The Vagabond Lover - 1929
The Vagabond Lover - Released December 1, 1929. Directed by Marshall Neilan
Audio equipment was a new technology in 1929, but combined with silent film techniques which were a bit more forgiving to actors action and response times, had the unintended effect of perfectly capturing verbal hesitation, which is recorded as clearly in The Vagabond Lover as the pop tunes* being crooned by Rudy Vallee and his band (the Connecticut Yankees). There is a lot of bad timing that sabotages this very early "talkie" effort with Rudy (as Rudy Bronson, an amateur musician, and singer) who is mistaken for a professional jazz musician named Ted Grant (the "real" Ted Grant is Malcolm Waite).
This situation brings disaster when Rudy's band is made to headline a charity event to benefit an orphanage, and with a plot that records the acrimony within the singing arts of 1929, the opera performers originally enlisted to also perform at this concert quit rather than appear with a vulgar jazz ensemble. Since "Ted Grant" is a popular jazz musician, it's up to him to save the event, but when it is finally revealed it's not Ted Grant but only a masquerading college jazz group, Rudy and crew must find a way to rescue the event (and to patch-up Rudy's burgeoning love affair with Jean Whitehall, played by Sally Blane, who looks quite a bit like Loretta Young. The two were sisters.)
The film has scenes with good comedy dialogue, though the melodramatic sections are rather long winded, with one actor reeling out paragraphs of dialogue while the other performers just stand still and stare (script by James Ashmore Creelman). Director Neilan, probably chained by the necessities of the new sound recording equipment, is unable to do much with his camera except aim it at the performers, many of whom are so still that when Marie Dressler (as wealthy philanthropist Ethel Bertha Whitehall) is on the screen, mugging and shaking her head back and forth in an excited style Dressler used in many comedies, she appears in The Vagabond Lover to be plagued by ants in contrast to the waxen motionlessness of the actors around her. (This movie was Dressler's first feature sound movie, and helped move her to super-stardom in the early sound era. She won an Oscar for her work in Min and Bill the next year. She was 63 years old by then, with a long career in vaudeville behind her. She was also battling cancer, which finally claimed her in 1934.)
The Vagabond Lover is also marred by muffed lines with actors pausing for a microsecond on a mistaken syllable and then proceeding (noticeably) with the correct wording. Even when one actor gets their line out perfectly, the slow response from the other performer stalls, creating terrible pacing and making the illusion of conversation seem broken up and fragmented. Added to these amateur moments are frequent scenes with too many people stuffed onto the screen, many of whom appear to be occupied with looking outside of the actual scene at, presumably, the interior of a motion picture studio.
All these issues aside, Dressler, Rudy Vallee and co-star Sally Blane are otherwise entertaining together. There are extended dance and music sections which turn the story into a showcase variety show, and director Neilan documents this expertly, throwing in geometric Busby Berkeley style overhead shots of the dancing girls, and carefully lighted cinematography by Leo Tover.
*The Vagabond Lover has a lot of singing in it: the title song ; I'm Nobody's Sweetheart Now; I Love You, Believe Me, I Love You; Georgie Porgie; If You Were the Only Girl in the World, and I Were the Only Boy; A Little Kiss Each Morning, A Little Kiss Each Night; Sweetheart, We Need Each Other; and I'll Be Reminded of You.
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