For a couple of reels at the beginning, and a couple of reels at the end, this backstager from 20th/Fox pulls off a reasonable facsimile of a decent, second-tier, Warner Bros. Depression-era musical. It’s the five reels in the middle that let the side down. Warner Baxter, of 42ND STREET fame, is the hard-charging, ambitious producer of 14th Street burlesque revues who moves up to B’way with his tawdry, talented crew (Alice Faye, Jack Oakie,, Kenny Baker). Then, nothing but hits till Baxter goes ‘high hat,’ marrying a classy dame (Mona Barrie) and putting on a series of tasteful flops. Golly, if only that old gang of his could get him to drop the society facade and save himself with a swell old-fashioned show.* Faye, still showing a bit of baby-fat, is a real charmer here (she even gets a good number in the dead middle reels), while Oakie has better material than usual. Baxter, a natural at neurasthenic exhaustion, strains at being dynamic under director Sidney Lanfield who got a better rhythm going with Bob Hope in the ‘40s. But even musical-phobic types may want to catch the parade of acts that close the film, including goofy-looking/sweet-voiced Kenny Baker and goofy-looking/raspy-voiced Fats Waller.
DOUBLE-BILL: *The plot of THE BAND WAGON/’53 really isn't all that different. And it’s just about the greatest film musical ever made.