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DVD Review: The Goldwyn Follies

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I can’t act or write…I don’t know anything, really nothing at all.

That statement alone makes you unique and invaluable.

Big shot Hollywood producer Oliver Merlin (played by future Communist witch hunter Adolph Menjou) has lost his touch — his big-budgeted lavish productions have all of the style that they need, but there isn’t a scrap of humanity to them. While shooting a scene in the country with his prima donna actress Olga (Vera Zorina), he overhears local gal Hazel Dawes input her two cents. On a whim (not to mention desperate to reclaim his image), Oliver hires Hazel as his own personal “Miss Humanity” and sets her up in a nice townhouse in the big city, pitching his ideas to her and changing everything at a moment’s notice when she disapproves.

That, in a nutshell, is the premise of The Goldwyn Follies from 1938: a Technicolor musical fantasy which, like many lighthearted musicals, dispenses with any serious drama and simply sets out to entertain its audience. Throughout the rather lengthy 116-minute runtime, Hazel meets a singing hamburger cook named Danny (Kenny Baker — no, not the guy that played R2D2, but rather the young man with the powerful tenor voice who was once a regular performer on Jack Benny's radio show and who appeared in the Marx Brothers’ At The Circus the following year).

Danny and Hazel hit it off instantly, and her faith in his talent leads her to get her boss to “discover” the gifted singer for his new picture — which is all fine and dandy but, naturally, Oliver has his eyes set on Hazel, too. Oddly enough, things haven’t changed much in Hollywood, only now it’s the producer’s girlfriend dreaming up the (bad) ideas; there’s a lot of cocaine involved; and love triangles usually end up in a well-publicized murder/suicide scandal, but other than that…

While most of the movie is rather forgettable (especially some of the more extravagant song and dance numbers, which range from swinging jazz to classical opera), it does provide a lot of laughs from some snazzy dialogue as well as its big cast of supporting comedians. The Ritz Brothers (love ‘em or hate ‘em) bring their over-the-top zany antics along for the ride as three animal wranglers who infiltrate Merlin’s studio, hoping to get in on the action; and Phil Baker plays the hapless would-be star who keeps getting cut out of one draft and recast in the next. But the most notable guest comics of all in The Goldwyn Follies are ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (father of Candice) and his iconic partner Charlie McCarthy, who lend their razor-sharp repartee to the fun. Fans of George and Ira Gershwin may want to seek this one out as it contains several works that one and/or the other of the dynamic duo co-wrote, including “Spring Time,” “Love Is Here To Stay,” and “Love Walked In.”

Considering it’s been more than 70 years since this production first hit the silver screen, MGM has done an admirable job in transferring it to DVD, preserving the title in its original theatrical ratio of 1.33:1 (the standard at the time, long before CinemaScope came along). Since the Technicolor process was still in what some may refer to as its infancy in 1938, some of the colors have an almost surreal appearance to them (color itself in the movies was still a relatively new novelty), which may lead some to wonder if The Goldwyn Follies has been colorized. It hasn’t, folks; that’s just the way it looks.

Since there is only one sound selection to choose from on The Goldwyn Follies (English Mono Stereo), I feel somewhat compelled to point out that it's the best soundtrack on the entire DVD.  As a matter of fact, the mono stereo sound doesn’t disappoint — and comes through loud and clear (which may not be such a great thing if you hate musical numbers, in which case you’ll be gritting your teeth and covering your head with a throw pillow — serves you right for not appreciating a good set of lungs anyhow).

As with practically every movie made during this particular time period, you should expect some pops and hisses and maybe a bit of static to be embedded in the film's audio track, but to be honest, I didn't seem to notice any.  Optional English subtitles (and closed captioning) are available should you feel the urge to sing along with the Gershwin tunes.

It bombed at the box office.  Composer George Gershwin died before principal photography had started and was replaced by "April In Paris" songwriter Vernon Duke.  Samuel Goldwyn went through a slew of writers before hiring future Spellbound and The Kiss Of Death screenwriter Ben Hecht (who wrote the whole thing in two weeks).  It even received a (dis)honorable mention in Harry and Michael Medved's book The Fifty Worst Films Of All Time.  Okay, so while it certainly isn’t the greatest musical to ever emerge from Tinseltown’s School of Song and Dance, The Goldwyn Follies is best recommended for classic movie musical lovers, the devout fans of Edgar Bergen and his wooden wisecracker Charlie McCarthy, and anyone who just wants to snicker over The Ritz Brothers singing “Here pussy, pussy, pussy…” That’s just pure gold, baby (and the reason the film made it into the Medved's book).

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.