29 November 2004 | lugonian
He Was Her Leading Man
I LIVE FOR LOVE (Warner Brothers, 1935), directed by Busby Berkeley, a showcase for Everett Marshall, then a well known radio singer with a rich baritone singing voice, and one motion picture (DIXIANA in 1930) behind him, makes his second and final screen appearance. Marshall, who is virtually unknown today, makes a better singing performer than an actor as Berkeley makes a better choreographer than a non-musical director. But I LIVE FOR LOVE, with the title sounding more like a Kay Francis-George Brent tear-jerker, is a musical but without those lavish scale production numbers that made Berkeley so famous. Marshall, who has a somewhat physical resemblance to singer/actor Harry Richman, was lacking as a leading man, and like Richman, had a short stay in the motion picture business.
The plot involves Roger Kerry (Everett Marshall), who, after gaining some attention from passersby on a crowded street by helping out three struggling street musicians (Eddie Conrad, Shaw and Lee) by singing "Oh, Marie," lands himself a co-starring role when picked out by producer Howard Fabian (Berton Churchill) to appear in an upcoming play starring the famed but temperamental South American actress, Donna Alvarez (Dolores Del Rio). Because Donna wants Rico Cesaro (Don Alvarado), the man she loves, to be her co-star, she makes life difficult for Kerry, now working under the professional name of Owen Jones, by telling him he's a bad actor, thus, causing him to quit. His failure as a theatrical actor leads to success when discovered by George P. Henderson (Guy Kibbee) of Henderson Soap Company, to hire him to sing on his radio program, where, performing under his real name, wins fame and fortune. The duration of the story finds Donna and Roger constantly being pitted together either on radio or in public for publicity reasons, causing the feuding actress and radio singer to finally fall in love and make wedding plans. But after learning about this, the producers as well as Jim McNamara (Allen Jenkins), the publicity agent, agree that once these two get married, their careers will lead to ruin, so the possible solution is to do their best and break up their relationship.
A good but forgotten score written by Mort Dixon and Allie Wrubel, all sung by Everett Marshall, includes: "Mine Alone," "I Live for Love," "A Fella Has to Shave," "Mine Alone" (reprise); "Silver Wings" and "Mine Alone" (Reprise, finale). Of the songs, "Mine Alone" gets the most reprises, and heard through instrumental underscoring during the tender moments of the story. If "Mine Alone" sounds overly familiar, it's the same score used for the motion picture drama, DANGEROUS (1935) starring Bette Davis in her first of two Academy Award wins as best actress. "Mine Alone," first sung on a radio program by Marshall, is later reprised with Marshall singing the tune while playing the piano, with Del Rio listening attentively. In spite of some reprises, on a personal note, the film's best song near the end with Marshall's tender ballad of "Silver Wings," where he introduces at the Casino Cafe under the spotlight to his audience, including Del Rio, with close-ups of her smoking her cigarette, and Alvarado. Like the movie itself, the songs are virtually forgotten.
With Busby Berkeley as sole director, it is apparent that his then resident home studio of Warner Brothers wouldn't allow him to do more than direct "B" movies when insisting on directing other than dance numbers. With the exception of GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 (1935), which had Berkeley directing both story and musical numbers, he rarely got the opportunity at that studio to direct a major movie sans music. The musical interludes to I LIVE FOR LOVE consisted of singing. The only time it broke into a production mode was with "A Fella Has to Shave." It's not a number performed in a theater, but might as well be. It begins after Marshall gets out of the shower and into his robe, where his associates, the street musicians (Conrad, Shaw and Lee) and his press agent (Allen Jenkins) have a little fun bursting into song, singing and dancing around, whether on top of the furniture or with each other. It concludes with the three men wearing lamp shades, and after Marshall hits that high note, the lamp shades fly off their heads and land one by one on top of Marshall's head. A really silly number that provides limited or no solid laughs at all.
With Marshall and Dolores Del Rio as the major performers, what helps I LIVE FOR LOVE get by are its familiar roaster of Warner Brothers stock players, which consists of Hobart Cavanaugh as Townsend C. Morgan; Mary Treen as the Maid; but most important, Guy Kibbee, pleasing but likable screen personality, along with Mexican actress Dolores Del Rio's dark-haired featured beauty, makes this, and any movie, worth watching and rediscovering.
I LIVE FOR LOVE plays occasionally on cable station's Turner Classic Movies. While it's a sort of movie that could have been better that what it is, as it stands, is quite brief at 64 minutes, and makes a passable time filler. (**)