It is so nice to see that some of the rarer films of early Hollywood are being released on DVD. This set features four never before released movies with some great musical numbers and some underrated stars.
Gold Diggers of 1937 doesn't have the best plot in the world, but it makes up for what it lacks with the great musical numbers. Dick Powell stars as an insurance salesman who can't seem to sell a policy. On a train he finds himself face to face with Joan Blondell; it is love at first sight. Love does wonders for him and he soon finds a client. Victor Moore might not be a great candidate for life insurance; he isn't very young and he isn't very healthy, but he is interested in a million dollar policy.
"Speaking of the Weather" is a catchy and sweet little tune played beautifully by Powell and Blondell, by this time married and in the throes of love. There is a great tap routine in the second rendition of the song. "All is Fair in Love and War," the big finale, features a bevy of beautiful girls rocking in rocking chairs and bombing their beaus from across a largely black screen. It isn't as impressive as one might expect. The blank background seems a little too simple as the song isn't so great. Still, since Busby Berkeley had a hand in it, it comes off better than it would have without his guidance.
Also included on this DVD are two clips from the lost film Gold Diggers of Broadway, a film considered to be the first of the Gold Diggers movies. It was filmed in two strip technicolor, so it is a curiosity to early film lovers. "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" is a straightforward musical number, but the grand finale is quite impressive with a gorgeous skyscraper background and intricate dance routines. Unfortunately, not all of the film from this scene has been salvaged so for the very end we can only hear what is going on.
Gold Diggers in Paris follows the exploits of the Club Balle, which features plenty of beautiful hoofers and swinging musical acts. It is a real slice of America and a swell place to be. Maurice Giraud (Hugh Herbert) is a representative of France sent to the United States to enlist the American Ballet Company to perform at the Paris Exposition. Unfortuantely, his cab driver cannot understand his awful accent, so he takes him to Club Balle. He is none the wiser and hires the troupe, who accepts because of their desperate need for money. Off to Paris they go, but with the real (and angry) Ballet Company behind them.
A fun film filled with entertaining moments but nothing too substantial, Gold Diggers in Paris has a lesser known cast that does the job. Rudy Vallee is a wooden actor, but his voice is undeniably good. Rosemary Lane's beauty and skilled vocals make her a good match for him. Also featured are many of the Warner Brothers stock cast including Allen Jenkins and Mabel Todd who evoke a lot of laughter.
In Hollywood Hotel, Ronnie Bowers (Powell) is a saxophone player in Benny Goodman's band, but Hollywood is calling. He has just been signed to a short term trial contract there, so off he goes to a world of luxury and extravagance. He checks in at the Hollywood Hotel where the famous Mona Marshall (Lola Lane) is staying. He is even selected to escort her to a premiere, but trouble arises when Mona's temperament prevents her from attending. At the last minute, a lookalike named Virginia (Lane) steps in and no one is the wiser. Ronnie quickly falls for his date, unaware that she is simply a waitress with a beautiful voice. And is Mona mad when she finds out her doppleganger is running around town!
The story is silly and the music isn't overly memorable, but there is something about this film that is truly enjoyable. The sets are fabulous and so very art deco. The cast abounds with notable faces from gossip columnist Louella Parsons to vaudeville talent Ted Healy to big band icon Benny Goodman to fast talking Glenda Farrell. Songs like "I'm a Fish Out of Water" and "I've Hitched My Wagon to a Star" are sweet and light, just like the film. "Horray for Hollywood" is the obvious standout, a good commentary on the ways of Hollywood.
Hollywood Hotel began as a radio show. In the mid 1930s, Parsons used her influence on many top notch stars and coerced them to appear on the radio program. Powell was the master of ceremonies and all of the action took place in the Orchid Room which is also featured here. In reality, no such place existed, but Hollywood constantly got calls from tourists hoping to reserve seating there. Unfortunately, only four episodes are known to exist today and of those four only two are in circulation among collectors. This film is not an accurate representative of the radio show, but it is the closest that most people will get to it.
Varsity Show concerns college life. Winfield College is putting on their annual production, but this year their director is really bringing them down. Instead of a fun, modern show, he is forcing them to perform in a play with no laughs and outdated music. A group of kids decide to enlist the help of a former student who has made it big on the Great White Way. Chuck Daly (Dick Powell) has fallen on hard times, and his partner (Ted Healy) forces him to accept the $1000 offered him to fix the college musical. Once there, he realizes usurping the faculty will be much harder than he expected. But that suits him just fine; there is a pretty girl (Rosemary Lane) occupying his time.
Powell and Lane do not have great chemistry together so the love story is quite thin. The plot leaves something to be desired as well, but it isn't the story that makes this film enjoyable; it's the music. The romantic melody "You've Got Something There" is staged simply, but with the lovely lyrics, this is appropriate. "We're Working Our Way Through College" is done simply as well, although the moving camera makes it seem more complex than it actually is. The song is peppy and funny, the perfect college song. "Have You Got Any Castles, Baby" is a very dancable tune which was made into a Merry Melodies short included on this disk. The real showstopper of the film, though, is the grand finale which features several different school songs the formations of the college letters. This number is simultaneously impressive and timeless.
Unfortunately, this print is considerably shorter than the original film which runs for two hours. Perhaps this version of the film was too deteriorated to be considered appropriate for release. There are several spots in this film that appear to have been neglected, so the film quality is not entirely consistent. Still, it is in much better condition than some films of the early 30s, so perhaps it is best not to complain too much. After all, it could be worse; at least the film is available now for viewing. This DVD features Have You Got Any Castles, Baby?, a cute Merry Melodies short with several movie references. Unfortunately, some of these cartoons come with a warning about their "racist" content that you cannot fast forward through. Who decided it was mandatory to get a public service announcement everytime you wanted to see this toon?