Monday, February 22, 2010

Tonight's Movie: On the Avenue (1937)

An excellent Irving Berlin score meets screwball comedy in the very enjoyable ON THE AVENUE, starring Dick Powell, Madeleine Carroll, and Alice Faye.

Powell plays Gary Blake, a Broadway tunesmith and singer whose new hit show includes a sketch making fun of the richest girl in America, Mimi Carraway (Carroll). Mimi initially tells Gary off, but after getting to know each other Gary and Mimi fall in love. Gary tries to rewrite the sketch so that it no longer insults Mimi, but his revision is sabotaged by his jealous costar Mona (Alice Faye), which throws a wrench into Gary and Mimi's romance.

There isn't much more to the plot, but it's got pleasant performers, some wonderful music, and typical screwball hijinks about the crazy rich. Carroll is gorgeous, Powell and Faye are in excellent voice, and the songs are a treat.

The great Berlin standard "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" was introduced by Powell and Faye in this film. It was fun to discover the origins of a favorite song.

The score also includes "The Girl on the Police Gazette," the very hummable "Slumming on Park Avenue," and "You're Laughing at Me." The latter song is perhaps my favorite scene in the film: Powell and Carroll walk through Central Park in evening dress as he sings the song to her and they fall in love. This scene positively glows with movie magic and is a great example of the shimmering black and white beauty of the "silver screen." The beautiful cinematography is by Lucien Andriot.

This film was released the same year Faye played the lead opposite Tyrone Power and Don Ameche in IN OLD CHICAGO. The next year the trio reunited for the hit Berlin musical ALEXANDER'S RAGTIME BAND, and Faye's career really took off. She appeared in 13 more films before her retirement in 1945, including ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE (1939), LITTLE OLD NEW YORK (1940), LILLIAN RUSSELL (1940), WEEK-END IN HAVANA (1941), THAT NIGHT IN RIO (1941), HELLO FRISCO, HELLO (1943), THE GANG'S ALL HERE (1943), and FALLEN ANGEL (1945), her last film before retirement. I rewatched the excellent FALLEN ANGEL a few days ago; it's a shame that she was unhappy with that film, to the extent she left movie making. She returned to films for the remake of STATE FAIR in 1962.

The one sour note in ON THE AVENUE was the presence of the Ritz Brothers. I simply don't "get" their style of buffoonish, cross-eyed humor and could easily have done without them.

The supporting cast includes George Barbier, Alan Mowbray, Cora Witherspoon, Walter Catlett, Joan Davis, Billy Gilbert, Sig Ruman, E.E. Clive, Douglas Fowley, Stepin Fetchit, and Bess Flowers.

Look closely and Lynn Bari can be spotted as one of the chorus girls. Another of the chorus girls is Marjorie Weaver, who just a couple years later played Mary Todd Lincoln in John Ford's YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939).

This film was directed by Roy Del Ruth. It runs 89 minutes.

ON THE AVENUE is available in an excellent DVD print as a single-title release or as part of the Alice Faye Collection, Volume 1. Extras include a commentary track by musical historian Miles Kreuger. Glenn Erickson reviewed the set at DVD Savant and also liked ON THE AVENUE very much.

ON THE AVENUE has also had a VHS release.


Blogger Sally said...

Great post! You've sold me - I've added the film to my Netflix queue. Can't wait!

7:47 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you'll enjoy it too, Sally -- let us know what you think when you get the chance to see it!

Best wishes,

10:40 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The reason Faye was unhappy with the film was that Darryl Zanuck cut a lot of her acting out of the film, after telling her it was "her" movie. Faye was so irate that her part was cut (she felt it was some of her best work) to bolster the up-and-coming Linda Darnell that she quit the studio with a profane comment to Zanuck that she would never reveal. Faye was only 29! Poor Linda Darnell was killed at the age of 41 in a house fire. Hilariously, Hugh Hefner used to call up Alice Faye later in her life since he was a fan and used to watch her movies at night. Faye has done some incredibly good work as a comedienne and singer and I think she was hoping that her dramatic chops would be discovered and appreciated in this movie.

4:20 PM  

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