17 November 2000 | mintunmusic
Worth seeing as a 1930s musical oddity.
Worth seeing as a 1930s musical oddity, _Sweet Surrender (1935)_(qv) is one of the few feature length musicals made in Astoria, New York, in 1935. Although released by Universal, it was produced by 'Broadway Productions, Inc.' (qv), a company formed by director 'Monte Brice' (qv) and producer 'William Rowland' (qv). The film utilized the talents of actors and actresses recognized on the New York stage, but mostly unknown to motion picture audiences. Originally the film was to star 'Sidney Fox' (qv), who was married to the co-writer 'Charles Beahan' (qv). By August, 1935, Sidney Fox dropped out and the female lead was given to 'Tamara' (qv), a Broadway and nightclub singer, who was making her feature film début. She received encouraging notices for her rôle, which involved playing three characters. Up to this time, 'Tamara' (qv) was best known as the actress who introduced "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" in the 1933 Broadway hit "Roberta." The New York American (December 14, 1935) said: "Tamara's field day is not rose-strewn but she manages her triple characterization with surprising capability, and with more experience will fit nicely into the picture pattern" The film also mirrored real-life confusion between 'Tamara' (qv) the Broadway singer, who played a ballerina in the film, and 'Tamara Geva' (qv), the famous ballerina.
The popular radio tenor 'Frank Parker' (qv) played the male lead. 'Jack Dempsey' (qv), the former champion boxer-turned nightclub owner appeared in the film for about one minute. Bandleader 'Abe Lyman' (qv) had a little more time on camera.
A few of the actors in Sweet Surrender had played bit parts in early Hollywood sound films, but generally were found playing rôles in New York stage shows. 'Larry Ceballos' (qv)' staging of the big production number, "Appassionata" is reminiscent of his work in the early musicals of Hollywood.
Most of the songs are by 'Dana Suesse' (qv) and 'Edward Heyman' (qv), who had several big hits in the early 1930s. The only song to become successful was "Twenty- Four Hours a Day" (by 'Arthur Swanstrom' (qv) and 'James Hanley' (qv)) which was on "Your Hit Parade" before the film opened.
Of historical interest in the film is the luxury liner, the S.S. Normandie. Co- producer 'William Rowland' (qv) arranged to film Sweet Surrender scenes on board the Normandie while she was in New York Harbor for the first time. Only a few areas of the ship were used for filming: the gangplank area, the railings, the decks, and most notably the entire length of Le Grand Salon featuring a costume ball. Acknowledged as the center of High Society on the North Atlantic, the Normandie was the grandest, most luxurious and artistic ocean liner ever built. Until 1940 it was the largest ship in the world. Her interiors were like a living museum of l'art moderne. Her early demise is a sad story.
Most reviews agreed that the musical score was agreeable, especially the ballet performed by the Sara Mildred Strauss Dancers. A close-up of the ballet theatre program read: "A modern interpretation of the music of human passion in which Man is love torn between Savage Rhythm and Spiritual Melody." Irene Thirer of the New York Evening Post (December 14, 1935) said, "Musically, the production is far above average." Daily Film Renter (December 7, 1935) stated, "Another highlight is an elaborately staged ballet sequence at the finale, where diaphanous clad damsels cavort expertly to the rhythm - an episode that possesses definite artistic merit...It is, however, the novelty of the setting, and the ballet climax that provide the entertainment." Ironically, the critics didn't mention that the film's female lead, 'Tamara' (qv), who had risen to fame as a singer, does not sing. (This might be attributed to the two songs cut from the final print.) An unbilled bonus for the cinema audience was the voice of the teenage 'Virginia Verrill' (qv) singing the haunting "Appassionata." Verrill had just moved to New York in mid 1935 and landed a contract with 'Johnny Green' (qv)'s radio show.
The two scenes that were filmed in the Grand Salon were actual events held onboard during the maiden voyage stopover in New York. When the Normandie arrived from France she stayed in port for a couple of days before she made her eastbound maiden voyage to France. During that time, a number of events were held onboard (and at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel) to celebrate her arrival. One of those events was a fashion show in the Grand Salon featuring the latest creations by Worth, Schiaparelli, Lanvin, Lelong, etc. The first scene in the Grand Salon is of that fashion show. Programs and still photographs exist. The second scene in the Grand Salon -- the costume ball -- was held on June 4, 1935 as part of a gala evening of entertainment that was held on the ship. According to the program for the event, the entertainment included (in addition to the fashion show) performances by 'Ethel Merman' (qv), 'Victor Moore' (qv) and 'William Gaxton' (qv), "The Incomparable Stars of Anything Goes", dancing to the music of 'Eddie Duchin' (qv) and 'Xavier Cugat' (qv) and his Orchestra playing Tango and Rumba for dancing. There also was a lavish dinner in the 1st Class Dining Room and a completely different program of entertainment in the Grill Room.