One of the few movies named after a newspaper columnist's radio show:
Louelle Parsons' column, in fact. You can bet she got her pan in this flick. But no one went to see her. They went to see this guy:
Well, no. But this guy, yes:
Ol' Cotton-Candy Head Himself! Yowsah!
You may not there's no background. That's because they're standing up on boxes playing at an airfield, seeing off a chum as he heads to Hollywood; in a wonderfully American sequence, they play a raucous number lined up on the runway, saluting the plane as it heads into the Wild Greyscle Yonder.
Plot? Yes, but we don't care much about that here. It's the pictures, and what we can pluck out of them. But if you must: it concerns a fresh young talent (Dick Powell, again) trying to make his way in movies. Preposterous from the start, since he had previously been a singer for the fellow with the licorice stick above, Benny Goodman. But in the logic of these movies, there are stars who play themselves, fake stars who play fake stars, big swing nightclubs who never heard of Benny Goodman's singer. Doesn't matter. All an excuse to lead up to musical numbers. Intrigued?
Well then. Get a load of the singer here: that's Johnnie "Scat" Davis, who could really sell a song; he's like Jolson after a little helium. The man could play that trumpet, too. Keep in mind that this was the premier of the song; people were hearing it for the first time.
The clip jumps ahead, so you can skip the rest - unless you want to hear Benny Goodman's voice, which is rougher than you might imagine.
Eventually Dick worms his way into Hollywood society, and crashes a movie premier:
Wait for the woo-hoo guy at the end. That's his trademark. Never gets old, does it. Not even the third or fourth time.
The MC who shoves Powell off the mike was later, of course, the leader of the Free World.
It's not just the music that provides some relief from the comedy and hijinx, to use the terms with heavy sarcasm, it's the architecture and set design. Hollywood Bowl:
Don't call it Deco. It's Streamline Moderne, and I love it. I wonder if we'd have more examples if there hadn't been a Depression, and then I think, well, duh. But would people have wanted more? Was it too modern, or too spare? It was disseminated across the country via Hollywood much more effectively than the 1893 World's Fair spread the style of the White City. And it had more practical applications:
This is a nifty little sequence in a drive-in. Yes, a drive-in. They existed, with neon and carhops and burgers, before the Age of Fonzie.
Of course, there's a Big Hollywood Producer having a burger, and he's intrigued by this Dick Powell fellow, who not only sings but is capable of producing spontaneously synchronized choreography with co-workers and customers.
What a cliche, you think, right down to the director's beret. But audiences would have known him right away: it's Paul Whiteman, King of Jazz. The man who premiered Rhapsody in Blue.
Lest you forget this is the 30s:
But even the most yassuh-nossuh moments of the film are played somewhat subversively; the shot above comes from the set of a Civil War epic, and all the parts are broadly drawn. This matters more:
It's color-mixing on stage! On the screen! Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson. It gets better: Lionel Hampton.
Does it cook? It cooks. By now we're in the final number in the Hollywood Hotel, everyone's doing fine and / or in love, and your announcer takes the stage:
Ken Niles. Did a lot of radio, so his name would have been familiar as well. He introduces a number that sums up this "middlebrow culture" thing I've been yammering on about for years. A piece of light popular "classical" music, complete with tuxedo'd conductor, playing in a nightclub. It may be longhair, dad, but it's a panic:
Could this be any more jam-packed with names small and great? Sure. Somewhere there's a "casting director" played by a guy named George.
O'Hanlon was his last name, but around here we call him by his real last name, bestowed by history for the character he voiced. Jetson.