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  • What a treat! Early talkie musical starring Broadway and Vaudeville stars, the Duncan Sisters. They sang, danced, and did comedy. This film is sort of a knock-off of THE Broadway MELODY. The Duncan Sisters were wanted for that film but were on the road, so the producers copied them in hiring Bessie Love and Anita Page. Later that year MGM snagged the Duncan Sisters for this film.

    They play sisters who work in a department store along with handsome Jimmy (Lawrence Gray). When smart-alec Casey (Rosetta Duncan) gets fired, they all quit and launch a career in "the show business." Jimmy is sweet on Babe (Vivian Duncan) which infuriates Casey.

    Anyway, they form an act built around Jimmy's songs. He plays piano while the girls sing and dance. They are a hit, but there is constant friction between Casey and Jimmy. The couple gets married and Casey goes berserk, breaking up the act. Casey goes solo, while the couple tries to make it alone. They all flop. Some time after, Babe gets really sick and Jimmy is forced to track down Casey and bring her back home.

    While the plot is creaky and the acting is not always very good, the musical numbers are vintage gold. "I'm Following You," which was a big hit, is sung several times. There is also a great comic version of "Tell Me Pretty Maiden," which was the theme song of FLORODORA GIRL, the terrific Marion Davies film which also starred Lawrence Gray. "The Hoosier Hop" is also solid and done in 2-strip Technicolor. Another color sequence is a fashion parade that goes comically wrong.

    Gray is charming and handsome and it's hard to figure why he wasn't a bigger success in talkies. He also has a great singing voice. Benny Rubin and Jed Prouty co-star.

    Of the sisters: Rosetta is the shorter one and the broad comic. She kept reminding me of Patsy Kelly and Beryl Mercer. Vivian was "the pretty one" and has an OK soprano voice. They duet on several songs and are quite effective. They both are passable dancers and comics. They were big stage stars but didn't do all that well in films. Their only other feature together was TOPSY AND EVA, based on their smash hit stage musical. They also did a few shorts.

    I liked them and thought they were both talented and personable. Maybe they could have found a niche in films. Rosetta was on the verge of a comeback on TV (WILD BILL HICKCOK) when she was killed in a car accident. Vivian apparently retired and lived to be 90.

    IT'S A GREAT LIFE is creaky and stagy but what a treat to see these big stars on film.
  • A sister act finds IT'S A GREAT LIFE in show business as long as they can stick together.

    MGM crafted this confection as a showcase for the talents of the Duncan Sisters, of Vaudeville & Broadway fame, and as such it's an interesting relic of its era. The sound quality is remarkably good, considering its age, one of the songs is quite good, and the antique color, which highlights a couple of stage sequences, is very pleasing to the eye. As a vehicle for screen stardom, however, the film proved a disappointment. The Sisters' movie career was over almost before if could get started.

    Rosetta (1900-1959) and Vivian (1902-1986) do quite well as siblings who rise from performing in retail follies to the Vaudeville stage. Vivian, the pretty one, gets most of the film's few romantic moments, but Rosetta, who was an true clown able to do hilarious things with her face & body, steals the picture. When allowed to be silly she is enormous fun to watch. The script, unfortunately, keeps her character in a bad temper for much of the time, eventually wearying the viewer with her interminable fuming. She's so much more enjoyable when in a jolly mood, especially when teamed with sister Vivian. Their lovely duet, "I'm Following You," is a genuine heartwarmer.

    Lawrence Gray, who had made a name for himself in comic Silent film roles, makes the most of his somewhat thankless part as the piano player who captures Vivian's heart. Jed Prouty, as the department store manager who quietly loves Rosetta, and Benny Rubin, playing a Vaudeville booking agent, both do well with their small roles.

    The opening scene, with the Sisters madly dashing down the street to work, hotly pursued by a cop and a mob of excited New Yorkers, is one of the movie's best and gets the proceedings off to a frenzied start.
  • lugonian27 June 2006
    IT'S A GREAT LIFE (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1929) directed by Sam Wood, is another one of those "Broadway Melody" variations produced during the early sound era, with the plot revolving around the up and down stage career of two singing sisters and a songwriter, in this instance, piano playing composer. What makes this one more natural to MGM's own Academy Award Best Picture winner of "The Broadway Melody" (1929), which starred Bessie Love, Anita Page and Charles King, is that this one features actual sisters in the leads. The sisters in question are The Duncan Sisters. And who are the Duncan Sisters? No, they are not the originators of the franchise of Duncan Donuts. Both blondes, they were popular vaudeville headliners with one previous feature film to their name, the silent production of TOPSY AND EVA (UA, 1927). As a result from viewing IT'S A GREAT LIFE, Rosetta (1886-1959) is best described as the shortest of the two with a flare for comedy in the manner of Winnie Lightner with a sort of raspy voice; Vivian (1899-1986), slightly taller yet prettier, sings and dances, but lacking in acting ability, especially when it comes to heavy dramatics. As with many big names during this period, the Duncan Sisters are virtually forgotten today. It's interesting to point out on how Vivian closely resembles Anita Page at one point with a cross variation to future screen actress Dorothy McGuire. Had IT'S A GREAT LIFE been distributed earlier in 1929 instead of the tail end or early 1930, it might have become an equivalent to "The Broadway Melody," considering how both films are somewhat similar in theme, which makes one wonder if the writers of "The Broadway Melody" story had the Duncan Sisters in mind. Regardless, there were no further Duncan Sisters musicals to follow, indicating that IT'S A GREAT LIFE left little or no lasting impression to 1929 audiences. By the time of its release, musicals were showing signs of decline, thus making their talking debut the final feature film for the Duncans.

    Synopsis in brief: Set in New York City, the story opens with a chase after two girls are seen running from their apartment building, down the street, and immediately being pursued by a policeman and some passersby, causing some traffic accidents as the girls cross through heavy traffic, ending with them heading into a department store where it is soon revealed that they are late for work. The plot development introduces the Hogan sisters, Casey (Rosetta) as the wisecracking elder sister to Babe (Rosetta). Babe loves Jimmy Dean (Lawrence Gray), with whom she works in the sheet music department. For some reason, Rosetta dislikes Jimmy, which is never revealed why. She always finding fault in him and takes every opportunity to criticize him whenever possible in hope that Babe will become discouraged and forget about him. After getting fired from their jobs following the annual store show by Mr. Mandelbaum for his disapproval of Casey's clowning, the trio make a go for the big time in vaudeville. Although they become successful, things become complicated when Babe marries Jimmy, causing problems in her relationship with Casey, thus breaking up the act. While failures on their own, they all become too stubborn to make the first move and admit their faults, even when one of them becomes seriously ill with pneumonia.

    The musical program: "Smile, Smile, Smile" (sung by employees); "What the Debutante Must Do" (fashion show sequence in two strip Technicolor), "I'm a Son of a ---." "Lady Love" (sung by Vivian Duncan); "I'm Following You" (sung by the Duncan Sisters); "Smile, Smile, Smile," "I'm Following You," "It Must Be an Old Spanish Custom," "Rigoletto," "It Must as Well Be You," "Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella" (sung by unseen vocalist during dramatic moment); "I'm Following You" (sung by Lawrence Gray); "Dance Number" (performed by Rosetta dressed up like a little Dutch Boy); "Hoosier Hop" (production number in two-strip Technicolor with the Duncan Sisters); and "I'm Following You." With the songs being the main attraction, only "I'm Following You" is quite memorable, even after several reprises.

    Aside from the aforementioned leads, only Benny Rubin as Benny Friedman, the booking agent, and Jed Prouty (who played the stuttering uncle in "The Broadway Melody" ) as David Parker, the store manager who loves Casey, assume billing in the opening casting credits while others do not.

    The title to IT'S A GREAT LIFE has been used several times over the years: Paramount (1935) with Joe Morrison; Columbia (1943), as part of the 28 film series featuring "Blondie and the Bumsteads" with Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake, as well as the long forgotten TV comedy series starring Michael O'Shea and Frances Bavier (1953-55).

    The movie as a whole is really not bad. After it is all over, it'll be hard to get these lyrics, "Wherever you go, whatever you do, I want you to know, I'm following you" out of your head. IT'S A GREAT LIFE may never be categorized as a great early musical, but mostly a curiosity for fans of movies from this particular era as well as a rediscovery look into the careers of the once popular Duncan Sisters. Only the final minutes, highlighted by a Technicolor production number choreographed by Sammy Lee, comes off a bit weak.

    Once shown on a frequent level on Turner Classic Movies cable channel prior to 1996, it's become more of a rarity today. (** Duncans)
  • The Warner Archives got this one right. The last time this film was shown in its entirety on TCM back in the 1990's, the color finale was still lost. After it was found, the restored film was never shown on TCM to my knowledge, but the discovered color finale was often shown on Turner Classic Movies under its "One Reel Wonder" series between films. The Warner Archives DVD-R release restores the color finale to the film itself, so we get to see it as it was supposed to be seen and was seen in 1929.

    The story involves sisters Babe and Casey Hogan, (Vivian and Rosetta Duncan), salesgirls at a department store, which is ruled somewhat like a banana republic in that store employees are required to assemble and sing the store song each morning. The girls have been orphaned since Babe was a child, and Casey is the older sister. Thus Casey is accustomed to looking after sister Babe and deflecting the advances of Jimmy Dean (Lawrence Grey), who has a strong romantic interest in younger sister Babe. This was the Duncan Sisters' only sound film, and they come across oddly on camera. Vivien is somewhat like a husky Anita Page, and Rosetta reminds me in voice and actions of Lucille Ball, although Rosetta does not have Lucy's delicacy of features.

    Pieces of this story looks like it inspired Singing in the Rain. For example, there is a show by and for the department store employees about half way into the film that includes a fashion show. A song is sung by a male tenor as each girl steps down a staircase to present the latest in flapper fashions - much like the Beautiful Girl number in Singin in the Rain. Also, Babe gets deathly ill towards the end of the film and goes unconscious, allowing a couple of over the top musical numbers that are the highlight of the movie - "The Hoosier Hop" and the recently found finale "Sailing on a Sunbeam". These numbers are supposed to be Babe's hallucinations as she lies unconscious. These numbers rather reminded me of the long "Broadway Melody" number in Singin in the Rain, with its wild colors and big sets in that film within a film.

    Recommended for those who enjoy the early sound films.
  • Unfortunately, Alexander Gray is not half as engaging in Sam Wood's "It's a Great Life" as he was in "Sally" (1929) in which he romanced Marilyn Miller. Here he is paired with Vivian, the prettier (if less talented) of the Duncan Sisters who turn out to be comedians rather than the single-minded, full-throated singers I always imagined. Rosetta is the real clown of the act, Vivian the straight "guy" who also sings a little. While Gray struggles with his role as Vivian's love interest, Rosetta's romantic partner turns out to be Jed Prouty, who is surprisingly effective, considering he made no less than seven other movie appearances in 1929, including his most well-known role as the stuttering uncle in "Broadway Melody". There are also some effective cameos from the crowds of extras. The first half of the movie is an unalloyed delight. Director Sam Wood certainly gets things off to a really great start. In fact, I nominate it as the best ever opening sequence for a musical. Better still, this M-G-M production, I'm very happy to say, still has its two Technicolor sequences intact (even in the first is printed a little too dark and the second a little too light in the current DVD).
  • IT'S A GREAT LIFE is a one-of-a-kind comedy-musical-melodrama starring the legendary The Duncan Sisters, one of the few vaudeville headlining acts to be given a chance at major film stardom. MGM appears to have spared no expense at attempting to showcase the Duncans to best advantage and while the end result unfortunately did not result in screen stardom for the gals (the Duncans never again appeared in a feature film although they would make a musical two-reeler and several appearances as themselves in short films over the next decade) they are utterly charming though surely more than a little eccentric to modern viewers.

    Sisters Casey (Rosetta Duncan) and Babe Hogan (Vivian Duncan) work at a major department store. Babe is sweet on the store's pianist for the sheet music department, James Dean (!!!) (played by Lawrence Gray). For reasons never quite clear, Casey hates him with a passion and constantly makes him the butt of her humor. Ill-humored Casey is a sarcastic cutup and ultimately her mockery of the store's "theme song" during a store musical production ends up getting all of the trio fired. Fortunately, a pal of Jimmy's, a talent agent, has seen the act and launches them on a successful career as vaudeville performers but the fighting between Casey and Jimmy only escalates and when Babe and Casey sneak off and get married, an infuriated Casey breaks up the act leading all of them down the path of failure.

    Rosetta Duncan is a riot as the sassy older sister, she's a fantastic comedienne and her mocking, disrespectful humor seems astonishingly contemporary today even while the movie itself creaks like many early talkies. She also is a delight with a comic song. The talents of the (considerably) prettier Vivian Duncan are more modest although she is an endearing presence and sings lovely harmony with her sister. The sisters, both into their thirties at the time, are quite effective as their "little girl" personas in several song numbers as they no doubt were even more so on the stage at the time.

    The movie seems a bit long with it's slender plot and small speaking cast and the turn toward melodrama was at least for modern audiences was a mistake, but the movie has still has much to recommend it with it's vivid glimpse at 1920's New York, a "flapper" fashion show, appealing two-strip Technicolor sequences, quite good songs and numbers and above all the two and only Duncan Sisters. As Babe Hogan would put it, this movie is quite "sweet".
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I first heard about this film aback in the lat 70's when i check out a book ," the m.g.m. story. It was a huge book. I saw years and years later a bad faded version. That had 4 early Technicolor sequences . One I would learn later was not a part of the film .It was from lost film ,"Red hot rhythm. with Alan hale s.r. doing a song and dance number. This was a version of the movie that was privately owned by Rosetta Duncan. She obviously knew about nitrate and color fading and preserved it in a cool storage. Thanks to her we got this film. The rogue song was stored carelessly. There's only two clips and a faded trailer.Well I learned in that in the early 90's before t.c.m. tn.t.. had this version on. I used to watch T.n.t, how did I miss it? Well T. c. M. had a version in which the last final of the Technicolor musical sequence was edited out as well as the red hot rhythm. The real disturbing part about the version on t.n.T. was that the finale number of the last color sequence was enhanced . They made the chorus girls feathers colorized to blue making that whole final looking like three strip. Making it uneven. This revisionism against history is wrong. This is typical of big corporate greed fearing that some of the audience won't like two color Technicolor , enhancing this to ensure their greedy ratings will be made.m.g.m .u.a did this against Dr, X. and Mystery of the wax museum by the mid 90's out of fear that some of the audience may not understand two strip. I got the d.v.d. version recently . The first color sequence is original. The first finale stays original.But the last of the finale is that enhanced version. I'm disappointed . They did remove red hot rhythm sequence. That wasn't part of the movie to begin with.They should of removed that blue and it would of looked the way it was suppose to look.the way it was made.But m.g.m side of Time Warner is still anti two color cause of greed.The only reason why they didn't enhanced all the sequences cause it was too expensive .In spite of this fault it's still an entertaining film.Which explores the history of Vaudeville , which was dying when this movie was made,in which too struggling sisters, Babe and Casey Hogan, struggle every day.Casey promising her dying mother that she would take care of her young sister.But babe starts to fall for the piano music sheet man , played by Lawrence Gray. but Casey is over protective of her sister. When there store has their show . Casey thinks that the original way of the act stinks. Since Babe is getting nervous, Casey comes in and makes it better. but James ,played by Lawrence, thinks she ruined the show . But it becomes a hit. But Casey and Babe and James are fired. But are rescued by Benny Ruben as the talent manager, puts them on the stage. They are a hit . But James and Casey can't get along.This causes the act too break up and Casey is mad at Babe for marrying James.without all three the individual performers flop.It's when babes get's sick that this united all three. I have gotten a feeling that the original plans for this picture was going to be all Technicolor. But since the Duncan sister weren't known in films and Mayors attitude for color. It was decided just to have 3 sequences only. Lawrence Tibbet was a bigger name than them on the screen. i'm just guessing it. It's still collectible . Warner brother shop dot com and also at amazon.com
  • I love old movies and have a very high tolerance for old fashioned style films, but "It's a Great Life" was very, very hard for me to watch. When seen today, you wonder how the Duncan Sisters could have been such a successful stage act, as they are, at times, godawful and hard to take.

    When the story begins, Casey and Babe (Rosetta and Vivian Duncan) are working at a department store and hate the job. Once thing they like, however, is the upcoming store talent show. Unfortunately, the acts bomb one after another and it culminates with Babe performing a terrible song. To try to save it, Casey goes on stage and tries to inject some laughs into the act...and it is a hit. Soon the sisters plan on doing a vaudeville version of this act but this plan is scuttled when Babe gets married...and Casey absolutely hates her new husband, Jimmy. So Babe and Jimmy try their hand at performing...and fall flat on their faces. Casey does better but longs to get back with her sister....but her hatred of Jimmy stops any chance of reunification. What's to come of this?

    The main problem with this film is that the singing is just horrid...so bad that it's painful to watch. Some of the acting isn't especially good either (the end with Casey and Babe is just horrible) but frankly these non-singing portions are the highlights! Overall, a curio...just not a very good one. And, frankly, I cannot understand the reviews giving it scores of 8-10. This is NOT another "Broadway Melody" and is best seen for it's historical importance and NOT its entertainment value...which is nil.

    Incidentally, if you subject yourself to this one (DON'T!), you'll get to see a couple two-color Technicolor sequences.
  • Rosetta Duncan has to be one of the most annoying actresses I have ever seen. Jed Prouty deserves an academy award for pretending to be in love with this *blank* .... must have been the most difficult acting job in his career. At one point, during the first Technicolor sequence, Lawrence Gray almost kicks Rosetta Duncan....and you can't help wishing he had and right off the stage at that. Rosetta Duncan is about as funny as a room full of cockroaches. The film would have been improved greatly if she had been entirely removed from the cast.

    Lawrence Gray has a pleasing voice and it is a shame he doesn't get to sing more.. and he is really the only reason I don't give this picture a 1. His rendition of "Following You" and "I'm Sailing on a Sunbeam" (the second in Technicolor) are the highlights of the picture. Vivian Duncan has a pleasant voice, but she is unfortunately drown out by her annoying sister's croaks. Benny Rubin is pretty much wasted in his tiny part.