30 March 2002 | lugonian
A Broadway Torch Singer
"Broadway Hostess" (Warner Brothers/First National, 1935), directed by Frank McDonald, is a simple rise to fame and consequence story with a plot that appears to be a throwback from those numerous late 1920s-early 1930 musicals, with Winifred Shaw giving her all in what turned out to be her only starring feature during her short-lived movie career (1934-1937). And what a curio that is!
The story opens with an eyeview of New York City's Broadway district where the Club Intime rehearsals are being held for Joe Jarvis's (Joseph King) new show. Auditioning is Dorothy DuBois (Marie Wilson), who proves to be a poor candidate. Ted "Lucky" Lorimer (Lyle Talbot), Joe's assistant, feels the new song selection could use the talent of a good torch singer. In comes Winnie Wharton (Winifred Shaw) of Ohio, winner of a popularity contest, sent by her agent, to audition. After the audition, Winnie's career is set, rising to a popular radio singer whose songs boost record sales. Complications arise when Winnie, who is now in love with Lucky, finds that he wants to marry Iris Marvin (Genevieve Tobin), an heiress of social standing. The marriage is soon faced with problems, thanks to Iris's brother, Ronnie (Donald Ross), a pampered youth with a bad attitude and his love for both the liquor bottle and gambling.
With music and lyrics by Herbert Ruby and M.K. Jerome, songs include: "I'm Dancing With Tears in My Eyes," "Weary" (both sung by Winifred Shaw); "You Bother Me an Awful Lot" (written by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal/danced by chorus); "He Was Her Man," "Weary," "Who But You," "Let It Be Me" (sung by Phil Regan); "Playboy of Paree" (sung by Shaw and Regan); "Let It Be Me" and "He Was Her Man." The production number, "Playboy of Paree," which plays part of the REVUE OF REVUES, ACT I, sequence, was choreographed by Bobby Connolly, and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Dance Direction.
Also seen in the supporting cast are Allen Jenkins as Fishcake Carter; Spring Byington as Mrs. Duncan Griswald-Smythe; Ward Bond as a bodyguard; Mary Treen, among others.
As mentioned earlier, Broadway HOSTESS offers Wini Shaw a rare opportunity in a leading role. However, she would soon find herself going back to where she started: singing guest spots and supporting roles in second features. Shaw's singing style here appears to be a combination of both Helen Morgan and Frances Langford, but if she were given more of a chance, she would have developed a style all her own. But chances for improvement did not come. Shaw retired from the screen by 1937. Of all her films, she left a lasting legacy as the vocalist who introduces the hit tune, "The Lullaby of Broadway" from GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 (1935). And that's something to remember. Although Shaw is mentioned numerous times in Broadway HOSTESS as being a torch singer and not a Broadway hostess, it's obvious the movie title is a misnomer.
Broadway HOSTESS contains enough plot elements and forgettable songs squeezed into its tight 68 minutes, with the final eight minutes or so appearing to be rushed and handicapped by heavy editing, with the final result of the movie being mediocre entertainment (A no winner for Winnie). Genevieve Tobin however, is quite satisfactory in her usual sophisticated society girl performance; Lyle Talbot does well with his good-guy role, although he's more suitable in playing a "heavy" or bad guy than a leading man; the unknown Donald Ross is definitely unlikeable as the unpleasant Ronnie Marvin. And then there's poor Marie Wilson, who, after appearing in a few scenes earlier in the story, she is placed in the background, not to be seen and heard again. Her amusing comedy antics would have helped boost up the plot a little.
Is Winifred Shaw capable of carrying on an entire movie? The answer is to sit back and watch "Broadway Hostess" whenever it plays on cable television's Turner Classic Movies to find out. (**)