“Praise the Lord and pass the absinthe!”
When Marion Davies first met William Randolph Hearst, she was a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl, and a showgirl she remained. She had an uncertain speaking voice, a shaky singing voice, and couldn’t dance much at all, but she was, most obviously, a babe with a head on her shoulders, not to mention a strong back, which she needed to carry the monumental weight of Mr. Hearst’s ego for more than 30 years.
Davies was unattractively caricatured in Citizen Kane as a no-talent bimbo, and a natural reaction in her favor has led to a good-natured myth that she was actually a talented comedienne/musical comedy performer whose career was stifled by Hearst’s insistence that she be cast in prestige costume dramas, a myth that is easily punctured by the simple viewing of Going Hollywood, a film that is, sadly, less than the sum of its parts.
Going Hollywood has a script by Donald Ogden Stewart, who won an Oscar for the screenplay for The Philadelphia Story. It’s directed by the legendary Raoul Walsh, more at home, apparently, with mama’s boy gangsters than showgirls, and features music by Nacio Herb Brown, who wrote most of the tunes that ended up in the more than legendary film Singin’ in the Rain. Oh, yeah, there’s Bing Crosby too. And it’s pre-Code!
But none of that seems to matter much. The film starts with Davies, a French teacher at “Briarcroft’s School for Girls,” saying goodbye to the pathetic collection of juiceless biddies who run the place. She wants to have fun, and we all know that education isn’t fun, don’t we? Most of all, she wants to catch up with silver-toned radio crooner Bill Williams (Bing, of course).
In the next scene, we catch up with Bill Williams, and it’s the best part of the picture. Bing, with his silken bathrobe and his wanton ways, is a long way from Briarcroft. Bing is on his way to Hollywood, giving a final broadcast from his hotel room, singing “Beautiful Girl,” the best song in the picture, for my money, and giving out unlimited sass to long-suffering mike man Sterling Holloway, as young as you’re ever likely to see him. After he’s done singing, Bing gets on the phone with his ooh-la-la honey “Lilli Yvonne” (Fifi D’Orsay), thanking her for introducing him to the subtle charms of, yes, absinthe! And this is the real absinthe, too, the distilled from wormwood, drive you crazy absinthe, not the PG stuff available over the counter these days!
A little later, Bing gives the picture another boost singing the title song in a production number set in Grand Central Station, which includes a shot taken at the real Grand Central of the “ceiling of stars” showing the constellations of the Zodiac, a ceiling that has been restored to its former glory, or at least had been the last time I was there.
After that, the picture tends to go downhill. There’s a long dream sequence showing off Davies’ talents — or rather the distinctly limited nature of her talents — and, even worse, a shot of Davies in blackface. Ned Sparks, not my favorite sourpuss, adds little charm as the director of Bing’s film. Patsy Kelly does show up as Davies’ roommate, and Patsy’s game, as always, but the script doesn’t give her much to do except be spunky. For serious antiquarians, a group of would-be funsters known as the Radio Rogues do an extended parody of early thirties radio. If that sounds like your idea of a party, dig in. Otherwise, once Bing departs Grand Central, break out the absinthe or find another movie.
Hearst was a huge man physically and 34 years older than Davies.
 Later in the picture, Marion saves Bing from both Fifi and absinthe, helping him to avoid the dangers of “Temptation,” about which he sings.
 I’m sure as hell more antiquarian than most, so I could “get” Kate Smith and Rudy Vallee, but I needed help with Russ Columbo, and I never even heard of Morton Downey, aka “the Irish Nightingale” and father of Morton Downey Jr.