Sunday, November 23, 2008

An Invitation to a Hollywood Party (1934)

Tomorrow morning (11/24/08) at 8AM ET, TCM will be broadcasting a little number called Hollywood Party (1934) parodying tinseltown's favorite topic (itself) with guests Laurel & Hardy, Jimmy Durante, (singing Inka, Dinka, Doo), Charley Butterworth, Maureen O'Sullivan, Lupe Velez, The Three Stooges and even Mickey Mouse, introducing a Disney produced technicolor cartoon described as "The Hot Chocolate Soldiers", which features some allegedly disturbing um, adult, moments contributed by some aggressive Gingerbread Men whose message isn't terribly subliminal. I guess this squeaked by just before the Production Code got some teeth in it.

I don't know if it's any good, but doesn't that lineup intrigue you? Here's a link to the trailer for what looks like some cheerful vulgarity.

Mr. Durante (and friend, possibly Lupe?) getting acquainted during the filming. Why can't I ever get invited to
parties like this?

After seeing this anarchic film, I was not surprised to find that Jimmy Durante as Schnarzan (aka Tarzan), a Hollywood star whose crown was slipping thanks to some flea-bitten lions, was the funniest person in the movie, by default if not design. Though the mere sight of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy is always welcome, their presence, and that of The Three Stooges (with Ted Healey) was superfluous and even dull, which are not qualities I usually associate with these masterful and very different clowns. On hand, showing a great deal of firm pre-code skin, (but little sex appeal, at least to me)
was the loud and aggressive Lupe Velez, an actress
whose charm and logic continues to elude me. Polly Moran,
an old-time Vaudeville trouper whose career enjoyed a renaissance as long as her partner in comedy,
the sublime Marie Dressler lived, was making one of her
periodic efforts to make it as a solo act in this movie, apppearing as the high-stepping nouveau riche wife of oil millionaire Charles Butterworth, (a usually likable actor who is only occasionally amusing here).In terms of an actual story in a script that seems to have been made up of shreds of several Marx Brothers' movies, Moran and Butterworth, with their dull daughter (June Clyde) in tow, crash Durante's party, flirting with George Givot as an ersatz nobleman, Durante and Velez. The action is interspersed with bizarre yet inept imitations of Busby Berkeley style
production numbers, with some loopy yet imaginative camera work probably from James Wong Howe, uncomfortable looking costumes on scantily clad telephone operators (don't ask) led by
Frances Williams in a chorus of the title song.
There is one good, rather visually restful number, a duet between Moran and Durante singing Gus Kahn and
Walter Donaldson's "I've Had My Moments".
The funniest song visually is
Durante singing "Reincarnation," dreaming he was a butterfly, Adam, and Paul Revere's horse.

The non-human moments of the movie are the best, with a brash
Mickey Mouse and the Chocolate soldiers providing more visual interest and mild
entertainment than all the flesh and blood players combined.
It's strange to realize that a desperate Walt Disney
had once approached MGM with a chance to buy his
creation. According to Neal Gabler's Walt Disney: The Triumph
of the American Imagination
, MGM directors George Hill
and particularly Victor Fleming were very enthusiastic
about the mouse in the late '20s, declaring to a threadbare
Walt
at a screening, "Man, you've got it! Damnedest best cartoon I've ever seen!"
However, Metro mogul Louis B. Mayer, upon seeing one of the Silly Symphony
cartoons "groused that men and women dance together, and boys and girls dance together,
flowers do not dance togther." Cajoled into at least giving a Mickey Mouse
cartoon a chance to beguile him, an outraged Mayer ordered the film to stop, declaring
that "pregnant women go to see MGM films and that women are terrified of mice,
especially a mouse ten feet tall on the motion picture screen."

Disney found other backers, and managed to keep his independence. Though I
haven't been able to find much about the negotiations between Disney
and MGM around 1934 for the insertion of a color cartoon introduced by an insolent Mickey in
this movie, I suspect that it may have been a roll of the dice that Disney decided to take
to promote and further bankroll his innovative use of technicolor animation, which is delightful,
if repetitively used to depict the Candy land conflict. And heaven knows, MGM needed to add
something to this magilla to make it palatable to theater owners in the depths of the Depression.

Given the fact that MGM allowed an incompetent producer Harry Rapf to oversee this planned
all-star extravaganza (with Gable, Harlow, and Crawford reportedly scheduled to appear, among others),
and then allegedly had the directorial hands of Roy Rowland, Richard Boleslawski, Allan Dwan,
Edmund Goulding, Russell Mack, Charles Reisner, George Stevens
, and Sam Wood
all working on this movie at one time or another, along with a number of screenwriters, it
remains a large, unholy mess, brightened occasionally by Durante's irresistible humor and
some potentially good music from Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Arthur Freed and
Howard Dietz
thrown away in the film. There was no "Inka Dinka Doo" sung by Jimmy Durante
in the version I saw either, though spending a few moments with this actor can be a pleasure,
even though the joy is mixed.

This might be an ideal film to have playing in the background of a real
holiday party since it is not necessarily more enjoyable if you are paying close
attention to the movie.

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