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Film / The Hollywood Revue of 1929

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The Hollywood Revue of 1929, directed by Charles Reisner, might be the oddest film ever to get an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.

In 1929 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was at a crossroads. MGM had resisted talkies 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. But the writing was on the wall, and the studio elected to introduce all its stars into talking films at the same time with a single all-star revue. Thus The Hollywood Revue of 1929 was born. The film is a feature-length variety show, filled with songs and sketch performances featuring almost every star under contract to MGM at that time. It was the talking film debut of every member of the cast. The film was a box-office smash, but is now remembered chiefly as a snapshot of Hollywood in transition. Some of the cast members thrived with the coming of sound pictures (Joan Crawford, Laurel and Hardy, Norma Shearer), while some saw their careers go right down the toilet (John Gilbert, William Haines, Karl Dane, Buster Keaton).

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Jack Benny and Conrad Nagel are hosts. Besides the all-star cast, the film is best remembered for including the song "Singin' in the Rain", which was actually featured that same year in another variety film (The Hollywood Music Box Revue), and predates the film Singin' in the Rain by over 20 years.

Warner Bros. quickly responded with Show of Shows, which served the same purpose. The only differences are that WB was the first studio to embrace talkies and the film was made almost entirely in Technicolor.


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Tropes:

  • 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:
  • 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."
  • 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.
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