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Sunday, December 09, 2018

The Spirit Of Vaudeville Still Stirs


Two Girls On Broadway (1940) Sets Star-Making To Music


The two girls on Broadway are Lana Turner and Joan Blondell. Turner was nineteen, Blondell thirty-three. Metro was developing LT as a sex symbol minus pre-code claws of a departed Jean Harlow, Turner's allure kept within Code fences (some of press compared her with Clara Bow). Turner was of a generation that need not be rehabilitated for past onscreen sin, which put her at interesting contrast with Blondell, the big sister and unmolested fiancée of George Murphy, him as sexless as Metro wanted Blondell to now be. Murphy affection will transfer to Turner before half of reels play out, Blondell's part less reprise of work done at Warner than losing at love which was bane of Bessie Love in previous MGM musicals, a sacrifice for good-of-all to pave way for a younger ingénue to have the leading man. Here was formula chiseled onto rock that was every sister act back to The Broadway Melody, a model in repeated use for by-then ten years. Two Girls On Broadway was too rich for a B, with $427K in negative cost, not a lot less than was spent on The Shop Around The Corner, comedies with Myrna Loy, or increasingly pricey Andy Hardys. Intent was to make currency of Lana Turner, a proposed star of a not-distant future. Within a year, she would lead in decided A's.




Blondell hauls Turner like pack gear going into combat. Whatever credit goes to the younger star (LT billed first) is thanks in large part to Blondell making sure Turner registers well. Did JB get instruct to mentor LT onscreen and off? Blondell by 1939 comes off suddenly like a character actress, as if pre-code golddigging had been done by someone else. A lot of veterans were hired by MGM, and elsewhere, to prop up fresher talent. It was work, if not work in a center ring. Aging often meant having to punt for benefit of newcomers. Others of greater experience surround putative star that was Lana Turner: Wallace Ford as a Walter Winchell-inspired columnist who, like WW, used to be in vaudeville, Jimmy Conlin a street vendor with unexpected edge, various others. If vaudeville was dead by 1940, then loads of its baggage got buried in movies, where vet talent was seen constantly in parts big and small. Then too there was radio, plus presentation houses still tendering vaude as though times had not changed at all. Work was never so plentiful for lots of performing folk, and they didn't have to catch trains or live in dingy boarding houses to get it. Most were fed up on the gypsy life anyway. Finish of the per se vaudeville era might have been the best thing that could happen for them. Two Girls On Broadway is available on a nice DVD from Warner Archive.

3 Comments:

Blogger antoniod said...

Wasn't TWO GIRLS ON BROADWAY a remake of BROADWAY MELODY?

10:17 PM  
Blogger iarla said...

At this stage of life and career, Turner was very fresh and warm and juicy. Blondell was always down to earth and likeable, but there's something Turner has that Blondell hasn't, though there are people who think she was the worst actress who ever made it really big (that would be Crawford) which is rather missing the point.

7:07 AM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

Rules of thumbs: When a hero is torn between two women, the loser is generally ...
-- The non-virgin, or at least the one who seems to know something
-- The elder (unless the younger is clearly flagged as a gold digger)
-- The one who's rude and/or uppity
-- The one who baby-talks

Exception: The bland nice fiancee, who falls for somebody else in the last reel so the hero is free without having to dump her.

4:16 PM  

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