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Paree, Paree

Paree, Paree(1934)

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teaser Paree, Paree (1934)

Warner Bros.' Vitaphone shorts started out as a means of showcasing the studio's new sound-on-disc process. When, like most of Hollywood, Warner switched to sound-on-film, the studio kept the Vitaphone name for its short subjects division, producing almost a thousand films by the time they stopped making shorts in 1959. Originally, the Vitaphone shorts, many shot in Warner's Brooklyn studios, showcased talent from the worlds of classical music and the theatre that audiences rarely got to see. As the studio continued producing shorts to fill out an evening of entertainment for their theatre chains, however, they also signed young performers on the brink of film stardom. This program of six films, features future stars like Bob Hope, James Stewart, June Allyson, Red Skelton and Phil Silvers in some of their earliest screen appearances before moving on to bigger things at other studios. In fact, Warner let so many talented Vitaphone performers slip through their fingers, it's a surprise they saw the potential in their own big stars, such as James Cagney, Bette Davis, Spencer Tracy, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland.

One of the most lavish Vitaphone productions was Paree, Paree (1934), which featured Bob Hope in only his third film appearance and the first of seven shorts he made for Warner Bros. The film's scope is a result of its source. It's actually a pared down version of the Cole Porter stage hit Fifty Million Frenchman, which Warner had filmed in 1931 with William Gaxton, reprising his original stage role, and the comedy team of Ole Olson and Chic Johnson. Hope takes over Gaxton's role as a millionaire playboy touring France who bets he can win the woman of his dreams (Dorothy Stone) without telling her about his money. With five of Porter's songs shoe-horned into the 21-minute film, the picture has as much of the original score as the feature-length adaptation, including Hope's renditions of the show's big hit, "You Do Something to Me." After making his Vitaphone shorts, Hope moved to Paramount, where he became a star with his feature debut The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938).

Hope wasn't the only performer to make multiple Vitaphone shorts. One of the champions was tap dancer Hal Le Roy, who made 16 films along with a few Warner features after he and dance partner Mitzi Mayfair made a big hit on stage in The Ziegfeld Follies of 1931. In his 13th short, Ups and Downs (1937), he plays a tap dancing elevator operator who gives a business tycoon advice on the stock market. This was another lavish production, with four big numbers crammed into 21 minutes.

Le Roy's career never really took off in features, but two of his co-stars went on to much bigger things. Leading lady June Allyson, as Le Roy's sweetheart and the tycoon's daughter, would make ten musical shorts in all, six for Warner. This was her second Vitaphone appearance, and she charmed audiences singing "Rhythm Personality" and dancing with Le Roy in two numbers. Her final Vitaphone short, All Girl Revue (1940), cast her as mayor of New York City for a day as she and other women take over the town to prepare for an opera star's visit. She leads the ensemble in "We've Got to Make the City Pretty" (which is all Hollywood could envision female politicians doing back in 1940) and carries most of the plot. After that, she signed with MGM, where she became one of their top stars of the 1940s. Both films also featured songs by Saul Chaplin, who would become one of MGM's top arrangers and composers starting in 1950.

Featured in a small role in Ups and Downs is Phil Silvers, playing a tailor friend who helps get Le Roy ready for his big evening with Allyson's father. This was actually Silvers' second Vitaphone short. He had made his screen debut with an unbilled bit in Success (1931), a vehicle for another Broadway star, Jack Haley. Haley stars as a young man with massive vision problems who's in love with a girl whose father will only let her marry a baseball player. His attempts to break into the game result in predictable hilarity. Haley had made his film debut in the small role of a radio announcer in the silent Broadway Madness (1927), but his 11 Vitaphone shorts provided the real showcase for his talents as a comedian and song-and-dance man. Success was his second Warner short. He was another talent Warner let get away. In 1933, Paramount teamed him with Jack Oakie in Sitting Pretty, which made him a feature-film star. Also featured in Ups and Downs and Success, playing the leading lady's father both times, is John Hamilton, best-known for playing Perry White on television's The Adventures of Superman. The role of his wife in Success provided the screen debut for Marion Lorne, who would become a TV star on Mister Peepers and Bewitched.

MGM would seem to have been the biggest beneficiary of Vitaphone's discovery of future stars. In addition to Allyson, James Stewart and Red Skelton also got early exposure in their shorts. Stewart made his film debut with an unbilled role in Art Trouble (1934). He appears as a young man so desperate to get out of studying art in Paris that he and brother Dan Tomkins hire Shemp Howard and Harry Gribbon to take their places. While Stewart and his brother live playboys' lives in the U.S., Howard and Gribbon live off their allowances in gay Paree. One of the film's highlights is Howard's hilarious Apache dance, in which he inadvertently switches roles with his female partner, who then starts tossing him around the dance floor. A year later, Stewart would sign with MGM, making his feature debut in the Spencer Tracy vehicle The Murder Man (1935).

After making his film debut as a camp counselor in Having Wonderful Time (1938), Skelton made two shorts for Vitaphone. The second, Seeing Red (1939), casts his as a lowly office worker who's fired for no good reason. For revenge, he puts a curse on the boss (John Regan), promising to haunt him. When the boss takes wife Mary Wickes out for a night on the town, everyone he encounters, from the doorman to the emcee at a posh supper club, looks like Skelton. A year later Skelton would move to MGM. The short fulfills one of Vitaphone's original functions by capturing the work of popular variety acts of the day, including comedian A. Robins (The Banana Man), tap dancer Louis Da Pron and the singing group The Merry Macs.

By Frank Miller

All Girl Revue
Director: Lloyd French
Screenplay: Eddie Froman, Cyrus Wood
Cinematography: Ray Foster
Score: Saul Chaplin
Cast: June Allyson (Mayor), The Harrison Sisters (Singing Group), Betty Mae Crane (Dance Act), Beverly Kirk (Madame Beverly), Edith Brandell (Information Kiosk Girl)

Art Trouble
Director: Art StaubScreenplay: Jack Henley, Dolph Singer
Cinematography: Edwin B. DuPar
Cast: Harry Gribbon (Tall Painter), Shemp Howard (Short Painter), Beatrice Binn, Leni Stengel (Girls at Nightclub), Marjorie Main (Woman Who Sits on Painting), James Stewart (Jack Burton)

Paree, Paree
Producer: Samuel Sax
Director: Ray Mack
Screenplay: Cyrus Wood
Based on the book by Herbert Fields and the play by E. Ray GoetzCinematography: Ray Foster
Score: Cole PorterCast: Dorothy Stone (Lulu), Bob Hope (Peter), Billie Leonard (Violet), Rodney McLennan (Michael), Charles Collins (Baxter), The Climas (Apache Scene Dancers)

Seeing Red
Director: Roy Mack
Screenplay: Cyrus Wood
Cinematography: Jay Rescher
Score: David Mendoza
Cast: Red Skelton (Red/Doorman/Coatroom Attendant/Waiter/Emcee), A. Robins, The Merry Macs, Harris & Shore, Louis Da Pron (Themselves), John Regan (Mr. Smith), Mary Wickes (Mrs. Smith)Success
Director: Alfred J. Goulding
Screenplay: Fred Allen
Cinematography: Edwin B. DuPar
Cast: Jack Haley (Elmer), Helen Lynd (Molly), John Hamilton (Mr. Kelly), Marion Lorne (Molly's Mother), Phil Silvers (Antic Fellow)

Ups and Downs
Director: Roy Mack
Screenplay: Jack Henley, Cyrus Wood
Cinematography: Ray Foster
Score: Saul Chaplin
Cast: Hal Le Roy (Hal Smith), June Allyson (June Daily), Toni Lane (Singer), The Deauville Boys (Themselves), Phil Silvers (Charlie), John Hamilton (J.C. Daily)

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