Glorifying the American Girl (1929)
Director: Millard Webb
Cast: Mary Eaton, Eddie Cantor, Helen Morgan
Synopsis: The rise of a showgirl, Gloria Hughes, culminating in a Ziegfeld extravaganza “Glorifying the American Girl”.
Glorifying the American Girl is an early musical produced by legendary theatrical producer Florenz Ziegfeld, who can be briefly seen in some newsreel footage incorporated into the film’s story. The movie is in the public domain these days, although the print which shows the revue sequence which makes up the final third of the movie in early two-strip Technicolor is apparently owned by the UCLA and not so easy to locate. The version I saw was fully black-and-white, and the quality wasn’t particularly great, but the quality of the movie, considering its age and the primitive stage of sound technology, is still evident.
After an impressive opening montage sequence, we’re introduced to Gloria Hughes, a girl employed to sing in the record department of a major store. Gloria is played by Mary Eaton, a forgotten name today who was then famous as one of ‘The Seven Little Eatons.’ Her movie career never took off, even though she gives a decent account of herself here — which is to say she’s no worse than any of the other actors struggling to come to terms with the new technology of sound. She’s certainly a cutie, but her career faltered with the failing fortunes of The Seven Little Eatons, and she ended up a hopeless lush, dying of cirrhosis of the liver in 1948. Anyway, she’s still young and vibrant here, and she’s the apple of co-worker Buddy’s (Edward Crandall) eye.
During a company picnic at which Eaton displays her dancing prowess after also demonstrating one of those worryingly high-pitched, warbling singing voices during a romantic canoe ride with Buddy, Gloria catches the eye of the hoofer Miller (Dan Healy) of the dancing act Miller and Moony. We know that Miller is something of a cad, after having earlier seen him attempting to position his current dancing partner in the way of an acrobat’s tower which is about to topple over, but Gloria is as yet unaware of his true nature, and excitedly accepts his proposal to join him on the road, much to Buddy’s distress. Lucky for him, cute co-worker Barbara (Olive Shea) is on hand to provide some friendly consolation.
The film’s plot follows the usual rags-to-riches story, with Gloria achieving professional recognition and fame while her personal life collapses, but it’s told in an agreeably breezy manner, with the film seeming to delight in its ability to show the accomplished performances of the acts rather than to tell any kind of compelling story. While it still retains some entertainment value, Glorifying the American Girl’s real worth is as an historical document providing us with insights into not only the acts of Rudy Vallee, Eddie Cantor and Helen Morgan, but some cool POV shots of New York City from the cab of an ambulance transporting Barbara to hospital after she suffers an accident. There are also some interesting shots of various celebrities arriving for the concluding revue show, amongst them Ring Lardner, Noah Beery, Irving Berlin and Billie Burke. There’s even a young Johnny Weismuller sporting only a fig leaf in the show. In truth, this revue sequence, which lasts almost half an hour, kills the story, such as it is, stone dead, with Miller’s come-uppance apparently forgotten. This could well be down to the fact that languishing in the public domain means that Glorifying the American Girl is at the mercy of any distributor who feels like hacking it to pieces for whatever commercial reason.
(Reviewed 7th December 2013)