Sat 29 Jan 2011
SHOW GIRL IN HOLLYWOOD. First National Pictures, 1930. Alice White, Jack Mulhall, Blanche Sweet, Ford Sterling, John Miljan, Virginia Sale, Lee Shumway, Spec O’Donnell. Based on John Patrick McEvoy’s novel Broadway Girl. Cinematographer: Sol Polito. Director: Mervyn LeRoy. Shown at Cinefest 28, Syracuse NY, March 2008.
Dixie Dugan (Alice White), whose first Broadway show, directed by her boyfriend Jimmy Doyle (Jack Mulhall) has just opened and closed, is given a letter by movie director Frank Buelow (John Miljan) instructing studio producer Sam Otis (Ford Sterling) to test her for a contract.
However, when she arrives in Hollywood, she finds she’s only one of a number of Buelow’s protegees. Discouraged, she’s ready to go back to New York when Jimmy Doyle’s musical is picked up by the studio. Dixie is hired as the lead, and she seems destined for stardom.
White is not much of a dancer or a singer, the musical numbers are undistinguished, and the two-strip technicolor negatives of the closing musical number have not survived.
However, the unoriginal plot is enhanced by the sometimes broad but still sharply etched performances of Hollywood types, by the behind-the-scenes filming of a major musical number, and by Blanche Sweet’s moving portrayal of Donna Harris, a silent film great who’s not made the transition successfully to sound films, and who serves as a mentor to Dixie.
There are pre-echoes of A Star is Born, and if it’s a fairly routine musical, it’s more incisive and interesting as a portrait of the instability of careers in the early days of sound films, in the wake of the cataclysm that destroyed the silent film.
As a kind of ironic commentary on this event, there’s a small role played by Spec O’Donnell, a talented comic actor who shone briefly in a series of late silent comedies with Max Davidson (a Cinefest favorite), with both of their careers largely ending with the demise of the silent film.