Sat 29 Sep 2012
SWING HOSTESS. PRC, 1944. Martha Tilton, Iris Adrian, Charles Collins, Cliff Nazarro, Harry Holman, Betty Brodel, Philip Van Zandt, Earle Bruce. Music and lyrics by Jay Livingston, Ray Evans and Lewis Bellin. Director: Sam Newfield.
There are maybe three reasons to watch this low-budget wartime musical, and the first, by a wide margin, is Martha Tilton, perhaps best known as a longtime singer for the Benny Goodman band. In Swing Hostess she plays an aspiring singer named Judy Alvin who can’t seem to catch a break in show business, what with a series of never-ending mixups between who sang what song on which recording disk, missed phone calls and messages, and a competitor (Betty Brodel, sister of Joan Leslie) who can’t sing but whom fortune seems to smile upon a lot more often.
Miss Tilton made only a handful of movies, and was one of the stars in even fewer, but she has a pleasant and relaxed onscreen presence that should have opened the door for making many more. She sings six songs in Swing Hostess, all charmingly and in good cheer. Back in the 1940s you’d have gotten your money’s worth from this film from the music alone. (If you’re of a certain age, today as well, for that matter.)
Another interesting aspect of Swing Hostess is that a sizable portion of it takes place at Judy Alvin’s day job, as she waits for bandleader Benny Jackson (Charles Collins) to notice her. Instead of self-contained juke boxes, back in 1944 they apparently consisted of units with phone lines to a central location where the operators would locate the 78 on a rack and play it back to the person on the other end whose nickel or dime it was. I’ve not been able to find anything online about this kind of operation, if it really existed, so if anyone knows more, tell me about it.
The plot is really rather dopey and not worth saying anything more about, but some of the supporting cast is worth a mention. I’ve probably heard comedian Cliff Nazarro’s double talk ability before, but if so, I’d forgotten about it. All I can say is amazing. Earle Bruce, whose nice guy character seemed to be on a direct path to Judy’s heart, is dumped in the middle of the movie and sent off to the army instead. This gives bandleader Benny Jackson a clear shot, which he takes full advantage of, but since this was the only movie that Bruce ever made, even at this late date I’m going to cry foul.