Hardcore Phonography

I’m twenty minutes into the surviving soundtrack of CLOSE HARMONY, “watching” it with my eyes closed and attempting to visualise the long-lost pictures.

Now read on…


CHARLES “BUDDY” ROGERS: But I’m gonna amount to something, so that…


CBR: So that…

NC: Yes?

CBR: So that…

NC: So that what?

I’m visualizing the needle skipping on the soundtrack. Nancy Carroll and I are both agog with anticipation.

CBR: So that you’ll marry me.

After what one imagines has just happened during the preceding several seconds of wordless audio hiss, one feels she may HAVE to.

CBR: Say yes!

NC: Oh, you brute!

Having the actual sound here is helpful, since Nancy’s line reading is playful and ironic, which may not come across in the transcription. But if you recall what Buddy is like in any of his other talkies, you would probably surmise that she MUST be being playful and ironic. Buddy is about as threatening as hay.


Another silence, broken by strange murmurs and coughs. Either they’re kissing again, or we’ve faded out. Or both. And you know what THAT means.

SUDDEN LOUD JAZZ! A full minute of instrumental, during which I try hard to imagine Sam Raimi thrill-cam shots swooping over a shiny dance floor, but my brain remains trapped in a soundproof booth, watching static action from too far away. Then Buddy starts reedily singing that he’s “All A-twitter, About a Girl!” The man’s savage sexual passion is simply overwhelming. It’s a pleasant number, though.

Wet-sounding applause, then we suddenly cut to slightly crackling silence. Perhaps we are observing the next scene, whatever it is, from a fireplace? Then a bunch of characters say hello. They might be standing in the fireplace, I suppose, if it’s a big Charles Foster Kane job.

Buddy is going to talk to his new boss, Max Mindel, about a contract. This chat is preceded by another ten seconds of silence, so I’m assuming Mindel has a huge, Mussolini/Harry Cohn type office for Buddy to cross. Perhaps accessed through a fireplace, like the secret Nazi room in THE LAST CRUSADE. Mindel offers a forty-eight week contract. Another looong pause as Buddy reads the damn thing. Either that or he’s looking tenderly into Max Mindel’s eyes. Or making a birdhouse.

There follows a wordy contract negotiation scene not as enjoyable as the one in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, despite the presence of a dialect comedian. Harry Green as Max Mindel is croaking through the thickest set of lisps plus Russian-Jewish accent you ever heard, or didn’t hear. The upshot is, Mindel, who is unrequitedly in love with Nancy, realises that hiring Buddy will allow him to marry the girl, so Mindel rebels against the plan. “If you don’t get married before you earn a thousand dollars a week from me, then all your children will die bachelors!”

Buddy leaves, in real time, so that his conference with Nancy outside takes ten seconds of crackle to arrive at. Easy to imagine him scrunching through the autumn leaves that lie thickly upon the anteroom floor. Nancy, learning the negotiations were a bust, goes to talk to Mindel, and oddly enough it takes her only two seconds to reach him. Presumably she knows a shortcut. Perhaps she slides down a firepole. Anyway, the negotiations go on, but fall apart again when Mindel learns his board have booked a new act. Hard to tell what the act is called — it sounds like “Barnum a& Bindle.”


To be continued…


2 Responses to “Hardcore Phonography”

  1. John Seal Says:

    I’d never appreciated what a rugged, sexy hunk Buddy was before reading this. Thanks, David!

  2. Clearly the qualities that endeared him to Mary Pickford during their lifelong friendship!

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