOOD OLD, BAD OLD DAYS at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Coventry Street.

I can’t understand the London critics. To a man they picked out adjectives like ‘pretentious’ and ‘mannered’ to use about this new show. Even those that praised it had their own share of misgivings.

Often I’ve felt that it depends on the mood you’re in as regards your enjoyment of a show, and the night in question I arrived very tired after a hard day’s work. Hardly the best frame of mind to fully enjoy a new musical. But as soon as the curtain rose on that brilliantly staged title song the show got my interest and held it throughout. The score, like previous works of Bricusse and Newley, was tuneful, the lyrics in turn intelligent and witty. The dancing, staged by Paddy Stone, inventive and full of flair.

The plot, a series of conversations between God and the Devil, has the latter defending mankind by telling the history of the world, in an effort to prove to God that man has not always been responsible for the bad things that have occurred on earth. God is enthroned on a glittering gold throne and makes several appearances descending from heaven, whilst Newley as the Devil, makes his first appearance from the floors of hell.

The score embodies many types of song. The 2nd act opener ‘It’s A Musical World’ and the tuneful ‘People Tree’ are both likely to become standards on a par with this teams’s other good songs. ‘Cotton Picking Moon’, performed by Newley (doing an Al Jolson) aided by black-faced minstrels armed with tambourines and banjoes during the American Civil War sequence is a riot of fun, and ‘Thanksgiving Day’ is a pretty tune sung by the Pilgrim Fathers on landing in America.

Of the other songs I feel that ‘The Good Things In Life’ and ‘The Fool Who Dares To Dream’ may not have the success they deserve, but they are lovely tunes nonetheless. Before the first act ends there are 3 very fine songs that form part of a trilogy ‘Today’ sung by Newley, ‘Tomorrow’ a song full of hope, sung by Terry Mitchell, and ‘Yesterday’ dramatically performed by Caroline Villiers. I’d be more than satisfied by any musical that merely had these 3 songs featured, so good are they in both melody and lyric.

Paul Bacon makes a dignified God, with a beautiful speaking voice and melodious singing one. Both Terry Mitchell and Caroline Villiers put over their songs ably, and Julia Sutton does a riotous Ruby Keeler take-off with Newley in the big Broadway finale.

There remains Newley who is on stage pretty much throughout the show. There are, as with all big personalities, two schools of thought about him, and I have met people who can’t stand him. Personally I think he’s always been one of our biggest talents, and right here and now in this show he’s at his performing peak, whether it be getting a laugh from a comedy item or wringing every ounce of emotion out of a song such as ‘The Good Things In Life’. Yes, you got the picture – I liked the show.

Deb’s Back In Town

THE DAY AFTER THE FAIR at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue.

Many years ago Deborah Kerr made her film debut in Shaw’s MAJOR BARABARA, and proceeded to become one of Britain’s biggest screen stars. She eventually went to Hollywood for a co-starring role with Clark Gable and for a time her career reached a standstill until somebody had the bright idea of casting her as the adulterous wife in the film FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. On this occasion I found her unconvincing, but as a result of this film she received an Oscar nomination and bigger roles followed. She went on to star in THE KING AND I, TEA AND SYMPATHY, and many other important films, receiving along the way 6 Oscar nominations.

Through the years her loveliness and grace has never diminished and it is good news that she is back with us again on the West End stage. The vehicle she has chosen to star in, THE DAY AFTER THE FAIR is based on a short story by Robert Hardy, and is the kind of play designed particularly for women audiences.

The plot tells of a servant girl’s seduction by a young barrister and her collusion with the mistress of the house in writing letters to him. When the girl finds herself pregnant he is summoned to the house, and it is soon apparent that he has fallen in love with the writer of the letters. Unknown to him it is Miss Kerr who has been busily writing them, and in an unconvincing scene earlier on she tells the maid that it is her letters that have retained his interest. However the girl persuades her mistress not to divulge the truth to him and the play reaches its sad but convincing conclusion. Julia Foster as the maid once again gives an excellent account of herself, though I always feel she lacks charm, a point made even more obvious whilst watching Miss Kerr’s graceful presence.

It may be unchivalrous to say this, but I felt at times that Miss Kerr has lost some of her stage technique, resorting as she does to comic bits of ‘stage business’ and facial grimaces to get her point across to the audience But for all that it is a joy to welcome her back to the London Theatre, and 1 hope this will lead to other stage appearances in the future.