THE HOLLYWOOD REVUE OF 1929 (1929)
Article 4223 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Charles Reisner
Featuring Conrad Nagel, Jack Benny, John Gilbert
What it is: Musical and comedy revue
Jack Benny and Conrad Nagel host an assortment of musical numbers and comic bits.
As an artifact of the early sound era, this is worth catching. There’s a lot of novelty value in seeing scenes such as Joan Crawford singing and dancing, Laurel and Hardy interacting with Jack Benny, John Gilbert and Norma Shearer performing “Romeo and Juliet” under the direction of Lionel Barrymore, etc. However, it really does require that bit of patience that is always necessary for an early talkie, and if you’re not particularly partial to the music of the era, this two-hour movie can prove a bit of a slog. The best musical numbers are the ones that use strong visuals; the opening number plays around with reverse photography to good effect, and the big production number of “Singin’ in the Rain” (with rain falling all about) is pretty interesting. The comedians aren’t really at their best here, but as a respite from the music, they’re more than welcome; I like Laurel and Hardy even when they aren’t at their best, and watching Buster Keaton as a dancing princess trying to convince us that a string of sausages is a deadly snake is a vision to behold. Given the revue nature of the movie, it’s probably no surprise that the movie wanders into fantasy occasionally; we have at least three scenes involving performers looking like they’ve been reduced to Lilliputian size. Still, the main appeal to fans of the fantastic is the musical number, “Lon Chaney Will Get You if You Don’t Watch Out”, which involves a number of dancers coming out in monstrous makeup; this would be the scariest scene if the movie didn’t also contain a sequence in which Marie Dressler appears as a four-year-old girl (and dressed accordingly).
At the conclusion of Gus Edwards’ rendition of the Lon Chaney song a monster emerges from behind the curtain to frighten Jack Benny by losing his arm (he wasn’t the real Chaney, who does not appear).