Monday, February 10, 2020

Sunny Side Up (1929)

Molly Carr is a poor but optimistic girl living in the [slums] of New York, eking out a tiny living, and hoping for something more-Not only a better job, but a romance too. This ends up coming true when a man crashes his car in the street below, and is brought back to Molly's [apartment] to recuperate. The two hit it off, and the man reveals himself to be Jack Cromwell, heir to the famous South Hampton family. He decides to help Molly out, and takes her and her friends back to his home to make some performances, and help making his uncaring fiancee jealous enough to love him. Molly goes along with the idea at first, but soon finds it difficult [to put up the front] when she really has fallen for Jack...

Sunny Side Up is an early musical, coming from 1929! With famed composers DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson behind it, you'd expect something great. Or you might expect something on par with Just Imagine, depending on what you thought of that movie. I mostly like it, but it is a very mixed production in some ways, feeling both ahead of and behind the times. As for this precursor, I felt much the same.

This is your basic romantic-musical, telling nothing particularly new or dynamic with its story, so I was surprised that it was 2 hours! Films back then were very rarely this length, outside of epics. What does this standard romance do to warrant such a gargantuan runtime? Why, it's a Great Depression revue, reminding people that things aren't so bad by way of song and dance! An admirable sentiment, if not for the fact that these musical and comedy acts are more likely to send/plunge someone from the time/period into depression than lift them out of it. At least this film doesn't end by literally saying the Great Depression is over, like other ones of the age!

The movie becomes a lot more tolerable after this first hour (I know that sounds brutal, but it's not quite that bad/as bad as it sounds!), and I was pleasantly amused by many scenes, as well as the conceit of the gang masquerading as the rich occupants of a South Hampton home. The romance is well written, with its ups and downs, no scene feels unnecessary, and the comedy is on point, with a few moments that really made me laugh.

Sunny Side Up came out during the days before strict limitations were forced upon movies. Despite its otherwise innocent tone, there are some salacious moments here. The movie also has some 'strong' language. They say 'Hell' a couple of times like it's no big deal! With oncoming censorship, it would've been hard saying Gosh without raising the ire of puritans.

What I found especially funny was an exchange between Jack and his jealous fiancee. "It's a good thing I came along. You were making a holy show of yourself!" "Why, what do you mean?"-"The idea, of making love to that girl in front of/before all these people"-"Well what's wrong with that? She's a nice girl!". I'm baffled as to how making love only used to mean kissing or holding hands, and the scene is hilarious by modern standards!

The characters in Sunny Side Up are an alright bunch. Molly is a Pollyanna type girl, always seeing the bright side and cheering her friends up. She's likeable without feeling saccharine. You can buy that her friends would care about her so much. Bea and Eddie are good. They make for a sweet couple, and their friendship with the others is endearing. Eric the butcher is an amusing addition, providing both comedy and heart to the film.

Jack is your typical rich guy yearning for something more than their unlimited wealth. Y'know, exactly the person most people in the Great Depression wanted dead, but ended up being heroes in romances an inordinate amount. While I did raise my eyebrows at him a few times, at his sometimes oblivious nature regarding money, and towards Molly's feelings towards him, I liked Jack. Plus, he's a good romantic when he finally sets his mind to it.

The rest of the cast amuse, from effete South Hamptoners, to wily women, and hypocritical butlers, who really have it in for 'mere commoners', despite being just that themselves.

The acting in Sunny Side Up is decent, but not without issues, as many of the performers can be quite screechy at times. Janet Gaynor is an alright lead. Very sweet, and adorable, and if her singing and acting skills didn't totally wow me. She's pretty harmless. El Brendel has a surprisingly big role here! He's a good friend of Molly's, and is consistently in the film, always getting plenty to do. He's never overtaking the leads, but he's never left in the dust either, which is a relief.

Marjorie White and Frank Richardson and entertaining as Molly's other friends, even if their comedy can sometimes get on your nerves. Charles Farrell is good as the romantic lead, while everyone else does good jobs, from Sharon Lynn his conniving fiancee, to Mary Forbes as his snobby yet not heartless mother.

Now it's time to come to the other major part of Sunny Side Up-The music. To start, I went into this film prepared to give Janet Gaynor the Benefit of the doubt. Is she known for being shrill? Sure. Have I experienced this first hand? Of course. But maybe she'll be fine here! Well...She was alright. A bit high-pitched in places, but not terrible. Not that great either, but it wasn't exactly torture listening to her. The others though? Oh boy was it torture!

Marjorie White and Frank Richardson are quite grating in most of their numbers, especially the revue song. I suppose a good comparison is the comedy duo in Just Imagine, Sunny's musical successor. They were a little piercing, but they managed to keep it tolerable, and deliver an entertaining few numbers. The duo here though are just painful! There's no if's or but's about how I found their singing voices. I found them to be ear-splittingly shrill, as well as unfunny! I like the actors, so I won't hold it against them (the whole number may well have been intentionally bad for a joke), but I still recommend having a mute button handy.

Another painful one is Marjorie White's Scottish ditty. It's comparable to one Doris Day once Sang in the film Lucky Me. Neither are able to pull off a Scottish accent, and even Day sounded a bit shrill that time. She's got nothing on White though. She's a dear, but whoever gave her singing lessons for this movie should be/have been shot!

The film's main song is I'm a Dreamer, Aren't We All. I'd heard it gets reprised several times throughout the film, yet up until around 90 minutes in, it hadn't been sung again even once/had only been sung once! Quite a relief, since you don't wanna get sick of it. When it does get reprised, it's fine, but then it's sung again only a few minutes later! This second reprisal was a sadder one because Molly's broken up about her man, so I was expecting the next one to be happy again at the end. But nope, it's before the happy conclusion, so it's just as sad as the last! Sigh...

Each of the numbers  have their own distinct choreography. Some are just sung from down in a chair, while others are more active, with dancing, comedy pratfalls, and more. I found one pleasantly reminiscent of a Mack Sennett beach show. The standout is Turn on the Heat, with its various seasonal changes. But then sadly it begins to get ostentatious/it gets ostentatious by the end. The cool igloos to the warm palm trees were fun, but was the fire really necessary, or the fountain? It seemed unnecessary. We were already impressed, goshdammit!

For a film from 1929 you'd expect it to be creaky, and Sunny Side Up certainly is in places, but overall the direction is very good, with many creative and = shots! There are also some interesting effects here, such as one with a moving photograph. This film may have been commonplace with its story, but there may well have been nothing like it visually!

Sunny Side Up is a great example of where cinema was headed. It may not be a perfect film, and is actively annoying in many places, but it's a must watch for film history enthusiasts, ans fans of romantic musicals will get a little out of it...

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