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Melody Cruise

Melody Cruise(1933)

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teaser Melody Cruise (1933)

Melody Cruise, a 1933 RKO musical, was the first talkie feature to be directed by Mark Sandrich, who was soon to make a name for himself directing most of the Astaire/Rogers musicals for the same studio. Sandrich is one of the more underrated directors of the era -- in large part because Fred Astaire's genius would overpower Sandrich's own talents in the public and critical reception of those films -- but Melody Cruise shows a case to be made for Sandrich. In addition to containing some delightful pre-Code naughtiness, Melody Cruise displays inventive editing techniques and optical effects and an imaginative combination of sound effects and music.

The New York Times took notice of this, declaring the picture to be "an adroit mixture of nonsense and music which makes for an excellent summer show... It is, however, not the singing or the clowning that makes this a smart piece of work, but the imaginative direction of Mark Sandrich, who is alert in seizing any opportunity for cinematic stunts... Some extraordinarily clever photography.... Mr. Sandrich also tackles the blending of different sounds."

Making his feature film debut here was future bandleader and radio personality (and future husband to Alice Faye) Phil Harris. The same year, the actor was directed by Sandrich in the hilarious, very pre-Code, Oscar®-winning short So This Is Harris! (1933).

Sandrich had actually cut his teeth directing more than 50 one- and two-reel shorts for RKO in the preceding decade, and from 1930-1933 he also amassed many screenwriting credits. Melody Cruise was the last of these (he shares screenplay credit with Ben Holmes), probably because it was a big commercial hit and firmly established Sandrich as a bona fide feature director. Just one year later he found himself directing Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in The Gay Divorcee (1934), followed by Top Hat (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), and several others in the series.

Sandrich directed Phil Harris twice more in later years, in Man About Town (1939) and Buck Benny Rides Again (1940), both starring Jack Benny and the latter a hugely popular success in which Harris plays himself. Sandrich produced Buck Benny and from thereon produced as well as directed all his remaining pictures. Sadly, there were only six more to go until he died of heart disease in 1945, but they included good ones like Holiday Inn (1942) and So Proudly We Hail! (1943). It's enough to make one wonder what future great films never saw the light of day because of Sandrich's early death.

Melody Cruise stars Charlie Ruggles, a popular and hard-working comic actor who amassed seven credits in 1933 alone. He had recently appeared in great pictures like The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), Love Me Tonight (1932), If I Had a Million (1932) and Trouble in Paradise (1932).

Variety was less enthusiastic than The Times about this movie, calling it "just a well-rehearsed musical trifle... The meat isn't there for the players and they seem to feel it in their work." The trade paper was full of praise for Ruggles, however: "That Ruggles manages to put the stamp of genuineness on a mechanical collection of stage tricks, not a few of them going all the way back to the 'Charley's Aunt' school, is testimony to his expertness.... [Co-star] Helen Mack is very believable... She doesn't sing but looks desirable... Photography and technical production are better than first class."

Look for an uncredited Betty Grable as a stewardess.

Producer: Merian C. Cooper
Director: Mark Sandrich
Screenplay: Ben Holmes, Mark Sandrich (screenplay); Allen Rivkin, P.J. Wolfson (additional dialogue, both uncredited)
Cinematography: Bert Glennon
Music: Max Steiner (uncredited)
Film Editing: Jack Kitchin; John Lockert, George Marsh (both uncredited)
Cast: Charlie Ruggles (Pete Wells), Phil Harris (Alan Chandler), Helen Mack (Laurie Marlowe, Greta Nissen (Elsa Von Rader), Chick Chandler (Hickey - the Steward), June Brewster (Zoe), Shirley Chambers (Vera), Florence Roberts (Miss Potts), Marjorie Gateson (Mrs. Grace Wells)

by Jeremy Arnold

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