Tuesday, April 21, 2015


For a few years in the 1930s, Paramount produced a series of Big Broadcast films, intended to introduce radio stars to movie audiences. Like the 1938 version I've reviewed previously, this is basically a revue of musical, comedy and novelty acts tied together by a featherweight romantic comedy plot. Jack Benny, boss at National Network Radio, is creating a new show for eccentric husband-and-wife sponsors George Burns and Gracie Allen, who manufacture golf balls. Allen wants the vaguely exotic singer Frank Forest to be her star, but when Benny hears a suburban lady DJ (Shirley Ross) make fun of Forest's singing style on her late night show, he hires her away for the express purpose of being silenced. But agent Ray Milland falls for Ross and soon a fake romance is whipped up between Ross and Forest. How all this plays out is rather uninteresting and, unfortunately, takes up most of the last half of the movie. But the first half, with its almost surreal tone—largely provided by Gracie Allen's humor—and meandering non-narrative, is more interesting. The parade of acts include Bob Burns as a hillbilly comic, Benny Goodman with drummer Gene Krupa, Martha Raye (whose energetic number "Vote for Mr. Rhythm" is a highlight), and, adding to the odd tone of the film, Leopold Stokowski conducting Bach's Fugue in G Minor. The way Stokowski's sequence is shot—lots of shadows and big gestures—seems to have inspired the makers of FANTASIA a few years later. Much of the directing style of Mitchell Leisen, at least during the first half, feels very modern, but by the 80 minute point, the film mostly gives way to its tedious plot and a far more standard visual style. Pictured are George Burns, Martha Raye and Gracie Allen. [TCM]

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