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Furs in Film – Tin Pan Alley (1940)

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The actual Tin Pan Alley is on its way to becoming some hi-rise. As a source of popular music from the late 19th and early 20th century, the alley’s history meant it eventually figured into the newborn film business. The one in the ’30s and ’40s, not the current one. Maybe it was the center of a modern blockbuster; it wouldn’t be at the mercy of genuine blockbusters. Granted, the time that a musical could be a blockbuster is pretty much past.

Tin Pan Alley – The Film

Tin Pan Alley, the 1940 film version, follows star Katie Blane, played by Alice Faye, and her sister Lucy (then up-and-coming Betty Grable) as they find fame and fortune with Tin Pan Alley songwriters Harry Calhoun and Skeets Harrigan. Everyone is rocketed to fame and fortune with the Blane sisters singing their songs. Until slightly more famous and well dressed, Nora Bayes asks to sing one of Calhoun and Harrigan’s songs, one promised the Blanes. The Blanes skip town, leaving Harry and Skeets on the rocks as their fame fades, and they end up joining the Army. This is what most down-on-their-luck songwriters did back then. Happy reunions occur in France and, despite 3 or 4 years of hellish trench warfare summed up in about thirty seconds of stock footage, no one manages to die in World War I.

Tin Pan Alley – The Furs

Another film from the “40’s” with fabulous fur. This one is probably cheating, though. Maybe it hit theaters in January of 1940. Perhaps it was the fact that the film is set in the mid to late 1910s. The foxes are a bit too large to really work for that period. Not that I’m complaining. This is one case where a slight Hollywood costume excess works in our favor.

Things only really get rolling after Harry and Skeets are on top of the world with the help of the Blane sisters and the “other woman” shows up to poach their latest songwriting masterpiece. That would be the famous Nora Bayes, played by Esther Ralston.

Nora shows up in a fox-trimmed cape with a large, matching barrel muff with tails. Not quite the same as Barbara Stanwyck’s from Lady of Burlesque, but the combination is very nice indeed.

Despite polite protests from one-half of the songwriting team, Nora gets her song.

She calls back shortly, wearing this -trimmed dress. The trim forms a bit of a circle around her arms. Certainly one of the more exciting uses of fox trim.

Apparently Betty Grable was written into the film as the younger sister at the last minute thanks to her success in Down Argentine Way, where she also wore some lovely fur. Here she waits for her sister Katie to return home in an oversized -trimmed coat.

Alice Faye wears a coat with trim as she gets the bad news about Nora and the song.

Katie comforts Alice after getting the bad news. One supposes the heat in the lavish upscale apartment is on the fritz. Again, not that I’m complaining.

The years pass, and the Blane sisters have found their own success in London. They learn that Harry and Skeets have joined the Army and are in London before shipping out to France. They decide to see them and patch things up. Alice chooses a very nice fence-mending fur with this jacket with a huge white fox collar and cuffs.

They meet up at the docks. Miss Faye looks beautiful framed in this thick white fox fur.

The entire docks sequence is, per Hollywood cliche, drenched in fog. Muddies up the view of the fur from time to time, but Alice manages to shine through quite a bit.

Tin Pan Alley is actually one of the first films I ever tried doing caps on years and years ago. I remember struggling with the last sequence, as the combination of sweeping shots in the fog-soaked docks made it a rather annoying one to cut one’s teeth on. Alice’s jacket would have been even more appealing if it were all white fox, but the size of the collar and cuffs made it almost indistinguishable from a full fur jacket in many shots.

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