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Thursday, September 24, 2015

It's Music, But Is It Sweet?


Rudy Vallee Brings His Sweet Music (1935) Baton To WB

Ann Dvorak had P.O.'ed Warners and this might have been her punishment: co-starring with Rudy Vallee. There's nothing specifically wrong with Rudy (well, perhaps there is). I've pondered why he didn't click  like Crosby, having come to conclusion it's the eyes; they droop, you see, and won't fully commit. We never feel he's looking at us, or co-stars. Vallee seemed always disconnected, as if things more interesting awaited him elsewhere once a movie was done. That might well have been the case, RV known offscreen as a busy rouĂ© with numerous irons in fire (including Dvorak). Vallee would, of course, come into his own as a character comedian by the 40's, a new line to which he applied much skill. A best reason to watch Sweet Music may in fact be Dvorak, performing song/dance that was as strong a suit for her as dramatic art via precodes of short time earlier. Tunes on tap, sweet or otherwise, aren't notable, but Sweet Music was no toss-off, being but step below Busby Berkeley specials. Second teams at WB could pull weight with a Sweet Music, Cain and Mabel ... others for which Buzz couldn't make time. Bonuses here include vaude legend Al Shean, torch songstress Helen Morgan, sourpuss Ned Sparks ... faces caricatured in Warner cartoons that played with Sweet Music in first-run. Shown on TCM --- should spring from Warner Archive in due time.

4 Comments:

Blogger CanadianKen said...

I agree about Vallee usually coming off as disconnected. He seldom seemed like an actor - more a celebrity doing a cameo as a lark. Even when he was playing the lead. And certainly those close-set, noncommital eyes were part of it. Yet there was something in his face and manner that always made me think he looked like a long-lost member of the Kennedy clan. Usually projecting the suave air of someone who's never lacked for money or romantic conquests and accepts both as his due. Of course, Preston Sturges presented him beautifully in "The Palm Beach Story" as the soft-spoken, comically candid millionaire, amusingly - and endearingly - calculating pennies while showering Claudette Colbert with luxuries. This was a genuinely unexpected and original supporting turn that deserved some Oscar attention. I've never really gotten all the latter-day enthusiasm for Ann Dvorak's 30's work. She had moments. But in those days I never felt any kind of sustained excellence from her. Even in the much ballyhooed "Scarface" or "Three on a Match". She's okay. But I can see why the public never really embraced her as a leading lady. And as "Sweet Music" makes abundantly clear, her singing and dancing were strictly mediocre. I always remember a moment when she's doing some choreographic lunging and Vallee briefly joins her, tossing off a few steps that instantly prove him much much lighter on his feet than his co-star. You kind of wish she'd vacate the stage and just let him take over. And a couple of her costumes in "Sweet Music" are disastrously unflattering. In the Annabelle" number near the end of the picture, she flails around, decked out in what looks like the entire contents of somebody's clothesline. To her credit, though, Dvorak came back in 1950 with two marvelous supporting performances, stealing both "Our Very Own" and "A Life of Her Own". Neither of the pictures is that good - but Dvorak's superb dramatic work in them is classic and deserves to be better remembered. So the talent was definitely there. I just don't think her 30's work ever really showcased it properly.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

During my father-in-law's tenure booking USO and Canteen shows during World War II for Camp Parks Naval Base near Oakland, California, the only unpleasant experience he recalled was when Mr. Vallee appeared.

I mention that my father-in-law was a man who could get along with anybody and everybody.

Rudy made that impossible.

And just FYI, my mother-in-law's only bad memory of being Camp Park's hostess to the stars was dealing with Lauren Bacall.

All of the other celebrities who came were great.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Rudy just wasn't sexy like Bing, nor was he as good a singer. But he did indeed become a good comedic actor, even if -- or because -- he was kind of one-note.

And to Mike Cline: you should look for Rudy's memoirs. What little I read of it was a score-evening affair. Pleasant he was not.

10:46 PM  
Blogger VP81955 said...

Rudy indeed could be an egotistical jerk, but give the devil his due; in the 1930s, he was among the first to champion Louis Armstrong on network radio, at a time when black performers often were considered anathema.

1:55 AM  

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