Here’s an excerpt of a musical sequence from an obscure 1944 Republic Studios movie called ‘Atlantic City’. The number is ‘Harlem On Parade’ and it’s a more-than-slightly-valuable documentation of three of the prime black entertainers of the 1930s/40s. I refer to the above mentioned performers who all are given a healthy amount of screen time to show their stuff. Satchmo sings ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ by Fats Waller and Andy Razaf and is, as always, a delight. He uses a funny replacement couplet that I’d never heard before. It happens in the ‘A’ section after the bridge. ‘I don’t stay out late, nowhere to go, I’m home about eight just me and my radio’ is replaced by ‘I don’t stay out late, leave Gin alone, I’m home about eight just me my Gramaphone…’ Dandridge is in top form but its a little hard to see the appeal of Buck and Bubbles–they belong to an earlier Harlem style and feel out of slightly out of place with the very 40s Dandridge and the timeless Armstrong. At the time this was shot, the Nicholas Brothers were the premiere black tap-dance act in the country and their style and panache was a great deal more elegant and sophisticated than B&B’s.
The script is strictly from hunger, as you can see from the unfortunate cutaways to the ‘dramatic story’ as performed in a desultory dialogue scene featuring two actors who are pretending to watch the number but who won’t stop talking about their failing marriage. The film was directed by Ray McCarey, the younger brother of the great Leo McCarey (‘Going My Way’, ‘Duck Soup’, ‘The Awful Truth’ etc.). Ray McCarey belongs to the small, sad club of B-movie directors whose brothers were legendary A list filmmakers. (Did you know that Billy Wilder had a brother who banged out a few wildly unimpressive B’s? His name was W. Lee Wilder and that’s all I know about him. His famous brother refused to discuss him). Ray McCarey actually came up in the same Hal Roach school of comedy as his famous brother, directing several Laurel & Hardy shorts as well as few Columbia two-reelers, several of which feature the young Three Stooges. But the brother’s similarities stop there. Ray McCarey never got out of the B movie rut. Four years after ‘Atlantic City’ was made, on December 2, 1948, he was found dead kneeling beside his bed. According to the San Bernardino County Sun, two empty prescription bottles were found by his bed. Leo McCarey said his brother had been in ill health for several months. The official cause of death was suicide. Jesus.