Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Second Fiddle (1939)

SECOND FIDDLE is a wonderful illustration of the phrase "the Silver Screen." Filmed in crisp, shimmering black and white, the film depicts what must have been a fantasy for many filmgoers of its era, the discovery of an unknown who becomes a great Hollywood star. It's a lovely piece of escapism from the Dream Factory.

Sonja Henie plays Trudy, a schoolteacher from Minnesota who is cast in a much-anticipated film based on a best-selling book, "Girl of the North." The story was no doubt inspired by the casting search for Scarlett O'Hara in the same year's GONE WITH THE WIND.

Jimmy (Tyrone Power) is a publicist who concocts a "romance" for Trudy with new film actor Roger Maxwell (Rudy Vallee) as a way to get Roger's name in print. Jimmy plays Cyrano, writing romantic notes to Trudy for Roger, and soon Jimmy finds himself actually falling in love with Trudy, while Trudy is falling for the man she believes is behind the romantic gestures, Roger.

It's a lightweight story, but executed with great polish by a terrific cast. Edna May Oliver has a scene-stealing role as Trudy's aunt. The cast also includes Mary Healy, Lyle Talbot, Alan Dinehart, and the voice of the great character actor Charles Lane as the studio chief, heard only over an intercom. SECOND FIDDLE was one of 20 films Lane appeared in which were released in 1939.

The movie is also known as IRVING BERLIN'S SECOND FIDDLE. Berlin's score is pleasant, though fairly undistinguished compared to his many standards. The film's best song, "I Poured My Heart Into a Song," was nominated for the Oscar. Berlin turns his classic Astaire-Rogers song "Cheek to Cheek" inside out in this film with a tune called "Dancing Back to Back" which is a bit odd, though fun.

Henie's skating numbers are beautiful; my favorite was her solo set to an instrumental version of "I Poured My Heart Into a Song." She's joined in one number by Stewart Reburn, who was a Canadian skating champion.

SECOND FIDDLE was directed by Sidney Lanfield. It runs 85 minutes.

SECOND FIDDLE is available on VHS.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I liked SECOND FIDDLE -- such fun, particularly the scene where Ty and Edna May Oliver compete in art of glass-shattering, scouring the house for more objects (light bulbs!) to throw out into the California wilds. I'll have to put the movie on order from my library again. :)


11:46 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I liked that scene too! :) I was trying to figure out if they were looking out towards the Hollywood sign from the balcony.

Best wishes,

12:33 AM  

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