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 Kingsley’s (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 don’t cease immediately. But rather than being the carouser, Conrad’s heart secretly belongs to Mary Mason (Mariam Seegar), a stage actress who believes in love before money. After reading in the paper about her playboy’s 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. Sterling’s 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 can’t help but let Vera know about her paramour, “Dodo,” who treats her just right. Conrad then goes to the producer of the stage show’s office to hire the entire group so a performance can take place the coming Sunday at his uncle’s 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 Mary’s room filled with pictures of him in an attempt for reconciliation, but when she finds out it’s 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”?
***SPOILER BELOW, SO STOP READING IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE OUTCOME!!!***
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 studio’s 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 Brendel’s role with the crazy title of “Svenson’s Wild Party.” Was this the released title or just the name for the preview is uncertain, but early ads show it WAS used.
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 Collier’s 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 Brendel’s 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 'Svenson’s 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 “I’d 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 America’s 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."