Short Subject, Feature Film: Okay, Jose & Broadway Melody of 1936

Welcome to the first installment of Short Subject, Feature Film, a name that took hours to come up with, so feel free to bask in its genius. First up is the short, an early Technicolor romp called “Okay, Jose” starring my friend and yours, El Brendel:

okay jose with el brendel
If you’re wondering how 1935 Technicolor could look so amazing, thank TCM, whose print of this short is astonishingly good. Louie at Give Me The Good Old Days! alerted us to this short a few months ago, and I finally got around to watching it recently. I shamefully admit I laughed. A lot.

El is Knute Knudsen, hapless Swede, whose car breaks down in Mexico. Extremely dangerous bandito Jose (Julian Rivero) happens by and gives Knute a ride on his horse. They get drunk in what is the funniest part of the film.

julian rivero and el brendel in okay jose
La policia arrive and arrest Knute while Jose gets away. They think Knute is in cahoots with el bandito, but Knute talks them into letting him out so he can capture Jose and bring him back. If he succeeds, they promise they will let him go. Knute disguises himself as a bandito and catches up with Jose, telling him that he knows where some beautiful blonde girls are that Jose can, erm, date. El’s disguise is silly, but his accent is all over the place, sometimes Swedish, sometimes Mexican, sometimes French, and it absolutely cracked me up.

Knute went into the plan assuming la policia would obtain a beautiful blonde girl, but they refused, so Knute was left to his own devices:

el brendel in okay jose El Brendel: Hot Mess.

 

There are many entendres once Knute shows up in a dress, the funniest being when Jose’s girlfriend asks what Knute has that she hasn’t got. There’s a fleeting look on Knute’s face that conveys, “Are you talking about my penis? How rude!” I am a sucker for dick jokes. Poor Jose gets captured despite being the most likable person in this short subject, and all ends as well as it could end with El Brendel in drag.

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broadway melody of 1936

Today’s feature is Broadway Melody of 1936. I watched this because I am on a huge Jack Benny kick lately, although I have discovered that he is usually not used to his full capabilities in film. Radio and television seemed to showcase his talents better which, to state the obvious, is certainly why he was more successful in those media than in film. Which is too bad, because he looks pretty good in glorious nitrate-laden black and white film. Yeah, you heard me: Jack Benny is hot.

It’s not just Jack, though. This entire film looks damn hot, and boy, did I want to like this movie. It’s your typical singing-dancing-romancing extravaganza with luscious costumes and set pieces. It introduced one of my favorite songs, “I’ve Got a Feeling You’re Fooling”. It has Jack Benny, Una Merkel, Robert Taylor, and June Knight who I loved…

june knight in broadway melody of 1936
…despite someone in the makeup department trying very earnestly to make her look like a poodle.

Broadway Melody of 1936 was nominated for three Oscars including Best Picture, and it won one for Best Dance Direction (the “I’ve Got a Feeling You’re Fooling” number).  The film was a huge hit that spawned yet another “Broadway Melody” sequel.  Yet I just couldn’t like this movie.

Confession time: Eleanor Powell rubs me the wrong way. I honestly don’t understand why the studio was trying so hard to make Eleanor Powell happen. Her fast tap is impressive, but in the spectacular silver “You Are My Lucky Star” dance number in this film, you can see clearly that she favors one side of her body to another. As I’ve seen it before in other dancers, and there is probably a term for this, but I couldn’t tell you what it is. It’s distracting and it prevents the dancer from achieving symmetry. In Powell’s case, about halfway during this number, she does a high kick alternating her legs, and her left obviously kicks higher and easier than her right. Her right arm is similarly less graceful. However, there are some obviously bad chorus dancers in this number, too. You can see them screwing up frequently, either out of time or doing the wrong move. Perhaps this number wasn’t rehearsed well. Still, Powell can’t act and she certainly can’t sing: She’s dubbed by Marjorie Lane.

eleanor powell in broadway melody of 1936

When I dislike a film personality that is almost universally praised — and face it, folks, this happens a lot — I always wonder if there’s something about me that keeps me from really getting a performance. Maybe I’m quirky.

Speaking of film personalities everyone else likes but me, am I the only one who is freaked right the hell out by Buddy Ebsen? He’s fine in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and he’s the second best part of “The Beverly Hillbillies” — the best part being the way professional hunk o’ stuff Max Baer fills out his jeans (stop judging me!) — but he always gave me the creeps on “Barnaby Jones” and in old movies. If you want to scare the shit out of me, and you will, make me watch the dance number with him and a tiny little Judy Garland in this film’s sequel, Broadway Melody of 1938.

jack benny in broadway melody of 1936
Jack Benny is Bert Keeler, gossip columnist for a big radio station. His boss is mad because all Keeler reports on are actresses who are expecting a “happy event”. He demands Keeler get some real dish, and Keeler accidentally stumbles onto a doozy.  Actually, his sidekick Snoop stumbles upon it, but the less said about Snoop the better. I’m pretending he doesn’t exist.


Broadway producer Robert Gordon (impossibly hot Robert Taylor) has taken up with rich widow Lillian Brent (June Knight) so she will finance his next play, on the promise that she will get the lead role. Gordon is so upset by Keeler reporting this in his gossip segment that he storms into Keeler’s office and decks him; punching Keeler becomes a running gag. Keeler plots revenge by creating a fictitious French actress newly arrived to the States, hoping that Gordon will clamor to hire her for the lead in his play, causing all sorts of trouble for him with the rich widow and ending in embarrassing publicity.


Meanwhile, Irene Foster (Eleanor Powell) shows up in town, looking for Gordon. They dated in high school and now she hopes he’ll get her a job in one of his shows. Gordon tells her to go back home, but his secretary Kitty (Una Merkel) helps try to get Irene a job. Wacky hijinks ensue, resulting in Irene pretending to be the fake French actress. Music and dancing happen along the way. Happy endings are ensured.


This is Frances Langford in the final “You Are My Lucky Star” number, in a delectable tux in front of a fabulous art deco set. Check out the neon on the left. There are several references to Garbo in this film, mainly Taylor twice saying a woman is “his Garbo.” This is a little jarring, as Broadway Melody of 1936 came out a year and a half before Camille, and there doesn’t seem to be any actual reason to conjure up Garbo for this film, at least not to the extent that they do.

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8 Comments

  1. time for me to post about “Okay Jose”. I got sooooo many stills that show El in drag that are just amazing. In the close ups they even airbrush his face to make him seem more glamorous.

  2. I cannot wait to see those stills!

  3. Give me a couple of days and I will post one for you. I just had a posting yesterday and don’t wanna squeeze ’em too close together.

  4. Eleanor Powell recorded a few sides with Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra for Victor in October 1935 and while she’s no Hanshaw or Etting, her singing seems fine. Here’s “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin’:


    and “You are My Lucky Star”:


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    -Harold Aherne

  5. Eleanor Powell recorded a few sides with Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra for Victor in October 1935

    Thanks, Harold. Apparently she COULD sing. Now I wonder why she was dubbed.

  6. Conrad Zimmerman

    Sure Eleanor Powell wasn’t the best at acting or singing. Yet what can you do for someone who was displeased with films in the first place. They were not what she preferred, the Broadway stage where she really belonged. What can you do when the directors and script writers and all the rest are too lazy and narrow minded to create such boring plots, tacky lines for someone who is much more capable than what she displays. MGM was notorious for releasing films back to back, rushing through making a film wasn’t unusual and this is one of them. She is the best tap dancer there is and did every dance number in the tightest of heels. More than Fred Astaire or any other male tap dancer ever could. As for her supposed lack of grace and high kicks. She is as graceful as they come.she is not the first to prefer one leg over another, the same goes with those who are right or left handed, they just have a preference! Absolute perfection. I dont think you have made the time to see more of her dance routines. Dancing obviously is her forte, I do believe that and is what she chose to stick to. She refused to be dolled up and changed in any way as regards to her personal mannerisms, let’s just say that even if film did bring her to fame, it wasn’t her thing. She lived to dance. Look up her routine that was cut from Honolulu, called “Got a pair of new shoes” 1939. Her choreography, timing and style is flawless in that number.

    She isn’t an all in ginger rogers who could sing, dance, be funny & witty, glamorous to boot. Eleanor Powell is unique. She deserves more recognition for her dancing and nothing else. Might I add that she also saved MGM studios from bankruptcy that very year of 1936, had it not been for that film they would have gone under. The only other star to do that for a film studio was Shirley temple for fox. This isn’t romantic mindless trivia by the way, it is fact.

  7. If “Snoop” has a lousy role, it’s his own fault. Sid Silvers plays the role and was also co-author of the screenplay.

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