Sunnyside Up (David Butler, 1929): USA
Reviewed by Byron Potau. Viewed at Mann’s Chinese Theatre as part of the 2010 TCM Film Festival.
The transition to sound in the late twenties caused a lot of concern among the studios and Fox must have had particular concern about one of their biggest stars Janet Gaynor and her rather squeaky voice. So it seems even more daring that she would emphasize her voice during her transition to talkies by doing the musical Sunnyside Up, however, a strong script and a lot of comic relief makes the film an often charming early musical. As for Gaynor’s singing voice, while not impressive it is not terrible either.
Socialite Jack Cromwell (Charles Farrell) goes for a drive to calm down after his fiancé refuses to stop openly flirting, and worse, with other men. He ends up in Yorkville where Molly Carr (Janet Gaynor) and her neighborhood are having a fourth of July block party. When he hears her perform a song he asks her to perform at a charity event with him and even offers to set her and her friends up in a house in South Hampton, but she has to pretend to be a socialite also and her friends will masquerade as her servants. Also, part of the agreement is she will help him make his fiancé jealous. Being secretly in love with him she accepts.
The film takes advantage of it pre production code era with some risqué jokes and situations, and especially in its big musical number, “Turn on the Heat,” which features extremely suggestive gyrating by scantily clad women whose sexuality causes palm trees to rise very rapidly out of the ground. You get the idea.
The rest of the songs in the film are fine, but not spectacular, the title song being the best of them, but director David Butler doesn’t do much with these sequences other than have the actor sing directly to the camera.
The film’s strength is an extremely funny script from writers Buddy G. DeSylva and Ray Henderson. The jokes come fast and most of them work. However, much of the film’s comedy is condensed in the first two thirds of the film exposing the thinness of the story in the last third of the film. It appears they tried to make up for the final third of the film by making the romance unnecessarily complicated. Unfortunately, the film starts with a sprint and ends with a limp.
Actors Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell continue their onscreen chemistry in a successful transition to sound. Though, neither impresses with their singing they don’t shame themselves either, remaining the likeable duo they were in the silent era.
Supporting actors El Brendel as grocer and fatherly friend to Molly Eric Swenson, Marjorie White as Molly’s best friend Bea Nichols, and Frank Richardson as Bea’s song writing boyfriend Eddie Rafferty are all splendid in their comic relief roles.
Though the film starts off fast and funny it is unfortunate it cannot sustain it all the way to the end. However, it is a very charming film nonetheless with several funny moments and one steamy musical sequence. This rare film is a real find for classic film fans.