Satire on Hollywood’s transition from silents to talkies based on the hit stage play by Moss Hart and George S.Kaufman. It stars Jack Oakie, Sidney Fox and one of my favorite actresses of the era, Aline MacMahon.
“The Jazz Singer” is released and vaudeville is playing to unpacked houses with the small audience reading newspapers or taking a snooze. George Lewis (Jack Oakie), May Daniels (Aline MacMahon) and Jerry Hyland (Russell Hopton) do a lame vaudeville act and get a telegram cancelling their future engagements. The theaters have opted to show “The Jazz Singer.” That gives Jerry an idea. He sells the act and the money will be used to take the three to Hollywood to jump on the new talkie trend.
On the train to California May meets up with someone she used to act with years ago. She’s Helen Hobart who is now a successful gossip columnist. She says the three are on their way to open an elocution school to prepare silent stars for the talkies. George is referred to as Dr.Lewis. May says she’s been running a school in England for the past eight years.
Badgering Helen is aspiring actress Susan Walker (Sidney Fox). She’s with her parents and her father is angry that he has to go to California. George is smitten with Susan. Once in Hollywood they go to see movie mogul Herman Glogauer. He turned down Vitaphone and lost out on getting in on the talkie trend from the beginning. Now he’ll buy anything.
There’s a running gag with secretary Miss Leyton (Zasu Pitts) keeping people from seeing Herman. One is writer Lawrence Vail (Onslow Stevens). He works at the studio but hasn’t been assigned anything ever since he started six months ago. He keeps waiting to see Herman but can’t get past Miss Leyton. Herman is always busy.
Herman is convinced the trio’s school can teach his starlets how to speak and things go pretty well for a while. Vail goes on a rant to George and he repeats it to Herman as if they’re all his thoughts. As a result George is made studio supervisor whose word is law. He has Susan hired to star in a picture with Jerry and May as his assistants.
George is proud that the movie is done. It turns out to be a disaster. Some scenes are dark because he forgot to call for lighting and the soundtrack is loaded with the noises made while he eats Indian nuts. Susan can’t act and to make things even worse George grabbed the wrong script to shoot. It was made in 1910. Herman is so upset he fires everybody.
Now the satire goes into high gear and the silliness too. Time has blunted it’s bite and the scenario has been used a few dozen times since but if you can project yourself back to 1932 you’ll enjoy yourself.
Aline MacMahon had a long career and a long life. She lived until a hundred and seven. She was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1945’s “Dragon Seed” where she played the wife of Ling Tan. The winner was Ethel Barrymore for “None But The Lonely Heart.”