Friday, May 7, 2010

Hurray for Hollywood

I was inspired to watch Hollywood Hotel after seeing The Benny Goodman Story - it includes actual Benny Goodman footage, not just a Steve Allen imitation. It turned out to be a great choice, but a little strange.

It stars Dick Powell, a St. Louis sax player who gets a Hollywood movie contract by winning a contest. One of his first gigs is to escort diva-esque movie star Lola Lane to the opening of her latest picture. But he doesn't know that she has taken off in a huff, and is being doubled by a down-to-earth look-alike. Two interesting points:
  • The old doppelganger plot, and not the last one
  • The look-alikes are not played by the same actress, but her sister, Lola and Rosemary Lane
The rest of the story is full of mixed up identities, star-crossed lovers, Hollywood cynicism (so young, so cynical) and music.

I guess I should mention the music. There are two types:
  • Benny Goodman's Orchestra and Quartet - mainly 2 songs, including a short "Sing, Sing, Sing" at the end, which are great
  • Pretty much every other number, which are all pretty weak. Even the iconic "Hurray for Hollywood", introduced in this movie, doesn't really make it
Fortunately, the first half of the movie is blessedly light on songs - just 3 or 4. Instead, we get a ton of character actors in classic roles:
  • Alan Mowbray as a ham actor - Dick Powell dubs his voice in the second doppelganger plot
  • Ted Healy as Powell's manager - most famous for giving the Three Stooges their first gig
  • Hugh Herbert, the Woo-Woo guy, as Lane's dad. His act is pretty broad - forgetting his name, failing to recognize his own daughter, and ending every sentence with "Woo woo." I think it's a riot
  • Edgar Kennedy, the slow burn artist, plays the manager of a drive-in burger joint
  • Louella Parsons plays herself, mostly as a sweetheart, but with a few sharp comments
We also get insanely hammy actors and actresses, a gay dress designer, multiple flacks and sharpies, several black maids and a couple of porters, radio announcers and musicians playing themselves, and just about everything you'd want out of a movie about movies from the 1930s.

Busby Berkley directs, without his strange dance numbers. But he keeps the camera dancing, with long takes and sweeping crane shots. It looks great, while not coming across as a "prestige" picture.

So, great old movie, some Benny Goodman, mostly lousy songs. One other issue I have to mention, though. When you watch old movies, you have to get used to a certain amount of casual racism. I don't think this movie is worse than most. There's a blackface gag, the above mentioned maids and porters, that's about it. And Goodman does play with his integrated quartet, including Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton. But somehow, that makes it worse - I expected more from a movie with Goodman in it.

It didn't spoil the movie for me. It was a "teachable moment".

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