Dick Powell is just fine, the movie isn't, and "Hooray for Hollywood" is great
Aug 5, 2011
It may be that Hollywood has made a musical with a more energetic, dynamic opening than Hollywood Hotel, but I haven't come across it. Right off the bat there's Benny Goodman and his orchestra, all dressed in white suits, each standing in a white convertible, all being driven down a highway led by motorcycle cops to the St. Louis airport, and all playing loud and fast one of Richard Whiting's and Johnny Mercer's greatest songs. They're sending off to Hollywood the orchestra's saxophonist, Ronnie Bowers (Dick Powell), who has just won a ten-week contract in Tinsel Town. Without skipping a beat, Johnnie Davis, a mug-faced trumpet player, starts singing the lyrics, then Frances Langford picks up a chorus or two.
Hooray for Hollywood! That screwy, ballyhooey Hollywood! Where any office boy or young mechanic Can be a panic with just a good-looking pan! And any barmaid can be a star maid If she dances with or without a fan!
Hooray for Hollywood! Where you're terrific if you're even good! Where anyone at all from Shirley Temple To Aimee Semple is equally understood! Come on and try your luck, you could be Donald Duck! Hooray for Hollywood!
It would be hard to top this, and Hollywood Hotel doesn't. The problem is the plot -- it's too complicated and goes on too long -- and, surprisingly, since Whiting and Mercer wrote the songs -- the songs they wrote. With the exception of Hooray for Hollywood, their songs are pleasant but not memorable. "Let That Be a Lesson to You" has a clever Mercer lyric but is staged with great corn by director Busby Berkeley. It's no accident, I think, that Hooray for Hollywood not only became a smash but Tinsel Town's de facto anthem. The song is that good.
Hollywood Hotel is stuffed with mix-ups, misunderstandings and mistaken identities, but none of them are worth remembering. The plot has to do with the naive and enthusiastic Ronnie and his adventures thinking he'll be a star. There's the snooty leading lady (Lola Lane) who takes a walk, the waitress substitute who looks like her and fools Ronnie (Rosemary Lane, doing a nice job imitating an uber-gracious leading lady), the dense and egotistical leading man (Alan Mowbray) and on and on. Ronnie loses his big break, winds up selling hamburgers and malts, but then he comes back big. Mowbray is just fine, especially when he's miming "I've Hitched My Wagon to a Star" with Powell's voice. Dr. Benny Goodman and his orchestra provide a number of musical injections, including "Sing, Sing, Sing." Several of his key players such as Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, and Teddy Wilson are featured. There are the uncredited-and-very-young-future-stars to spot, such as Susan Hayward, Ronald Reagan and Carole Landis. On the other hand, there's Hugh Herbert to endure (he's even in a black face bit), Mabel Todd (a kind of bargain basement Cass Dailey) and Luella Parsons playing herself. Parsons is particularly awful.
And there's Dick Powell, who manages to give the movie some energy as the likable, singing Ronnie Bowers. Powell seemed always to play cocky, confident guys. Here's he's an innocent in Hollywood, but just as energetic and confident as always. By now, 1937, he could see the writing on the wall...namely, the ruin of his career if he couldn't get out of playing light romantic singing leads in brainless musicals. He finally managed with Murder My Sweet in 1944 when he was 40, but it took him seven years. During that time he was placed in silliness with titles like The Cowboy from Brooklyn, Hard to Get, Going Places, Naughty But Nice and I Want a Divorce. He might have been a bit lucky with Murder My Sweet, but he also was persistent, ambitious and smart about what he needed.
What's the film about? Typical featherweight 30s comedy story with sax player Dick Powell told to date the hottest star on the lot of All-Star Pictures for publicity reasons and then falling in love with her stunt double. They story doesn't matter a hoot. Who was the classic actor/actress? Dick Powell is the only star who stood the test of time. But the film is loaded with 30s character actor stalwarts … more
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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