Paramount on Parade (1930)


Cast: Iris Adrian, Richard Arlen, Jean Arthur, Mischa Auer, William Austin, George Bancroft, Clara Bow, Evelyn Brent, Mary Brian, Clive Brook, Virginia Bruce, Nancy Carroll, Ruth Chatterton, Maurice Chevalier, Gary Cooper, Cecil Cummingham, Leon Errol, Stuart Erwin, Henry Fink, Kay Francis, Richard “Skeets” Gallagher, Edmund Goulding, Harry Green, Mitzi Green, Robert Greig, James Hall, Phillips Holmes, Helen Kane, Dennis King, Jack Luden, Abe Lyman and his band, Fredric March, Nino Martini, Mitzi Mayfair, Marion Morgan Dancers, David Newell, Jack Oakie, Warner Oland, Zelma O’Neil, Eugene Pallette, Joan Peers, Jack Pennick, Russ Powell, William Powell, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, Lillian Roth, Rolfe Sedan, Stanley Smith, Fay Wray.

Produced by: Albert S. Kaufman, Jesse L.asky, and Adolph Zukor.

Directed by: Dorothy Arzner, Otto Brower, Edmund Goulding, Victor Heerman, Edwin H. Knopf, Rowland V. Lee, Ernst Lubitsch, Lothar Mendes, Victor Schertzinger, A. Edward Sutherland, and Frank Tuttle.

Original Music by Howard Jackson.

Cinematography by Harry Fischbeck & Victor Milner.
Film Editing by Merrill G. White.
Art Direction by John Wenger.
Choreography by David Bennett.

A Paramount Picture.
Released April 19, 1930.

Webmaster’s Review

This is movie was one of the most important motion pictures produced in 1930, and Kay Francis was given a major exposure in her Technicolor sketch titled “The Toreador.” It was the only time movie audiences saw Kay in color, but the real stars of the show were clearly Jack Oakie and Maurice Chevalier. The importance of both men on the Paramount lot at the time is represented by the care and dedication put into their appearances. For the rest, such as Clara Bow, Ruth Chatterton, William Powell, and Fredric March, Paramount on Parade was just another opportunity to make some money.

Nonetheless, this is early talking Hollywood at its finest.

My print opens with Jack Oakie, Skeets Gallagher, and Leon Errol singing “We’re the Masters of Ceremony.” The three men are in top hats and tuxedos, making their entrances in three different directions. They introduce Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Lillian Roth, who sing “Love Time.” On top of a huge cuckoo-clock, the two seem to be aware of the ridiculousness of their sketch. It’s pure fluff. Rogers and Roth are humbly dressed, and end the song with a smile stretching from ear to ear. Dancers arrive from the sidelines and begin to sing and dance, with Rogers and Roth coming down on the hands and joining in, until both hop back on the hands and meet at the top at twelve.

Jack Oakie is next seen greeting Clive Brook, William Powell, and Eugene Pallette in what appears to be the studio commissionary, or a set of it, and each man is talking about his work in the spoof detective scene they are scheduled to appear in. The detective scene begins with Pallette as Sergeant Heath, arriving at the murder scene of Oakie. Powell pulls up, in a moving coffin (don’t ask), as Philo Vance. Brook is Sherlock Holmes, and the three begin their spoofing on the legendary detective series. By the end of the sketch, Warner Oland, as Dr. Fu Manchu, shoot Powell and Brook to prove to them he is capable of killing, and leaves Pallette at the scene of the crime when the police arrive. Oakie then turns around, taking off his mustache, and says, “It’s a mystery play, written especially for me.”

Skeets Gallagher introduces a sketch from Rudyard Kipling’s “Gunga Din.” Harry Green briefly arrives onstage, telling Gallagher that he’ll one day make it into the show. A Frenchman arrives onstage, and the two men introduce Maurice Chevalier, who beings to talk about the public’s desire to watch him “perform something French.”

Evelyn Brent and Chevalier begin their scene. Apparently, she’s angry with him for flirting with another woman. After singing and flirting, the two begin to fight and…take their clothes off. What’s more eye-catching is the bed right behind them. We see clothes fly on both sides of the room, only to catch them fully clothed and in big fur coats as they leave arm in arm.

“In a Hospital,” a comic sketch with Jean Arthur, Leon Errol, and David Newell, follows. In the original version, a Technicolor musical titled “Song of the Gondolier” proceeded this, but my copy excludes all Technicolor sequences.

The hospital sketch involves early slapstick, ending with Gallagher popping his head into the room and saying “He’s dying to announce Jack Oakie and Zelma O’Neil.”

Chorus girls begin an impressive tap dance in a gym. Oakie and O’Neil sing “I’m in Training for You,” a jazzy number with ridiculous dance moves which are supposed to be funny, but more frightening in its approach to humor.

Ruth Chatterton is greeted by Gallagher in her dressing room, who tells her that the audience is growing impatient to see her. He then introduces her scene, “The Montmartre Girl,” which takes place in France shortly after World War I. In a bar, three marines, one of whom is Fredric March, are taken by Chatterton who is supposed to be either a prostitute or just plain creepy. With a wonderful French accent, she sings “My Marine” fairly well.

A long shot of a beautiful yard follows, and there are couples of different nationalities telling each other they are in love. Chevalier appears as a French police officer in this sketch, titled “Park in Paris.” He beings to sing “All I Want Is Just One Girl.”

Oakie takes the center again, telling us about the present he is going to buy a girlfriend. He’s interrupted by Mitzi Green, an eight-year-old child star who impersonates Maurice Chevalier—badly—singing “All I Want Is Just One Girl.”

Helen Kane next appears in “The Schoolroom.” She sings “What Did Cleopatra Say?” while the students answer “Boop Boop Boopa Doop.” This sketch gets annoying quickly, but ends with Gallagher back onstage with a shoebox in his hand. Placing it on the table, Nancy Carroll and Abe Lyman’s Band appear in miniature size performing “Dancing to Save Your Sole.”

Jack Oakie is sitting at a piano when we next see him. He’s getting ready to introduce the next act with Gary Cooper among the stars set to appear. “Dream Girl,” the sketch ready to follow, fades out before it even begins. This is another Technicolor scene deleted from the television print. Stations wanted to show the glimpse of Gary Cooper in black and white to add his name on the credits, making more people sit down and watch the movie on their station. Unfortunately, his real scene is in color and since it was deleted his appearance is no more than ten seconds.

“I’m True to the Navy” is sung by Clara Bow. The number was made to promote the movie she made with Fredric March that same year. Clara Bow’s voice was never as bad as film history made it out to be, and it’s a shame she didn’t go on to extend her career a few years. But her image was so identified with the 1920s that, when the decade ended, so did her career.

George Bancroft and Kay appear in “Impulses.” This is a comedy sketch which takes place at a party. Kay looks beautiful in her light-colored gown, mannish haircut, and string of pearls as she tells Bancroft that’s he’s no so mean in real life, even though he’s always playing villains in his movies. We see the same party turn upside down. People insult each other, and Kay breaks a vase over Bancroft’s head. It’s a funny comedy scene, and the physicality and violence makes it the most hysterical scene in the movie.

Chevalier again takes center stage in song. He sings “Sweepin’ The Clouds Away,” the finale which features him as a chimneysweep on the rooftops of Paris with unusual energy and enthusiasm toward his difficult job and life. Chorus girls dance all over the rooftops with Chevalier, and the scene ends with a beautiful shot of a rainbow in the clouds.

One can’t really call this a favorite Kay Francis movie, but it’s one production I really like. Out of the major all-talking, Technicolor studio revues of this era, Paramount on Parade is the most enjoyable despite its flaws.

The print I watched was the one edited for Television. All Technicolor prints were excluded, with the exception of Chevalier’s “Sweepin’ The Clouds Away,” which I saw in black and white. Only one of Kay’s two appearances was included, the “Impulses” sketch. Her Technicolor appearance as Carmen was considered lost until 1996 when UCLA restored the movie.

Jack Oakie is lovably annoying throughout the entire movie. Him, Chevalier, and Gallagher get the most camera time, though Gallagher spends much of his time introducing acts, though he’s given some funny dialogue to do so.

This movie was enormously popular at the time of its release, and continues to remain so nearly eighty years after its premiere. Perhaps one day a complete version will be able to be viewed on Turner Classic Movies. Until then, this remains an incomplete movie which sits in the studio vaults for no one to view but other forgotten gems which are stored around it. 

What a shame.

About Paramount on Parade…

Paramount on Parade was Paramount’s most prestigious movie of the early talking era. “Every contract player in the studio had been spending weeks and weeks preparing for his or her sequences for the picture,” Jack Oakie later recalled. “They were carefully fitted for wardrobes that were to suit the elegance they were to represent.”

With the arrival of sound, and even a little bit before, there was increasing interest in the Technicolor film process. With big-budget features such as The Vagabond King (1930), Paramount had proven its lead in the world of color film. No studio, with the exception of maybe Warner Brothers, made so much of an effort to bring color movies in vogue.

Paramount on Parade featured a total of twenty sketches, six of which were in color. They included “Showgirls on Parade,” “Song of the Gondolier,” “The Toreador,” “The Gallows Song,” “Dream Girl,” and “The Rainbow Revels.”

The first was an opening number with unknown chorus girls performing a choreographed dance. “Song of the Gondolier” was originally planned for Nino Martini and Jeanette MacDonald. Their duet of “Torna a Sorrento” was trimmed down—at MacDonald’s expense—into a solo number by Martini with an unknown extra at his side. Since it proved to expensive to re-shoot the entire scene in color, Paramount decided to leave that opening shot of MacDonald and Martini in the gondolier and replace her in the close-ups with a bit player.

“The Toreador” was Kay Francis’ only time photographed in color. She, Harry Green, and some chorus girls dressed in Spanish attire perform a lavish Spanish dance. Or, at least the chorus girls do. Kay Francis just sort of struts her stuff around color, showing off her beautiful silver gown and red rose attached to the side of her head. “The Gallows Song” was a sketch which included Dennis King’s performance of “Nichavo!” a number from The Vagabond King.

“Dream Girl” featured Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, Fay Wray, Richard Arlen, Mary Brian, James Hall and extras. “Let Us Drink to the Girl of My Dreams” was the musical number featured in this sketch. And the finale of “The Rainbow Revels” was for years the only trace of the Technicolor magic this movie featured when first completed. Unfortunately, for decades it existed only in black and white. That’s how my print shows it, but the huge set and performances by Chevalier and the chorus girls are breath-taking to watch in color glory.

As with The Hollywood Revue (1929) and the other marquee musicals of the era, there was little opportunity to make money off of Paramount on Parade once its theatrical run was complete. For years it sat, completely untouched, on the vault shelves until the arrival of television.

In an effort to make money during the legendary battle for profit from Hollywood when television caught on, Paramount sold most of its catalogue to Universal in 1958 for distribution. Unfortunately, all color scenes were cut out of nitrate negatives, and most of the prints were all but destroyed or simply tossed in the trash.

Luckily in 1996 UCLA stepped in and finished the movie to the best of its ability. The color scenes wer restored, and the scenes with missing sound were given title cards and musical score. This is the closest it seems we will ever get to watching a complete version of this movie.

Vintage Reviews:

THE SCREEN; A Hollywood Studio Frolic.

By Mordaunt Hall.
Published: April 21, 1930 in the New York Times
A bright and imaginative audible film, with more than twenty of Paramount-Famous-Lasky’s stellar performers, is now holding forth at the Rialto. This thoroughly enjoyable work is called “Paramount on Parade,” and it is aptly described as a “film frolic.” Judging by the evident glee of the participants, the making of it must have been a merry task. Besides the players, scenic designers, music composers, writers and photographers, eleven directors contributed their bit to this production, which was supervised by Elsie Janis, who is to be congratulated on the high standard of this diversion.

This jovial satire is beautifully staged, and virtually all the sketches are endowed with wit, surprises, competent acting and tuneful melodies. If there are scenes of dancing girls, Miss Janis has seen to it that they are never too lengthy to be tedious, and she has wisely included three numbers with Maurice Chevalier, who, if anything, is perhaps even more engaging in these glimpses than in his own feature films; it is the type of work that is well suited to him.

The sequences in this offering are of such excellence that they aroused genuine applause yesterday afternoon. The audience brought their hands together zealously for M. Chevalier, Mitzi Green, the clever child player who was seen in “The Marriage Playground” and “Honey”; Leon Errol, Clara Bow, Harry Green and others, just as though the shadows could hear as well as move and speak.

Jack Oakie, “Skeets” Gallagher and Mr. Erroll are introduced as the masters of ceremony. As such, these entertainers do far better work than any of the masters of ceremony in the Broadway cinemas and it might be well for those men who believe in patting performers on the back and patronizing audiences to take a leaf from the book of these three. There are times when the introduction of features is as interesting as the subject that follows. Mr. Erroll, for instance, is perceived on a hospital bed “dying.” His wife enters. She is already dressed in mourning and she refers to floral tributes. His sons indulge in a vociferous discussion as to how they are going to benefit by their father’s worldly goods. The nurse, admitting that the patient is “dying,” absents herself for luncheon, it being noon, admonishing Mr. Erroll to keep himself covered up. Mr. Erroll, without once exhibiting the weakness of his ankles, gives a humorous exhibition of a man trying to roll himself up in half-width blanket, and finally one learns that Mr. Erroll is just “dying to introduce the next sketch.”

M. Chevalier first gives an amusing travesty on the origin of the Apache dance. He is subsequently perceived as an agent de police in a Paris park, who satisfies himself as to the addresses and telephone numbers of some of the girls occupying the benches with their sweethearts. M. Chevalier’s third sketch is a musical affair with chorus girls. It is all about “sitting on top of a rainbow and sweeping the clouds away.” This particular sequence, like several others, is in Technicolor, with a rainbow of pretty girls. The colors may not be true to the prism, but here, at least, they are effective, although most of the tinted episodes in other parts of this picture are not in focus—or, they were not yesterday afternoon.

Clara Bow is in this “Paramount on Parade.” She appears with a dancing chorus of bluejackets. She is vivacious and her voice registers better than in any of her own films.

One of the high lights of this production is a satire on murder mysteries, including Fu Manchu, acted by Warner Oland; Sherlock Holmes, portrayed by Clive Brook; William Powell as Philo Vance, Eugene Palette as Sergeant Heath and Jack Oakie as the victim. This sketch affords plenty of laughter, particularly when Fu Manchu, a confessed murderer, is impelled to shoot both Vance and Holmes to prove to these experts that he is not lying and is really a murderer.

Ruth Chatterton has not been overlooked, for she appears as a distraught French girl looking for “her” marine and singing “My Marine.” Little Mitzi Green gives an astounding imitation for an 8-year-old child of Mr. Mack, the deep-voiced “black crow.” She also mimics Helen Kane and M. Chevalier. Miss Kane,herself, is seen in a laughable skit in which she is a teacher in a school with amazing, modern furniture. From her song one gleans that Julius Caesar probably said “Boop boopa doop” immediately after describing Gaul as being divided into three parts. Nero did not fiddle, but “Boop boopa dooped” while Rome burned and at one time or another many an outstanding figure of the past has sought relief in pronouncing “Boop boopa doop.”

Nancy Carroll emerges from a shoe and her orchestra appears in the box in which the shoes were packed. The winsome Miss Carroll sings and dances and then like a charming Mother Hubbard retires to her shoe—one with a rhinestone buckle. Harry Green, arrayed as a Spanish bullfighter, parodies the “Toreador” song from “Carmen,” with a contribution called “I’m Isidore, the Toreador.”

It is to be hoped that the Paramount stars will have further frolics, for a person would have to be frightfully cynical even to pretend one did not care for this production.