Saturday, May 22, 2010

CROONER (1932)

David Manners is the leader of a competent but unexciting dance band who is told that his group doesn't have the "novelty" it takes to break through to big success. One night at the Golden Slipper Café, Manners, who normally plays sax, has to take over singing duties; when his quiet voice can barely be heard above the band, a drunken patron (Guy Kibbee) jokingly hands him a megaphone. When Manners sings through it, the men in the club can't stand him but the women go crazy, and a star is born. Ann Dvorak, Manners' girlfriend, brings her boss, press agent Ken Murray, to the club one night and he agrees to manage the band, getting them a new contract at the Golden Slipper for a lot more money. However, after a short period of success, Manners becomes egotistical and obnoxious; he spends the night with socialite Claire Dodd on her boat, irritating Dvorak, and later in a drunken huff, attacks a heckler who turns out to be a crippled war veteran. Manners hits bottom, leaves the band, and winds up a sax player in a dive club. He soon hears that Dvorak is going to marry Murray; has he learned enough of a lesson to win her back? (If you don't know the answer to that question, you haven't seen enough movies.)

The rise-and-fall story is an old one, but the "crooner" aspect is a relative novelty. A crooner sang popular romantic ballads in a soft, mannered fashion. Bing Crosby was one, and it could be argued that Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Bublé have carried on the tradition, but the megaphone bit is based directly on Rudy Vallée (though Vallée's career, as a singer and an actor, lasted for almost fifty years). I usually like Manners, but he didn’t have a lot of "oomph" and was better in more passive roles; here, he never evinces the energy and drive that his character is clearly supposed to have. Dvorak is also relatively colorless, leaving Murray and Dodd as the most interesting folks on screen. Also noticeable are Hattie McDaniel as a washroom attendant, Miki Morita as a valet Manners acquires during his rise, and J. Carroll Naish as the club owner. [TCM]

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