Bobby Connolly | Moonlight and Pretzels | A Trip Thru a Hollywood Studio | Ready, Willing and Able | Expensive Husbands | The Patient in Room 18

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Bobby Connolly

Bobby Connolly was both a choreographer and a director. This article will examine films to which he contributed in either role. Connolly is mainly a choreographer. He created the dances for around 25 movies, mainly in the 1930's, the best known today being Flirtation Walk (1934) and The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Moonlight and Pretzels

Moonlight and Pretzels (1933) has a major finale, the song "Dusty Shoes". Connolly's choreography includes a giant stock market ticker. Women march up and down the ticker. It anticipates the giant typewriter in Ready, Willing and Able. The spiral shape of the ticker also anticipates the start of the Yellow Brick Road in The Wizard of Oz.

"Dusty Shoes" has powerful singing, by the great vocalist Alexander Gray. The lyrics by Yip Harburg show Harburg's ability to include left wing commentary in his songs: the same team of composer Jay Gorney and Harburg did the more famous Depression anthem, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?".

The lyrics also include the rainbow imagery that runs through Harburg's work. My favorite Harburg song is "I've Got a Rainbow Working for Me", from his musical about a painter, Darling of the Day (1968). And Harburg's most famous work is "Over the Rainbow".

A Trip Thru a Hollywood Studio

A Trip Thru a Hollywood Studio (1934) is a short, roughly twenty minute film that takes us backstage at the Warner Brothers lot. It was written by Joe Traub, photographed by Arthur L. Todd, and directed by Ralph Staub. Both Busby Berkeley and Bobby Connolly make brief, separate cameo appearances, shown rehearsing their troops of chorines.

Bobby Connolly's appearance is especially nice. He is in the background, while the piano player is in the foreground. Along the left side of the screen are the dancing chorus girls, all lined up in a row. Eventually the chorines one by one move to the foreground, make a sharp right turn, and parade directly across the screen. Each gets a close-up in the camera as they pass by. It is a very nice bit of business. Connolly loved to move his characters along elaborate paths. His most famous musical number today is "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" from The Wizard of Oz (1939). The right turn also recalls the many rectilinear paths in the set for his mystery film, The Patient in Room 18 (1938). The number shows a commendable modesty. Connolly stays in the background, while each chorus girl gets the publicity of the close-up, something that would thrill her friends, as well as possibly boost her career with any casting directors who might be in the audience. Connolly typically treated his choruses as groups of individuals. Many get brief close-ups during his numbers, singing a line or two of a song, or having a little bit of business. He did not think of his chorus as just an abstract unit.

Ready, Willing and Able

Ready, Willing and Able (1937) is a musical directed by Ray Enright, with choreography by Connolly.

The opening number is sung and danced by his two heroes, played by Lee Dixon and Ross Alexander. They are clad in suits and ties above the waist, but just in their underwear below - their pants are in hock at the tailor's! This recalls the opening of The Patient in Room 18 (1938), with Patrick Knowles sleep walking through the city streets in his robe and pajamas, while everyone around him is fully dressed. Both scenes serve as introductions to Connolly's heroes.

The big finale is set to the film's best, and best remembered song, "Too Marvelous for Words". It is sung and danced in part on a giant typewriter, a figure of style that has never been forgotten. Federico Fellini, no less, recreated this scene in his Intervista (1987). It shows Connolly's feel for the fantastic, something that will return in The Wizard of Oz. Before the typewriter, we see a scene set in a musical comedy version of a business office. Such musical transforms of the business world will also show up in "The Merry Old Land of Oz".

Expensive Husbands

Expensive Husbands (1937) is another movie about wealthy American heiresses who buy European royalty as husbands. Bobby Connolly here gets a chance to direct what is mainly a non-musical film, although it does have a few numbers.

Comparison with The Patient in Room 18

Expensive Husbands was done by the same director-star-cinematographer-costume designer team as The Patient in Room 18 (1938), both being Warner Brother's programmers. Despite this, it is hard to see a lot of stylistic similarities between the two pictures. Admittedly they are in completely different genres, with Expensive Husbands being a mixture of soap opera with mildly screwball comedy, while The Patient in Room 18 is a mystery thriller. Another difference: The Patient in Room 18 was co-directed by Connolly with mystery film specialist Crane Wilbur.

Both films contain women who are either in a position of money, or power or both. In both works, the women are pursued by a lot of attractive young men. Two or more rival males are sometimes pursuing the same woman. The men in the films tend to be very well dressed, in good suits or uniforms. The men are quite flirtatious, often with a comic, let's have fun attitude towards romance. They are often trying to jolly along a much more serious woman. It is hard to tell if these characters represent a personal vision of the director, or whether they are escapist fare for woman members of the audience to fantasize about being rich, powerful and pursued by many suitors. Perhaps a little of both.


This is one of the earliest screen appearances of Allyn Joslyn, who entered movies from the stage in that year. Here he is playing a regular guy character, a "typical" rough and ready American with whom most people could identify in the 1930's. He is the only male in the picture who works at a regular job for a living, being a Hollywood press agent. His character forms a contrast with the heroine's other suitors, a European Prince and a Society polo player. Joslyn's character is given the regular guy name of Joe Craig, and he has the average guy mannerism of munching peanuts wherever he goes, a popular Depression era treat - Wayne Morris did the same thing in George Amy's Gambling on the High Seas (1940), another low budget Warners movie. Joslyn is also the only character in the movie who regularly wears suits, indicative of his working for a living. He can be in a room full of Hollywood types wearing sports clothes, and he will be in his suit. After all, he is working hard at such gatherings, trying to generate publicity for his client, while the other people are relaxing and partying. Howard Shoup's suits here are terrific. They would still look good today. It is odd to see Joslyn in such a role. He later often played upper class snot-boxes, as in Ernst Lubitsch's Heaven Can Wait (1943). He even looks completely different here. He does a good job with his regular Joe role, and one wonders what he might have done playing a lead in a film noir. His performance here is the most interesting one in the film.

This was also the debut year for Gordon Oliver, who plays the polo player. Oliver made an astonishing 13 films during 1937, illustrating how the old studio system kept its players working. Both this film and The Patient in Room 18 are loaded with young male, movie star wannabes. Oddly enough, "established star" Patric Knowles here is younger than either of these newcomers, being only 26. He had only been in movies four years himself at this time, mainly in Britain.


Howard Shoup also has a Balkan style military dress uniform for the Prince played by Patric Knowles. He wears it to his wedding. This uniform is utterly cool, and shows how good looking the traditional Lancer type officer's uniforms were. Knowles had had his biggest hit in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1935), in which he played Errol Flynn's kid brother, and in which both men had worn such elaborate uniforms. So this film is a good excuse to get him back in such a costume.

Shoup follows a certain iconography with the men's clothes. Joslyn's suits get darker and more authoritative as the film progresses. He starts out at the racetrack in a very light colored suit, almost white. When next seen, he is a medium color suit that is a little more official looking. Finally, he is in a dark pinstripe suit for much of his final scenes. This is extremely business like. During the scene with the reporters, he is wearing the darkest colored suit of any of the men, giving him the status of an authority figure within the scene.

Patric Knowles' clothes also show a progression. He too becomes more and more respectable throughout the film. The early scenes of the film have him dressed as a servant, in a waiter's costume. When first appearing in his military uniform, his uniform is mainly covered by an authentic but unappealing military cloak that makes him look slightly absurd. Next, on his wedding night, we see him in his spectacular officer's uniform. This makes him look duded up to the max. But it is also not a costume that represents real American manhood. Next, Shoup has him in formal wear, first a formal daytime morning coat, then white tie and tails. The morning clothes too look absurd, but the white tie and tails are excellent. For the first time, Knowles is wearing clothes that are worn in real life by American men. White tie and tails are not common, mainly being used by the well to do, but they are still authentic garb of real men. Finally, at the end of the picture, Knowles is in good suits, like Joslyn's. He is dressed like an American businessman. These clothes suggest that he is suitable marriage material.

The order of Knowles' clothes is slightly different from that employed by countless Hollywood musicals. Usually musical characters start out in awful clothes that suggest dire poverty. By the mid-point of the picture, they are in good business suits. Then, as their success and prosperity increases, they are in tuxedos. Finally, at the end of the picture and the height of their success, they are in white tie and tails. This order suggests that the characters are more and more prosperous. It also suggests that they are more and more involved with romance, the evening wear at the end suggesting romantic passion. In Expensive Husbands, Shoup has reversed the progression slightly to have the hero move into suits at the end. This is because it emphasizes the hero's conversion from a gigolo to a proper hard working, successful American male.

The Patient in Room 18

The Patient in Room 18 (1938) is a whodunit mystery co-directed by Crane Wilbur and Bobby Connolly. The film is based on the 1929 novel by Mignon G. Eberhart. It is the first of seven books and a few short tales Eberhart would write about Sarah Keate. The book sticks fairly closely to the plot of Eberhart's novel. But it replaces its tone of emotional melodrama with light hearted comedy and mystery. The film is one of the most pleasant of 1930's mystery films.

A Comedy Opening: Link to The Wizard of Oz

The Patient in Room 18 opens with a non-mystery sequence, introducing us to the detective team of private investigator Lance O'Leary and nurse Sarah Keate. This humorous opening is done in a style recalling 1930's screwball comedy.

Lance O'Leary's big sleep walking sequence reminds one of Connolly's "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" number soon to come in The Wizard of Oz. It begins with a sleepwalking Lance putting on his bed room slippers, just like Dorothy putting on the ruby slippers. Larry is dressed in loud pajamas, and soon moves to the street, where everyone is in suits. He follows a long path down the apartment and into the street, just as Dorothy follows the yellow brick road. Everywhere he goes he collects a crowd of people following him. Like the munchkins who follow Dorothy, this crowd laughs, chats animatedly to itself, and comments excitedly on everything the protagonist does.

Both films employ steep overhead camera angles, showing the protagonist in front of the shot, and a crowd of following people behind him. The 45 degree or more overhead angle allows us to see every member of the crowd as an individual. Each person in the crowd is well characterized, and a lively individual cameo.

Script Structure and Exposition

After this, the film takes us to the private Thatcher hospital, and a whodunit mystery. The film has the typical screen whodunit construction at this point, showing us all the motives the various characters have for the forthcoming murder. Similar "motive sequences" have appeared in hundreds of whodunit films. This sequence in The Patient in Room 18 is gracefully done. It is made up of a series of very short segments, each one revealing some new fact or relationship among the characters. Each new fact gives one or more of the characters another motive to commit the crime, the crime we all know is soon forthcoming. In many whodunit films, this section of the film has exposition problems, and can be difficult to follow. Not here. One difference: in The Patient in Room 18 we have already met many of the characters during the opening comedy sequence. We know their names, faces, positions at the hospital, and something of their personalities. So we are already completely familiar with the characters. All we have to do is absorb the new facts about their motives.

The script also underscores its structural functions here, by some clever approaches. One sequence ends in the middle of a character's sentence; the camera suddenly cuts away. We have already learned what we need to know about motives here - why wait for anything more, the script seems to be saying. It is an effect whose import is easily understood by an audience, yet which is pleasantly avant-garde in its approach.


One nice shot is of a scale model, showing us the doctor's house and grounds. Such models were frequently employed in 1930's films. They remind one of model trains, and the elaborate model landscapes people often built for them. The model here is nowhere as elaborate as some of those created for the films of Alfred Hitchcock or Roland West, but it is still full of charm. Gordon Douglas' whodunit film The Falcon in Hollywood (1944) takes us backstage in a Hollywood studio (actually the RKO lot in Hollywood); one fascinating sequence shows us the model shop at the studio, where such scale models are built.

Visual Style and Lighting: A Proto Film Noir

Next comes the murder. The murder sequence is the best in the movie. It takes place on a "dark and stormy night", to use words employed right in the film. The cinematography here is very creative, by the silent film veteran James Van Trees. Much of this sequence is a play of light, with lightening, flashlights and a pulled power switch plunging the hospital in darkness all having their effects. The constant movement and change of light here recalls a dance or a symphony of light.

The Patient in Room 18 (1938) is a whodunit, not a film noir. It was shot two years before the faintest stirrings of noir emerged in 1940. Its characters are good natured, romantic and upbeat, and have little relationship to the obsessed figures of noir. The whole tone of the film is completely different from the doom-laden feel of noir.

Despite this, the film has visual stylistic features that anticipate film noir to come. These include:

Most of these features relate to visual style and imagery. It results in a film that frequently looks like noir to come, even as its plot and characters are squarely in the whodunit and screwball comedy traditions.

The venetian blind cinematography is especially beautiful. It occurs not only at night, but also during daytime sequences featuring bright sunlight. One outstanding daytime shot depicts Uncle Frank Warren (Edward McWade) in his hospital bed. A large triangle of light is formed on the wall over him, formed out of slanting bars of light and shade. Strongly contrasting with this large triangle on the right of the shot are verticals on the left, formed by the window, its curtains, and his standing nephew Jim (John Ridgely). The blinds cast striped light all over both the curtains and the nephew's elegant black suit. The whole effect is striking and visually pleasing. It reminds one of John Alton's phrase, "painting with light". This is one of the prettiest shots in a film loaded with the creative use of light. The striped light in the triangle, and the striped light on the suit and curtains, seem to echo and balance each other on two sides of the image.


The film is happy in its set design. The Art Deco sets are presumably by Art Director John Hughes, a prolific Warner Brothers designer from the 1920's on. Most of the hospital sequences are tied to one large corridor set, which has many rooms branching off it. The set provides a unifying force. We are always linked to firm geometric coordinates, no matter which hospital room or part of the corridor we are in.

Connolly and Wilbur feel free to shoot anywhere along this corridor, and from any direction. They show all parts of the corridor from both directions. This means that the camera will sometimes point in one direction along a corridor, and sometimes another. This adds visual excitement to the scenes. The directors are like Fritz Lang, in that they try to exploit the architecture to create as many different views of the set as possible. Like Lang, they try never to stage any two shots in the same way, always trying to find some fresh angle or approach to film each new scene. This gives as much visual variety to the film as possible. It also helps create a surprising variety of mood and tone for various scenes, each of which have their own visual perspectives in the corridor and rooms, and their own individual style of lighting. Connolly's dance numbers in The Wizard of Oz are also staged on giant, unified sets.

The corridor is built in the form of a large T. It is really two corridors, which run perpendicularly to each other. They meet at the nurse's station, an open rectangular area which is the central location of both the corridor and the movie. At one far wall of the bar of the T are a pair of glass doors leading to the outside, used as an entrance by Sarah Keate during the big rain storm sequence. At the other far end is a staircase; the corridor continues past it, terminating in a wall with a door leading to Dr. Harker's apartment (Edward Raquello in a good performance). Along the top or outer wall of the T is an X-ray room with an opaque glass door flanked by two opaque glass windows; under the right hand window is a bench. Next to the right of the bench are two swinging glass doors, leading to the main entrance to the hospital; beyond this is the staircase. Along the opposite, inner wall of the bar of the T are a number of features. Starting at the far end of the corridor, the one containing Dr. Harker's door, we come to two doors; the second one leads to the basement staircase and the power switch. Next comes a corridor parallel to the bar of the T, we never get more than a glimpse of this corridor. Next comes what seems to be a small room walled off by opaque glass; immediately following it is the nurse's station. Next comes the main stem of the T, forming a corridor; there is just a blank wall on the other side, leading shortly to the wall containing the exterior exit to the hospital.

The stem of the T is also full of rooms. Along the left hand side, looking down from the join of the T near the nurse's station, are the opaque glass doors and flanking opaque windows of the "Laboratory Pharmacy", we frequently see the inside of this room. Deeper along the left hand side is room #16, out of which Dr. Balman (Charles Trowbridge) emerges in one scene. Along the right of the T stem corridor are four doors. The nearest to the join of the T is the nurse's room, a kind of lounge; followed by three patient's rooms that play a major role in the film, #13; a room we never see beyond its door; and finally #18. The T stem corridor ends in another perpendicular corridor, with a big clock on the wall; we never see down this corridor.

The main entrance is itself a set, with a lobby and its own corridor with an admitting room. There are two tall plants near the admitting room entrance. Although one can see this corridor from the T set through the glass doors, the directors never stage a scene where someone goes through the entrance, through the doors, and into the main hospital. Lance O'Leary enters through this lobby and goes to the admitting room near the start of the movie. There is also a brief shot during the murder sequence showing the wall with plants and sinister shadows on it. This set is perpendicular to the bar of the T, and in the opposite direction from the stem of the T. Perhaps the set should instead be considered as a giant X or cross.