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During the “Dawn of Sound,” musical short subjects were the hors d’oeuvre before the main feature, and an effective means for the studio to test their freshly signed talent in front of the camera. Aggressively pursuing the top singers, songwriters, and musicians of Tin Pan Alley, Paramount’s roster of contract players was composed of some of the top names in the world of entertainment. Cary Grant makes his film debut as a sailor cruising the Far East in search of whoopee in Singapore Sue. Artie Shaw presents a master class in the elements of swing-band construction (Artie Shaw’s Class In Swing). A very young Bing Crosby croons three ballads in Dream House, a comedy musical directed by slapstick impresario Mack Sennett. This collection showcases several top female vocalists, including Ethel Merman (Her Future), Ruth Etting (Favorite Melodies) and Lillian Roth (Meet The Boyfriend). There’s also a two-edged homage to that icon of thirties naughtiness, Betty Boop, with appearances by Betty’s prototype, “Boop-a-Doop Girl” Helen Kane (A Lesson In Love), and Betty’s actual voice, Mae Questel (Musical Doctor, in which Dr. Rudy Vallee finds musical deficiencies to be the root of all ills). Perhaps the gem of this collection, however, is Office Blues, in which a pre-Astaire and pre-stardom Ginger Rogers cavorts with Broadway chorines in an Art Deco extravaganza. With artists like these on the bill, it’s clear that the short subject — not the feature — was often the highlight of the program!
- BEST OF BIG BANDS & SWING, THE (DVD MOVIE)