Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

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.


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:


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.


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:

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...


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  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019