By 1934, the moving picture musical had come back to life in grand fashion after a near-death experience in the early part of the decade. Part of this second wave was MGM's 1934 production Hollywood Party. The picture stars Jimmy Durante and Lupe Velez as themselves, supported by a battalion of lesser stars and MGM contract players (this is definitely one of those "Hey, it's that guy!" kind of pictures).
Hollywood Party is fairly thin in the plot department: Jimmy Durante is looking to secure a real lion for his next Schnarzan picture--an obvious jab at the Tarzan pictures--and decides to throw a huge party for Baron Munchausen in hopes of borrowing a lion from him. Naturally, all the stars of Hollywood are invited--all except Lupe Velez, Durante's Schnarzan co-star. Understandably miffed, Lupe crashes the party. Not that the plot matters all that much--the whole picture is really just an excuse to show of a melange of miscellaneous musical numbers and comic gags. The miscellany is accentuated by the fact that Mickey Mouse shows up about halfway through the picture and shows the partygoers a cartoon about chocolate soldiers going to war against gingerbread men. This in the same movie where Lupe Velez breaks an egg in Oliver Hardy's pants and Polly Moran gets felt-up by a fellow pretending to be a Greek nobleman.
This hodgepodge may seem like a recipe for disaster but it somehow manages to work. The musical numbers are--for the most part--pretty damned catchy (particularly the title song as performed by Frances Williams), and most of the gags are actually pretty funny. In addition, the picture is also rather short--at just barely an hour and a quarter in length, the movie ends before it can begin to drag. Furthermore, there's an awful lot of energy packed into that hour and fifteen minutes; there's never really a dull moment, perhaps largely because the pictures doesn't really have time to be dull.
Although Hollywood Party is essentially a vehicle for Jimmy Durante, and although the schnozzola is as good as one would expect him to be, it's Lupe Velez who really steals the show. In her limited screen time, Lupe is delightfully shrewish, in one scene going so far as to shoulder-throw Charles Butterworth into a nearby patch of rose bushes (Butterworth's deadpan style is pretty entertaining in its own right, for what it's worth).
But what, sir, of the plot? Does Jimmy Durante ever manage to get that lion from Baron Munchausen? Does Lupe Velez ever get that drink she wanted? And where did she find that dress? The world, sadly, will never know the answer to these questions. As it turns out, the whole party was just a dream--whilst waiting for his wife to get ready for a real party at Lupe's house, Jimmy fell asleep while thumbing through the pages of an old Tarzan novel.
Although it certainly isn't in the same class as the Busby Berkeley or Astaire and Rogers musicals, Hollywood Party is pretty good for what it is. It's a very, very silly movie, to be sure, and with a real "B-list" feel to it, but it is nonetheless entertaining. It was certainly a hell of a lot better than The Hollywood Revue of 1929. Let's save that trainwreck for another post.
Bonus Turkey Day content: The aforementioned title song, performed by the aforementioned Frances Williams. I am thankful for 1930s set design, among other things.