Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Alice Faye as Lillian Russell
LILLIAN RUSSELL (1940). Director: Irving Cummings.

A young lady with singing talent reinvents herself as "Lillian Russell" to hide the fact that she's on the stage from her mother (Dorothy Peterson), but mama always knows. Like her mother, Lillian is an early feminist as well as a major theatrical performer with thousands of fans and a host of suitors, including Diamond Jim Brady (Edward Arnold) and "J. L." (Warren William of Dr. Monica), but she marries composer Edward Solomon (Don Ameche). Their marriage ends in tragedy, but waiting in the wings is reporter turned newspaper publisher Alexander Moore (Henry Fonda). Russell was actually married four times, and Solomon didn't die as in the movie, but turned out to be a (perhaps inadvertent) bigamist. As Faye herself noted, in this handsomely-produced (but oddly, black and white) movie, nobody ever ages no matter how many decades go by. Although Faye's singing voice could best be described as "pleasant" (and a little too deep at times), she gives a very good performance as Russell, wisely underplaying many of her more emotional scenes. Arnold is excellent in his portrait of the happy go lucky but broken-hearted Brady, and there are good turns from Ameche and William; Helen Westley [Million Dollar Baby] as Grandma Leonard; Joseph Cawthorn as vocal coach Leopold Damrosch; Ernest Truex as Lillian's father (who in real life was actually separated from his wife); and Nigel Bruce as William Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame). Aside from the many musical highlights, there is grandma's recounting of a romantic story involving a mystery gift she once received, and a well-played scene between Arnold and William talking about their feelings toward Lillian. Henry Fonda [The Long Night], who usually leaves me cold, is quite good in this, although this was not an assignment he coveted. Old-time vaudevillians Joe Weber and Lew Fields, playing themselves, almost stop the movie dead with their long comedy routine, but as they happen to be very funny it doesn't matter. Eddie Foy Jr. plays his dad in a brief bit.

Verdict: Despite some inaccuracies, this is a highly entertaining and well-acted biopic. ***1/2.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - can you believe the only Alice Faye movies I have ever seen are the two Shirley Temple movies she costarred in, Stowaway and Poor Little Rich Girl? I do enjoy the lady's singing, though, she really was the top female vocalist of the 1930s...will check this one out, though.

William said...

Aside from "The Gang's All Here" I never saw any Alice Faye movies on TV when I was a kid, probably because I didn't like her kind of stuff back then. Then I saw her (almost) last movie, Fallen Angel, and thought she was quite good as a dramatic actress. If I saw the Temple films I don't remember them, so maybe it's time to catch up!