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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

'Going Hollywood:' Video Lured the Radio Star

Going Hollywood
An intense long-time love of a 1941film hinders objectivity regarding the 1933 Bing Crosby/Marion Davies musical comedy "Going Hollywood," which Warner Archives recently released on DVD.

Orson Welles' masterpiece "Citizen Kane," which Warner has released as an awesome three-disc Blu-ray set (with the caveats both that the excellently restored "Kane" was not filmed in hi-def in the first place and that only "Kane" itself is provided in Blu-ray), depicts a character clearly based on Davies as a no-talent hack.

As can be said regarding Welles' commentary on the titular character based on newspaper tycoon (and Davies benefactor/lover) William Randolph Hearst, Davies has more talent that Welles gives her credit for. At the same time, she lacks the "it" that her contemporaries, such as Bette Davis and Myrna Loy, possess. 

Hollywood opens with Davies' character Sylvia Bruce living a very unhappy and repressed life as a French teacher at Miss. Briarcroft's School for Girls. Like Kevin Bacon's Ren McCormack in "Footloose," Bruce's desire to dance and be free is directly at odds with the bans on music and freedom of movement in the environment where she is forced to live. This is one girl's school in which the students lack the option of dating the boys they used to hate.

In Bruce's case, Miss Briarcroft takes her in out of pity after Bruce's father loses all his money. It is presumed, but not stated, that the Great Depression causes that reversal of fortune.

Bruce hearing crooner Bill Williams, played by crooner Bing Crosby, sing on the radio inspires her to spontaneously rebel and run off to meet him. Meanwhile across town, Williams is preparing (ala Ricky Ricardo in "I Love Lucy" 20 years later) to go to Hollywood to star in a musical film.

One of the best musical numbers and overall scenes in "Hollywood" has Williams simultaneously recording a song and completing his morning routine during the afternoon just before boarding his train to California.

A scene that soon follows in which Crosby and company sing the very catchy titular song in an elaborate song-and-dance number staged at the train station is "Hollywood's" best musical number.

The rest of the roughly ten musical numbers are also quite good; a hilarious segment involves using the "magic of radio" to have some of the most charming actors ever wonderfully mimic Kate Smith and other stars of the day.

Bruce arrives in the midst of all the activity at Williams' home and is inspired to board the train and meet him. Their initial encounter triggers an impoverished Bruce engaging in a series of Lucy Ricardo style harebrained schemes to initially stay on the train all the way to Hollywood and then get a role in Williams' film. Archivists will need to buy the DVD to see if Bruce also gets the boy or merely wanes (pun intended).

Bruce resorting to appearing in black face and Williams later jokingly referring to her as Aunt Jemima regarding that incident is very understandable for the era but is still unfortunate. The best scheme involves Bruce using her knowledge of French to obtain a very short tenure as the maid of French actress Lili Yvonne, played by Fifi D'Orsay.

Canadian D'Orsay steals the show portraying every negative stereotype of French people that ugly Americans possess. D'Orsay perfectly plays D'Orsay as funny the whole time that she is being incredibly temperamental, rude, arrogant, and overall nasty.

The bottom line regarding "Hollywood" is that it includes a great performance by Crosby near the start of his career, provides a chance for "Kane" fans and other classic movie buffs to judge the talent of  Hearst's mistress for themselves, and is simply a fun way to spend roughly 90 minutes.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Hollywood" or "Kane" is welcome to email me. You are also welcome to follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.