Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Lillian Russell |
Fox Marquee Musicals
Actors: Alice Faye, Don Ameche, Henry Fonda, Edward Arnold, Warren William
Director: Irving Cummings
Genres: Drama, Musicals & Performing Arts
Her girl-next-door looks combined with a sultry singing voice made Alice Faye one of Hollywood's biggest stars in the Golden Age of Cinema. It's the gay 90's and headliner Lillian Russell (Alice Faye) is unstoppable! Cal... more »
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Member Movie Reviews
Christine A. (WriteReviseEdit) from ROCHESTER, NY
Reviewed on 11/19/2013...
This movie's worth watching if only for the young Henry Fonda and young Dom Ameche sightings - not to mention the clothes, jewelry and antics modeled by Alice Faye, who's definitely a likeable actress. I liked, too, that it was set in turn-of-the-century (19th Century!) New York, London, etc. While there's a disclaimer early on that the transfer was done to the best possible quality given the condition of the original film, you barely notice any defects at all. Definitely worth a viewing!!!
Visually splendid, marred by historical inaccuracy
Joseph A. Admire | Manassas, VA USA | 02/27/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This was Alice Faye's personal favorite among her films, and to my knowledge is still the only full-length film biography of Lillian Russell available. That's why I have mixed feelings about its release on DVD - good, for the reason previously stated and since it'd long been unavailable on VHS (I had to watch it for the first time on a home-tape copy years ago), because it's one of Faye's better performances and because technically and visually it's outstanding. Faye's costumes are, as one might expect in a film about a woman who along with the "Gibson girl" defined style for American women in the Gay Nineties (1890's), dazzling. In this day and age where there's so much front-page concern about supermodels and actresses starving themselves to meet some (in my opinion) perverted standard of super-thin "beauty", it's also especially good to have a film celebrating a woman - the greatest American celebrity of her time, and one of the first and greatest pop stars the United States has ever produced - who reveled in her plumply voluptuous body shape. (Indeed, at one point during the zenith of her fame, she would tip the scale at 200 pounds!) Alice Faye is, of course, more slender than the original, but still exceptionally shapely; according to the booklet accompanying the disc, one corset she wore for the role shaped her waist down from 26 to 20 inches.
However, this film is seriously hampered by significant historical inaccuracies from beginning to end. Many of these are no doubt due to the need to keep the Hays Office happy, as Lillian Russell had a flamboyant private life with four husbands and several high-profile romantic liaisons (including her famous relationship with "Diamond Jim" Brady, which gets fairly short shrift aside from a cute scene where Russell and Brady boast about how much they can eat). Her relationship with her second husband (presented in the movie as her first), Edward Solomon, is a key case in point. In real life, Solomon was arrested for bigamy in 1886, two years after they married, and Russell divorced him soon thereafter.
(Spoiler alert!) He did not die of a heart attack while trying to write a musical for Russell in London. This is a bowdlerized retelling of the fate that befell composer John Stromberg, who committed suicide while in the middle of a writing project for Russell; the last song he wrote for her, "Come Down Ma Evening Star", was found in his pocket after his death and became Russell's signature song during the latter part of her career. (Contrary to the movie, it was not written into a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Russell was indeed originally hired for the title role in "Princess Ida", but she was fired during rehearsals.) Alexander Moore, her fourth husband (Henry Fonda), is portrayed as the love of her life, but in fact they didn't marry until 1912, at which point she basically was ready to retire from the stage; in the movie, it's presented as happening sometime in the mid-1890's when she was still at her career peak, if one is to judge the apparent age of her daughter in the last few scenes of the movie correctly. These are just the most egregious of the movie's historical fiddlings; the fact that it basically covers her life only up to about 1895 means that it leaves out some of the most interesting times, such as her advocacy of women's suffrage (following in her mother's footsteps), her political work after World War I, and especially her yeoman recruiting efforts for the U.S. Marine Corps during the war - which would have made a boffo finale for the movie, especially considering that it was released in 1940, not too long before America's entry into World War II.
Oh, and as for what I said earlier about "from beginning to end"? Russell's birth is shown as happening in the middle of the Civil War, with the town doctor, who has enlisted for the Union Army, narrowly missing going AWOL in order to help with the childbirth. In reality, though, Lillian Russell was born on December 4, 1860 - before South Carolina had even seceded.
Don't get me wrong. This isn't a bad movie by any means. If you concentrate on Alice Faye's luminous performance - accentuated by her beauty, her singing, and those costumes - it's a very good movie. But it's not the movie a superstar of the caliber of Lillian Russell truly merits."
Superb production, turgid script
Douglas M | 11/11/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Lillian Russell was a famous entertainer at the turn of the century, a woman who became an icon. This film about her was an expensive 20th Century Fox showcase for the charming Alice Faye in 1940, the year Faye was voted the most popular female star in America. Darryl F. Zanuck spared no expense on the production but the potential for a gutsy narrative about Russell's colourful life was ditched in favour of an antiseptic story which, while touching on many aspects of Russell's life such as her mother's involvement with woman's rights, distorted many of the facts and dissolved into a cliched romantic drama. The direction moves at a plod. The film is long, the script is shallow and the energy levels are low.
Part of the problem is this is a drama with songs rather than a spirited musical. Faye is weighed down by the heavy handed script and direction and her own good natured personality lacks the colour to vitalise such a character. While she acts with great warmth and has some very difficult love scenes which she carries off beautifully, particularly with Edward Arnold as Diamond Jim Brady, the ultimate impression is that we are watching a showcased Alice Faye but not a flesh and blood Lillian Russell. The best scene in the film is in a restaurant when Faye sings "Adored One" (to the tune of "Ramona") after some cat and mouse dialogue with Arnold. Arnold says he has never heard anything so beautiful after she sings and it is easy to agree with him.
Faye is surrounded by an impressive array of men most of whom make no impression at all. Henry Fonda punctuates her life as a reporter. He loathed the film, though not Faye, because his part was so bland and he walks through his role. Don Ameche plays Faye's husband, a humourless petulant bore, a very uncharacteristic and unattractive persona for him. Edward Arnold is excellent and Warren William, as another suitor, is OK but like the others, his character is not really defined, so there is no lasting impression.
One touch of authenticity is the preservation of an amusing vaudeville routine by Weber and Fields who appeared with Russell. Also, Faye is spectacularly photographed and gowned and she looks superb with her classic hour glass figure. Her singing voice is quieter than usual to suit the more serious circumstances and she gives a deeply emotional rendition of "Blue Lovebird" which was written for the film even if it is completely out of context.
The DVD comes with a featurette about the real Lillian Russell and that serves to illustrate how much the the facts were distorted, an aspect of great criticism at the time of release. The print has been restored and is mostly excellent but there are visible tears half way through the running time. There is also an original trailer which shows scenes which were cut.
A box office smash in 1940, as all Faye's films were, it is long hard slog now. You may not wish to purchase it for your collection unless at a reduced cost as part of the Alice Faye Collection."
Alice is Great as Lillian Russell - So Are Weber & Fields
Robert M. Fells | Centreville, VA USA | 06/02/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"LILLIAN RUSSELL is a good example of Alice Faye's prime films from her prime era in the late 1930s and early 1940s. My focus here is on her 1940 epic, LILLIAN RUSSELL, a rather problematic film but not for those who understand that 1.) it's a musical, not a documentary; and 2.) as the author of the film's screenplay stated, "My is purpose is to present Lillian Russell as people remember her, not as she really was." In other words, this is meant to be an escapist musical film, not a docudrama.
The real Lillian was quite a gal who apparently had had affairs with wealthy Jesse Lewissohn (try finding HIM on an Internet search) and Diamond Jim Brady (today his claim to fame is that the Johns Hopkins Urological Center is named after him). But William Anthony McGuire, who is credited with the film's screenplay (he wrote routines for Broadway producer Florenz Ziegfeld in the 1920s) cannily wove his story with a nod both to the film censors and to his insider's knowledge of Broadway in Russell's heyday. If you know what REALLY happened, you will realize that McGuire did a pretty good job of suggesting the events of that day.
For me, the highlight of LILLIAN RUSSELL is a short sequence near the end of the film by Lillian's real-life employers back in 1895 - Joe Weber and Lew Fields. If I have one complaint about this film - and it's one nobody else seems to have picked up on - it's that the film presents Lillian as a singer and not an actress. Fact is that she was a successful dramatic actress who sang, but by 1895 her career was somewhat stalled. At that point Weber & Fields hired her and took a chance on her having comedic abilities. A highlight of the "Weberfields" shows as they were called, was a spoof of a hit dramatic play currently on Broadway. The burlesque required the ensemble cast to think on their feet and adlib frequently. Lillian Russell came through with flying colors and her association with Weber & Fields revitalized her career. None of this is even hinted at in the film.
Weber & Fields were a comedy team who began as teenagers in New York City's Bowery of 1879. Imitating the Dutch German immigrants (not Jewish as is usually assumed today) they saw on the streets, Joe and Lew developed bewhiskered characters Mike and Myer (with short, skinny Joe Weber padded around the waistline to make him look like he weighed 300 pounds). Weber & Fields became their own producers by 1889, then began producing other Broadway shows during the 1890s.
Weber & Fields initially parted company in 1904 when they disagreed on the types of musical plays they wanted to produce, but reunited in 1912 and therafter, while continuing to produce various shows independently of each other.
Remarkably, although all their contemporaries had died long before the film LILLIAN RUSSELL was produced in 1940 (Lillian herself expired in 1922, Diamond Jim Brady in 1917), Weber & Fields were still going strong in 1940 (although retired and living in Beverly Hills, CA).
The film's producer Darryl Zanuck contacted the team and they filmed one brief routine for the film in January 1940. That should have been the end of their involvement. But Zanuck liked the routine so much, he invited them back and asked them to expand the routine. Zanuck set aside three days to film the expanded sequence. Weber & Fields, by then in their mid-70s, filmed a total of four different takes in only three hours. The only retakes were due to laughter by the film crew - the boys were letter perfect in all four takes. Curiously, they seem to go in and out of character, sometimes playing themselves, then playing Mike and Myer. It's a remarkable performance. It also turned out to be their final performance.
The sequence is so rich that after watching it five times I'm still discovering lines and bits of business that somehow I missed in earlier viewings. One throw-away bit occurs when Lew Fields is shuffling a deck of cards - he tells Joe Weber that he was talking to David Warfield back stage (Warfield was a comedian in Weber & Fields' company who successfully managed to transform himself into a dramatic star on Broadway). Fields says, "Do you know what he said?" Weber replies, "I dunno - he wants more money?" "No," says Fields, "He wants to play dramatic parts." Admittedly, a viewer who never heard of David Warfield will make no sense of this dialogue. Movie viewers in 1940 would have followed the conversation perfectly. Many film critics in 1940 thought the Weber & Fields sequence was the best scene in the film.
To Fox's credit, a short bio on the real Lillian Russell is part of the bonus material, along with "on the set" photos of Joe Weber and Lew Fields taking their last bow a half century later. I'm sure that Joe and Lew never thought that their 19th century routines would be watched by us in the 21st century. Such is the magic of the movies."