Sunday, April 10, 2011

Vaudeville in the Movies: Star Spangled Rhythm

[post 124]  

When movies started to sound the death knell for vaudeville and burlesque houses, one fortunate by-product was the preservation of physical comedy routines on film.  Performers and sketch writers transitioning to the latest media naturally made use of the bag of tricks they'd spent half their life crafting. Some of these films were slapdash affairs, hardly memorable as cinematic art, and seemed destined to be forgotten.  But survive they did, thanks to the advent of DVDs and Netflix streaming, and it turns out there are diamonds to be found in these rough cuts.

Which brings us to this post's video clip, a quite well-done piece of business featuring Hollywood actress, comedienne and singer Betty Hutton, in Star Spangled Rhythm (1943), one of those musical and sketch revues produced as a morale booster during World War II. Hutton had begun her performing career in her family's Prohibition-era speakeasy, and later gained fame from such movies as The Perils of Pauline (1947) and Annie Get Your Gun (1950).  I'm not sure who was in charge of this piece; the movie had at least six sketch writers on board, including playwright and Marx Brothers collaborator George S. Kaufman.

What I love about this piece is how it takes the goal of Hutton needing to climb over a wall and the obstacle of the characters not being able to ungrip hands and fashions them into a sustained routine.  While Hutton is the big name, and does a fine job (though perhaps doubled for on one or two tricks), it is the men who seem to come right off the vaudeville stage.  Indeed, one of them is 
Walter Darewahl, whose later credits include the Phil Silvers movie Top Banana, and on television the Ed Sullivan Show, Jackie Gleason, and Cavalcade of Stars; on the latter he is listed as "vaudeville comic."  Not sure who the other guy is, however.

A thank you to New York clown and dancer Tanya Solomon for alerting me to this piece.  Enjoy!

Update:  Greg DeSanto posted the following comment, which I'm adding here so you don't miss it: "His partner is Johnnie Trama. They performed this basic routine till the late 1960s on variety shows and club revues."

Update (3-26-15): Here's a new blog post with a wonderful comedy acrobatic act by Walter Dare Wahl and Emmet Oldfield.


Anonymous said...

His partner is Johnnie Trama. They performed this basic routine till the late 1960's on variety shows and club reviews.

-Greg DeSanto

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this! I have been looking for this for years. It is one of the funniest things I have ever seen. Betty Hutton and the vaudeville team of Walter Darewahl and Johnnie Trama were so incredibly athletic and funny, I never knew what the guys' names were until I read your blog. How could they possibly be this agile and funny? Betty Hutton was so nutty and wonderful singin 'Murder He Says' and 'Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief' and in 'Annie, Get Your Gun'. Thanks again! I feel certain that everyone in the world should have a chance to see this, it makes you laugh out loud!

Unknown said...

The scene was interminable, the 2 men's act very weird without being funny.