1/19/08

BROADWAY MELODIES: TENTPOLE PIX OF THE DECO ERA PT. 2

BMof38poster

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day Weekend! What better way to celebrate this national holiday than with a series of posts featuring a great white chick tap-dancer?


Below you will find one of the true delights of the MGM sausage factory. It's a "summation" number from "Broadway Melody of 1938", which attempts to recount the history of old Broadway and tie it to the new "modern" Broadway that all the hep-cats in the audience presumably knew about. The method deployed is simple and elegant: just use good old, fat old Sophie Tucker in the first half of the number to deliver a nostalgic tribute to the vanished world that she was part of--she mentions Marilyn Miller for Goddsakes and even in 1938 Marilyn Miller, freshly dead for two years, was as yesterday as they come. (I've been meaning to return to my mini-series "Hotsy-Totsy's Of the Bootleg Era" and Marilyn would be a good subject--not the least because of the lurid rumors surrounding her death but also there is some fine, charmingly decrepit early talkie footage of her on youtube from the marvelous "Sunny". But I digress. And what the hell of it?)


Anyway, pour yourself a beverage of choice and delve into almost nine minutes of MGM craft at its highest. The Sophie Tucker section is really quite charming and anyway it doesn't last forever; it soon gives way to Eleanor Powell tap-dancing her ass off. (The more I research and write about the late Mrs. Glenn Ford, the more astonished I am with how short her filmography is. She is to movie stars what Terrence Malick is to directors). Within the score you can hear remnants of Freed/Brown material--"Broadway Rhythm", "Broadway Melody", even "You Are My Lucky Star"--and you begin to get a glimpse of where the significance of this production number truly resides : as a dry-run for the movie that became, sixteen years later, "Singin' In The Rain". It's clear that Freed--who in 1952 was the head of his unit rather than merely the songwriter that he was at the time this clip was shot--showed this number to Gene Kelly, who based much of what he did in the "Broadway Ballet" on the below. More Eleanor to follow...



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