This week’s musical: Second Chorus (1940).
Director: H.C. Potter.
Studio: Paramount Pictures.
Plot: Danny O’Neill (Astaire) and Hank Taylor (Meredith) are seventh-year college students who flunk on purpose to continue playing the trumpet in their college jazz band. They meet Ellen Miller (Goddard), who becomes the manager for the band. And when bandleader Artie Shaw (as himself) hires Ellen, Danny and Hank scheme and double cross each other to get into Shaw’s band.
-Astaire and Meredith are both supposed to be college students. Though they were supposed to be in college for seven years, they were both much too old to be students. Astaire was 41 and Meredith was 33.
-Meredith and Goddard were wed at one time, but not during this film. The two actors didn’t get married until 1944.
-Billy Butterfield dubbed Meredith’s trumpet playing and Bobby Hackett dubbed Astaire’s. If you play a musical instrument or were ever in a band, it’s pretty obvious that neither is playing. They are pretty terrible at faking it.
Notable Songs: No song really stands out, though you do get to hear Artie Shaw and his band perform several times. This is another example of having the opportunity to hear a popular bandleader of that time period.
-Goddard and Astaire dance together in the song “Dig It.”
-A good comedic moment for Goddard is when she talks to varying groups of people to sell Astaire and Meredith’s college combo. She talks to proper old women, thugs and teenagers-acting like she is one of them with each.
-Astaire works in a Russian restaurant and plays in the restaurant band, dressed as a Cossack. He does the Cossack dance while (pretending) to play the trumpet.
-The finale includes Astaire directing a band while tap dancing and eventually while tap dancing and playing the trumpet. Far-fetched but fairly entertaining.
This is a fairly enjoyable film but one of Fred Astaire’s more forgettable movies. However, I would rank it better than the 1937 Astaire/ Joan Fontaine musical, A Damsel in Distress. Also, for a Fred Astaire musical, he had far fewer musical numbers than usual and the film seemed more like a vehicle to highlight Artie Shaw and his band. The thing that bugged me the most were how badly Meredith and Astaire faked playing the trumpet. Bad form, puffing of cheeks, one-hand playing; I guess that comes from being in the band for several years. Finally, although Astaire and Meredith are good actors, I would say Paulette Goddard acted circles around them both and was the best part of the movie.
Comet Over Hollywood, named for the 1938 Kay Francis film Comet Over Broadway, offers anything from Hollywood beauty tips to rants about Katherine Hepburn. Jessica Pickens is a journalism student at Winthrop University who is interested in silent films to anything made before 1964. She writes for Winthrop’s student newspaper, The Johnsonian, and the Shelby Star in Shelby North Carolina. Visit her Facebook page.