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Fred C. Newmeyer
How did Helen Morgan, who gave a remarkable, searing performance as Kitty Darling in the 1929 film Applause, a film most consider to be one of the great early talkies, follow that masterpiece up. It would be hard to top Applause to be sure, but Roadhouse Nights, which is at best only an average B movie, makes it seem even worse than it really is if you area fan of Helen Morgan as I am.
The bad news for Helen fans is that there is so little of Helen on film that we will even take a mediocre vehicle such as Roadhouse Nights rather than have nothing at all. Personally, I wish she had chosen her material a little better.
Roadhouse not a total waste of time. Helen sings one dynamite song and she briefly displays a rare potential as a comedienne. She does rise above the material. Perhaps comedy was something she should have looked into a bit more.
What's really interesting is that it feels as though a lot of the scenes were filmed in one or two takes as the actors, including Helen, flub lines more than once. It's like you're watching a rehearsal for a play.
Also on hand are Charlie Ruggles who I had never seen before and he does the comic drunk bit pretty well. Jimmy Durante is rather annoying and hadn't learned to act for film yet. He's way way over the top as if he were still on a vaudeville stage.
Overall, the film gets better as it races to its 68 minute conclusion so don't give up in the first half hour. But unless you are a die-hard Morgan, Durante or Ruggles fan, there is little reason to tune in. That is painful for me to say. I want more people to know who Helen Morgan is. If you have never seen her before, please don't start here. Start with Applause... and then there is Showboat. Her first and last... perfect bookends to an all too short acting career on film... and life.
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