Monday, October 20, 2008

Queen Norma Shearer ~ Hollywood Revue of 1929

I finally sat down and watched The Hollywood Revue of 1929 all the way through! And by golly I enjoyed every minute of it. Well, all the minutes in between Conrad Nagel's presentations, because geez louise was he NOT funny. Basically, the revue consisted of varied segments. Dancing, singing, comedy routines and acted dramas.

Almost everything was black-and-white, except for three sequences shot in color. And one of those three sequences included Queen Norma Shearer (the reason I wanted to watch the revue in the first place)! Norma and John Gilbert did the balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet. Director Lionel Barrymore says the studio wants new dialogue, so they re-do the scene in flapper slang. All in Technicolor splendor! I was so excited I was literally jumping up and down in my sofa chair. This was purportedly the scene that ended John Gilbert's career. His fans from his silent screen career where appalled at his voice and it led to his downfall. I don't really see what the big deal was; he sounded fine to me. However, I wasn't from that era and I'm sure his fans had felt that his voice shattered the image they had of him in their heads. Shearer did however make the transition to talkies smoothly and in this scene she was excellent. This would be the precursor to her playing Juliet in Romeo & Juliet (1936).

Buster Keaton in drag, performing for the Mermaid king.

Laurel & Hardy doing their thing. Falling on a banana peel is a requisite.

Busby Berkeley-esque dance numbers. Pretty!

Technicolor ballet sequence. Dazzling!

All the MGM stars in raincoats in front of a humongous painting of Noah's Ark. Creepy! (watch it here)

Marion Davies dance number (she still freaks me out though).

Joan Crawford's singing and dancing number. She did a decent job. And luckily there were no wire hangers in sight.

All the Singin' in the Rain. This is the official song of the revue and was the inspiration to the 1952 movie. I scoff at you if you thought Gene Kelley was the first to sing that! ::scoff::

There are quite a number of camera tricks and cool choreography that make this still a pleasure to see even today, with all our technology and advancements. Which just goes to show you, entertainment is timeless!


  1. I used to have this on tape, recorded from TCM a few years ago. I think it's fascinating because it shows the old world of Vaudeville clashing with the new world of film technology. So much of the humor is very unfunny but that makes it all the more fascinating to me because it was humor intended to be played before a loud rollicking crowd, not a camera. As such, I'm sure you noticed, after an alleged joke or funny bit is done, there is a pause while they wait for what they assume will be rolling laughter to die down.

    And the color sequences are amazing to watch, especially considering you're watching scenes done almost eighty years ago.

    John Gilbert's voice wasn't bad at all and now that I've seen many of his talkies I realize that the legends of his voice in all those old film books were exaggerated. The fact is, Louis B. Mayer hated him and gave him crappy projects. Also, recent docs have shown that the sound recording equipment of the time was deficient, not any of the actors' voices, and when re-adjusted, Gilbert's voice is quite good. Leonard Maltin recently said the rumor should be buried for good and I agree. His projects were bad and he spoke with highly annunciated speech for the stage so he never sounded as natural as a Gable or Tracy, even though they did stage work too. That was probably more of the problem than anything else. And Mayer of course.

  2. Jonathan - Oh!!!! That makes so much more sense now. I could hear crickets after every unfunny Conrad Nagel joke(figuratively that is). Now I get it. Too bad they didn't have a live studio audience, but as you say they were testing things out.

    Oh geez. I hope I didn't perpetuate the myth of John Gilbert. I just read today about his onscreen pairings with Greta Garbo and am excited to see one of his films.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Many scenes in The Hollywood Revue are awkward in some way. I found the Crawford scene especially puzzling until I got the full story about it. Almost the entire movie was shot "off hours" which basically means in the middle of the night. Almost all the performers had a hard days work in their legs when starting the "night shift". So If one keep in mind that Joan, Marion and the others were thrown into the studio at four o clock in the morning, tired and unrehearsed I suppose one could say that the resutls are satisfying.

    Gilbert... Raquel, please take a look at Gilbert in Queen Christina, one of his last films. No one can say that he is a hasbeen in that one. His voice is fine, his acting breathtaking and he looks great. In my opinion he was in many ways a victim to circumstances he couldn't control. Add a dash of "his type of character and acting style falling out of fashion" mixed with a self destructive life style and you have a cocktail called disaster.

  4. Jonas - Why was the film shot off hours? One thing I was wondering about this film is how much it cost to make it. America was heading straight for the Great Depression and this revue looked very expensive to make. Maybe shooting off hours was a way to save $$$?

    I'm putting Queen Christina on my netflix queue right now! Thank you for the suggestion.

  5. Raquel,
    The Hollywood Revue of 1929 was advertised as early as December 1928, as a six-reel Movietone Revue directed by Gus Edwards. When shooting began in February 1929 Christy Cabanne was directing. After the success of Broadway Melody the project transformed into a full length feature called The Minstrel Man (The original footage from it can be found in the first hour of the finished movie where the minstrel idea is somewhat apparent). Shooting was more or less completed in April’29 when Irving Thalberg and producer Harry Rapf, dissatisfied with the outcome ordered major alterations and the inclusion of more stars. Director Cabanne was replaced by Charles Reisner (Cabanne received no credit on the final result).

    Most of the tinkering had to be done off hours not to mess up the famous MGM production schedule. Many of the scenes were indeed filmed at night during the "graveyard shift". The Hollywood Revue had to be patched together on top of all the other productions at MGM. Among the numbers Reisner supervised where the Joan Crawford, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy and Marion Davies numbers. Just about everyone working on other projects was called in, so were Norma Shearer and John Gilbert. The only MGM stars not present are Lon Chaney, Greta Garbo and Ramon Navorro.

    The Hollywood Revue of 1929 cost $426 000 to make and made a $1,1 million profit. All in all it took about a month to make and the last scenes shot were the big Technicolor finale, shot in the wee hours of June 11 1929, just nine days before the opening.

    There are still bits and pieces missing from surviving prints including a spoken introduction by chorines only seen briefly in the existing print. Also missing is an introduction to the finale by Jack Benny and Nils Asther.

    In August of 1929 MGM started to shoot the sequel, The Hollywood Revue of 1930, which soon became the mythical The March Of Time, a revue that never saw the light of day, despite being more or less complete and at a cost of $750 000. But that’s a different story.

  6. Good call on "Singin' in the Rain," performed by Cliff Edwards, aka Ukulele Ike. Edwards was a big singing star in the 20's, introduced a number of standards (e.g., besides "Singin'," also Gershwin's "Fascinatin' Rhythm"). Edwards isn't much known today outside the uke community (& a bit among old film buffs, since he appeared in a number of early talkies). Of course, Edwards' film claim to fame is as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Disney's 1939 "Pinocchio"- that's Edwards singing "When You Wish Upon a Star" & "Give a Little Whistle."

    By the way, thanks for checking out the blog.


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