SUNNYSIDE UP (Fox, 1929), directed by David Butler, the fourth screen teaming of Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, ranks one of their most enjoyable outings. Following their success of SEVENTH HEAVEN (1927), STREET ANGEL (1928) and LUCKY STAR (1929), produced during the tail end of the silent film era, SUNNYSIDE UP introduced them to the new cycle of "talking pictures" in which they not only talk but sing as well, with Gaynor's voice resembling that of a child. Although she sings adequately, Farrell does not. With so many musicals produced during the dawn of sound, SUNNYSIDE UP, subtitled "an original musical comedy," promises just that. No backstage story in "The Broadway Melody" tradition nor reworking of old Broadway shows as "Rio Rita" for example, but a contemporary love story set in the summer where two unlikely dreamers of different backgrounds meet and make sweet music together.
Chapter One: "New York, July 4th, with 4 Million" The story opens with a view of residents from the lower East Side of Manhattan going about their every day lives prior to the upcoming block party. Living in the community are Eric Swenson (El Brendel), a grocery store owner; the youthful Molly Carr (Janet Gaynor) sharing her tenement apartment with her best friend, Bee Nichols (Marjorie White), whose boyfriend, Eddie Rafferty (Frank Richardson), is a songwriter. Molly is a dreamer who reads society columns about her dream man, millionaire Jack Cromwell. Chapter Two: "Southampton, Long Island, .July 4th with the "400" Jack Cromwell (Charles Farrell), the youthful son of society snobs, is hopelessly in love with the upper crust Jane Worth (Sharon Lynne), who refuses to marry in favor of remaining in circulation with the fun crowd. After seeing her walking off with another man, Jack drives off his estate in anger. Later that night Jack ends up on the lower East side where he loses control of his car to avoid hitting a child. In a bewildered state, Swenson offers the young man his apartment to rest for a while. As fate would have it, Jack turns up in Molly's apartment instead. After getting acquainted and watching her perform at the block party, Jack invites her and her friends to act as entertainers for their charity carnival. Chapter Three: Feeling she would be out of place, Mary agrees to appear as Jack's guests, posing as a society girl with Eric as butler, Bee the maid and Eddie as her chauffeur. All goes well until vicious rumors circulate about Molly, whose dreams are soon shattered by Jack's proposed decision.
With a bright score by Buddy DeSylva, Ray Henderson and Lew Brown (credited with their surnames only), the motion picture soundtrack is as follows: "I'm a Dreamer, Aren't We All?" (Sung by Janet Gaynor directly to the camera); "You'll Find the Time and I'll Find the Place" (sung by Sharon Lynn); "Pickin' Petals Off Daisies" (sung by Frank Richardson and Marjorie White); "Sunny Side Up" (Gaynor/ reprized by Richardson and White); "Turn on the Heat" (Sung by Sharon Lynn /Frank Richardson/ danced by chorus); "If I Had a Talking Picture of You" (sung by Farrell, Gaynor and children); "I'm a Dreamer, Aren't We All" (sung by Gaynor); "Anytime You're Necht of a Broad Moonlight" (sung by Marjorie White) and "If I Had a Talking Picture of You" (sung by Farrell and Gaynor).
Had SUNNYSIDE UP been a silent, there would be no doubt that "I'm a Dreamer" would have become its theme score. "Sunnyside Up" is a lively tune where Gaynor sings, shuffles and concludes with her jumping over a hat during the 4th of July festival. Being one of the hit tunes of the day, it was later vocalized for its closing to the 1973 comedy PAPER MOON (Paramount) starring Ryan and Tatum O'Neal. "Turn on the Heat" gets the production number treatment at the society party consisting of risqué lyrics and energetic dancing. As for the "Talking Picture" song, it's quite timely, considering its introduction during the advent of "talking pictures." With a considerable amount of movie extras filling out the crowd scenes, look for future child star Jackie Cooper as Jerry Maginnis as the little boy reciting a poem at the block party. The actor playing Joe Vitto, undertaker and master of ceremonies, is enacted by Joe Brown, whose name can sometimes be linked or confused with famed comedian Joe E. Brown. Marjorie White and Frank Richardson are agreeable as the secondary couple supplying fine comedy relief.
While many references label SUNNY SIDE UP with the running time of 81 minutes, it's surprising to find it's actually 122 minutes. In spite of its length, the movie moves briskly and surprisingly doesn't have that primitive appearance as most first talkies have prior to 1930.
Formerly available on video cassette in 1998 by Critic's Choice Video Masterpiece Collection, television revivals for SUNNY SIDE UP have been extremely rare. Aside from limited broadcasts at some local public broadcasting channels in the early 1990s, it became part of cable TV's American Movie Classic's annual film preservation festival that took place appropriately enough in July 1996, and finally Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: December 21, 2010). Regardless of its age and "corny" situations, SUNNYSIDE UP is still an entertaining antique. This, along with DELICIOUS (1931), another musical featuring Gaynor, Farrell and Brendel, should be an appropriate companion piece if ever considered as part of a double feature presentation on DVD. (***)
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