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.

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.