In this short film, Ray Mayer and Edith Evans perform a musical routine dressed in Western attire.
Vitaphone Shorts #1
The lineup of shorts:
Will H. Hays Introduces Vitaphone (1926)
Georgie Price in 'Don't Get Nervous' (1929)
Horace Heidt and His Californans (1929)
Shaw and Lee, The Beau Brummels (1928)
Baby Rose Marie, The Child Wonder (1929)
Mayer & Evans, The Cowboy And The Girl (1928)
Trixie Friganza in 'My Bag 'O Trix' (1929)
Hazel Green and Company (1928)
Will H. Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers & Distributors of America, stepped before a Warner Bros. camera on August 6, 1926 to announce the advent of the Vitaphone sound system, a crucial step in Hollywood's transition from silent pictures to talkies. His speech is fascinating to witness even today. "My friends," he begins, "no story ever written for the screen is as dramatic as the story of the screen itself." Underscoring his message with gestures you might expect from an amateur symphony conductor, he goes on to credit various companies that contributed to this advance, and praises film's newfound capacity for bringing music "to the town halls of the hamlets." Hays is most famous for presiding over Hollywood censorship when the Production Code, also known as the Hays code, was introduced in 1930. His declaration hailing the Vitaphone system is a different sort of historical artifact, marking a more positive milestone in film culture.
Don't Get Nervous is a Vitaphone movie about a Vitaphone movie being made. More precisely it's a comedy on that subject, wherein vaudeville star Georgie Price arrives at the Vitaphone studio in Brooklyn to film his act, but hesitates to perform because he won't have a live audience to inspire him. To remedy the situation, the movie crew - several men, one lone woman - line up behind the camera politely applauding to encourage the reluctant star. The rest of the picture shows Price singing two songs, "Hello, Sunshine, Hello" and "Sweetheart's Holiday," very much in the Al Jolson manner and bantering with the studio gang. Bryan Foy, who ran the short-subject department at Warner Bros., appears as the director of the one-reeler, which provides one of the few filmed records of Price's popular act. Despite the title, nobody seems nervous.
Horace Heidt and His Californians is a one-reel concert movie by a notably energetic dance orchestra. In one number, two pianists play two pianos while turning on their benches to alternate between keyboards. In another, reed players switch instruments - from the high clarinet to the low baritone sax and others in between - with every new line of the song. A trumpeter plays the venerable showpiece "Carnival of Venice," blasting a high C above high C at the end. In the last piece, half of the band plays while the other half does a sort of dance that looks more like a calisthenics workout. And all the while, Lobo the Police Dog sits on the bandstand with the musicians. Why is the handsome canine there? Good question. Heidt had ensembles with various names, but this was surely among the liveliest.
The Beau Brummels are Shaw & Lee, also known as Al Shaw and Sam Lee, a vaudeville duo in the classic vein of deadpan comedians. Their stony expressions make Buster Keaton's face seem almost dynamic, and their singing style matches their demeanor couching absurdist lyrics in uproariously drab settings. Sample song titles: "Don't Forget to Breathe or Else You'll Die" and "The Guy Who Wrote This Song Was Deaf." They also tell jokes, a couple of which are pretty funny, and near the end they break out of their statue-like pose for a bit of soft-shoe dancing and derby-hat juggling. Radically minimalist and highly entertaining all around.
As a teenager and adult, Rose Marie was a nightclub performer, radio comedian, movie actress and sitcom regular. But as a child she was Baby Rose Marie, a pert little singer with a surprisingly strong voice and a precociously mature manner. At age three she was performing and at age six she was doing radio and movies, including some Vitaphone shorts. Baby Rose Marie: The Child Wonder is a straightforward showcase for her limited but real talent, featuring three songs and zillions of coy gesticulations. Although she frequently glances off camera during her act, maybe getting visual prompts from a coach or parent, she seems sure of herself and of what she needs to do. As child wonders go, she's quite the charmer.
The Cowboy and the Girl preserves the artistry of Mayer & Evans, busy vaudevillians who had teamed up shortly before this 1928 one-reeler was made. Ray Mayer grins at the camera and plays piano while constantly chewing gum, parking it on the piano when he sings and retrieving it when he's done. Edith Evans sticks to singing, and when Mayer somehow hurts a finger or bangs his head on the keyboard, she kisses it to make it better. Evans is quite attractive but part of Mayer's shtick is making fun of her - describing her fur piece as "unborn Airedale," for instance, and saying she'd be working at the Metropolitan opera...if they still had lady ushers. It's all silly, but the act works, thanks to the comic chemistry between the two.
Trixie Friganza doesn't really have a bag of tricks in My Bag O' Tricks, but in the second half of the film she has a bass fiddle, which she doesn't so much play as fiddle around with, comparing its shape to her own figure at one point. She also sings comic songs and delivers droll monologues. In one, she tells an unseen friend about a wild night on the town, spelling out words so her little boy won't understand and tell her husband, which the kid does anyway, since modern children learn many things before they go to school. Another number mixes lyrics about a "peevish widow" with bits of Frédéric Chopin's famous funeral match. Friganza is largely forgotten today, but this Vitaphone one-reeler reveals her as a gifted and self-confident comedian in the Margaret Dumont mold, mixing dignity and humor in well-balanced proportions.
Hazel Green and Company consists of Green, a spirited plus-size singer, and company, a six-man band plus overalls-wearing tap dancer Joe Lacurta, who comes on when Green sings "Just a Bird's-Eye View (of My Old Kentucky Home)" and again at the grand finale, when Green shows that she's an ace dancer herself, working wonders in high-heeled tap shoes. The other songs are "I've Grown So Lonesome (Thinking of You)" and "That's Why I Love You" as well as the familiar "Ain't She Sweet," with its tagline changed to "ain't they sweet," referring to the band. This 1928 one-reeler appears to be the only film for either Green or Lacurta, which is a pity, since each puts on a good show. Ain't they sweet?
Introduction of Vitaphone Sound Pictures
Cinematographer: Edwin B. DuPar
With: Will H. Hays (himself)
Don't Get Nervous
Director: Bryan Foy
Music: Henry H. Tobias, J. Russel Robinson
With: Georgie Price, Bryan Foy, Harold Levey, Frank McNellis (themselves)
Horace Heidt and His Californians
Director: Murray Roth
Music: Edwin B. Edwards, Nick LaRocca, Tony Sbarbaro, Henry Ragas, Larry Shields, Joseph A. Burke, Jean-Bapriste Arban, Fred E. Ahlert
With: Lee Lykins, Lobo, Horace Heidt and His Californians (themselves)
The Beau Brummels
Music: Al Shaw and Sam Lee
With: Al Shaw, Sam Lee (the Beau Brummels)
Baby Rose Marie: The Child Wonder
Director: Bryan Foy
Music: Rudy Vallee, Harry M. Woods, George Frommel, Haven Gillespie, Larry Shay, Archie Gottler, Charles Tobias, Maceo Pinkard
With: Baby Rose Marie (herself)
The Cowboy and the Girl
Music: Sam H. Stept, J. Russel Robinson, Charles Tobias, Coleman Goetz, Walter Donaldson
With: Ray Mayer, Edith Evans (Mayer & Evans)
My Bag O' Tricks
Director: Bryan Foy
With: Trixie Friganza (herself)
Hazel Green and Company
Director: Bryan Foy
Music: Walter Donaldson, Milton Ager
With: Hazel Green, Joe Lacurta (themselves)
by David Sterritt