Frank S. Nugent said it best in his New York Times review of Colleen, writing, “There isn’t much point in composing a critical analysis of these Warner musical films: you just accept or reject them for what they are. […] Equal parts of Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell for romance, Hugh Herbert and Joan Blondell for comedy, Bobby Connolly’s dance spectacles to dazzle the eye, Dubin and Warren’s music to hum as you leave the theatre. Same old story, same old overhead shots, same expanding screen to accommodate the overflow of the colossal numbers.”
Alfred E. Green directs 1936’s Colleen, for which Nugent’s description fits to a tee. Dick Powell is a businessman trying to save his uncle’s company, falling for Ruby Keeler along the way. Joan Blondell is a chocolate factory worker, bringing the laughs along with Hugh Herbert, starring as Powell’s eccentric uncle. There’s music, there’s dancing, there’s love, there are laughs. The formula is closely followed in a flurry of scandalous newspaper articles, arguments, fist fights, hysterics, gold-digging schemes, eccentric antics, and a bit of romance.
This film’s all-star cast of popular ’30s players are all filling familiar shoes here, but that doesn’t make them any less fun to watch in their roles. Likewise, the comedy is often quite silly, as it usually is in these musicals. But, again, that doesn’t diminish the viewer’s enjoyment of the flick in the least, no matter how corny it gets! A few favorite bits: Uncle Cedric using a dictation machine to record himself singing, laughing, and playing the flute, much to his own amusement; Cedric’s wife proclaiming, “Get my doctor! Get my pills! Get my lawyer! Get my smelling salts!” upon hearing a scandalous story about her husband on the radio.
Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell are, of course, as delightful as ever to watch. His critical-thinking businessman butts heads with her outspoken bookkeeper when they first meet, as he accuses her of doing a poor job of keeping the books. But disdain grows to like, and like to love. The chemistry of these two in every film they made together serves as a reminder of exactly why they made so many, and Colleen is no exception!
Beyond the appeal of that sweet screen pair, there are plenty of impressive song and dance scenes, including a lot of tap dancing.
Colleen may do little to set itself apart from Warner’s catalog of early to mid-1930s musicals, but if you typically enjoy these flicks, you’re bound to have a good time tapping your feet along to Keeler and Powell once more.