Busby Berkeley’s Hollywood Hotel (1937) represents the final flowering of his meteoric success as a choreographer/director at Warner Bros. – the studio that made his inimitable brand of kaleidoscopic super kitsch world famous.
The film is a mind-bogglingly lavish spectacle hinged on a wafer thin plot knocked out by screenwriters Jerry Wald, Maurice Leo and Richard Macaulay. Ironically, Hollywood Hotel sparkles with an unusual brilliance not merely limited to its musical performances; perhaps because, for once, the studio allowed Berkeley to direct an entire feature. Hence, the inevitable break between Berkeley’s sumptuous escapism and the rather pedestrian staging of some other director for the non-musical portions is absent on this outing.
The screenplay casts Dick Powell as Ronnie Bowers, a singing saxophone player who warbles his way into a talent contest that leads to a contract at a major Hollywood studio. Unfortunately for Bowers, like so many star struck kids of his vintage, his dreams are quickly relegated to the background scenery of other stars’ pictures.
Worse, after hearing Ronnie sing, the studio decides to exploit him as a vocal dub for their current male star, ham actor Alexander Dupre (Alan Mowbray). After witnessing Dupre’s fracturing of his tender lyric on the big screen, Ronnie has had enough. He walks out of the theater and even contemplates walking out on his contract.
However, Ronnie believes that his luck is about to change for the better after he mistakenly assumes he will be escorting film legend Mona Marshall (Lola Lane) to a world premiere. In fact, he has been assigned to accompany Mona’s understudy, Virginia Stanton (Rosemary Lane) – a dead ringer for Marshall - instead.
Predictably, after some initial angst Ronnie and Virginia begin to fall in love. Combining their dreams toward a common goal, the two conspire to make Alexander miss his big debut as part of gossip columnist Louella Parson’s radio program, broadcast live from the lavishly appointed Orchid Room inside the Hollywood Hotel. Virginia pretends to be Mona, driving off with Alexander while Ronnie takes his place opposite Mona at the broadcast. By the time Alexander realizes he’s been duped its’ too late. His career is over and Hollywood has its new male star.
The musical program of Hollywood Hotel delivers many a delight; but its iconic song will always be ‘Hooray for Hollywood’ – an anthem to the fiction that anyone can be a star with just a little luck. For the rest, Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (including a cameo of a very young Harry James) provide some wonderful swing tunes. The finale, set to a revamped full orchestral and choral arrangement of the classic Otchichornya is a knockout. With this film, Warner Bros. may have closed out the decade on vintage Busby Berkeley, but it did so on a very high note.
Warner Home Video’s DVD is very pleasing. A few minor instances of edge enhancement do not impact the overall quality of the B&W transfer. Contrast levels are solid and bang on. Blacks are deep and velvety. Whites are generally clean and never blooming. Fine detail is evident throughout. The grayscale exhibits a smooth tonality. The mono audio is adequately represented. Extras are limited to a few vintage short subjects and theatrical trailer.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)