With the arrival of talkies, every major studio hopped on the musical bandwagon by turning out lavish "revues," spotlighting their top stars performing specialty numbers. MGM's entry in this all-star genre was Hollywood Revue of 1929, which, though a box-office smash and a "Best Picture" Oscar nominee, is an absolutely deadly experience when seen today. Even so, it coasts by on its curiosity value, as several major MGM luminaries display their all-talking, all-singing, all-dancing talents (or lack of same). The film is hosted by Conrad Nagel and Jack Benny, the latter still purveying the "wise-guy" personality he used on screen before adopting his more likable radio characterization. Some of the individual acts are modestly entertaining: Joan Crawford, the top of her head cut off due to faulty camerawork, is quite appealing in a jazz number; Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton provide genuine laughs, the former in a makeshift magic act and the latter performing a burlesque ballet; Bessie Love and Marion Davies are cute and cuddly in their respective musical numbers, while Marie Dressler is outrageously funny in her brace of appearances; and, best of all, Cliff Edwards solemnly introduces MGM's "signature" tune Singin' in the Rain, which serves as a leitmotif throughout the picture. Other "highlights" are more impressive for their concept than their actual execution: Gus Edwards' "Lon Chaney Will Get You if You Don't Find Out" would have been more interesting had the real Lon Chaney Sr. made an appearance (something he reportedly refused to do), while John Gilbert and Norma Shearer's "slang" version of the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet (a sequence filmed in Technicolor) produces winces rather than laughs. At that, these scenes are easier to digest than the wretched sentimental ballad Your Mother and Mine, performed ad nauseum by the otherwise reliable Charles King, and the overproduced and under-rehearsed Orange Blossom finale (also in color). Long available only in its 82-minute TV release version, Hollywood Revue of 1929 was restored to nearly its original 125-minute length in the 1970s; the film is worth seeing once for historical purposes, but is hardly a "keeper," even for the most diligent of video collectors.
by Hal Erickson synopsis