The Hollywood Revue of 1929, directed by Charles Reisner, might just be the oddest film ever to get an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.
In 1929 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was at a crossroads. The studio had resisted talkies for as long as it could, continuing to produce a large number of its movies as silent films in early 1929 while the rest of Hollywood had already quit the medium completely. The writing was on the wall, though, so MGM elected to introduce several of its biggest stars to talking films at the same time, with a single all-star film. Thus, The Hollywood Revue of 1929 was born.
The film is essentially a feature-length variety show, filled with sketch performances and musical numbers featuring almost every major star under contract to MGM at the time, nearly all of whom were making their talking film debut. While a box-office smash in its time, and as mentioned an early Oscar nominee, the film is now remembered chiefly as a curio and as a snapshot of Hollywood in transition. Some of the cast members thrived with the coming of sound pictures (Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Laurel and Hardy), while others saw their careers go right down the toilet (John Gilbert, William Haines, Karl Dane, Buster Keaton).
Besides its All-Star Cast, the film is probably best remembered for featuring the song "Singin' in the Rain" (which was introduced on stage in The Hollywood Music Box Revue earlier that same year, thereby predating the film Singin' in the Rain by over 20 years).
Warner Bros. quickly responded with Show of Shows, which served the same purpose, the primary differences being that WB was the first studio to embrace talkies and its film was shot almost entirely in Technicolor.
- All-Star Cast: In-Universe this is discussed, as it was the whole point, the film existing in order to introduce audiences to MGM's stars in the talkie format.
- Annual Title: 1929 being the year that MGM finally gave up and went over to talkies.
- Banana Peel: Which serves as something of a Brick Joke. Laurel and Hardy are trying to do a magic trick where they turn an egg into a banana. After Stan accidentally smashes the egg, Ollie throws the banana away in disgust. Later, naturally, he slips on the peel.
- The Cameo:
- Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Marion Davies, Marie Dressler, John Gilbert, William Haines, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, Bessie Love, Anita Page, Norma Shearer, and lesser stars.
- In fact, pretty much the only stars in the MGM stable who did not participate were Greta Garbo and Lon Chaney, both of whom shunned publicity. Chaney still gets a song devoted to him and his characters, "Lon Chaney's Gonna Get You If You Don't Watch Out", while Garbo is mentioned in some stage patter.
- Creator Cameo: Gus Edwards, who wrote all of the songs except for "Singin' in the Rain", also appears in a couple of the musical numbers.
- Fanservice: Lots of scantily clad chorus girls and dancers. Perhaps most noticeable when Beth Laemmle does a dance during number "The Pearl Ballet" clad only in a two-piece bathing suit.
- Have a Gay Old Time: Ukelele player Cliff "Ukelele Ike" Edwards tells Conrad Nagel that in order to romance women, "Today you've got to make love with words and music."
- The Host: Jack Benny and Conrad Nagel, officially billed as "masters of ceremonies", introduce the various acts.
- Incredible Shrinking Man: For no obvious reason, Bessie Love's musical number begins with Jack Benny pulling a tiny Bessie Love out of his pocket and setting her on the ground. After some stage banter, she grows to human size and the number commences.
- Minstrel Shows: The opening number is "The Palace of Minstrel", sung by a minstrel chorus.
- The Musical: There are some comedy bits, like Laurel and Hardy as incompetent magicians and William Haines ripping apart Jack Benny's suit, but most of the film consists of MGM stars singing and dancing. Joan Crawford sings a song!
- No Plot? No Problem!: Later all-star revue films like Thank Your Lucky Stars or Hollywood Canteen would come up with some kind of plot as an excuse to hang the musical numbers around. Not this one, which like other early film musicals has no plot whatsoever and is nothing more than a filmed stage show.
- Sitting Sexy on a Piano: Joan Crawford does this during her musical number.
- Splash of Color: John Gilbert and Norma Shearer's performance of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet is shot in early Technicolor, as are the last two numbers, "(You'll Be Mine in) Orange Blossom Time" and the reprise of "Singin' in the Rain".
- Stage Magician: Laurel and Hardy's skit consists of the two of them performing a truly terrible magic act.
- Variety Show: Or the film equivalent thereof, as a series of performers appear in different sketches for the camera.
- The Voiceless: In Laurel and Hardy's skit, Stan remains silent.