5 February 2006 | wmorrow59
Did Buddy ever tell his wife about this?
Movie buffs with a special interest in the songs, politics and pop culture of the 1930s will get a kick out of this brief novelty short from Paramount. New Deal Rhythm was made in the early days of Franklin D. Roosevelt's first term, when the country was struggling to emerge from the worst days of the Great Depression. The song lyrics and movies of the era often convey a tone of giddy enthusiasm for the new administration -- giddiness bordering on hysteria -- and this film captures that mood precisely. An introductory title card proclaims it "a musical novelty illustrating the spirit of today," which is a promise it keeps: this is 1933 in a nutshell, ten minutes of up-tempo pop music, anxious optimism and desperately wacky shenanigans.
Our host is actor/singer/band-leader Charles "Buddy" Rogers, looking handsome and dapper as ever, backed by a bevy of well-fed chorus girls. He sings the title tune at a podium in what appears to be an Art Deco version of the U.S. Congress, before delegations representing each state. Buddy acts as a cheerleader of sorts for the new president (identified only as "Mr. Leader Man"), promising good times for all with the creation of F.D.R.'s central New Deal agency, the National Recovery Administration. He then calls on the various state representatives to express their needs, in song of course. We're not terribly surprised to hear that what everyone wants is the repeal of Prohibition and lots more "hot-cha-cha," i.e. booze and sex. The Southerners focus on liquor, while the gent from Idaho demands more "hidy-ho." The spokeswoman from Arizona happens to be played by Marjorie Main, best remembered as Ma Kettle in many later comedies. Here she's dressed quite mannishly, and announces that the citizens of Arizona want privacy to snuggle with crooners. It's that kind of movie. Shortly after this, a little girl pops up and proclaims her hatred for spinach, but I didn't quite catch the lyric; frankly I was still trying to figure out the Marjorie Main bit. (The girl has been identified as Shirley Temple, but having revisited this film again recently I have my doubts.)
Soon, the general merriment erupts in a Busby Berkeley-style number featuring dancing girls seen from overhead, spelling out "N.R.A." (Bear in mind this was back in the day when that acronym referred to the aforementioned government agency that set wage and price controls, not an organization of right-wing gun lovers.) By the time the finale rolls around we're thoroughly persuaded that the New Deal will indeed bring prosperity to all, or at least lots of drinking and hot-cha-cha.
I guess it goes without saying that this is a pretty silly mini-musical, but it's fun to watch and just the kind of artifact historically-minded viewers will find intriguing. I got a kick out of it, though I'm still pondering one mystery: four years after he appeared in this movie, Buddy Rogers married arch-conservative Mary Pickford. It's safe to say that Mary was no fan of Franklin D. Roosevelt, or any of the New Deal agencies his team created. Was Miss Pickford aware that she married the grinning, baton-swinging, Roosevelt-touting star of New Deal Rhythm?