Going Hollywood (1933)

Film Title: Going Hollywoodgoinghollywood

Year: 1933

Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Silent or Talkie: Talkie

Genre: Musical

Starring:

  • Marion Davies
  • Bing Crosby
  • Fifi D’Orsay
  • Stuart Erwin
  • Ned Sparks

Review

This musical comedy stars Marion Davies as a bored French teacher who runs off to pursue her dreams. It seems like a straight-forward and standard 30s musical. But the narrative structure of this film is more complex than it appears at first glance. The film is built around two major themes: dreams and temptations.

When Davies turns on the radio in Miss Briarcroft’s School (radios are strictly forbidden) and gazes out at the night sky she starts to wish upon a star. Just as she says “I wish I may, I wish I might,” Bing Crosby’s voice cuts across the moment as he begins the lyric of “Our Big Love Scene”: “Don’t waste the night in wishing…” as though in answer to Davies’ wish upon a star. She sits up, startled, and packs her bags. Davies sets off-not to go to Hollywood-but to find Crosby, who plays a famous radio singer about to embark by train to Hollywood to star in a picture. Crosby is also involved with the picture’s French star, played by the Canadian Fifi D’Orsay. As Crosby is packing up to go, and after a bizarre live broadcast of his singing “Beautiful Girl,” to Sterling Holloway, Davies finds him. He brushes her off as just another fan and heads to the Grand Central Station, where he gets a huge send-off and sings “Going Hollywood” in a terrific and massive production number. His jazzy rendition of this song from the train’s caboose is one of the film’s highlights. On the train, who should show up but Davies. In today’s context, Davies is certainly a crazed fan stalking her idol, but in 1933 her actions were (in the context of this film anyway) acceptable. D’Orsay catches the two together (Davies is correcting Crosby’s French pronunciation of bon jour from his bon jower) and immediately suspects them of being up to something. D’Orsay is on the rampage because her maid has quit. Of course Davies becomes her maid, having taught French and all. The second time D’Orsay catches them together, she hauls off and slaps Davies, who then quits her job. On the train we also meet Stu Erwin, playing a blow-hard film producer, and Ned Sparks, the hilariously grumpy director. Next we find Davies in Hollywood at “Central Casting,” asking to see Crosby. She’s turned away and meets Patsy Kelly (in her feature-film debut), a film extra and dancer. They hit it off right away, and Kelly invites Davies to share her digs. Kelly starts to teach Davies the Hollywood ropes. Sparks walks by and hires the girls to be extras in, of course, the film starring Crosby and D’Orsay.

At Kelly’s bungalow, Davies takes a nap and has a bizarre dream about her and Crosby starring in a surreal production number called “We’ll Make Hay While the Sun Shines.” While Davies dreams, we are shown a huge close up of her face, which is occasionally superimposed over the dream-scene action so that we don’t forget it’s all a dream. The scene opens with Crosby and Davies in a cozy cottage in front of a fireplace. Crosby starts the song, and the couple is strolling through a field of giant, swaying daisies (the giant mushroom was deleted from the number) and then sitting in a horse-drawn carriage where Davies joins Crosby in a brief duet. They come upon a farm scene of dancing scarecrows and picturesque hay mounds. Suddenly Davies, dressed in shorts and a polka-dot blouse, emerges from the dancers and takes center stage in a dance number. But Crosby and Davies are still sitting in the carriage. Davies points to herself dancing (in a scene reminiscent of “Show People”) and asks Crosby, “me?” He nods and soon he also is in the dance number, which turns into a square dance with wheelbarrows. A windstorm suddenly comes up and everyone gets drenched in the downpour. Crosby and Davies run back to the cottage where they sit by the fire, wrapped in blankets, while Crosby finishes the song. Because it’s all a dream there is no logical progression from cottage to farm to cottage or the changes in outfits. Davies awakes. On the movie set, Davies once again (for the third time) finds Crosby. He’s in between scenes when Davies approaches. She’s in blackface and dressed like Aunt Jemima (Davies also donned blackface and accent in “Operator 13” with Gary Cooper). She starts chatting in a “black accent,” but he doesn’t seem to notice that she is not really black, which is bizarre because Davies was famous for her huge blue eyes. D’Orsay catches them again and slaps Davies for a second time.

Next D’Orsay is about to sing her big song, “Cinderella’s Fella.” The number has a Cinderella theme with the blonde-wigged D’Orsay as the Prince. As she launches into the song, Sparks stops her and tells her she’s doing it all wrong because she’s doing it as a kooch dance. She throws a fit and storms off the set. Back in her trailer, Crosby tries to comfort her. Meanwhile, back on the set, the Three Radio Rogues do a series of impressions of current radio stars, including Kate Smith, Morton Downey, and (in an inside joke) Crosby’s main singing rivals of the day – Russ Columbo and Rudy Vallee. Davies is then coaxed into doing an impression (Davies was famous for her ability to mimic, and does so in several of her films, including a turn as Garbo in Blondie of the Follies). She launches into an impression of D’Orsay singing “Cinderella’s Fella.” D’Orsay hears this, marches out to catch Davies in mid-dance and slaps her for a third time. This time Davies strikes back and in the ensuing cat fight, delivers D’Orsay a black eye. D’Orsay quits and Davies is hired to star in the film! There is an abbreviated scene of Davies and Crosby dating, with Crosby singing the wonderful “After Sundown.” Later, Davies attempts to deliver some flowers to Crosby, but standing in the hallway outside his door she hears D’Orsay inside, talking to Crosby. But D’Orsay is not done, and she’s determined to break up the budding romance between Davies and Crosby. She lures Crosby to a Mexican bar and plies him with drinks, knowing he will be fired from the picture for being absent. Davies tracks him down yet again and tries to get him back, but he’s drunk and can’t think straight. This sets up the film’s best number and another dream sequence. Crosby sings “Temptation” while sitting at the bar and drinking what looks like absinthe. As he sings we see huge close-ups of D’Orsay (to match the close-ups of Davies in the previous dream sequence) and cutaway shots of a dance floor crowded with same-sex couples. In the bar itself, no one is dancing. As Crosby approaches the last notes of the song, he lifts his glass and drains the last drops, drooling a little. It’s an amazing sequence, and Crosby has never been in better voice. In Going Hollywood, wishes and dreams are good; temptation is bad. After Crosby’s “Temptation” number, the scene shifts back to the film set where, after seeing a dance montage to “Cinderella’s Fella,” Davies is about to film an elaborate production number. As she is about to begin the scene with Crosby’s replacement, we hear a reprise of “Our Big Love Scene.” Another dream?

Direction by Raoul Walsh and editing seem weak and hurt the film. It seems there are scenes deleted in three areas: the French maid sequence, the “After Sundown” sequence, and in the big finale where Davies is dressed up like Marlene Dietrich in “Scarlet Empress”. But Davies and Crosby pull it off. This film seems to echo thru much of Singin’ in the Rain nearly two decades later: the monkey fur worn by D’Orsay and the “Beautiful Girl” number sung by Jimmy Thompson in the later film. Also the choreography in the “Going Hollywood” production number is similar to that used in the “Gotta Dance” crowd scenes in Singin’ in the Rain.

On Video

Going Hollywood was released on VHS in 1995 and is shown on Turner Classic Movies on a fairly regular basis. There has been no DVD release to date.

Conclusion

While Going Hollywood is not usually ranked among the decade’s best musicals, it seems now to be a botched effort by MGM at making a major musical (MGM also reversed directions with Hollywood Party, another ambitious musical that was reduced to nonsense despite a terrific cast) with Marion Davies and Bing Crosby. But at 78 minutes it seems clear that the film was scaled back, especially when there are three sequences that seem truncated. Oddly the three sequences all featured Davies. One wonders why her scenes would have been eliminated, especially since Hearst and others were always watchful of a co-star stealing a film from Davies. Still, Going Hollywood remains an enjoyable romp with great songs delivered by Crosby at the peak of his singing career. And the narrative structure and use of dreams vs. temptation is fascinating.

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