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Monday, June 05, 2023

Up From Depths to Please Anew


Ghost World That is Paramount on Parade

From You Tube confine comes one not expected, let alone in quality we can at last tolerate. Paramount on Parade was of a cycle studios pedaled through 1929 and into 1930, being revues less like film than stage, chance to watch talent as though from seats facing footlights. Practical value of such as The Show of Shows, The Hollywood Revue of 1929, and Fox Movietone Follies of 1929 might be imagined, as after initial play came quick spoilage with portions if not close to whole of intended content gone missing since. Each had among other things Technicolor sequences. Scraps surfaced, in fact continue to, bare suggestion of what full auditoria regaled in. Paramount on Parade amounts to dive deep midst antiquity. Mitzi Green impersonating George Moran of black faced Moran and Mack begs question of who was Mitzi Green and who was George Moran? I emerged like from Mayan digs at finish of Paramount on Parade, itself but seventy-five or so minutes that was once a hundred and two. Entirety of it is gone forever, I fear. Loss of the color dispirits, little even in black-and-white of it survives, though rumor speaks of a Kay Francis-Harry Green skit glimpsed once in Gotham revival. I hear also of Yetis sighted here/there, but can't prove them. What must suffice is sift via YT means, hope that Paramount on Parade stays accessible there until folk vitally interested can watch. To seek beyond would be to ask more than chance or caring (by archives) will accommodate, but what of 2026, when this and other revues will have gone PD? Full speed ahead, Kickstarters!

Three men shown here are tendered as funny, and you may yet find them so. From left to right is Jack Oakie, Leon Errol, and Skeets Gallagher. Mastering-of-ceremony falls to Oakie and Gallagher, Errol left to his starring skit later and who knows what vanished footage could include him. Oakie is my notion of best-all-round comedy support in whatever used him during the thirties and after. Errol of course is master of mirth as testified previous, Gallagher obscure here and for work afterward. He is droll, an efficient host who reminds me of Criswell to come. Would that flatter Skeets? First of singing sweethearts (several pair through P on P) are Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Lillian Roth. Buddy on disc can be had given gray market source, legit limited to Wings which thrives on Blu-Ray. Lillian is cute and dimply, appeals modernly at least to me, had a hard second act with redemption that followed if you believe Susan Hayward in 1955’s I’ll Cry Tomorrow. Notice how many late twenties songs are suggestive as to lyrics? Had I been around then, and a parent, I’m not sure offspring would have permission to bring such shellac in the house.

What may be a most arresting section of Paramount on Parade is triad of mystery solvers that are Warner Oland as Fu Manchu, Clive Brook being Sherlock Holmes, and William Powell as Philo Vance. This resonated for years because it was all we had of those characters and essayers of same, their Paramount features gone from circulation and unlikely then to come back. Now by Kino grace we have Blu-Ray of two of three Olands as Fu, Powell upcoming in three Vance features, still nothing yet of Brook Holmes. The sketch is … sketchy … less amusing than curious. Fun is seeing them spoofy, but another few minutes and things would get labored. First among outstanding aboard Paramount on Parade is Maurice Chevalier, him ideal to variety format, a biggest “new” star the hodgepodge boasts, much the real thing along talkie finds. He is saucy and combative toward Evelyn Brent, undressing her to a slip, Brent herself on slip-slide from stardom, their parlay supervised by Lubitsch. Any rival company would have wanted Chevalier. Remember MGM and “More Stars Than There Are in Heaven”? Paramount was like “More Stars Than There Are at RKO or Columbia.” Revues such as Paramount on Parade were sheerest factory work, talent less pressed to act than be “themselves,” whatever that amounted to, which in several cruel instance was not a lot. Limitations were known among assets protected, Paramount loathe to see property ridiculed as growers would be to let peach trees wilt, but rush to sound was on, and everyone was pretty much on his/her own. The studio like others operational and earning profits felt they understood talent better than the talent themselves. Were performers invited to frame spots and stay within confine of what they did best? I’d like to know, for instance, how much latitude Maurice Chevalier had, or for that matter, Evelyn Brent.

Revue films amounted to advertising for entity that were  studios and Eastern industry that controlled them. “A Greater New Show World” was what Paramount boasted, greater that is, than any other firm’s show world, in fact, a world Paramount dominated to extent of owning the largest number of affiliated theatres. So many such edifices in 1929 seemed Greatest what with talk magnetizing movies as never before. Revues then were proof of solvency, an assertion that conditions were better than good and would continue improving. Paramount position thought impregnable that lush year became an anchor to drag them into receivership within short future, theatres no longer horn of plenty but empty caverns through which fewer paid customers passed. Depression was the door slammed against prosperity, not just Paramount’s but everyone’s. MGM ironically stayed in profit for owning less exhibiting venues, brick and mortar a menace now that panic was on. How Paramount fell broke in the early thirties gives useful instruction for anyone who thinks good times, no matter how good they appear, can last forever. I can’t imagine Paramount on Parade being made in 1931.

Re topic of combat, Jack Oakie and Zelma O’Neal knock each other around a gymnatorium. Tough to tell Zelma from a hundred other flappers plying trade for talkers, though she seems good as any. Zelma’s also in Follow Thru,’ early apply of two-color seen most at museums. Will future PD status loose it among rural dwellers? Next comes Ruth Chatterton dramatizing to Fredric March and other doughboys, played apparently straight, or maybe subtle-humorous over my head. Chatterton was early sound’s gift to high histriona. She did Madame X to acclaim for Metro and Skeets Gallagher refers to it. Ruth got more energy after Warners stole her from Paramount, then did what she’ll be best remembered for, Dodsworth, in 1936. Middle-age, and looking it, forced Chatterton into mature parts before retreat to the stage and years more successful work. Paramount on Parade is valuable for prodding us to ponder such matters. It is a curiosity piece in the best sense, and we are fortunate to have it finally on watchable terms. Participants fascinate where we recall them in other contexts and can make comparison. Even unknowns click for novelty sake, if not as familiars, then as objects for Google search. Paramount on Parade so far as I know has not broadcast anyplace since AMC back in the eighties. My VHS tape went to dogs long ago, so resurrect via You Tube came more than welcome.

Mitzi Green was a big little girl noise, age nine when Paramount on Parade was made, among other gifts hers for obscure impressions. In addition to George Moran here, she became George Arliss and Edna May Oliver for a Girl Crazy skit at RKO. Mitzi like moppets from stage transitioning to movies had brute assertiveness I freeze still for, waiting for the hook that won’t come, not wanting it once caught up in her weirdish spell. Helen Kane sings "Boop-Oop-a-Doop" before a classroom of kids. I wondered if even one of them might still be alive today. How long did Helen, or anyone, stay on the road trilling that? Reminds me of persistent Joe Penner asking endlessly if anyone wanna buy his duck. Nancy Carroll sings and “hoofs” to Abe Lyman and his Band. I know her primarily from Hot Saturday. Carroll was vaguely like Clara Bow, as were others at Paramount figured to be Bow successors. Said to be temperamental to tantrum level, and maybe that’s how she ended up far down marquees within a few years of leaving Para nest. Carroll shows up barely in a 1937 Deanna Durbin, That Certain Age, in but a couple minutes toward the end and hardly noticed for that. I’d like to know more of what went wrong for Nancy Carroll.

Clara Bow, the real Bow, is expectedly the spice of Para’s program, her navy number with male chorus boding well for talkie laurels, so why not the happy outcome? Read David Stenn’s Bow book and learn. George Bancroft was bull in anyone’s china shop but here plays polite, an untypical stance, then rough/ready where the skit speculates upon what happens where house guests show true colors rather than manners they’d ordinarily display, a clever jape and Bancroft gives it flair. He was tough to float for long thanks to few tricks in his kit, but Bancroft in reasonable dose is fine, got better as support once sun set upon starring parts in the later thirties. Largest gap in Paramount on Parade appears to be a Technicolor all-star go at Gary Cooper, Mary Brian, Richard Arlen, Jack Oakie, Jean Arthur, and Fay Wray under Edmund Goulding direction, which survives as a black-and-white prelude only, making little sense as left in present version of Paramount on Parade. Why do personalities of Paramount ownership seem remote to us now --- Nancy Carroll, Bancroft, Harry Green, Mary Brian, Dick Arlen? It comes to withdrawal of Para's pre-49 library lot once syndication and then landlord Universal lost interest many years ago. Early Paramounts, late twenties through much of thirties certainly, was rat poison after initial sales of the full package tendered in 1959. A big deal then, it quick became matter of buyers wanting only Hope/Crosby, DeMille specials, whatever else was at least recognizable to 1960’s and after viewership. What we get today via streaming or Kino Blu-Ray dole is but fraction of what there voluminously is. One could watch Star-Spangled Rhythm on out-of-print DVD and draw near as many blanks as with Paramount on Parade, both march for the forgotten. No point to carp and ask why, ours but to do or don’t with what little is available and rely upon You Tube or obscure sources elsewhere.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I first saw Fu Manchu in the 1950s TV show. Then I read as many of the Sax Rohmer novels I could (which probably was all of them). Christopher Lee as Fu is great. The movies he starred in are not so great. Karloff is awesome. For years I ordered those Warner Oland titles from a variety of DVD sources. Quality left way too much to be desired. When Kino Lorber announced the rights mess had been untangled (God bless Kino Lorber) I grabbed them. WOW! The third, DAUGHTER OF THE DRAGON, was restored fir a TCM tribute to Anna May Wong. Real nice DVDs are floating around.

So which is the best and which is the best film? For me it is Karloff on both counts.

3:22 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Richard M. Roberts supplies info about UCLA's restoration of PARAMOUNT ON PARADE:


As far as PARAMOUNT ON PARADE goes, I can indeed claim to have seen the Yeti. This was restored by UCLA many moons ago in print that has not apparently seen the light of day since. Much of the Technicolor survives, including the original opening with the title spelled out by chorines. The Gary Cooper-et.all sequences is there, but sadly missing the soundtrack, though one would wonder if the Vitaphone project has turned them up since. There's another color sequence with Dennis King singing "Nichavo"(I think that was what it was called) that, though missing the track, synched up amazingly well to a commercial recording King made of it. Sadly, the "Sweeping the Clouds Away" finale with Maurice Chevalier, shot in Technicolor, still only survived in black and white. For some reason this restoration has pretty much been forgotten, but frankly, what you see in the old 75 minute MCA TV print is all the highlights, that Cooper sequence seemed pretty dull in silence, though it's obvious Gary actually sings in it.

In late life interviews, Nancy Carroll would honestly admit and express regret at her prina-donna behavior while at Paramount, one example she gave was that one morning,she called up Adolph Zukor and told him that she couldn't possibly come to work that day unless she was given a certain-color brand new automobile. The car arrived, but it was well remembered when contract renewal came up, as well as other behavior that ended her stay there. She apparently learned her lesson, and did return to the stage when her film career stopped in the late 30's, but apparently she had been a handful at her stardom's height.


4:12 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Another singer's cover of "Sweeping the Clouds Away" turned up on the soundtrack of "Fun on Mars", a shaggy early cartoon by Sally Cruikshank. It made an impression on me, and a few years later I found the sheet music in the San Jose Public Library. I made a copy (this was in the days of big coin-operated copiers that dispensed damp pages) and used it for my community theater auditions for decades, it being well within my musical and comedic range.

I sometimes wonder about Paramount short subjects -- also owned and buried by Universal? Long ago the old AMC channel ran some Popular Science shorts; since then not a trace aside from the one showing the Fleischer studio during the production of the Popeye Aladdin special.

5:38 PM  
Blogger RichardSchilling said...

Decades ago I went to the 92nd Street Y to a presentation by the now-forgotten legendary publicist and author John Springer. He represented everybody - from Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland etc. but the film star he said he was most captivated by was Nancy Carroll. He showed a film of her dancing around a large shoe.

So I read your terrific column this week, look up Paramount On Parade and scroll through and to my amazement, there is that musical number, with Nancy Carroll as lively and modern today as she was in 1930.

However unless Paramount or Criterion releases a "King Of Jazz" level restoration of Paramount On Parade (which is not very likely), I know that I no longer have the patience to sit through the edited, unrestored film. I guess I have been spoiled by all of these new KinoLorber/WarnerArchive blurays. As you proved with today's column, there's still some good stuff out there for rediscovery.

7:08 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

It would be Universal since they own the film that would do the restoration.

10:12 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Universal does not own the short subjects. I believe many are back at Paramount.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Now this is a coincidence. Just yesterday watched Clive Brooks' 1932 "Sherlock Holmes". He's the only "golden age" actor that comes close to Basil Rathbone as far as charisma goes. Brooks might be closer to the original character as well, even if it does take place in 1932. Sure would be nice to see a restoration, though. Oddly, it was a Fox Film -- did he originate the role at Paramount?

10:50 AM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

I admit to being very fond of the George Bancroft sketch, less so of the Leon Errol hospital sketch (which is odd, because I usually find Errol to be great). Chevalier really carries the show; his scenes are really entertaining. Speaking of Nancy Carroll, she does a great job of matching "Rubberlegs" Norman's steps, which is essentially the exact same dance he did in KING OF JAZZ!

7:25 PM  
Blogger antoniod said...

I wonder what happened to the 25 minutes or so of PARAMOUNT ON PARADE not in the TV print? It opens with obviously re-filmed title cards. Were these for a post-42ND STREET reissue? Had the material given MCA started to decompose? It might make an interesting story.

4:44 PM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

I suspect the color footage had mostly deteriorated when it came time for the MCA-TV release. My guess is, the opening titles were remade for tv, rather than theatrical re-release. It's probably just pure luck that the finale survived, either in black and white, or in color footage that was just printed in b/w for tv, much like Warner's did with THE SHOW OF SHOWS. I don't imagine any of these "All-Star Talkie Revues" had much of a theatrical shelf life beyond their original release (KUNG OF JAZZ being the one exception of which I'm aware).

6:56 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Great comments all!

Great essay, too, of course. My pathetic comment is simply "Oh, YT means YouTube."

10:32 AM  
Blogger murft said...


12:21 PM  
Blogger Ed Watz said...

Big Chevalier fan here. Let me rephrase that - big early '30s Paramount-Chevalier fan. I used to own a 16mm dupe print of PARAMOUNT ON PARADE, eventually trimming out the intros to missing technicolor scenes that went nowhere and the scenes that didn't appeal to me (Buddy Rogers' number, Harry Green annoying Skeets Gallagher, etc). It now ran a swift 50 minutes with Maurice Chevalier 's three sequences dominating. If MCA TV hadn't been so bent on including everything salvageable that could be printed in black & white they would've had an entertaining early talkie - instead of a frustrating one to watch.

Several hundred of the Paramount talkie shorts were sold outright to National Telefilm Associates in the 1950s and at some point in the early '70s Raymond Rohauer acquired ownership to many (but not all) of the shorts. Blackhawk Films had previously licensed from NTA a number of the Eddie Cantor, Burns & Allen, Robert Benchley, and Mack Sennett shorts among others (off the top of my head Movie Milestones and Hollywood Extra Girl come to mind) but Blackhawk had to turn all their negatives over to Rohauer.

Most of the rest of the NTA collection has never been offered in the 16mm collector's market except for random prints from defunct TV packages. And in his lifetime Rohauer did next to nothing with the films, except theatrically issuing W.C. Fields and Robert Benchley packages. Later on Kino released a few DVDs of the other shorts. Based on the 16mm prints I watched in Rohauer's apartment, the Kino releases seemed to derive entirely from that small stash he kept on hand.

When you hear about the "700 films" in The Rohauer Collection, know that at least half of them are these rarely seen little Paramount shorts.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Thanks to your post I re-watched great gobs of PARAMOUNT ON PARADE (okay, I'll cop to fast forwarding through great gobs too... some of this stuff is pretty rugged even by my lenient standards). Much fun though. And, yes, so many of those then-big names are pretty much asterisks to footnotes today. Worth noting many of the folks we do recognize actually achieved their peak of stardom elsewhere (William Powell, Jean Arthur, Warner Oland, Ruth Chatterton et al). As to my aforementioned lenient standards, I did see an awful lot of early talkie Paramounts as a teenager - a local UHF ran 'em commercial free weekday afternoons. May have been the only kid in the sophomore class who could brag he sat through all of THE KIBITZER.

6:05 PM  
Blogger antoniod said...

I remember in the late 60s/early 70s, despite the "nostalgia craze" partly centered around 30s musicals, such films were rarely ever shown on Boston TV(frustrating for a Child film buff like me). You saw a lot more gangster films. But Boston seemed more a sports market than a movie one.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

PARAMOUNT ON PARADE was the kind of movie I used to pester local TV stations to show. In this case, without success. Someone at the station once sent me a photocopied list of the Paramount pre-48 titles they had under contract. Hundreds of films. By the 1970s, though, they rarely seemed to show any of them unless they starred Gary Cooper or Bob Hope. Oh, or Henry Aldrich. Those Jimmy Lydon Henry ALdrich movies seemed to get a lot of play on Saturday mornings.

12:26 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Randy ... fascinating that someone at the station was willing to send you a list. Our Channel 8 in High Point used a large group of pre-49 Paramounts, and as many times as I wrote them, asking for more Fields, Mae West, etc., no one ever volunteered information as to what they contracted for. Wish they had, although that would have only led to more harassment on my part for titles I wanted to see. One thing you could rely on with Channel 8 ... they'd ALWAYS run "Holiday Inn" on Christmas morning ... trouble was our household being too occupied for anyone to watch. Slightly off Paramount topic, I used to envy those New York and Jersey viewers who got "March of the Wooden Soldiers" each holiday season. We NEVER had it down here.
I didn't get to see "Wooden Soldiers" until a 1972 theatrical matinee in Winston-Salem.

3:57 PM  

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