Film / Sally

A 1929 musical comedy, originally in two-color Technicolor. It was directed by John Francis Dillon and starred Marilyn Miller, Alexander Gray, and Joe E. Brown.

The plot: Sally (Miller) is a waitress who is very bad at her job. She wants to be a dancer. The diner she is working in at the beginning has a window which gives a view of the kitchen and greater diner from the outside, and she has an admirer standing on the sidewalk just to watch her. She almost gets a job from a low-class talent agent Otis Humperdink, but loses both the opportunity and her waitressing job when she dumps his and his girlfriend's order on top of them.

Sally's admirer is a very rich man, Mr. Blair Ferris (Gray), who is already engaged to someone else. He fell in love at first sight. His fiancee seems to understand the situation even if she isn't yet in a I Want My Beloved to Be Happy mood; her mom most definitely does not, since this marriage is supposed to unite two of the finest families on Long Island.

Cut to a fancy restaurant. It employs the exiled Duke Constantine of Czechoslovenia (which has got to be one of the worst fictional country names ever), Connie for short, played by Joe E. Brown. Now it employs Sally as a busgirl. Mr. Ferris is planning on holding a series of bachelor parties at this restaurant; he meets Sally as she is preparing the only table left that seats eight, and helps her do it. She tells him her life's story — her full name is Sally Bowling Green, she is an orphan (her last name came from the phone exchange she was left at), she has been working restaurant jobs for as long as she's been working, and she really wants to be a dancer. She further wins the sympathy of Mr. Ferris, but also avoids doing real work for a significant period of time. Fortunately, the owner of this restaurant already, if unhappily, has a high tolerance for incompetence because he, as an emigrant from Czechoslovenia, already employs an incompetent.

The restaurant does include dancing, both on a ballroom floor and on a stage, and so Sally has a chance to get a shot there. And the great noblewoman and dancer Madame Noskerova, who was booked to appear at the engagement party for Mr. Ferris, is unable to appear, so Otis Humperdink has to get a replacement who can pass for her. Guess who he picks?

This film nearly became a Missing Episode. It was originally filmed in two-strip Technicolor, but only one color sequence still exists — most of the "Wild Wild Rose" number and a snatch of Connie after that — and some of that sequence appears to be missing the green strip. The rest of it exists in black and white, making it possible for us to see the film, and the sound remains intact. Its importance is more as a historical curiosity — there aren't that many pre-Hays Code musicals out there, even ones as innocent as this — than as a work of art.


  • As You Know: A lot of this between Shendorff and Connie the waiter to establish that Connie is a deposed Grand Duke from "Czechoslovakia" and that is why Shendorff has given him a job.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: the apparent reason Sally is bad at waitressing and bussing.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Connie. We hope.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: And not the usual gender pattern. Sally is so distracted by handsome Blair outside the restaurant window that she keeps pouring her pancake batter until she has a pancake a yard wide.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Anyone more familiar with Joe E. Brown from the oafs and goofballs he almost always played in later films (Some Like It Hot being the most famous) may be surprised to see him playing a haughty Grand Duke.
  • Easily Forgiven
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Sally admits that her name is actually "Sally Bowling Green", because she was a foundling discovered in Bowling Green, KY.
  • Faux Fluency: Sally panics when she is pretending to be a noblewoman who can speak French, and Mrs. Ten Brock starts talking at her in actual French. She just says "Oui" a lot.
  • Feet-First Introduction: Sally is first shown with a tight close-up on her feet, as she practices a dance step.
  • High-Class Glass: Connie affects one of these when dressing up in his old uniform and entering the party as Grand Duke Constantine.
  • Hilarity Ensues: This film has a lot of humor and a lot of slapstick. Not all of it works.
  • Implausible Deniability
  • Impoverished Patrician: Connie the waiter is actually Grand Duke Constantine of some obscure European monarchy that was overthrown by revolution.
  • Love at First Sight
  • Masquerading As the Unseen: When Otis's plans to debut Madame Noskerova on the stage go awry, he needs a fake Madame Noskerova, and he needs one fast. Cue Sally.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Connie's restaurant has one table for two on a platform above the restaurant's stage which can be accessed only by a long, skinny, flexible ladder. This set-up is milked for all its worth with one couple.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise
  • Ruritania: Connie's homeland, "Czechoslovenia". Past tense — the Commies did take over.
  • Splash of Color: It wasn't supposed to be—as noted above, the entire film was originally shot in Technicolor. But all that survives of the original color print is the "Wild Rose" musical number, so this effect is produced when the preserved film suddenly switches to color halfway through the song.
  • Vice President Who?: Sally, in disguise as a Russian princess, blows off the duel fought over by a famous writer and the vice president of Switzerland by saying "What good is a vice president anyway?"