Remarkably creaky...but you get to see and hear an early Alice Faye. 20th Century-Fox's Cinema Archives line of hard-to-find cult and library titles has released George White's 1935 Scandals, the 1935 backstage musical from Fox Films (just prior to their merger with 20th), starring Alice Faye, James Dunn, Ned Sparks, Cliff Edwards, Arline Judge, Lyda Roberti, Emma Dunn, Eleanor Powell, and Mr. Charisma himself, George White. A remarkably stiff, antiquated (even back in '35) backstage romance/revue, George White's 1935 Scandals is best viewed for the performances only, particularly luminous Faye's stylings, Edwards' catchy vocalizing, and Powell's specialty tap number--her big break in movies. No extras for this rough transfer.
Broadway impresario George White (himself), having just successfully closed his 1934 Scandals revue, is headed for some sun and fun down in F-L-A, with Manya (Lyda Roberti), one of his featured singer/dancers, tagging along for platonic company. Waylaid in podunk Crossways, Georgia, White spies a local poster for a stage show...with his name on it. Buying tickets from the theater's one-man operation, Elmer Stubbins (Ned Sparks), White spies newcomer Honey Walters (Alice Faye) singing a duet with her boyfriend, Eddie Taylor (James Dunn). Hot to get the talented nobody for his upcoming 1935 Scandals, White is convinced by Honey's Aunt Jane (Emma Dunn) that White should also sign singer/composer Eddie, while Manya puts the bite on White for the, um...services of singer Dude Holloway (Cliff Edwards), who walks Manya's pet pooch better than anyone else she's ever found (jesus). Soon, everyone (even Elmer) are chugging back to the Great White Way, where they're a smash in White's new 1935 Scandals. Fame, however, is an bewitching mistress, and soon the kids are letting everything go to their head.
I don't know how successful George White's 1935 Scandals was at the box office, but the few scant contemporary reviews I found for it weren't exactly encouraging on the critics' end--The New York Times called it "third rate," while Variety called it "dull entertainment." I had previously read about producer George White's Broadway Scandals revues in other contexts, but I hadn't caught his movie versions; having sat through this one, though, I doubt I'll be seeking out any other ones any time soon. Sure, there's a strong historical curiosity factor in seeing the acts themselves, regardless of the paper-thin narrative framework from which they're hung; after all, even back in '35 everyone knew a movie like George White's 1935 Scandals was essentially nothing more than a cobbled-together musical showcase. However, that framework can be quite dire in spots, both in conception and execution, which inevitably deflates a viewer's good mood after a musical number or skit scores. Instead, what startled me the most about George White's 1935 Scandals was the unusually rickety, antiquated feel it had for a movie made in 1935. I wasn't expecting Gone With the Wind filmmaking here, certainly, but George White's 1935 Scandals plays like an feeble-legged first-year talkie, with an amateurish, inept ambiance to its individual scenes and to its overall construction that truly surprised me.
On-screen titles seem to indicate that George White alone was responsible for the entire movie's production and direction, but other sources claim James Tinling directed the dialogue scenes, and Jack Donohue directed the musical numbers, both under the supervision of producer Winfield R. Sheehan. The script is credited on-screen to Jack Yellen and Patterson McNutt, while uncredited Sam Hellman and David Freedman (and maybe even Damon Runyon) provided the storyline. Regardless of who's responsible, George White's 1935 Scandals lurches from one musical number to the next with very little rhyme or reason...and quite a few of those numbers aren't all that special, anyway (the movie's idea of tight blocking during the big numbers is to have a bunch of chorines vertically stacked and flailing away--with most of them amusingly out-of-step). The cliched backstage musical story featured here--a couple of love-sick amateurs miraculously crack the big-time, only to let hubris orchestrate their downfall--had already been done to death by '35 (it's the kind of writing where a paternal Broadway producer benevolently refers to his cast as "boys and girls"), while potentially promising elements are completely ignored (why introduce Charles Richman's "Charlie Harriman," a good-time swell who's provocatively described as the "chorus girls' Santa Claus"...and then do nothing with him?).
Still...how else are you going to see Alice Faye right on the cusp of her coming triumphs at 20th Century-Fox? Or Eleanor Powell become a movie star with just one specialty tap number? Admittedly it's fun to see the archaic montages of the "Scandals Beauties," or the stiff-but-funny dance step contest ("Samson Delilah" was the best). The Hunkadola parody of The Continental dance step goes on a bit...but it's quite funny to see the male dancers using female dummies as jump ropes. A placid, bland James Dunn, just about to be dropped by Fox for excessive drinking, doesn't add much to his scenes with Faye, but Cliff Edwards and Lyda Roberti make an amusingly oddball couple. Their strange, foot-fetish I Got Shoes, You Got Shoesies number doesn't quite come off, but I'll listen to "Ukelele Ike" sing anything, while Roberti makes for a sexy bantering partner (she can't hold a candle to one of my favorites, hot-as-hell Arline Judge, who makes the most of her few brief scenes here). Speaking of "hot," it's been noted by many others that a "mistake" in her makeup order caused Eleanor Powell to be made up as "an Egyptian" for her tap routine here (Powell herself stated this). However, after viewing her number, I'd say that was a bit of an exaggeration (how can you get past those impossibly long legs to see what her makeup looks like, anyway?). Someone's face you can't get past is George White's; why he was allowed to star in this vehicle is anybody's guess, but his stilted delivery of some funny lines and his weird, piercing stare are as off-putting as they are unintentionally comical. Luckily, there's Alice Faye every couple of minutes to save George White's 1935 Scandals from any lasting damage. Despite being made up to look like Jean Harlow's twin, Faye's big, beautiful eyes, looking right at us in close-up during many of her numbers, can go from gay to sad in a blink, and then back again, all the while conveying a playful warmth to her lyrics that no other singer/actress came close to--no wonder she would become beloved by world-wide audiences over the next decade as Darryl Zanuck softened her image and turned her into Fox's most valued performer of the late 30s and early 40s. I'm not sure where Alice Faye is on today's pop culture radar (god what a stupid statement--she's nowhere, along with most of the former movie greats), but it only takes one of her numbers to cross decades of changed musical tastes and appeal to the modern viewer. If for no other reason that to see the luminous Alice Faye right before her major stardom, George White's 1935 Scandals is thus highly recommended.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.