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GOLDWYN FOLLIES, THE (director: George Marshall; screenwriters: Ray Golden/Ben Hecht/Dorothy Parker/Anita Loos; cinematographer: Gregg Toland; editor: Sherman Todd; music: George & Ira Gershwin; cast: Adolphe Menjou (Oliver Merlin), Andrea Leeds (Hazel Dawes), Al Ritz (Al Ritz), Harry Ritz (Harry Ritz), Jimmy Ritz (Jimmy Ritz), Edgar Bergen (Edgar Bergen), Jerome Cowan (Lawrence, the director), Vera Zorina (Olga Samara), Helen Jepson (Leona Jerome, opera singer), Phil Baker (Michael Day), Kenny Baker (Danny Beecher), Bobby Clark (A. Basil Crane Jr), Ella Logan (Glory Wood); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Samuel Goldwyn; UA; 1938)
“A musical pretense that’s meant to satisfy the average joes.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Goldwyn Follies, a musical revue film made for the masses, is not completely worthless (though it’s certainly tacky and merely a puff piece), not when it features George and Ira Gershwin songs like “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” “Love Walked In,” and Kurt Weill’s “Spring Again.” Of note, “Our Love Is Here to Stay” was the last song composed by George Gerswin before his untimely death during filming. The Goldwyn Follies is no Ziegfeld Follies (lacked the humor and showbiz splash), as Hollywood producer Goldwyn tried to do for films what his idol Broadway impresario Flo Ziegfeld did for Broadway. This was to be an annual studio type of musical revue film, but that never came about due to the war and this became the first and last such film.

The plot has Oliver Merlin (Adolphe Menjou) as a big-shot Hollywood producer concerned his last few films flopped because the audience laughed in the wrong places, the acting was wooden and the dialogue was pretentiously banal (Hey, it sounds like this film!). Determined to make his next film more human, he brings plain-spoken country girl Hazel Dawes (Andrea Leeds) to Hollywood to be the voice of the average person and he dubs her “Miss Humanity.” Her recruitment in an ice cream parlor went like this. Oliver Merlin: “I’m a producer of movies. I get my wagonloads of poets and dramatists, but I can’t buy common sense – I cannot buy humanity!” Hazel Dawes: “Well, I don’t know why, Mr. Merlin. There’s an awful lot of it.” Oliver Merlin: “Yes, I know, but the moment I buy it, it turns into something else, usually genius, and it isn’t worth a dime. Now, if you could stay just as simple as your are, you’d be invaluable to me. I’ll put you on my staff.” Under George Marshall’s uneven direction, the film doesn’t have to worry about reaching genius–it remained simple-minded throughout. Hazel’s idea of making a film better is to change the sad ending to “Romeo and Juliet” to a happy ending.

Popular radio ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his wisecracking wooden dummy Charlie McCarthy made their feature film debut. The Ritz Brothers provided the comedy as bizarre animal trainers, who show up in various places trying to get an audition for the new movie and even get a chance to sing the zany song “Here, Pussy, Pussy.” Opera diva Helen Jepson does an aria from “La Traviata,” and Russian prima ballerina Vera Zorina stars as the lead actress whose latest films have flopped because she’s not perceived as a “real person.” George Balanchine choreographs his real-life wife Vera’s “Water Nymph” ballet. Hamburger slinger Kenny Baker sings “Our Love Is Here to Stay” a number of times, and is perceived as a “real person.” So he winds up as the star of the movie-within-the-movie. It all adds up as a musical pretense that’s meant to satisfy the average joes. A number of uncredited writers tried to make it viable until Ben Hecht was called in for the final version, but obviously couldn’t fix what was wrong with it.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”