Thursday, March 21, 2013

Headline Bands (Warner Bros., 1946)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

After Orchestra Wives TCM filled out the time slot with a quirky 1946 Warner Bros. short called Headline Bands, actually a compilation of scenes from previously issued band shorts from the late 1930’s — which became apparent immediately when the opening band, Woody Herman’s, launched into an O.K. but not especially impressive version of the song “Carolina in the Morning.” At a time when Herman was leading the greatest band of his career, the explosive, bop-influenced “First Herd,” anyone who saw this expecting to see and hear “Apple Honey,” “Caldonia,” “Wild Root” or one of Herman’s other current hits must have been surprised to see instead Herman and his band plodding through a 1930’s arrangement of a 1920’s song and with Herman himself (as clarinetist and singer, and he readily admitted that as a clarinet soloist he was competent but nowhere near the league of Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw) as the only soloist. Herman’s number is cut off for one featuring Larry Clinton (who looks more like an undertaker than a bandleader) and his singer, Carol Bruce, doing an O.K. song called “Stop and Reconsider” noteworthy mainly for the freeze-frame effect done briefly every time Bruce sings the word “stop.” (Freeze-frames, and indeed any devices that called attention to the “movie-ness” of what you were watching, were extremely rare in Hollywood’s classic era.) Next up is Jimmy Dorsey doing “Dusk in Upper Sandusky” — ironically, a song he wrote in collaboration with Larry Clinton! — featuring some of his wonderfully acrobatic sax playing (he was probably the fastest alto saxophonist in jazz until Charlie Parker), and after that we get (in Monty Python’s words) “something completely different”: semi-classical violinist [David] Rubinoff doing a piece called “Fiddling on the Fiddle,” first in slow, pseudo-classical style and then as a jazz number (Rubinoff was an excellent technician but as a jazz violinist he was no Joe Venuti). The last number is the most grotesque spectacle in the film: Vincent Lopez and His Orchestra covering Louis Armstrong’s hit “Old Man Mose” featuring then-vocalist Betty Hutton, and if you think she’s overwrought in her later Paramount features you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Hutton delivers one of those Mack-truck attacks on this poor defenseless song, spicing it up with bird calls and weird squeaks and bouncing up and down and around as if she’s auditioning for a girls’ football team instead of singing a song. Jack Warner probably regretted having let Hutton get away to Paramount, where she became a huge star in the 1940’s, but if this is what he had to go on it’s no wonder Warner didn’t sign her — just as, if you listen to the Beatles’ audition tape for Decca Records from January 1962, you’ll probably think, “Gee, if this is what I’d had to go on, I probably wouldn’t have signed them either!”