Here's round two of Alice Faye's career at Twentieth Century Fox, five films that effortlessly capture the all-American appeal of "the lady with the velvet throat," as she is introduced in Four Jills and a Jeep
. Until she simply walked away from film in 1945, Faye's star burned brightly in the nonsensical backstage musicals Fox churned out, a daffy World That Never Was. Only one title, Four Jills
, is set in its era (1944), and it's not an Alice Faye picture--she pops up for a cameo, singing "You'll Never Know." The movie's actually about USO performers Kay Francis, Martha Raye, Carole Landis, and Mitzi Mayfair, who really had toured in England and North Africa performing "for the boys." The rest of the films are firmly set in studio chief Darryl Zanuck's beloved past: Hollywood Cavalcade
is a typical Fox nostalgia trip, set during the birth of silent cinema. Budding director Don Ameche builds his moviemaking career on the talent of his star (Faye), without noticing that she's in love with him. The film lets Buster Keaton stage a few slapstick sequences, and there are bits from silent-movie luminaries, including Ben Turpin, Mack Sennett, and Al Jolson. Jolson has a major role in Rose of Washington Square
(1939), probably the most interesting film in the set. This one's a lightly-fictionalized version of the story of Fanny Brice's unhappy marriage to Nicky Arnstein (later the basis for Funny Girl
), with Faye a very WASPish Brice and Tyrone Power the ne'er-do-well she just can't help lovin'. Faye tries Brice's signature song, "My Man," and Jolson does some of his signature stuff, including his blackface routine. In the event, Fanny Brice was not pleased; as a helpful DVD featurette explains, she sued and won.
E20 1941's The Great American Broadcast, directed by workhorse Archie Mayo, does for radio what Cavalcade did for silent pictures. This time John Payne and Jack Oakie are inventing the wireless network; Alice is a saloon singer whose crooning helps their plan succeed (but of course fails to impress Payne for far too long). Along with Faye's singing, some terrific numbers by the Ink Spots and the incredible Nicholas Brothers help this formula along. A big hit in 1943, Hello, Frisco, Hello brought Payne and Oakie back, with Alice once again waiting around for Barbary Coast entrepreneur Payne to notice that they're in love. This is where Faye's marvelous low, mellow voice introduced "You'll Never Know," which the movie wisely keeps reprising. Technicolor-ful to the point where you might need sunglasses, this is one of those loony, stupefyingly mush-headed musicals that make you wonder whether Hollywood had collectively gone mad, or possibly ingested hallucinogenic substances. The excellent prints for these films show off Fox's scrupulous studio style. No commentary tracks, but a selection of featurettes gives smart and relevant background for the movies. --Robert Horton