21 January 2004 | bkoganbing
Russ Columbo was an unfinished talent
In his all too short career, this turned out to be the first of only two feature films that starred crooner Russ Columbo. Until his accidental death in 1934, Columbo was the main singing rival of Bing Crosby. But where as Crosby was singing far more than ballads even that early in his career, Columbo's small output of recordings were strictly syrupy love songs which he certainly did very well.
The plot of Broadway Through a Keyhole is nothing original, your typical backstage show business story so popular in the 1930s. But it's good to see talents like Eddie Foy, Jr., Constance Cummings, Blossom Seeley and Texas Guinan doing their thing. Paul Kelly is his usual competent self as the gangster rival of Russ's for Constance Cummings. But if you can see the film, the main reason to see it and why it ought to be preserved is as a showcase for Russ Columbo.
Columbo's commercial records, done mostly for RCA Victor, are love songs. He has two numbers in Broadway Through a Keyhole, You're My Past, Present, and Future which is a nice Harry Revel-Mack Gordon ballad which he never commercially recorded. He also sings a duet with Constance Cummings titled I Love You Pizzicato which displays a nice comic touch.
Russ Columbo only recorded about 30 sides commercially from 1930 to 1932. A contractual dispute kept him out of the recording studio until August 31, 1934 where he recorded four sides under a new contract for Brunswick records. On September 2, 1934 he was shot to death in a freak accident involving an antique cap and ball dueling pistol.
Columbo was no great actor in this film, but that's not to say that he might not have become one as Crosby did or Crosby's main rival Frank Sinatra. The Sinatra you see in Higher and Higher, his first feature film part, was no great actor either, not like he later became.
See the film if you can and speculate for yourself about the unfinished talent that was Russ Columbo.