“The Hollywood Revue of 1929” on TCM
The Hollywood Revue of 1929 is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Monday, August 4th at 6:00am EST
A while back I went to a screening of Ruben Mamoulian’s Applause starring Helen Morgan. The host began his introduction with something along the lines of “there were a lot of wrecks in 1929 and most of them were on the screen.” I think this perfectly sums up the pains Tinsel Town was experiencing as it launched into its first full blown year of talking pictures. While a few gems managed to make their way to audiences (Applause being one of them), many features of 1929 tended to be stiff and stagey, and generally difficult to sit through. The Hollywood Revue of 1929 is an interesting film because it’s really hard to watch and yet features so many great talents of the day that as a classic movie fan, it almost seems like necessary viewing.
On paper, the Hollywood Revue of 1929 sounds kind of great. Most of MGM’s biggest stars (sans Garbo) were dragged out to perform tricks on the pseudo vaudeville stage where the film takes place. Jack Benny plays emcee, Joan Crawford tap dances with flailing arms, Norma Shearer and John Gilbert perform Shakespeare in two-color Technicolor, comedy is dished out by Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton, Marie Dressler, Polly Moran, etc etc etc. It all culminates in a splashy color finale with everyone belting out “Singing in the Rain” while wearing yellow slickers.
In reality, the film suffers from that poor early-talkie sound quality and very static camera work, which is typical of so many movies from 1929. Also, the material itself tends to be really dated and kind of corny. Despite its shortcomings, I still recommend Hollywood Revue for early film fans, though it is more tolerable to watch in small parts instead of all at once.
For Ann Dvorak fans, it’s not to be missed. The chorus is featured prominently in a lot of the musical numbers and a teen-age Ann is very easy to spot, usually on the left and always very enthusiastic. She even gets to speak two words and slaps Jack Benny! I especially love the “Lon Chaney Will Get You if You Don’t Watch Out,” number, which does not star the actor himself, but has actors dressed up like Chaney monsters terrorizing Ann and other chorus girls.
When the film was released, MGM pulled out all the stops in promoting it including a gala premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in late June of 1929. A couple of days before opening night, the studio promoted the film by setting up a “living billboard” on Wilshire Boulevard. This advertisement spelled out HOLLYWOOD REVUE is giant letters with a chorus girl perched upon each one. Photos of the “live ad” show Ann sitting atop one of the letters and looking extremely bored. This bizarre publicity stunt would be repeated on a larger scale in Times Square when the Hollywood Revue of 1929 had its New York premiere.