A revue in 20 parts
Rel: April, 1930
Two-strip Technicolor sequences
(Jeanette was cut from release print)
In the first big year of sound, mid-1929 to mid-1930, every major studio put out a revue showing off their stars in the new medium. Paramount, with the best line-up of musical and comedic talent, produced the finest of this genre, Paramount on Parade. The vaudeville format let Paramount create versions in a variety of languages, interpolating sequences of performers popular in Scandinavia, France, Germany, Japan, and South America.
Amazingly, although dramatic stars like Clara Bow, Ruth Chatterton, and Gary Cooper turned out in the American version to warble before the microphones and Chevalier, as the studio’s top musical star, had three numbers, Jeanette is conspicuously missing.
Yet stills of her exist bearing the film’s code number, sparking tantalizing rumors that she had emceed the Spanish version, Galas de la Paramount. However, her name did not appear in the extensive cast lists of these versions, published in Variety. Recently, a print of Galas has turned up with nary a frame of Jeanette.
Until 1996, the only available prints of Paramount on Parade were missing the color sequences, each of which was a major musical number: “Sweeping the Clouds Away” with Chevalier; “Isidore the Toreador” with Harry Green; “Nichavo” with Dennis King,” “Come Drink to the Girl of My Dreams” with an all-star cast; and “Torna a Surriento” with Nino Martini. (Fortunately, “Sweeping the Clouds” survived in a black and white version.)
Then the U.C.L.A. Film Archive reconstructed a nearly complete print, using new-found soundtrack recordings and color footage. (One scene has soundtrack only plus still photos, another has image only without sound.)
Gondolier Nino Martini urges Jeanette to abandon David Newell and come back to Sorrento with him.
At the first public screening, Nino Martini’s gondola floated into view as he sang “Torna a Surriento” (Come Back to Sorrento). Instantly the theatre was filled with excited whispers: “It’s Jeanette!” This rediscovered color footage reveals a long shot of Jeanette seated in the gondola, matching the existing still photo. However, when the camera cuts to a closeup, it is another actress who does nothing but smile at the singer. Originally, the song had been a duet, but when Jeanette’s part was cut (probably for time considerations), it is likely that Jeanette insisted on removing her image so she wouldn’t appear to be a mere extra. This was easy to do in the closeups, but it was too expensive to reshoot the Venetian canal. Thus the mystery of Jeanette’s involvement with Paramount on Parade is more or less solved.
The episodic nature of the revue format permitted Paramount to tailor the film for individual markets. Chevalier, whose appeal was greatest in the more sophisticated urban areas of the United States, had fewer songs in the prints circulating in the hinterlands. Spanish-language sequences were inserted for distribution to the southwestern United States. The popular Jewish comedian, Harry Green, was probably never seen in the wild west where his humor would have been lost. In fact, after a brief flourish in the late twenties and early thirties, Jewish ethnic humor all but vanished from the screen. In April of 1930 the Hebrew Actors’ Union issued an edict barring Jewish actors from films. The union feared that their presence on the silver screen would make inroads on the very vital Yiddish theatre in America. It was a wistful gesture, for Jewish dialect actors were already disappearing from films and only top performers like Jolson and Cantor were unaffected. The union might better have served the Yiddish theatre by promoting films that would have widened the appeal of top Yiddish stars. (The few films of personalities like Molly Picon are cherished today.)
Paramount on Parade is still one of the most entertaining films made in 1930. It is really a shame that Jeanette didn’t make it out of the cutting room. The increasing discoveries of “lost films” and lost footage in recent years may be cause for hope. Perhaps, in some abandoned film vault in Auckland or Tierra del Fuego, Jeanette is still gliding in her forgotten gondola, singing “Come Back to Sorrento” with tenor Nino Martini.