Sunday, June 29, 2014

Shameless Sunday Camp Explosion: Streetwise

Some days you wake up knowing that what you need is a good dose of Constance Bennett singing and dancing.

Oh, they're rare, I grant you, but just in case you've been itching for that kind of thing, here it is.  It's "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams," from 1934's Moulin Rouge (no relation to the Gabor or Kidman versions, I understand), a somewhat labored outing in which our heroine portrays twins, one respectable and one less so, and does so sporting a French accent that is a great deal more Madeline Kahn than Catherine Deneuve, as well as a series of superb bias cut gowns (we get two in this clip alone).

I had no idea it was Bennett who introduced this enormously evocative song - I've always associated it with the era, of course, but for me the defining cover has always been Marianne Faithfull's.  The number takes full advantage of Pre-Code latitude (one can't imagine them getting away with that bit with the sombreros later on), and supposedly somewhere among the chorus girls is none other than Miss Lucille Ball.  Even the vast and unnerving hair that mars the first moments of this clip can't interfere with its insinuating charm.

I always want to like Constance Bennett, but with her mean little mouth and general air of boredom (as if wondering why she ever bothered becoming a film star), she doesn't make it easy.  This is apparently her own voice, and she's really quite good, even if she's definitely of the look-Ma-I'm-Dancing, swoopy-arm school of Terpsichoric technique.  Ah well, who am I to criticize?  She married well (more than once) and ended her life a general's wife and is buried at Arlington (I stop by to see her now and again), and if she's wasn't widely reputed to be Little Miss Sweetness and Light, at least it can't be denied that she photographed beautifully.

In the first few years of sound, which coincided with the first boom-bust-boom cycle for movie musicals, at some point almost every performer, no matter how unlikely, got put through their song-and-dance paces one way or another.  As here, casting them as nightclub denizens was one way to throw in a number or two; the all-star revues that many studios cranked out to test out how mic-friendly the stars were was another.  Over the next few weeks, I think we'll devote our weekend Shameless Camp Explosions to checking out a few more ladies (and perhaps even a gent or two) who gamely took to warbling at least once.  If nothing else, I'm deciding that these unlikely interludes can help one even better appreciate the things they were good at...


  1. Thank you, my dear, for this and all that you serve us here at Cafe Muscato. Have you read "A Song in the Dark" by Richard Barrios? If not, you really must find it. The book is THE definitive look at the "All Talking, All Singing, All Dancing" era Hollywood musical.

  2. Is "gigilette" really a job title? If not, it should be?

    1. I think it's a title in exactly the way that Constance Bennett is a musical-comedy star.

  3. That's quite an elaborate number for a performer that wasn't considered a musical star. She actually wasn't bad not good enough to cause Judy or Deanna any worry but certainly better than many of the stars who were and are trotted out then and now to torture our ears with their presumed but non-existent "musical gifts".

    Having read "The Bennetts:An Acting Family recently it is apparent that Constance was often a pill to work with which eventually damaged her career. Joan on the other hand was much more "one of the fellows" and popular. Also in my opinion a much more varied talent which paired with her more genial personality enabled her to enjoy a much longer run.

    I believe we do catch a few glimpses of Lucy, it's a bit difficult to tell since like all the other girls she's slathered in heavy makeup and that blonde hair, at the 4:29 mark and then briefly again a few seconds later.