MELODY FOR TWO (Warner Brothers, 1937), directed by Louis King, is a 60 minute musical programmer starring James Melton in his third and final leading role for the studio. Following STARS OVER Broadway (1935) and SING ME A LOVE SONG (1936). Melton, an accomplished opera singer, was one of those talents who failed to register as a screen personality. After the release of MELODY FOR TWO, it was three strikes and out.
Melton plays Tod Weaver, a band-leader working at the Sky Terrace, "America's most exclusive club" of New York City. Gale Starr (Patricia Ellis), his girlfriend, performs as the band's vocalist. Because his contract arrangement has run out two months ago and not been renewed, Mel Lynch (Dick Purcell), Tod's arranger whose real interest is Gale, insists on a new contract of $500 a week and a bonus of $1,000. Tod refuses and has Mel fired. William Hallam (Craig Reynolds), the night club manager, unhappy with that decision, feels his club could face financial ruin. Gale's idea is to have Hallam pay Tod the $1,000 himself to give Mel for his musical arrangements. When Tod learns of this after reading Walter Wilson's (Gordon Elliott) newspaper column, he walks out on his contract, ending up being suspended by the National Band Association, with Gale assuming Tod's role as band-leader. "Remorse" Rumson (Fred Keaton), publicity man, assisted by "Scoop" Rumson (Charley Foy), press agent and former hoofer, arranges for Tod's comeback by having him lead the band at the Green Mill, with Lorna Gray (Winifred Shaw) as new singer with Camille Casey (Marie Wilson), Rumson's girl from Hoboken, playing the bass. Because their music has failed to pack the house, it takes Exodus Johnson (Eddie Anderson), a janitor from Harlem, to improve their method by introducing them to something called "swing" music that he's written. With Lorna now singing "hot," the swing music proves very profitable for the French accented Alex Montrose (Eddie Kane), manager of the Green Mill, attracting more patrons than the Sky Club, having Tod and Gale compete against each other and issues upon their auditioning for an upcoming radio show.
For the motion picture soundtrack, new songs by M.K.Jerome and Jack Schroll include: "A Flat in Manhattan" (sung by Patricia Ellis); "Melody for Two" and "Macushola" (both sung by James Melton); "Dangerous Rhythm" and "An Excuse for Dancing" (both sung by Winifred Shaw); "September in the Rain" (by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, sung by Melton); "Jose O'Neil, the Cuban Heal" (sung by Winifred Shaw); "An Excuse for Dancing" (sung by Patricia Ellis); and "Melody for Two" (Sung by Melton).
The songs in MELODY FOR TWO are as forgettable as the story itself, with production looking more like a product from Republic Studios or even Grand National than Warner Brothers. Winifred Shaw, in her final screen role, whose introduction to such great tunes as "Lullaby of Broadway" and "The Lady in Red" from 1935's GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 and IN CALIENTE respectively, sings nothing worth noting this time around. Due to tight editing, Shaw's role, along with several others in support, happens to be one of those come and go type performances. She's initially seen singing in the band towards the second half of the story, with no introduction to her character whatsoever. She disappears as quickly as she came. Her only noteworthy scene in the story department comes as she attempts to attract the attention of her band-leader boss (Melton) with a seductive kiss, to immediately slap his face for reasons only known to her and not the viewer. Shaw sings three melodies here, taking the spotlight in Spanish attire to "Jose O'Neil, the Cuban Heal," and at one point, reflects upon a young Ethel Merman. Patricia Ellis is basically a more sensible character as opposed to Melton's stubbornness. Her brief scene as the camera captures her leading waving the stick leading the band is reminiscent to Ina Ray Hutton, one of the relatively few female band-leader's of that time. For her second role opposite Melton, Ellis sings a little but carries the plot such as it is with ideas as to how to improve herself and the band's performance. Melton's only worthwhile song is "September in the Rain," originally written for his debut film "Stars Over Broadway," is one of the few high-points next to Eddie Anderson, the future "Rochester" of the Jack Benny radio and TV programs, using his "Excuse for Dancing" at one point. Supposedly reported as Donald O'Connor's film debut, he's non-existent in the final print.
MELODY FOR TWO makes no high demands on acting and storytelling, but no harm done either way for classic movie fans whenever this rarely seen Warner Brothers musical turns up on Turner Classic Movies.(**)