I am a huge fan of the Marx Brothers, to the extent that I even look forward to the instrumental solos by Chico and Harpo. Much of the other featured music fits the films like gloves: Think of “Lydia, the Tattooed Woman,” “I’m Against It,” or the “You Brought A New Kind Of Love To Me.”
Not so much “Tenement Symphony,” perhaps. This composition (lyrics by Sid Kuller and Ray Golden, music by Hal Borne) was introduced in the 1941 Marx Brothers feature The Big Store. It was sung by Tony Martin, and he was associated (or perhaps burdened) with the song for the rest of his career. For my money the songwriters tried just a little too hard, and they ended up with something that bordered on maudlin and cloying. With no offense meant to two fine lyricists, using “Vermicelli” as a family name to rhyme with “Kelly” is pushing it a bit; and how about, “Oh Marie, Oh Marie, you’ll be late for your date with Izzy.” But this is just one listener’s opinion.
During the summer of 1942, just before the beginning of the recording ban, it was decided to produce a Soundie based on the song, a film that would blend live performance with images of the tenement sections of New York City; here the producers would film some brief cutaways, and use stock footage as well. Joe Reichman’s fine hotel band was in the studio (probably R.C.A.) on June 25, 1942 where he recorded an omnibus session of eight titles. The Reichman band was featured on screen in two Soundies and backed variety acts, including this vocal by Bob Carroll, in six more.
It’s a shame that Bob Carroll, a fine and underrated singer, gets Tenement Symphony for his only Soundie appearance; he deserved much better material. (I wonder if Carroll was called in at the last minute to substitute for someone else; the sync in the short is not particularly good.) Bob Carroll was a big band singer who worked with George Hall in 1939, while at the same time appearing on New York radio. He graduated to a featured role with Charlie Barnet’s orchestra at a time when Barnet’s female vocalist was Lena Horne. After armed forces service during the war, Carroll sang with Jimmy Dorsey. Carroll hosted a musical series on WGN-TV in Chicago, then turned to acting. He appeared in soap operas, dramas, and musical comedies, and was featured in many touring productions. Carroll was still singing at the time of his passing in 1994.
I had not viewed this subject in years, and in retrospect, this Soundie turns out to be more entertaining than I recalled.