Friday, March 23, 2012

Vaudeville (Warner Bros., Vitaphone, 1934)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Turner Classic Movies was showing a truly weird Vitaphone short from 1934 (it bore Production Code certificate #68) called simply Vaudeville, that purported to depict a vaudeville bill featuring a dog act called Carl Emmy and His Mad Wags; a dance group called the Three Queens (an ironic title today because it was actually three women dressed as men — white shirts, black pants, black neckties and short, slicked-down hair — doing an act that today would be referred to as “drag king”!); Jack Pepper and His Society Pets (a singer whose act was disrupted by a comedy band, sort of like the act Spike Jones did a decade later); and the headliners, little-person dance couple George and Olive Brasno and normal-sized Buster Shaver, who was their piano accompanist for part of the act and took George’s place as Olive’s dance partner for part of it. The Three Queens were by far the best part of this short — it helped that one of the songs they danced to was Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” a surprising choice for a 1934 movie (but then since Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” was in another 1934 Warners musical short, it’s possible Irving Mills, who then managed Ellington and published his music, had an “in” with someone at Warners to place Ellington’s songs in these films), though the shots of Buster Shaver twirling diminutive Olive Brasno around himself and playing with her like a kid with a Barbie doll were pretty weird!