Above are two exceedingly obscure and quite fascinating glimpses of Cyd Charisse in the early 1940s prior to being discovered by Arthur Freed and Robert Alton at MGM. The first is a ‘soundie’–a short musical film made to be watched in a special Jukebox that showed film reels of the songs–called ‘Rhumba Serenade’ (1941). The nineteen-year-old Cyd is shown dancing with her first husband, Nico Charisse, who had been one of her dance teachers when the pre-teen Cyd was studying in Los Angeles, after having left her native Amarillo, Texas. (She was a dancing prodigy and apparently was never short of willing mentors…). The second clip is a soundie of ‘This Love Of Mine’ performed by Stan Kenton’s orchestra, with a vocal by Helen Huntley. In this one, Cid unconvincingly lip-syncs and doesn’t dance at all which is more than a tad puzzling–like hiring Ella Fitzgerald but muting her and forcing her to dance the jitterbug.
‘Rhumba Serenade’ features The Mills Rhumba Orchestra, which was the concoction of a ‘soundies’ producer named Frederick Feher (not the famed German actor…or was he? The Internet is stubbornly ungiving on this subject). The musicians are done up as Spanish Cabelleros with much pageantry and motion disguising the threadbare production values and, in place of lyrics, a lot musical shouting is deployed (thus saving on the expense of lyrics?) The cutting extremely annoying–just as they bring the future dancing legend out they start cutting to shots of the horn and percussion players. We do get to see Cyd and Nico in medium close-ups but not much in full-figure, which is the reason for watching dancers in the first place. Right? All in all a worthy addition to any Cyd-o-Phile’s collection.
an early predecessor to the Scopitone