Here’s a very shy contribution to this splendid endeavor:
US / 71 minutes / bw / PRC Dir: Basil Wrangell Pr: Marvin D. Stahl Scr: George Bricker Story: Monty F. Collins, Julian I. Peyser Cine: Jack Greenhalgh Cast: Sheila Ryan, Edward Norris, Chill Wills, Kenneth Farrell, James Seay, Frank Orth, Chili Williams, Al LaRue, Charles Mitchell, Phyllis Planchard, Ann Staunton, Arthur Space, Keefe Brasselle, Edward Earle, Terry Moore, Minerva Urecal, Mack Williams.
Vic Morton (Farrell) is the latest singing sensation to come to Hollywood, having signed a contract with Majestic Studios. In a very interesting opening sequence to this movie, we’re shown, after a brief account of Hollywood, the trailer for Vic’s first movie, also called Heartaches, as supposedly projected inside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. He sings the popular 1931 title song (music by Al Hoffman, lyrics by John Klenner) while languidly romancing an unnamed blonde (Moore).
Cut to a while later. Heartaches has been a big success and Majestic is pushing ahead with Vic’s next vehicle, Broadway Ballad. We discover almost immediately a carefully guarded secret: Vic can’t sing. That mellifluous tenor voice emanates from his regular accompanist, songwriter and old band friend, the homely-faced “Bogey” Mann (Wills), with the handsome Vic merely lip-synching. The pair are rehearsing in the company of publicist Toni Wentworth (Ryan) when the secret is almost blown wide open: into the room comes Toni’s fiancé Jimmy McDonald (Norris), a reporter for the Los Angeles Evening Telegram.
Jimmy (Edward Norris), concealed within a props box, discovers the truth about Vic.
Vic Morton (Kenneth Farrell) busy faking it.
We also soon find out that Vic’s success could have happened to a nicer guy. He’s unwilling to give credit to others, he’s habitually offensive to his secretary, Sally (Chili Williams), and he obviously regards Bogey as just some kind of necessary vassal. On the other hand, Vic’s under pressure. He’s received the first of several death threats in the mail and, bizarrely, one of his photos has been stolen from the wall. (Much later we discover that it was in fact Bogey who stole the picture, which is of him singing with his band, so that he could prop it up on the piano in front of him when playing/singing in private, to remind him of his glory days on the road.)
Toni (Sheila Ryan) spends a romantic evening with Jimmy looking at the Hollywood sign. No, they weren’t playing the Dory Previn song on the car radio — it wouldn’t be written for two or three more decades. Besides, it was hardly romantic, was it?
Vic’s problems escalate. One scene of Broadway Ballad involves him romancing a femme fatale, Lila, when his rival for her affections, Trigger Malone, bursts into the room and, after the usual terse dialogue, lets off a couple of shots. There’s mass panic at rehearsal because Trigger’s revolver proves to contain live rounds rather than the intended blanks. DeLong (LaRue), the actor playing Trigger, is mightily relieved that he’s such a lousy shot: the bullets shatter a mirror when they could so easily have killed Vic.
Of note in this sequence is the small performance by Phyllis Planchard, who plays Miss Fairchild, the actress portraying Lila in Broadway Ballad. She has a few lines to say as Lila, but as Fairchild she has no lines at all (unless I missed one). Yet she manages to convey very effectively that Fairchild is Majestic’s downmarket knockoff of the great Lizabeth Scott.
Vic (Kenneth Farrell) with Miss Fairchild (Phyllis Planchard) in their roles on set.
Jimmy has by now discovered Vic’s secret through the simple means of hiding in a props box in the studio where one of Vic’s songs is being recorded. Toni persuades him not to run the story in his newspaper until Vic has another hit movie under his belt, and he agrees. Some investigative journalist, huh.
An agent called Bill Powers (Mack Williams) has managed to set up a major radio deal for Vic—a deal that’s worth a whopping $2,500 a week. Yet Vic turns it down flat. We know the reason, of course—Vic’s secret would be blown within moments if he tried to front a radio show—but Powers is obviously perplexed. One night he breaks into the offices of Vic’s manager, Mike Connelly (Orth), and starts rootling through the files. Just as he gets to Vic’s file, a shadowy figure climbs in through the window and shoots him dead.
Vic (Kenneth Farrell), Bogey (Chill Wills) and Powers (Mack Williams) arguing over the big radio deal.
The killer creeps in through the window . . .
Homicide cop Lt. Dan Armstrong (Seay), who up until now has been rather pooh-poohing Vic’s concerns about the death threats, suddenly takes a more focused interest. He sets a trap for and eventually snares the anonymous letter writer, who explains what drove him to commit his crime:
“I told you why I sent [the letters]. Ah, that crooner’s a mean guy—always making it tough for little people like me and plenty of others. I just wanted to make him suffer a little, that’s all.”
But the letter writer isn’t the killer and, particularly after Connelly’s murdered and it’s revealed that Vic has been having an affair with Connelly’s wife Anne (Staunton), Armstrong’s suspicions turn to Vic himself . . .
Armstrong (James Seay) and Connelly (Frank Orth) face off.
This is all top-of-the-range stuff for PRC, which was one of the Poverty Row studios that specialized in churning out program-fillers at great speed and minimal cost. The only things that slow down the action are the songs, which were probably a big part of the attraction for 1947 moviegoers. The cast may not be frontliners, but they turn in generally excellent performances and are very well directed; I mentioned the example of the care taken with Planchard in her small role. There’s a suggestion, too, that Vic’s directors at Majestic aren’t taking the same care: in the Heartaches trailer we see at the beginning, the anonymous blonde clearly hasn’t been given any direction, because she’s visibly at a loss as to where to direct her gaze.
The cleaner (Minerva Urecal) finds the dead Connelly. “Oops,” she seems to be saying.
As this is a movie set in Hollywood about the fakeries and illusions that make Tinseltown what it is, there are bound to be occasional in-jokes. On the Majestic Studios call sheet for that Broadway Ballad rehearsal, Howard Koch is listed as the Assistant Director and Michel Jacoby as the Executive Producer. Howard Koch was a noteworthy screenwriter; among his many distinguished credits were Rhapsody in Blue (1945), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) and, most renowned of all, CASABLANCA (1942). The real Michel Jacoby (sometimes credited as Michael Jacoby) was another screenwriter of some (albeit lesser) repute, numbering Two Against the World (1936) and Mystery of Marie Roget (1942) among his many scripts. Koch was in hot water at the time because he’d been accused of being a communist; a few years later, in 1950, he was blacklisted. I’ve been able to find out virtually nothing about Jacoby, and so don’t know if he suffered the same fate; I do note, however, that his screenwriting career stopped dead in its tracks in 1946.
Toni (Sheila Ryan) and Jimmy (Edward Norris) — a final clinch of sorts.
The stolen photo — Bogey (Chill Wills) does his stuff.
This movie has nothing to do with Heartaches (1982) dir Donald Shebib, with Margot Kidder, Annie Potts, Winston Rekert and Robert Carradine.
On Amazon.com: Heartaches DVD