Friday, June 28, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Broadway Gondolier (1935)

BROADWAY GONDOLIER is a very enjoyable Warner Bros. musical comedy starring Dick Powell as a singing cab driver.

Powell plays Dick Purcell, a cabbie who hopes to croon on the radio. He loses his initial chance with UBC radio when he can't go through with the indignity of making animal sounds on a children's show, but when he goes to visit his music professor (Adolphe Menjou) in Italy, he's discovered by UBC radio sponsor Mrs. Flagenheim (Louise Fazenda). She thinks Dick's an Italian gondolier, and UBC markets him that way.

Radio serial star Cliff Stanley (William Gargan), who is jealous of Dick's romance with station secretary Alice Hughes (Joan Blondell), threatens to expose Dick as a fraud unless Dick will stop seeing Alice.

This is an amusing trifle with some very funny moments, such as Blondell's initial scene where she turns Dick away from the station in a fast-talking deadpan monotone. Her reactions as she first listens to him sing are delightful, as she's alternately swept away by his voice and trying to play it cool when he's looking at her. Powell, of course, moves easily from comedy to romance to some really lovely singing. It's a terrific part, and he makes the most of it, onscreen for the majority of the film.

This was one of many films teaming Powell and Blondell, and they have great chemistry; in fact, they married the following year, a marriage which last eight years. At the time BROADWAY GONDOLIER was made, however, Blondell was married to the film's cinematographer, George Barnes.

The movie makes a great showcase for some very good songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin. "The Rose in Her Hair" is a bit of silver screen magic when Dick sings it while cruising the canals of Venice; I had a big smile on my face as the sequence escalated and crowds joined in the singing. I was also thrilled to see Powell singing "Lulu's Back in Town" with the Mills Brothers, a wonderful musical moment. Other songs include "Lonely Gondolier" and "Outside of You."

My only real complaint about BROADWAY GONDOLIER is that Adolphe Menjou's Italian-accented routine as Powell's professor wears fairly thin. Menjou was good in a lot of movies, but this part as the not-with-the-times old musician simply isn't interesting; the character slows down the action whenever he comes on screen.

The supporting cast is a treasure trove of character actors, including Grant Mitchell as the harried exec running the radio station, while Hobart Cavanaugh and George Barbier play inebriated theater critics. Joe Sawyer, then billed as Joseph Sauers, plays a cabbie, and the inevitable George Chandler shows up in two scenes as a newspaper reporter. Mary Treen has a funny bit as an irate mother complaining to the radio station. Ted Fio Rito and Judy Canova are among the performers at the radio station.

This film was directed by Lloyd Bacon. It runs 99 minutes.

BROADWAY GONDOLIER has not had a DVD or VHS release. It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is at the TCM website.

BROADWAY GONDOLIER is a very enjoyable sample of "typical" mid '30s Warner Bros. moviemaking clicking along on all cylinders. Good stuff.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How have I not seen - or even heard of - this movie?

8:01 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

If you like Powell and Blondell, you'll enjoy this one, Will. :) I'm surprised it's not yet out from the Warner Archive -- I've gotta think it's coming at some point!

Best wishes,

8:11 PM  
Blogger Frederick said...

This is one of my favorites. I have most of the sheet music by Harry Warren. I am hoping it will come out on dvd.

2:31 AM  

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