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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936 (1935)

Six years after BROADWAY MELODY, M-G-M revived the franchise with this idiotic, but tuneful backstager. Jack Benny is a gossip columnist who tricks B’way producer Robert Taylor with a phantom leading lady who’d be just the thing for his new revue. If only she existed. Eleanor Powell plays an old pal from Taylor’s hometown who wants to try her luck on stage, but can’t get his attention. Why not fob herself off as Jack Benny’s chimerical star? Moss Hart actually got an original story Oscar nom for this nonsense, and it wouldn’t matter much if only the performers sparkled. But Powell reads her lines as stiffly as she holds her body, dancing with her untouchable diamond-hard quality. (Only Fred Astaire would prove able to penetrate her toe-tapping armor.) The specialty acts are wedged in awkwardly and the editing is so disjointed that even Benny’s inimitable comic pacing is compromised. On the plus side, Buddy Ebsen does some winning eccentric dancing with his sister, there are great tunes from Arthur Freed/Nacio Herb Brown and, as a special treat, Roger Edens (Freed’s right-hand man during his glory days as a producer) shows up as a rehearsal pianist.

NOTE: Check out the DVD extras: SUNKIST STARS AT PALM SPRINGS features Hollywood types like Walter Huston, Buster Keaton and newlyweds Betty Grable & Jackie Coogan in early TechniColor while the film’s host, Edmund Lowe, shares the screen with the creepiest puppet ever created, Mike, the talking microphone. Jeepers! And the cartoon TO SPRING, a knock-off Disney Silly Symphony from M-G-M’s Ising/Harman unit, has a sequence Walt may have taken to heart when he plunked his dwarfs & their pick-axes down in the gem mine.

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