Glorifying the American Girl

Glorifying the American Girl turns 90 years old this year, though the anniversary isn’t until December. We re-watched it last night and I can’t wait a whole year to post something here about it, so we do it today.

My wife blogged about this movie when we were first dating; you can read her appreciation here before (hopefully) returning. I’m going to hit it more from the vaudeville angle. This 1929 film is one of the first cinematic musicals, and is essentially a clever excuse to present the Ziegfeld Follies onscreen. Actual Follies girl Mary Eaton (who also starred with the Marx Brothers in The Cocoanuts that year) is the lead, a small town gal who’s just gotta make it in show business, and has been practicing her dance moves in anticipation of her big break. It arrives in the form of a passing vaudevillian (Dan Healy) an opportunistic creep who’s booked to play the town picnic. This scene gives us cool vaudeville business in the form of a song and dance act featuring Healy and musical comedy actress Kaye Renard, as well as an unidentified acrobatic act. Healy, incidentally, was the husband of Helen Kane.

Anyway, Eaton skips town with the dude, ditching her boring boyfriend (Edward Crandall) with whom she works in the sheet music section of a department store. But that’s okay, he winds up with fellow drudge Gloria Shea, whom he feels sorry for after she is run over by a car. Sarah Edwards plays Eaton’s nagging mother, a role not unlike the one she played in It’s a Wonderful Life 18 years later. The plot, such as it is, was partially penned by J.P. McEvoy, an important collaborator of W.C. Fields.

The film is shot in New York, which is a boon for us, both in terms of the THRILLING location shooting on busy NYC streets of 1929, as well as the access to Broadway talent. The whole third act is just a show, really. First, there is documentary footage of Jazz Age celebrities entering the theatre, including Ziegfeld himself with wife, Billie Burke, as well as Noah Beery, Texas Guinan, Mayor Jimmy Walker, Irving Berlin, Adolph Zukor, Otto Kahn, Charles Dillingham, and Ring Lardner. It’s a cool moment: Dillingham, Kahn, Guinan and Ziegfeld would all soon be dead, and Walker would soon be removed from office. Next, we go to the big show, featuring numbers with the full Follies chorus, a song by Helen Morgan, a specialty number Desha Delteil, and a tedious if historical comedy sketch featuring Eddie Cantor (with whom Eaton had appeared in Kid Boots) as well as Louis Sorin from Animal Crackers, and Lou Hearn, who’d earlier teamed with Bonita. This sketch was also made into the 1930 comedy short Insurance, which is scarcely any funnier.

When originally released, the “show” part was in Two-Strip Technicolor. For many years the film was only available in an all black-and-white version, but in recent years the original footage was recovered and a restored version exists. Needless to say, that color footage is breathtaking. And it’s Pre-Code, there’s lots of nudity and near nudity, not just on the part of 75 gorgeous chorus girls, but also Johnny Weismuller!

Well worth checking out, it’s a movie I intend to watch and rewatch many a time!

To learn about the history of vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous