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Monday, October 08, 2018

Hour Long Musical For Bottom Of Bills


Moonlight and Cactus Answers 1944 Need


Another musical rhinestone out of Universal and a bootleg someone passed me that surprisingly looked great. I've tried to make sense of what kept these things so prolific, and have decided it was handshake of swing and the World War to which that phenomenon was scored. Popularity of swing, vast as it was, faded once fighting stopped for mosaic of reasons. Universal quit the small tunefests for lower key of band shorts, which some of companies maintained into the 50's. It needed a particular meld of pop culture to make movie stars of the Andrews Sisters, who you wouldn't think led credits on so many B's (Moonlight their twelfth), what with few seen or available today. Like so much of old films, it was a matter of time and place. G.I.'s had picked the Andrews as their favorite vocal group, and anyone within reach of a radio or jukebox knew precisely who they were. You could make a case that this trio was Beatles-big at a peak, so U's money was safely spent even on slight vehicle that was Moonlight and Cactus, plus the dozen others.


Universal Ingenue In Support: Elyse Knox


Leo Carrillo In A Scene Either Cut From Moonlight and Cactus, Or I Slept Through It 


A name band, at least one, was essential to credits, but how prominent was Mitch Ayres and His Orchestra? I found no CD's for him, only "pre-owned" vinyl. The Andrews must have found him congenial, as they toured with Ayres as orchestral backdrop. Swing at summit was evidently a big enough tent to accommodate everyone. Moonlight and Cactus served useful purpose of playing behind live acts that were truer draw for patronage. You could argue it was the chaser all movies were claimed to be at inception when they showed up on vaudeville programs. For the RKO Palace at right, there was Duke Ellington and a loaded stage bill to sate customers, Moonlight and Cactus a mere intermission to be sat through so they could enjoy Duke and Company again. No wonder then that the film itself is such small punkins. It was hardly meant to be more. For those who'd inquire, there is Shemp Howard, Eddie Quillan, and recent sprinter from the Mummy, Elyse Knox, along with malaprop master Leo Carrillo arriving for a second half. I couldn't decide if music was relief from comedy or the other way around. Funsters are left pretty much to their own; you wonder if routines were extempo. Setting is an all-girl ranch which was often case at Universal, hopeful starlets more rife on this lot than anyplace in town, it seemed. Moonlight and Cactus is long spent tissue admittedly, but worth a glance if a renegade disc can he had, or someone sneaks it up on You Tube.

11 Comments:

Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Mitchell Ayres "and His Fashions in Music Orchestra" were seen in Soundies jukebox musicals in 1941; his was a name band in the way that Anson Weeks or Richard Himber had name bands: familiar from radio dance-band remotes and personal appearances, but not headline names in the Benny Goodman or Tommy Dorsey class. Ayres popped up again in the 1960s as the house maestro for the "Hollywood Palace" TV series.

Universal starlet Elyse Knox was the former Elsie Kornbrath, daughter of a Connecticut exhibitor.

If anyone at Universal is reading this: you have a vault full of musical comedies; how about your selling them on DVD-R? My nominees would be ARGENTINE NIGHTS with the Ritz Brothers and the Andrews Sisters; WHAT'S COOKIN" with the Andrews Sisters and Woody Herman's band, and MISTER BIG with Donald O'Connor, Gloria Jean, and Peggy Ryan.

10:00 AM  
Blogger kenneth Von Gunden said...

I still find it amusing to note that early movies were used as "chasers" in the days when vaudeville was on top and then vaudeville acts became the chasers when film replaced the dying stage entertainment that "Variety" had become. The Wolf, man.

11:15 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Richard M. Roberts supplies more information on Mitchell Ayres:


John,

Mitchell Ayres led a reasonably popular big band that had spun off from Little Jack Little's Orchestra in the late 30's and was popular on radio and records in the early 40's, recording for Bluebird and later Columbia when Ayres became a musical director there. At the time of MOONLIGHT AND CACTUS, Ayres was conducting the band that accompanied The Andrews Sisters, so the band would appear in a number of these Universal musicals.

In 1944, Ayres became Perry Como's arranger and conductor, and that association would continue for the next 20 years. When Como pared back his performing schedule in the early 60's, Ayres took on the post of musical conductor and director for the orchestra that appeared on ABC's THE HOLLYWOOD PALACE, which is where I remember him the most. Sadly, he died in 1969 when he was hit by a car while crossing the street in Las Vegas, where he was conducting the orchestra for Connie Francis for her appearance at the Landmark Hotel.


RICHARD

2:19 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

As usual, it's the ads that catch my eye. Like the bottom of the second one promising "Minstrel Man". You should catch that some time. Aside from being enjoyably ridiculous with plot holes you could shoot a missile through, it's one of the very few film appearances by vaudevillian Benny Fields.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

This intrigued me, so a search of Youtube turned up not this, but another - Pribvate Buckaroos, from 1942 - and it illustrates the formula.
In B&W, Harry James is the bandleader and musical director this time, Dick Foran as crooner/singer at the nightclub they work at, with Shemp Howard ( in uniform as a Sergeant) and a very young Donald O'Connor in support (I think the latter has a short bit with his distaff partner in live entertainment, but I'm not sure).
The plot revolves around getting drafted/ enlisted; and moves from the nightclub to the Army camp where they train.
It was light entertainment, an enjoyable enough way to spend 67 minutes; at times more like a series of musical performances rather than a plotted movie.
Here's the link, if you are curious:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORo-1T7d0sg

8:29 AM  
Blogger Dan Oliver said...

Elyse Knox married football star Tom Harmon and became the mother of Mark Harmon.

3:15 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I just ran a print of MINSTREL MAN for my movie gang and it went over like gangbusters. Benny Fields had them in the palm of his hand. It's the only time he had appeared as an actor. Otherwise he was a specialty act in features and shorts.

MINSTREL MAN was originally scheduled as one of PRC's standard budget productions ($80,000) but it became something special almost immediately. Songwriter Harry Revel bought a piece of the picture, which ultimately came in at about triple the budget, and played better houses than PRC's usual venues. It created so much enthusiasm in 1944 that PRC announced a film biography of Fields, but nothing came of it.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

"Minstrel Man" must have been the only PRC movie to receive an Oscar nomination (for best song).

7:42 PM  
Blogger JonCow said...

@Dan Oliver and the mother-in-law of Ricky Nelson.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I know of four Oscar nominations for PRC: MINSTREL MAN and WHY GIRLS LEAVE HOME were both nominated for Best Song and Best Original Score.

1:42 PM  
Blogger PalaceTheatre said...

John,

I have seen the same DVD of MOONLIGHT AND CACTUS. Universal made these B-musical comedies in assembly-line numbers. Check out the large Universal Story reference book and practically every year from 1940 through 1945 had loads of them. I agree with you----not sure if the comedy is a relief from the musical numbers or vice versa. Most of the music was forgettable-- even by fans of 1940s big band music like me.

Palace Theatre

7:29 PM  

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