In 1930, MGM was still ironing out the kinks in its early sound pictures. "Chasing Rainbows" " is one of the earliest musicals that still has some of those kinks. It also shows the lesser quality of performers at the time. But this attention to musicals was paving the way for MGM's undisputed title as king of the musicals through the end of Hollywood's golden age in the early 1960s.
Although there had been singers and dancers with bands on stage, the cinema world had not used them until sound. So, finding the voices, dancers and musicians for films was part of the new challenge. And, interestingly, MGM also filmed part of this movie in Technicolor. The DVD I obtained from the WB Archive Collection has a reconstructed film without the color scenes. Three of those were of song and dance numbers. All the color segments were lost, so this rebuilt film has some black and white still photos showing the scenes that were shot in color.
This film has one other historical value. It's a very good depiction of the traveling stage shows. This was not vaudeville, but production of popular stage shows that traveled around the country to perform in towns that had stage theaters.
Most of the cast of this film weren't known much beyond the 1930s. But two of the main characters were, and it's their performances that make this film worth watching. Jack Benny serves as the stage manager, Eddie Rock. With the traveling show, his job was much more than that of the theater manager. He was also director for rehearsals, in charge of property, and overall supervisor and watchdog of the cast and crew. Benny's Rock is very good with some nice comedy.
The other well-known person is actress Marie Dressler, as Bonnie. She is responsible for the bulk of the comedy, and much of that is in an ongoing spat with Polly, the props manager. Polly Moran plays that role very well.
The female and male leads are Carlie Seymour and Terry Fay, played by Bessie Love and Charles King. Love was a big star of the last 15 years of silent films, and her career segued into sound. But, after a few of these early films with lead roles, she was relegated to mostly supporting roles. The evolution of sound pictures also brought a huge swarm of new talent as the studios searched for new stars with good voices. Some came from the live stage and a few from the silent films, but the large influx was mostly new faces in the 1930s.
Besides Dressler in this film, movie buffs will know the silent stars who transitioned and did as well or better than they had before. They included Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Gary Cooper, William Powell, the Barrymore's (John, Lionel and Ethel), Carole Lombard, Loretta Young, Jean Arthur, Myrna Loy, and Clark Gable. But for each one of those whose careers continued and blossomed from silent to sound, there were 100 who didn't. Not all were because of the sound itself, or their voices. Many had been in pictures for 20 years or more, and couldn't compete with the acting of new people. Some big names that made a few films in sound before they quit were Mary Pickford, Clara Bow and Douglas Fairbanks.
Some of the new talent that the 1930s brought ranged from Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, to Cary Grant, James Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power, Robert Taylor and Spencer Tracy on the male side. And some truly great actresses came to the screen in the 1930s, including Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne, Bette Davis, Rosalind Russell, Barbara Stanwyck, Katherine Hepburn, Kay Francis, Lucille Ball, Merle Oberon and Greer Garson.
Of course, across the pond - in the UK and all over Europe more stars were appearing in cinema.
Back to this film. Charles King could sing, but he wasn't anywhere near the talent that would be in the musicals within a couple of years. He was new to films himself, but acted as though he were in a silent film. He exaggerated his moves. His long pauses with a sour puss made him seem to be pouting. It's likely that directors and producers were having to adjust as well.
It's good to have something like this in an early major studio film to show the challenges that studios had in making major changes. My guess is that there wasn't another top singer to be found anywhere who had acted to put in the role of Terry Fay. King had just started in films in 1928 and had four films behind him - all musicals. He did much better in "The Broadway Melody" of 1929, where his song was good and acting just so-so. He made one more musical after this, also in 1930, then a handful more of non-musicals in small parts and his acting career was finished.
To give the feel of the traveling show, a couple of scenes show town or theater names between some snippets of very fast-moving trains. In one of those, the film gives the name of show playing. At the Nebraska Theatre, Xmas Week Dec. 22nd, "Good-Bye Broadway" is being performed. Another scene shows a sign of the Vermont Opera House.
Those who might enjoy this film are movie and history buffs. Most others would probably give up on it after a few minutes. Perhaps the missing Technicolor numbers would have lifted the film.
Here's a sample dialog exchange. Carlie Seymour, "Say, I've been through this so much with him, don't you think I'd better go in and talk to him - huh?" Eddie Rock, "Well, all right. If you wanna play Little Daniel in the lion's den, go ahead. But if he bites you, don't blame me."