A very nice-sized crowd came out to the Billy Wilder Theater Monday evening for another very enjoyable night at the UCLA Festival of Preservation.
The double bill consisted of Bing Crosby's first starring lead in a feature film, THE BIG BROADCAST (1932), followed by a Harold Lloyd "talkie," THE MILKY WAY (1936).
TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT). While some of the very '20s dancing and behavior of singer Estelle Brody hasn't aged well, what a treat to see a very young Benny Goodman, not to mention Jack Teagarden. (Brody and some of the band are seen at the right.) Some of the restored short still has significant flaws, which makes the viewer realize just how close this slice of musical history might have come to being lost forever. It was a nice way to begin the evening.
Meanwhile things aren't running smoothly at Bing's radio station, either. His show's sponsor (George Barbier) wants him fired because of his unreliable appearances, and station head George (George Burns) is barely keeping the lights on. George also attempts to keep his sanity while dealing with zany receptionist Gracie (Gracie Allen).
The plot of this 80-minute movie is fairly loose, but the film has some unexpectedly creative visual bits of comedy as well as fantastic music. The craziness which pops onscreen every now and then reminded me a bit of the much later JOHNNY DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (1944). I wouldn't want to try watching the zany scene where Bing and Leslie attempt to commit suicide without being stone cold sober, as it was bizarre enough seeing it with all my wits about me.
DVD sets with more of his '30s films which I picked up on sale and need to start delving into. Bing was still making films for Paramount over two decades later, including WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954).
The most thrilling aspect of the movie was seeing and hearing some truly great music in such pristine condition, starting with Bing's own "Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)." I couldn't help marveling over the gorgeous sequences with the Mills Brothers, the Boswell Sisters, and Cab Calloway. The UCLA audience was appreciative, and some of the musical sequences received enthused audience applause.
Stuart Erwin is someone who's grown on me, while the leading ladies were fine but not particular standouts. I enjoyed watching Burns and Allen interact, especially as they were restricted to a couple of scenes together so their routines didn't wear out their welcome. I liked that his warm appreciation for her came over in a very nice way, when he could have been nastily exasperated. They would go on to appear in two of the three additional BIG BROADCAST films released by Paramount in the '30s.
THE BIG BROADCAST was directed by Frank Tuttle, whose many Paramount films included Alan Ladd's star-making THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942) a decade later.
All in all, THE BIG BROADCAST was a very different and enjoyable film which was well worth making the drive to L.A. to see.
A review of THE MILKY WAY will be coming soon! (Update: Here it is!)