26 May 2012 | AlsExGal
Even more curious when you realize this was a hit in its day...
...but remember that the day was a short one. Harry Richman - starring almost as himself as a crooner whose head grows with his fame - was going through a short period of notoriety as a playboy, not to mention he was a popular singer in his own right with his own club at the time this film was released. Joan Bennett as Delores, Harry's love interest, was still a teenager, just getting restarted in a career that would ultimately span half a century. Then there is James Gleason as Jimmy, who actually wrote the dialogue for this one as well as acting in a supporting role as a love interest to ... Lilyan Tashman??? There's about 15 minutes missing from what's left of this film and I sure hope it's found someday and turns out to be scenes between Tashman and Gleason... Oh the possibilities! Tashman was well known at the time, but Gleason was just getting started in front of the camera with sound giving him a golden opportunity as a character actor and as a character in general.
What makes this one interesting has little to do with plot, or acting or even music, in spite of the fact that the songs were written by Irving Berlin. Instead what is breathtaking is the art design. Made just after the stock market crash and before the Depression took hold, it is an art deco lover's dream. If F.W. Murnau had been making a musical in 1929 it would have looked like this.
Of course, this one will always be remembered for just one number - the title one, "Puttin on the Ritz". Sure it's clumsily choreographed, but the nightmarish scene of buildings and billboards coming to life and swaying to the beat of Berlin's syncopated tune decades before any CGI could add to the spectacle is not to be forgotten.
Then there are more than a few riddles today for which we have no answers. Why, when Goldie and Jimmy visit at Harry's Christmas party full of society swells are they wearing matching fur hats and plaid coats? Are they married, if so when did they get married? Why is Delores such a big hit in her own show at the end of the film when all she does is skip and wrinkle her nose with delight during a number about Alice in Wonderland while the chorus does all of the actual singing and dancing? Why would anyone ever believe that the incredibly talented Joan Bennett was a viable singer in the first place? Harry Richman's character is Harry Raymond, yet the neon sign on his club is shown as "Club Richmond". Did they change his character's name and not bother to re-shoot this probably expensive shot of the exterior of the club thinking nobody would notice? Again, if only we could find the missing 15 minutes of this film, maybe some of these questions could be answered. Watch this one for its cast at strategic points in their careers, for the title number, for the spectacular art design, and for an object lesson in the host of problems that plagued so many back-stagers such as this at the dawn of sound.