Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hooray for Hollywood!

You probably recognize the song Hooray for Hollywood. But it was first used in a movie that doesn't get much attention: Hollywood Hotel, which TCM is showing tonight at 8:00 PM ET, as part of the TCM salute to lyricist Johnny Mercer.

Hollywood Hotel is one of those movies that's more about the musical numbers, so the plot is rather scattershot and convoluted. Dick Powell plays a saxophone player in Benny Goodman's band (Goodman is played here by himself) who wins a contest to get a short-term contract in Hollywood. Unfortunately, the female star of the studio Powell will be working at (played by Lola Lane) is currently in a dispute with the studio bosses and doesn't want to do the PR work on her latest movie. With the premiere coming up, the bosses get the idea of hiring a body double to take her place (conveniently played by Lola's real-life sister Rosemary; no wonder they looked similar!), and have Powell be her date to the premiere. Needless to say, Lola finds out about this, and gets Powell fired, leading to him and Rosemary, who by now have fallen in love, to work at a drive-in restaurant. However, you just know that Powell's vocal talents will be discovered, which happens when the studio's male star (Alan Mowbray) is supposed to sing in his next movie, but can't carry a tune.

Does a lot of this sound like Singin' in the Rain? Unfortunately, Hollywood Hotel is inferior in every aspect. Dick Powell is talented, but he's no Gene Kelly. Likewise, Lola Lane is no Jean Hagen, whose character was only an airhead on the surface. But, it's mostly the material. Hollywood Hotel feels like one of those all-star movies, except with the problem of not being able to come up with a good way of tying all the stars together. Still, there are some interesting cameos to watch for, such as the aforementioned Goodman and the rest of his band (which included Lionel Hampton and Gene Krupa, among others); 1930s gossip columnist Louella Parsons; make-up man Perc Westmore; and Ronald Reagan as a radio announcer.

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