The 1939 film Rose of Washington Square is a musical about the life of a Broadway singer named Rose Sargent, played by Alice Faye, and specifically about her romance with the gambler Bart Clinton, played by Tyrone Power. Al Jolson plays Ted Cotter, a second-rate singer and Rose's friend, who tries to help her. The plot is a thinly veiled version of the doomed relationship between real-life Broadway star Fanny Brice and her husband Nicky Arnstein, the same story that was told without the names being changed in the 1964 Broadway musical and 1968 film Funny Girl. By then, Brice was dead and the project was overseen by her son-in-law, Ray Stark; back in 1939, Brice sued for $75,000 for invasion of privacy, and got a settlement. The post-World War I setting allowed the filmmakers to employ a score full of songs popular in the late 1910s and early 1920s, which Faye and Jolson sang on the soundtrack. Faye, whose beautiful blond appearance and laid-back contralto couldn't have been less suggestive of Brice, turned in characteristically warm versions of the title song and "My Man," songs associated with Brice; she was even better on such period songs as "I'll See You in My Dreams," "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," and "I'm Just Wild About Harry" (accompanied on the last by Louis Prima & His Band). But the real value of the film and the soundtrack was the opportunity to preserve some of Al Jolson's most popular stage performances. After having launched the sound era in films in 1927, the 52-year-old singer/actor hadn't made a movie in three years, and he had given up record-making in 1932, busying himself in recent years only with a weekly radio series. For Rose of Washington Square, he re-recorded some of his greatest hits -- "Pretty Baby," "Rock a Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody," "Toot Toot Tootsie," "California, Here I Come," "My Mammy," and a medley of "April Showers" and "Avalon" -- and then donned blackface to lip-synch them in the film in recreations of his stage performances. For most viewers, these were the highlights of the movie, and they are the standouts on this soundtrack album, issued 60 years after the film's premiere. In addition to 17 tracks used in the soundtrack, the album contains eight outtakes and extra material, making this an even more valuable item for Jolson and Faye fans.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann