Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chasing Rainbows (1930)

If only films had been preserved as well as literature. Imagine, for example, some of S.J. Perelman or Robert Benchley's earliest books not surviving. Seems preposterous, but here we have MGM's second full-length musical, Chasing Rainbows, and the biggest music segments (in early Technicolor, yet) are missing. This is the movie that presented the song "Happy Days Are Here Again" to the world - and that song is missing.

Because of this, it's difficult to determine how good of a musical Chasing Rainbows is. What we have left seems, to my mind, not as focused or driven as MGM's earlier The Broadway Melody, but also not without charms.

A very young Jack Benny plays the ringmaster, the stage manager of a touring road show. Bessie Love is teamed again, as in The Broadway Melody, with Charles King. Marie Dressler and Polly Moran are the comic relief.

Jack Benny is fine for his role, but the problem is it isn't much of a role: the stage manager tries to keep the company on an even keel - and that's about as interesting as his character gets.

Bessie Love plays virtually the same role as in The Broadway Melody, jilted through most ofthe film by the clueless and weak Terry (Charles King), whose seduction by Nina Marten provides the movie's conflict. Love's big emotional scene is so acute, it's practically dropped in from a different movie.

You either find Marie Dressler and Polly Moran funny or not. I do - guilty as charged. Dressler was capable of both serious work and comedy (and singing, which she does in this film and which she did on stage years before she enteredthe movies) and Moran, with her expressive face and body language, had unexploited dramatic potential as well.

The version of Chasing Rainbows showing on TCM inserts explanatory title cards in the spots which have been lost to time. Still, several songs remain, all enjoyable.

This film has been released on Warner Archives DVD.

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