Beginning in November 2019, I embarked on the Old Hollywood Best Picture Challenge, where I will endeavor to watch all 270 films that were nominated and/or won for Best Picture at the Academy Awards between the years 1927-1969. For a list of all films and reviews, please see my original post.
- Film & Year: The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929)
- Standing: Best Picture Nominee for 1928/29 season
- Type: Musical, Revue, Variety Show, Comedy
- Other AA Nominations: 0
- Other AA Wins: 0
- Director: Charles Reisner
- Studio/Producer: MGM / Irving Thalberg and Harry Rapf
- Cast: (As themselves) Jack Benny, Conrad Nagel, Joan Crawford, Bessie Love, Anita Page, Charles King, Norma Shearer, John Gilbert, Marion Davies, Buster Keaton, Marie Dressler, Lionel Barrymore, William “Billy” Haines, Polly Moran, Gus Edwards, Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy
- Production Notes: Music by Gus Edwards, Cinematography by John Arnold/Max Fabian/ Irving G. Ries/John M. Nickolaus, Edited by William S. Gray and Cameron K. Wood, Costumes by David Cox
- Notable Songs: “You Were Meant For Me” performed by Conrad Nagel (sung by Charles King), “Singin’ in the Rain” sung by Cliff Edwards and The Brox Sisters then again with the full cast.
- Viewing Order: 7/270
Summary & Viewing Experience:
If any film has lived up to its name, it is The Hollywood Revue of 1929because it is quite simply that and nothing more. Unhindered by a plot, the film is a nearly two hour bragfest of the talent and ability MGM had to offer in the new sound era, by way of musical numbers, comedy acts, and more.
The camera stays mostly stagnant, trained on a stage where actors Conrad Nagel and Jack Benny play Master of Ceremonies to MGM’s “Galaxy of Stars.” Among the acts are magic tricks by Laurel and Hardy, an in color performance of Romeo and Juliet’s balcony scene by Norma Shearer and John Gilbert with a comedic ending featuring Lionel Barrymore, and two pre-Gene Kelly performances of the song “Singin’ in the Rain” with ukulele and raincoats, the latter in color and serving as the starry finale.
Chorus guys and gals in matching uniforms fill the space between acts with synchronized dance performances or just sit in the background looking attractive. In one act that would give Ziegfeld a run for his money, barely clothed women surround an enormous oyster shell, out which pops the pearl, a woman in sparkly string bikini, who performs a ballet while invoking Theda Bara with her vampy gestures. This undersea world is also inhabited by Buster Keaton as a bumbling harem girl (complete with seashell bra) whose highly impressive acrobatics clear the room.
Familiar faces from another Best Picture nominee, The Broadway Melody, get some screen time and MGM took full advantage of the moment to give the film a little boost. Lead Melody actor Charles King sings a number then takes a front row seat to watch Nagel sing his song “You Were Meant For Me,” (dubbed and actually sung by King) from the film to his onscreen Melody amour Anita Page. The third lead Bessie Love makes an appearance later in a trick of the eye shot that probably wowed 1929’s audiences, where she popped her head out of Jack Benny’s coat pocket like Thumbelina and they exchanged some comedic repartee. Love eventually “grows up” and performs “I Never Knew I Could Do a Thing Like That,” a song and dance number complete with comedy and acrobatics, all while in an impossibly frilly dress. Her time onscreen is manic, but strangely endearing.
I was not impressed with the use of Technicolor in 3 of the scenes, finding the tones odd. 1929 critics also mentioned this as something unexciting, one describing the color as “blurred.”
Watching this made me realize that I much prefer Joan Crawford’s acting to her singing or dancing, though I’ve never seen her look younger and fresher, like a young colt with arms flailing and long legs going every which way in her performance of “Got a Feeling for You.”
It also made me want to watch every film Buster Keaton ever made, as his antics were undoubtedly the highlight of the film for me.
The big finale as the full cast sings “Singin’ in the Rain” in technicolor.
Behind the Scenes:
Notable stars missing from the “galaxy” were Greta Garbo (perhaps in order to not steal the thunder from her highly anticipated sound debut in Anna Christie less than a year later) and MGM’s highest grossing star of 1929, Lon Chaney.
This film marked the film debut of Jack Benny and the sound debut of Joan Crawford. Though starting her career as a double for fellow MGM (and The Hollywood Revue of 1929) star Norma Shearer, Crawford would become the number one Box Office star just a year later in 1930, higher than rival Shearer and the rest of her fellow MGM stars.
Why was it nominated for Best Picture?
Though a revue itself was not unusual at the time, it was a unique concept to put it on film. Small town audiences were given a taste of what a real Broadway show was like and were in awe of being able to see all of their favorite stars at once. It did well with audiences, critics, and at the box office.
How does it hold up today?
No doubt it was a fun thing for 1929 audiences to watch their favorite stars sing, dance, and cut up, but from a modern viewpoint the film drags.
- IMDb rating = 6 out of 10
Would this be my pick for 1928/29 Best Picture?
Nope. Though several acts like Keaton’s and Love’s shine, the majority are unexceptional and the film seems overly saturated by chorus driven dance numbers, when one or two would have done just fine.