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ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Alice Faye, Tyrone Power, Al Jolson, William Frawley
Director: Gregory Ratoff
Audio: English monaural
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Video: Black & white, 1.33:1 full-frame
Studio: 20th-Century Fox
Features: Isolated soundtrack, Funny Girl Funny Man featurette, deleted scenes, restoration comparison, trailer, two galleries
Length: 86 minutes
Release Date: October 7, 2008

For whatever my man is, I am his forever more.

Film ***

The image of the Golden Age musical is usually that of a Busby Berkeley backstage musicals from Warner Brothers, an Astaire-Rogers top hats and tails affair from RKO, or a Judy Garland-Mickie Rooney let’s-put-on-a-show musical from MGM.  One studio not generally renowned for its musicals during this period is 20th-Century Fox, although the studio did produce a number of hit musicals back then, the best of which usually starred Fox’s leading lady with the girl-next-door charm yet smoky, sensual vocal abilities - Alice Faye.

Alice Faye started her career as a chorus girl before being groomed for stardom by singer Rudy Vallee. Yet, near the peak of her popularity, she abandoned Hollywood to raise a family and scarcely looked back.  While she had an abbreviated film career, Faye still managed to appear in over thirty films before retiring, and if her Fox musicals never quite had the same opulence or glamour of an MGM or RKO musical, Alice Faye, for a while, was the toast of the Fox lot with such popular successes as In Old Chicago and Alexander’s Ragtime Band.

Rose of Washington Square (1939) was one of Alice Faye’s hit extravaganzas.  It featured the third on-screen pairing between Alice Faye and Tyrone Power, who made a winsome cinematic couple.  In the film, Faye portrays Rose Sargent, a struggling young singer who becomes a Broadway star, while Tyrone Power plays her love interest, Barton Clinton, a debonair con artist.  Sooner or later, Bart is bound to get his comeuppance, but true love is blind, and Rose is the quintessential good girl who takes up with a guy from the wrong side of the tracks.

Rose of Washington Square opens around 1919 in the early days of Prohibition.  Rose is swept off her feet by the dashing young Bart, whose money woes and lies increasingly threaten to tear the couple apart.  But despite repeated warnings that the handsome stranger is no good for her, Rose marries Bart; she means to stand by her man for better or for worse, ‘til death do them part.

While the general story has a dark, somber tone that focuses on the tumultuous relationship between Rose Sargent and Bart Clinton, this film still finds plenty of opportunities to insert a parade of musical skits.  Originally, Rose of Washington Square contained seventeen musical numbers (two of which can be found among this disc’s supplemental features).  Most of these sequences are small and intimate song performances, although the title sequence is an elaborate stage dance number with even a few parlor smoking tricks.  The best number is saved for last - Alice Faye's rendition of a classic Ziegfeld Follies tune - “My Man,” sung just before the film's bittersweet conclusion.

Rose of Washington Square also co-stars Al Jolson, whose black-face routines and minstrel songs are problematic today but were widely accepted and popular in his day.  In fact, Jolson is easily the most exuberant of the film’s three stars and practically steals all his scenes.  Jolson’s charismatic musical talents, politically-incorrect though they may seem today, clearly demonstrate the star qualities which made Al Jolson the most famous vaudevillian of his day.  Too bad Jolson is just a supporting player in this film.

Astute viewers may recognize some strong similarities between the story of Rose Sargent and the real-life story of one of the shining stars of the Ziegfeld Follies.  Despite a disclaimer otherwise in the film’s opening credits, Rose of Washington Square is in effect an account of the private and public life of Fanny Brice, who younger filmgoers probably know as the study of another musical - Barbra Streisand’s Funny Girl.  But, Rose of Washington Square came first, and it is a more intimate and faithful rendition (despite some name changes) of the Fanny Brice story.  Which film is superior?  Watch them both and judge for yourself!

Video ** ½

The film’s restoration was created from the best surviving film elements and cleaned up to remove many instances of debris, tears, and scratches.  The film image was further stabilized and adjusted for warp or flicker due to the passage of time.  Rose of Washington Square is presented in its original black & white, full-frame aspect ratio.

Audio ** ½

Audio is in English monaural.  The soundtrack offers a wonderful parade of new songs for the film by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel mixed with classic standards, including many of Fanny Brice and Al Jolson’s signature songs.

Features * ½

Rose of Washington Square is available individually or as part of the Alice Faye Collection, Volume 2.

The supplemental features on this disc are somewhat sparse.  There is an isolated soundtrack for anyone who wants to listen to the music alone without dialogue.  The featurette Funny Girl, Funny Man (18 min.) looks at the tumultuous real-life relationship between Fanny Brice and professional gambler Julius Arnstein that served as the inspiration for the film Rose of Washington Square.  Among the shorter extras are three deleted scenes - an Abbott & Costello-style comic skit, Alice Faye singing “Chasing Rainbows,” and Al Jolson singing “April Showers.”  Also, a quick restoration comparison featurette offers a short summary of the restoration process with a side-by-side comparison of the 2008 film transfer and film restoration; the restoration looks cleaner but seemingly at the cost of decreased contrast levels and image sharpness.  Lastly, this disc contains a vintage trailer, an ad gallery of six posters, and a stills gallery of nineteen publicity photos.

Summary:

Before Barbra Streisand’s Funny Girl, there was Alice Faye’s Rose of Washington Square.  This vintage musical showcases Alice Faye at the height of her popularity and is further enhanced by the presence of the immortal Al Jolson.

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