Something I have been doing for a number of years is adding past notes to the Toronto Film Society’s website. As recently as yesterday, I added the November 27, 1989 film buff notes for a George Formby film, It’s in the Air (1938) and the obscure Everything is Rhythm (1936). Both these films are British, and wishing I could view the latter, I remembered that friends had given me their extra copy of a disc set of “British Musicals of the 1930s, Volume 1”. Although Everything is Rhythm wasn’t included on this 2 disc set, there were four other films ranging from 1930 to 1937 to choose from. I settled on The Song You Gave me (1933), choosing it because it falls in the pre-Code range and it ironically starred American actress Bebe Daniels.
Viennese-born director Paul L. Stein directed 71 films and this might be the first one of his that I’ve ever seen although I now have to take a gander of his Sin Takes a Holiday (1930) which is sitting on my shelf. It looks like Stein, after making films in Germany up to the end of 1928, moved to Hollywood, directing there from late 1928 to 1932, eventually settling in Britain where he lived and worked until his death on May 2, 1951 at the age of 59.
The story of The Song You Gave Me is simple. It’s about an actress (Daniels) who is insulted when a man walks out in the middle of her impromptu song while dining at a ritzy nightclub. She has her male consorts look for him all over town but to no avail. Instead, she places an ad for a male secretary in the local papers, Karl Linden applies, and, voila, the love story begins.
Karl is played by another Austrian-Hungarian-born contemporary to Stein, Victor Varconi. Varconi has acted in many films that I’ve seen, but he wasn’t someone that I remembered. So, throughout the film, he and Bebe kept reminding of other people. Varconi was a mixture of Herbert Marshall, El Brendel, and, yes, Eli Wallach. He wasn’t my idea of a romantic figure, and why Mitzi (Bebe) would fall for him, especially after his rude interruption of her song, was anyone’s guess. But that’s the way romantic screenplays work. However, what nagged at me throughout the film almost until the end, was who Daniels reminded me of…and it wasn’t herself. Who, who, who I kept wondering. An early Bette Davis? No, and then the lightbulb went off. Kay Francis. She looked incredibly like her–the makeup, the clothes, her way of expressing herself. I had never thought this before and I have seen both actresses in many films. So, for whatever it’s worth, that’s my two-cents.
An actress always has to stay in shape, so there is an entertaining little scene with Bebe dressed in tightfitting workout attire, never doing enough of anything to work up a sweat. Still, our eye loves following her around the room.
There also has to be the female friend who is always happy to solicit salacious gossip, and here Emmy is played by Iris Ashley, who entertains us with a song.
You can also see and hear Stewart Granger in his second screen role as a waiter serving afternoon cocktails to the foursome–Ashley and Mitzi’s three hanger-ons.
Early on in the film, just after Karl abruptly leaves the nightclub, he mails a postcard to a woman saying he’s very much looking forward to her coming to visit him in London. When she does, and after he becomes Mitzi’s secretary, we learn that he visits this mysterious woman each evening between 8:00 and 11:00. Mitzi is jealous and eventually employs a plan to find out who this woman is, something that we have already figured out. In the meantime, Mitzi is attempting to make him jealous by encouraging him to believe that she has a lover who spends the nights with her. There’s a silly but entertaining scene where she uses the arm-in-a-man’s-sleeve trick, pretending that she’s being embraced behind a door.
Karl has many talents, number one being that he writes great songs, secondly that he is a puppeteer, and thirdly, that he can sing all the roles of the puppets operetta-style whether they are male or female! That was pretty hilarious, I thought. And on top of it all, I think we’re suppose to think that Karl wrote the libretto. It features words to some such effect that although the woman is pretty she is “weak in the head”, an attribute, it seems, that the royal male puppet finds alluring. All this only makes Mitzi fall harder, especially since now she has someone writing songs especially for her to sing, hence the title.
Her three cohorts are made up of Baron Bobo (Frederick Lloyd), romantic fall guy Tony Brandt (Claude Hulbert) and Max Winter (Lester Matthews). One night when they come to take her out, they announce themselves as “Greta Garbo”, “Mary Pickford” and “Marlene Dietrich”. How adorable is that?
I had to laugh at the clinch at the film’s finale. Instead of the usual faces touching in a romantic kiss, here the camera shoots them from the upper torso down. This just made me reassess the title of the film. If you take the “g” off of the word “Song”, this final frame is a possible post-ending to who will be born to them once they live “happily ever after.”
For your own viewing pleasure, you can take a look at this film online here.