Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Movietone Follies of 1930 (1930)

Here I am, back from an ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL weekend at Capitolfest in Rome, NY, and all ready to blog about the film that was the highlight of the weekend (for me anyway). I won't give my personal review, just a normal post about the movie itself, so let's get started, shall we?

Conrad Sterling (William Collier, Jr.), heir to his Uncle Marvin Kingsleys (Huntley Gordon) fortune, is always in the newspapers with scandalous reports of his frolics in the nightclubs and with women. His Uncle Marvin, through fear of disgrace, threatens to disinherit him if the stories in the papers dont cease immediately. But rather than being the carouser, Conrads heart secretly belongs to Mary Mason (Mariam Seegar), a stage actress who believes in love before money. After reading in the paper about her playboys latest escapade, Mary decides he is not the settling down type and promptly dumps Conrad vowing to never see him again.

Enter a fake lumber king, Axel Svenson (El Brendel), whom showgirls Gloria De Witt (Noel Francis) and Vera Fontaine (Marjorie White) fight over as they think he has the dough to put them on easy street, but Svenson is actually Mr. Sterlings valet and is already being chased by the overly jealous maid, Babette (Yola D'Avril).

Vera is constantly being pursued by songster George Randall (Frank Richardson), who is regularly regaling her with pie-eyed stories of his future net worth and Gloria cant help but let Vera know about her paramour, Dodo, who treats her just right. Conrad then goes to the producer of the stage shows office to hire the entire group so a performance can take place the coming Sunday at his uncles estate, not just as a benefit for disabled soldiers, but also for a way to see his lovely Mary again, who STILL won't see him.

When Sunday rolls around Mary and the rest of the troupe are brought to Brier Manor for the big fundraiser, Conrad has Marys room filled with pictures of him in an attempt for reconciliation, but when she finds out its him putting on the show, she once again gives him the ozone. As the music starts and the performance gets rolling, questions still abound; will Mary and Conrad get back together? Which of the three women will Axel choose? Will Vera ever be fooled by George's "high-talk"? And who is the mysterious Dodo?


After the success of William Fox Movietone Follies of 1929 it was announced in mid-29 that its successor, Fox Movietone Follies of 1930, was already in production, but by the time the feature was released in May 1930, the studios patriarch and namesake, William Fox, would be out of the picture through a hostile takeover of his company causing his surname to be dropped from the heading. In fact, the film can be found listed under many different titles. The American Film Institute catalog and early trade ads list it as being Fox Movietone Follies of 1930, promotional materials released at the time try to differentiate it from the earlier movie by announcing The NEW Movietone Follies of 1930.

And in certain areas of the country they dispensed with the Follies title all together and played up El Brendels role with the crazy title of Svensons Wild Party.” Was this the released title or just the name for the preview is uncertain, but early ads show it WAS used.

The Hilton Record; Hilton, New York, 9-18-1930

The Ogden Standard Examiner; Ogden, Utah, 7-20-1930

Although it has been written before that the "Svenson..." title had only been used in regions where there was a predominate Swedish heritage in the population, my research has found this to be untrue as period newspapers show advertisements for the moniker in Ogden Utah, Rochester New York, Los Angeles California and other cities and towns.

Whatever its label, the reviews for the picture were generally unenthusiastic, with most decent reviews singling out the comedy work of El Brendel. El Brendel, as Colliers valet, is the panic of the entire offering is how the Motion Picture Times of May 27 saw it and although the June 28 issue of Exhibitors Herald-World looked unfavorable on the film, of Brendels performance Harry Tugend commented, For only the presence of El Brendel makes the trite plot and ancient gags at all bearable. The little Swede manages to make you laugh in spite of the poor material handed him.

One of the VERY few glowing reviews comes from Mordaunt Hall in the June 21st, 1930 issue of the New York Times writing, " 'The New Movietone Follies of 1930', audible picture at the Roxy is a smartly produced, wise-cracking affair, which yesterday afternoon achieved its purpose in creating gusts of laughter. It is a warm-weather entertainment with handsome scenes and both bright and trite lines".

There are songs and dancing in this film (it is a follies movie after all) but the Los Angeles Times may have summed it up best of all the notices I read when they published on July 1, Considerable effort and money was apparently lavished on the song and dance scenes in 'Svensons Wild Party,' but the results scarcely show very glitteringly on the screen, and the plot would be dull indeed were it not for the highlights of mirth, crude though some of these may be. Ouch. But other reviewers thought I Feel A Certain Feeling Coming On, sung by Brendel and Noel Francis and Id Love To Be A Talking Picture Queen”, rendered by diminutive firecracker Marjorie White, to be standouts of the revue portion.

An interesting side note is that in the foreign release of "Movietone Follies of 1930", which was released as a silent with a scored Movietone soundtrack, is a song credited to El Brendel, "Hinky Dee (Wishing Song)". This song was also used in at least two other of Brendel's features, "Hot For Paris" (which is doubly disappointing as it's a lost film AND El sings a vocal version of it) and "Mr. Lemon of Orange", but in the U.S. prints of those films. I will try to get a recording for a future post on either of those films.

With such a lukewarm assessment one would figure that Fox would be finished with this type of musical Follies pictures but right after this film was released, press books were already touting The New Movietone Follies of 1931, with the only returning cast member being El Brendel. That movie was never made. Fox again revived the idea for in the 1933-34 Fox Personalities and Product press book the Fox Movietone Follies would pull out all the stops. Starring nearly every major star on the Fox lot and penned by a dozen of Americas greatest writers here was another film destined not to get beyond the sketch stage.

Lastly, before starting work on "Movietone Follies of 1930", El Brendel gave a brief interview to the press regarding what fame in the movies has done for his career, after he made a personal appearance in St. Louis, Missouri. When he arrived at the train station he "was met....with a band of 100 pieces. City officials battled for seats in his limousine. An army of theater employees attended to his baggage and thousands of persons cheered him at the station." Brendel said, "I felt like I skidded off the earth onto another planet....It seemed more like a dream that so may people were interested in me."

Either this actually happened or it was just good copy, but El goes on to say once he returned to Hollywood, "Gosh, when I realize all these people are interested in my pictures, it makes me nervous....but it has improved my work a lot, as I put everything I have into whatever I do now."


Axel chooses Babette (she's CRAZY!)

Vera FINALLY falls for George!

"Dodo" is Conrad's Uncle Marvin (seen here on the right)!

and of course Mary and Conrad get back together, it's 1930, after all!!


pitchertaker said...

That was one of the most convoluted plots I've ever read. But a lot of early 30's films were like that...no?

Louie said...

Well, this one has a LOT of stuff going on so reading the synopsis it's kinda wild, but seeing it on the screen and understanding it, the movie is easy to figure out.

Anonymous said...


Excellent job Louie!
Great info and pictures.

The "Fox Movietone Follies" of 1933 or 1934 is what was eventually released on May 4, 1934 as "Stand Up and Cheer!" And just like with the similarly promoted "All-Star" extravaganza "Hollywood Party" over at MGM at the same time, very few of the big stars announced actually wound up being in it.

Samantha said...

Great writing, as always. Start working on your El Brendel book. ;)

And WOW! Isn't that Movietone Follies of 1931 poster awfully risque? I guess it was the pre-code era...

EOCostello said...

I'd like to compliment you on a very well-done post. It's a pity this film doesn't get more traction. I have a sound-disc version of "Cheer Up and Smile!" that I'd love to upgrade one of these days.

KING OF JAZZ said...

I'm so darn envious you saw this film! C'mon, Fox Movie Channel! How did the audience receive it?

Louie said...

The audience seemed to like it very well and there were many laughs, too.

Anonymous said...


We were also very pleased to hear El Brendel's appearances in the movie greeted with applause!
He does have fans.

Boris Karloff was the featured "star" of many of the films shown this time at Capitolfest and so it was not unexpected to hear his initial appearances in each film greeted with applause. Likewise, the unbilled appearance of Bela Lugosi in "Viennese Nights" (1930).
But it was especially satisfying to hear El receive that same appreciation in "Fox Movietone Follies".

Jonas Nordin said...

Great review Louie!
I would very much like to see this film. Were there any color sequences in the print you saw?

Louie said...

There were no color sequences filmed for the "Follies of 1930" but they certainly did film some for "William Fox Movietone Follies of 1929", which unfortunately does not exist.

Ian Elliot said...

Very interesting, Louie. I suspected that the "Movietone Follies" title may have been dropped in favour of "Svenson's Wild Party" after the market for musicals went cold in mid 1930, causing, for example, the scrapping of THE HOLLYWOOD REVUE OF 1930/THE MARCH OF TIME at MGM, and I found this tidbit in the LA Times, in a column by Edwin Schallert, Sept. 11/33:

Brendel as Olsen

El Brendel is going to go Swedish, title of picture and all. He'll do a film called "Olsen's Night Out", which Mal St. Clair will direct. Story is by Henry Johnson and James Tynan.
The last time that Brendel did this trick was in "Svenson's Wild Party", which, it so happened, was a "Movietone Follies", given a new name and somewhat revised, when the old musicals went sour.
This time the whole idea has a better start.

Possible that SVENSON'S WILD PARTY was a different edit with added Brendel footage? And if the "old musicals went sour", a projected MOVIETONE FOLLIES OF 1931 is inexplicable.

Thanks again, Louie!

Ian Elliot

Louie said...

This is interesting as I have no documentation that confirms any difference between "Follies" and "Svenson's", but that certainly doesn't mean it didn't happen.

The reporter may have had it wrong, too, seeing the article was written over 3 years after the release of "Follies", but one of the ads I posted IS from 9-13-30, so maybe it was re-released in edited form. Hmmmmmmmm. Interesting.

My research is by no means complete, as there are certainly many pieces I am missing mainly because I haven't been to UCLA or the Herrick Library yet to check out their Fox files, I just write up these posts with all the available info I have at the time.

Thanks for finding that article, another part of the Brendel puzzle!