Tuesday, December 20, 2011

HOLLYWOOD PARTY (MGM 1934) Warner Archive Collection

Patched together by directors Richard Boleslawski, Allan Dwan, Edmund Goulding, Russell Mack, Charles Reisner, Roy Rowland, George Stevens and Sam Wood, MGM's lavishly absurd send-up to west coast decadence, Hollywood Party (1934) remains the granddaddy of all such nonsensical ensemble pieces. All the studios made review-styled films throughout the 1930s – then again during the war years. But none could rival MGM's supremacy for glamour or star power. They had the biggest names in showbiz and enough cash in their coffers to eclipse virtually any such effort put forth elsewhere. MGM in the good ol’ days was a studio with a reputation for quality and excellence. And while one can argue that Hollywood Party represents neither particularly well – in point of fact, the movie is little more than a travelogue through MGM’s roster of star talent – the film unequivocally champions the old studio motto ‘ars gratia artis’ loosely translated as “art for art’s sake”.
The premise of Howard Dietz, Arthur Kober, Richy Craig Jr., Herbert Fields, Edmund Goulding, Henry Myers, Edgar Allen Woolf's screenplay is simplistic to a fault. Then again, you aren't watching star cavalcades like Hollywood Party for plot. In a nutshell, the narrative centers on Jimmy Durante (playing himself) as a great star in danger of falling off this perch. On screen Durante is the Great Schnarzan - a spoof of Tarzan (whom MGM had made famous with Johnny Weissmuller) - wrestling dead lions and chasing after his Jane (played on the screen in this movie by sultry Spanish starlet, Lupe Velez. Velez would make a name for herself as one of Hollywood's most bizarre suicides in 1944, discovered face down in a toilet after succumbing to an overdose of barbiturates.) In this film Ms. Velez is very much alive, however, and full of vinegar for Durante after he snubs her by not inviting her to his over-the-top house party. The whole affair is being given in honor of Baron Munchausen (Bob Pearl); a big game hunter whose lions are wanted by Durante to co-star in his next big picture in order to resurrect his waning popularity with fans.
In another corner are the Clemps: Harvey (Charles Butterworth), Henrietta (Polly Moran) and daughter Linda (June Clyde) - newly arrived from Texas. Harvey is a millionaire oil baron who enjoys tearing up thousand dollar bills in public to attest to his fortune. But he is unnaturally quite obtuse to virtually any and all romantic inquiries made about either his daughter or his wife. Durante's biggest rival, Liondora (George Givot) attempts to woo Linda, then Harvey to gain access to the millionaire's backing for Munchausen's lions. But as luck would have it neither will get what they want out of the night's festivities.
The film wildly ricochets between vignettes as far reaching and eclectic as a cartoon sequence featuring Mickey Mouse (on a rare loan out from Disney) and 'Hot Chocolate Soldiers' to the arrival of Ted Healy and The Three Stooges playing a pack of misguided autograph hounds. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy turn up in the last act as the original owners of Munchausen's lions - intent on collecting their fury friends after they discover they've been duped by the Baron. Durante seduces Henrietta but is unable to consummate their affair when the lions are unleashed from their cages. Striking his head on the stairs, Durante awakes in his own home with his real wife (Jeanne Olsen) at his side. The whole night has been just a dream concocted after reading Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan The Ape Man.
At its core, Hollywood Party is an utterly mindless trifle. There's no point to anything we see on the screen. It's just pure entertainment. And therein is the film's success. It isn't pretending to be anything but a cavalcade of great stars doing wonderfully clever and occasionally daft bits of business for which their careers were made justly famous and are still fondly remembered for today. This is a wonderful opportunity to see a lot of 'acts' get into the act without being bothered by needless exposition. Like a night in Vaudeville, Hollywood Party comes across as delightful and silly. It's grand good fun, even if it is completely meaningless.
Warner Home Video's MOD DVD is very solid. Given the film's age and the fact that no restoration work has been performed on this title, the transfer holds up remarkably well. It's sharp and consistent with considerable grain. But age related artifacts are kept at bay for the most part. Process shots and dissolves are grainy, but otherwise the image is fairly smooth and satisfying. Contrast seems slightly bumped up. The audio is mono. Occasionally, it's strident but otherwise passable if not exceptional. Warner has seen fit to give us a rare audio vault of extras - 9 outtakes of songs both featured and left on the cutting room floor. Recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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