It’s fashionable to make fun of Dick Powell’s singing. As you will see, he did overact and flail his hands, and his occasional operatic forays into the tenor register have a penetrating intensity. But this clip from the 1935 musical film BROADWAY GONDOLIER is priceless.
In his singing, I hear Crosby dips and turns (although Bing was much more relaxed) and then — luckiest of men — Powell gets to sing with the Mills Brothers, who are in pearly form. Steadied and enhanced by their musical comraderie, Powell draws on Fats Waller, with his air of amusement-just-barely-contained, although he doesn’t pop his eyes or dramatize anything by lifting an eyebrow. (Did Powell remember his days as a dance-band guitar player who knew what hot was?) Cab Calloway is in Powell’s consciousness as well, and the enterprise has the approving presence of a certain Mr. Armstrong standing in back of it. The dialogue-in-contrasting-speeds between Powell and the Brothers at the end of the performance is wonderful, and for those of us who are snsitive to these things, note how beautifully the Brothers are attired. They aren’t smuggled into the shot as porters or shoe shine boys who happen to sing: they are radio stars! As they deserved and deserve to be . . . .
A deep and fervent “Yeah, man!” is the only appropriate tribute. And a deep bow to Harry Warren for his bouncing, riff-based melody (even though the opening of the verse derives from SWEET GEORGIA BROWN) and Al Dubin’s jovial, natty lyrics, which either take a poke at Cole Porter’s MISS OTIS REGRETS or nod to it — Miss Otis is going to be hanged; Lulu’s fellow is getting ready for the time of his life!