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Street Girl, a 1929 musical from RKO, is a tale of the Four Seasons not in the world of nature but in the world of jazz, where the combo of that name consists of Happy Winter on violin, Joe Spring on clarinet, Pete Summer on accordion and guitar, and Mike Fall on piano and trumpet. They're better at making music than making money, which is why they live together in a run-down flat with little elbowroom and no amenities. There's even less elbowroom after the event that sets the story in motion: Coming home with the groceries one evening, Mike sees a young woman on his doorstep, being harassed by a creepy man. Mike gets rid of him and strikes up a conversation with the woman, who reveals that she hasn't eaten in several days. Mike asks her in for dinner with him and the other jazzmen, who christen her Freddie because her full name, Frederika Joyzelle, is too much of a mouthful for everyday use. Eventually the evening winds down and it's time for her to leave, but the boys discover that she can't go home because she has no home to go to. She's a newly arrived immigrant from Aregon, and she's just been fired from her waitress job for breaking a dish not usually a firing offense, but she shattered this one "over the boss's head" when he didn't treat her like the Aregonese lady she is.
Freddie has no money and no home, but she does have numerous talents a talent for housekeeping, a talent for cooking, and best of all, a talent for music. Back in Aregon she was a gifted violinist who once played for Prince Nicholaus himself! Now she's a stranger in a strange land, dependent on the kindness of strangers, and it's her excellent luck that the Four Seasons are kind enough to take her in as their new roommate. Mike hangs up a sheet so she'll have privacy in her corner of the room five years before Clark Gable rigged up the "Wall of Jericho" in It Happened One Night (1934) and everyone's happy except Happy, who doesn't count, because despite his ironic name, he's a perpetual grump who wouldn't smile if his fiddle turned to gold.
As usual in musicals like this, the tuneful protagonists are down on their luck and strapped for cash. But it turns out that Freddie also has a talent for doing business, especially when that business involves charming the daylights out of old Mr. Keppel, proprietor of the Little Aregon restaurant that's conveniently located nearby. He agrees to take a chance on the Four Seasons, hoping their music will brighten up his establishment, and the arrangement works beautifully for everyone most notably Mike and Freddie, who fall in love and start making marriage plans. Then comes a development no one could have expected: Prince Nicholaus is visiting America, and a festive dinner at the Little Aregon is among his plans. Everybody wants to make this a special evening, so Freddie plays a soulful violin solo with the Four Seasons softly accompanying her. When the number is over she reminds the nobleman that she once played for him in Aregon, and claiming he remembers her well, he plants a princely kiss on her forehead. The diners cheer, the press goes wild, and photographs of the royal smooch appear in all the next morning's papers. Freddie is proud of her triumph and Keppel is delighted with the publicity, but Mike is so mad with jealousy that he impulsively quits the quartet. Will he and Freddie reconcile in time for the gala opening of Keppel's new and enlarged restaurant? The answer is obvious, but it's fun watching the romantic resolution come to pass.
Street Girl is based on a Young's magazine story by W. Carey Wonderly whose title, "The Viennese Charmer," indicates that Freddie's homeland was originally Austria, changed to the fictional Aregon to boost the movie's fairy-tale atmosphere. The picture did well enough for RKO to produce two remakes. The first was That Girl From Paris, released late in 1936, with Lily Pons as a runaway French opera singer, Gene Raymond as musician Windy McLean, and a supporting cast including Lucille Ball, Mischa Auer, and Jack Oakie, who's also in the 1929 picture. The second and better-known remake, released early in 1942, is closer to Street Girl in story and style: Four Jacks and a Jill, with Anne Shirley as a sweet-voiced chanteuse, Ray Bolger as bandleader Nifty Sullivan, and Desi Arnaz as no mere prince but a full-fledged Balkan king two kings, in fact, one bogus and one real.
As the first of these films, Street Girl has the benefits of freshness and the kind of innocence that's often found in above-average early talkies, which tend to make up in enthusiasm what they may lack in true inventiveness. It also has the benefit of Betty Compson, who started her career in 1915, made scores of silent films and dozens of sound pictures, and had real-life violin skills that lend extra realism to Freddie's musical scenes. John Harron is stiff as jazzman Mike and Ivan Lebedeff is positively ossified as the pompous prince his smile isn't just frozen, it's congealed but Oakie is irrepressible as mischievous Joe the clarinetist and Ned Sparks is perfect as unhappy Happy, who finally manages a grin in the very last scene. Fans of swing-era jazz will also spot Gus Arnheim and His Coconut Grove Ambassadors blowing up a storm. Corny though it is, Street Girl is as infectious as the aptly named number that serves as unofficial theme song for the Four Seasons and the movie itself; all in all, it's "Lovable and Sweet."
Producer: William LeBaron, Wesley Ruggles
Director: Wesley Ruggles
Screenplay: Jane Murfin, based on the story "The Viennese Charmer" by W. Carey Wonderly
Cinematographer: Leo Tover
Film Editing: Ann McKnight, Wm. Hamilton
Art Direction: Max Re
Musical Numbers: Oscar Levant & Sidney Clare
With: Betty Compson (Frederika Joyzelle), John Harron (Mike Fall), Jack Oakie (Joe Spring), Ned Sparks (Happy Winter), Guy Buccola (Pete Summer), Joseph Cawthorn (Keppel), Ivan Lebedeff (Prince Nicholaus of Aregon), Doris Eaton (nightclub singer), Gus Arnheim and His Ambassadors (themselves)
by David Sterritt