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.

The Legend Continues

01-197205XX 9For the past two weeks at the aptly titled Queens Theatre a 70 year old woman has been holding packed audiences spellbound nightly, and on 4 occasions twice nightly. The orchestra plays a medley of the tunes associated with her and finally she appears from the wings, immaculately gowned with a huge chinchilla coat almost carelessly draped around her. Her opening song ‘Look me over closely’ is an invitation that everyone in the audience takes up. We all looked closely, some through their opera glasses and those of us with the cash to sit in the front stalls could see with our own eyes that all was well, that the face looked exactly the same and the legend was still intact.

Marlene then spoke of her early days in films, how she auditioned with an American song, won the role of Lola and ended up in Hollywood. In this segment she gave us Porter’s ‘You’re the Cream in my Coffee’, ‘My Blue Heaven’, the rollicking ‘Boys in the Backroom’ and her song from ‘Stage Fright’ ‘The Laziest Gal in Town’. Strutting arrogantly to the wings she discarded her coat and returned to give us one of her best performed songs that evening ‘When The World Was Young’. I have seen this song performed many times but never so movingly, and perhaps this is part of the secret that she knows how to think and feel a song so well.

Her selection continued with ‘Go Away From My Window’, her touching version of ‘I Wish You Love’, the sombre ‘War ls Over’, a quite terrible ‘Boomerang Baby’ which bored me last time she sang it in London, ‘La Vie En Rose’, and ‘Sentimental Journey.’ By this time the audience was so involved that when she announced the song from ‘The Blue Angel’ people were calling out various titles until she corrected them, announcing the rousing ‘Lola’.

‘Don’t Ask Me Why’, ‘Marie’, ‘Lilli Marlene’ and Seeger’s ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’ are all songs she used last time in London but somehow nobody seemed to mind. We were all happy being in the presence of this glamorous star personality. Her version of ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ continues to confuse me and if anybody knows the significance of her repeat of the word ‘Rose’ perhaps they’d enlighten me.

When she winds up her 75 minute show with the inevitable ‘Falling In Love Again’ the audience rose to their feet in appreciation. Many people have wondered in the past exactly what it is about Marlene that attracts a predominantly gay audience of both sexes. Certainly on the night I attended there were many young men dashing up to the footlights to throw little posies at her feet and to clutch her hand. The more exhibitionistic of them held her hand for a longer while, some kissing it gallantly. One wonders about this hold she has on both young and old alike. Unlike Garland whose sheer emotional approach to songs was an obvious draw to the gay crowd, Marlene by comparison just stands there almost mockingly saying “take me or leave me – that’s how I am””… Finally you have to satisfy yourself that her attraction is made up of many things, glamour, a certain sense of high camp, but above all supreme artistry.

Germany Comes to Town

Dietrich by Blossom

01-197205XX 9Last night, or should I say early this morning, John struggled over to my bed with a questioning whisper, “Bloss, are you asleep”.

“No.”

“Well, Gay News phoned and they want you to write a review on Dietrich”.

After about five minutes of moaning and groaning and self indulgent noises, I thought l had communicated my distress, and the fact that I had only ever written a diary and letters – and the occassional attempt at a book and a play that everybody seems to go through, so l shut up.

So that briefly explains what I’m doing heme looking at a blank sheet of paper thinking “Whatever I write will be a cliche…….everything it’s possible to write has been written.”

Anyway here goes.

The curtains open to reveal an unprepossessing orchestra of about twenty, they burst into a brief resume of her hits – the arrangements by Burt Bacharach, the playing isn’t – just as the whole thing starts to become a drag it stops.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Marlene Dietrich”.

Pause, where is she?

Then on she, well try to imagine a kind of gliding amble whilst clad in about half a hundredweight of white fox fur – try to imagine what Dietrich looks like covered in enormous splodges of shaving cream – anyway she’s there and that’s all the audience requires. She stands there accepting the applause, she’s been through this hundreds of times, it’s no surprise, but then neither is she.

Three songs later and the coat – or whatever it was – comes off, and she’s there again, vaguely covered by a peachy chiffon thing that glistens with rhinestones, again comes the applause and she stands there immaculately poised the legendry legs outlined by the thin silk. You know that every member of the audience has lifted their glasses in a half hopeful, hall fearful scrutiny, and she knows it, and it doesn’t worry her a bit. Whatever the need is that demands of her that she remains unchanged she’s up to it.

Song after song gets thrown at you intermingled with a brief biography, the only thing altered in the programme is the inclusion of a couple of songs, ‘Where have all the flowers gone’ and ‘White Grass’ and it’s these that bring the Dietrich to me that I personally feel is the one that is most neglected.

We all know about the legend that refuses to die, the Von Sternber film, the troop entertainment during the last war, the cabaret appearances, but I really feel that underneath all the glitter, there is great humanity and intelligence. l’d like to see her make another film, it’s ten years since ‘Judgement at Nuremburg’ and she’s been doing the present all for at least six. Forget the fact of her age and the whole sex symbol bit and try to suss her out. At the end of the show she collected her obligatory flowers and the dozen or so curtain calls, the legend was intact and the audience was satisfied, but there’s still more, I don’t know what or when but I’m pretty confident, but then I’m infatuated with her.

There’s a really good L.P. of her live the last time she was here. It’s called ‘Dietrich in London’ and it’s on Marble Arch Records.

Lots of love and cuddles, BLOSSOM.